Things that begin with A: Aqua, asylum, atrocity, Australia

The detention center on Christmas Island

A new year begins: “Australian Federal Police are investigating an allegation of sexual assault made by an asylum seeker detained on Christmas Island. An AFP spokesperson confirmed the matter was referred to the police on 27 December… Union of Christmas Island Workers’ president Gordon Thomson told Guardian Australia the allegations were made by a female asylum seeker housed in Aqua compound, one of the family compounds in the detention centre.”

Christmas Island and Aqua family compound are such lovely names for such sinister operations. Aqua and Lilac “family compounds” are part of the immense immigrant, refugee and asylum-seeker prison system Australia employs Serco to run. It’s a bad place, as reported by Serco staff, prisoners current and former, and doctors who have served on the island.

Serco staff members complain that the prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. For example, at night, 11 security workers monitor hundreds of prisoners. Women prisoners have complained, repeatedly and to no avail, of their fear for their safety.

Women prisoners fear sexual assault. They also fear systemic abuse. Pregnant women, such as Elham, are told to lower their expectations, when it comes to medical care. When asking for an ultrasound, Elham was told, “You are in detention and should not expect a lot.” Women who need to terminate their pregnancies are in even more dire conditions. Women in high-risk pregnancies are treated like everyone else, poorly and viciously. The new policy is to ship them off to even more isolated and desolate Manus Island and Nauru. If a few women die in childbirth, well … it’s the price of public policy, isn’t it?

Women with disabilities are treated like trash. A 30-year-old woman with severe mental disabilities was separated from her family until doctors and others forced the Government’s hand. How many others living with severe mental disabilities languish and deteriorate right now in what is effectively solitary confinement?

The stories continue: an epileptic child held without treatment for at least two months; a baby with a defective pacemaker had to wait for two months to leave the island, despite the pleas of a waiting hospital; a woman with level-five cerebral palsey who receives little to no treatment; the HIV+ person who went poof, lost in the system that is nothing more than a system of loss and losing.

The 15 doctors who wrote and presented, last month, a 92-page letter of concern describing the conditions, describe the prison island as “life-threatening” and “harmful.” They talk of the risk to lives that is endemic to the entire process. Others describe the situation as “inhumane.”

It is all of those and worse. The worse is that this system of atrocity and abuse is, around the world, business as usual. It is the situation that emerges when the State works to persuade its citizenry that immigrants are `a flood’ and, worse, `a tsunami.” When human individuals and populations become jetsam and flotsam, so much trash to be cleared before it pollutes the pristine beaches and bucolic alleyways, prisons become overcrowded. In those overcrowded prisons, women are routinely attacked. Other women are systematically abandoned to new forms of isolation and self-harm. Other women are simply lost. There is no surprise here.

Australia, along with other so-called democracies, has been building this world for decades. Another asylum is possible, isn’t it?


(Photo Credit: Guardian / Paula Bronstein / Getty Images)