#LetThemStay: Australia tells asylum seekers detention is freedom

What does freedom mean? Don’t ask the Australian government, who this weekend hit a new low by proudly announcing it had released all refugee and asylum seeking children in Australia, when, apparently, it had merely changed their designation from “held detention” to “community detention”, without actually moving them. When torturing children just isn’t enough, try torturing the language as well. Freedom’s just another word …

Years ago, Australia’s government looked out upon the waters, saw small boats filled with desperate people, declared them a crisis and installed a state of emergency. The State has tried everything, from detention and torture to offshore detention and torture to way offshore detention and torture, from places like Villawood Immigration Detention Centre to Nauru Regional Processing Centre to who knows what or where in Cambodia. The landscape is littered with rising piles of bodies, commission reports, and expressions of shock at the routine torture of women, children, and men. Lately increasing numbers of Australians have protested in favor of a more open policy, under the banner #LetThemStay. And so, over the weekend, the State tried a new sleight of hand, and declared the war is over, even though the fighting actually continues.

When challenged on the terms of “release”, Australia’s Immigration Minister explained, “We’ve been able to make a modification to the arrangement so the children aren’t detained, they can have friends over, they can go out into the community.” Pushed by reporters, he further explained, “The same definitions apply today as they did before. There are certain characteristics that need to be met in relation to all these definitions, but that’s all beltway stuff. They’re outside of ‘held detention’, so that’s the answer that I’ve provided to you before.” Still unsatisfied with the release that is not a release, reporters continued to seek clarification, and a spokesperson for the Minister complied, “There are arrangements that have been put in place. Those arrangements now sit with the fact that it’s community detention.” That kind of obfuscation is “stuff” that beltways are made of.

Here’s the situation in plain words: “Families with children in `held detention’ in the `family compound’ of Villawood detention centre were told by letter on Friday that their detention was now classified as `community detention’. They have been `released’ from detention without moving.”

On Saturday night, a nineteen-year-old woman attempted suicide. Others will follow. Today Australia’s Immigration Minister vowed to ship the families to Nauruand beyond. The bodies pile up, the lies grow more intricate and more brazen, the shame deepens, and people and words are made to disappear. Soon, if all goes according to plan, no one will care about words like democracy, freedom, decency, or humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Pacific Press / REX / Shutterstock)

This Easter, spare a thought for refugee women and children in detention

Concerns about the detention of children have become an international issue. International human rights legislation provides that child migrants should not be detained for immigration-related reasons. Detailed information about un-accompanied children is not available; however, it is known that within some countries children are routinely being detained. For example, in November 2015 more than 100 countries criticised Australia for detaining women and children within offshore facilities.

The detention of children, even for short periods is understood to be harmful. The United States has the largest number of immigration centres and some of these detain families. #ShutDownBerks is campaigning to stop this Pennsylvania detention centre operating illegally and violating not only human rights but also domestic civil law.

Concerns about the welfare of women and children in immigration detention centres are shared by campaigners around the world. In the United Kingdom, Women for Refugee Women has organised a campaign called #SetHerFree. This campaign not only highlights that women are being detained indefinitely without their friends or family but are also pregnant.

In April 2015, the government of Greece said that people were being held in horrendous conditions and their continued incarceration was unaffordable. United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner’s European representative Jan Jarab explained, “There has to be facilities of a non-prison type character and it is clear that to create all this will require a kind of redirection of the government’s energies”. This is clearly needed within all countries around the world, especially within the most developed countries where there are many examples of acts against humanity for refugee women and children in detention. In the report about the release of refugees from immigration centres in Greece, a detainee said, “This was like prison, this was not a centre, at centres you can go outside, you can play ball, this was like a prison.”

 

(Photo Credit: Make The Road New York)

Kinew James? Maureen Mandijarra? Just more Aboriginal women’s deaths in custody

Kinew James

Kinew James and Maureen Mandijarra were two Aboriginal women who went into custody and never came out. They are part of the Commonwealth of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. Canada killed Kinew James; Australia killed Maureen Mandijarra. And the abuse of these two women doesn’t end with their death. Kinew James died in January 2013, and her inquest is finally going to take place in April 2016. Maureen Mandijarra died in custody in 2012, and her inquest is only now taking place. The State honors Aboriginal women with brutality.

Kinew James was a “troubled” young woman. She entered prison at 18, sentenced to six years. That doubled to twelve, thanks to “misbehavior” and to her deteriorating mental health. Subsequent years were a blur of self harm and attempted suicide; frequent relocation as one institution after another failed to help her; and long and frequent periods of solitary confinement.

But she was improving. Kinew James succeeded in graduating from high school while in prison, and, at the age of 35, was looking forward to getting out and moving on. On Saturday, January 19, 2013, Kinew James talked with her mother, and all seemed well. By evening, she was complaining of pains. That night, moaning and crying, she pressed the distress button … five times. The guards ignored her pleas, and are reported to have turned off or muted her alarm. After an hour, a nurse finally went in, and found Kinew James unresponsive. The nurse then waited 12 to 15 minutes to declare a medical emergency.

James died in the hospital, but she was killed long before the ambulance took her away.

Maureen Mandijarra was arrested for public drinking on the evening of November 29, 2012. She died in police custody the next day. Mandijarra was 44 years old. The police brought her in and dumped her on the floor in a police cell. She lay there perfectly still for at least six hours. She never moved, and no one, other than a cellmate, noticed, because no one ever checked. Over three years later, the inquest is now taking place. It’s taken so long because provincial and local police dragged their feet for years, and never provided any reports until recently.

Kinew James’ and Maureen Mandijarra’s stories are not the same story. What is the same narrative is that of State abuse of Aboriginal women. Like the United States, Canada and Australia have invested heavily in the devaluation of Aboriginal women’s bodies and lives. The rising rates of incarceration married to the plummeting budgets for assistance say as much. So do the women’s corpses, decade after decade, year after year. For Aboriginal women, the histories and lived experiences of colonial occupation and violence not only continue to this day. They are intensifying. Since the 1990s, the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia has skyrocketed, through one Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody after another.

State practices and policies generally criminalize mental illness, alcohol abuse, and poverty; and add additional punishments if the subjects at hand are women. For Aboriginal women who live with mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, poverty, the sentence is death.

(Photo Credit: CBC News

Australia is proud of its routine torture of women and children asylum seekers

Yesterday, Australia’s high court ruled that `offshore’ detention of asylum seekers, including new born infants and children, is fine. Australia is no longer `shocked’ at the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers. Instead, Australia is now fine with the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers, from sea to shining sea and beyond. Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands, “an enforcement archipelago of detention … an archipelago of exclusion.” Australia has proudly refashioned the gulag archipelago for modern times, that is, for asylum seekers and refugees. Australia was once “shocked” by reports that children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior. Then Australia was “shocked” but not ashamed to find that sexual violence against women asylum seekers and refugees occurs regularly. The days of shock are over, and now it’s glory times of pride in State torture. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says he’s ready to ship 162 adults, 33 babies and 72 children to Nauru. The Australian archipelago of exclusion produces its own Voyage of the Damned.

The case involved a Bangladeshi woman, known as M68, who claimed that her incarceration at Nauru violated Australian law. In the past year, since that case was filed, Australia has performed all sorts of shenanigans, including passing retroactive laws, to avoid any dilution of its sovereign right to torture those who come seeking asylum or help of any sort. Whatever the high court decided, Australia’s actions are indefensible.

More significant than any violation of law is the reign of terror. M68’s real plea was that, having lived on Nauru, she was terrified to return, terrified for herself and for her one-year-old child. Another woman facing deportation to Nauru explained, “It’s like dying. It’s waiting for dying.” A woman known as Durga added, “I am too scared to go back to that place, my life will not be safe. If I am sent back to Nauru, I will commit suicide.”

The State response to expressions of terror, death-in-life, and suicidal despair is succinct: Good. This is democracy in the current world order. To ask for help is to give up citizenship. If you are a woman and you ask for help, you give up your humanity. The gulag archipelago never left. It became the democratically elected global archipelago of exclusion and erasure, and now, thanks to Australia’s high court, we know it’s perfectly legal.

 

(Drawing credit: abc.net.au)

Australia’s Flotilla of the Damned

Australian navy intercepts asylum seeker boat within 200m of Christmas Island on 20 November.

Today’s headline reads, “Christmas Island asylum seeker boat ‘disappeared’ after being towed by navy.” There was no disappearance but rather a death sentence, pure and simple and ordinary. The only news perhaps would be the “disappearance,” except that it’s not news because it’s so ordinary. Australia has learned to disappear whole boatloads of women, children, and men asylum seekers. This is just one more incidence.

The story, such as it is, is short. “A boat carrying asylum seekers was intercepted close to Christmas Island on Friday, the first to reach Australian waters since June 2014. The boat made it within 200m of Flying Fish Cove before it was boarded by Australian officials, sources on the island told Guardian Australia. It is unclear whether the boat was intercepted by Australian navy or Border Force staff. Those on board were given life jackets. The boat was moved further away from the island and covered in a tarpaulin so the arrivals cannot be counted or identified, the sources said. The boat was towed out to sea by an Australian navy patrol boat. After that, thus far, all is silence. The government won’t discuss “operational matters”, and so the boat has “disappeared.”

In 1939, the MS St. Louis famously traveled the Atlantic and Caribbean, seeking a safe haven for 908 German Jewish refugees fleeing State violence. Having been rejected by Cuba, the United States and Canada, the refugees returned to Europe, where they moved to England, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. In the ensuing violence, it’s estimated that anywhere from 400 to 700 survived the war. What also survived was the shame of those nation States that refused entry, in particular the United States and Canada. Of course, apologies, both State and personal, have since been extended, but the shame is there. This was the Voyage of the Damned.

But the boat never disappeared, nor was it meant to. There was no policy, on the part of so-called democratic States, of forced mass disappearance of refugees and asylum seekers. Now, in Australia, there is. Disappearance is so much more efficient than detention centers and offshore penal colonies. Someday, someone might apologize, but for now there’s simply Australia’s Flotilla of the Damned: women, children, men seeking asylum, set adrift in the silence and the fog of “operational matters.” Because for the state, #OperationsMatter … not women and children.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

Australia is “shocked” by the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers

Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands, “an enforcement archipelago of detention … an archipelago of exclusion.” The gulag archipelago didn’t end; it became the intended end-of-the-road universe for asylum seekers and refugees. Last year, Australia was “shocked” by reports that children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior. Now, Australia is “shocked” once again to find that sexual violence against women asylum seekers and refugees occurs. Australia is shocked … but not shamed.

The incidents this time involve three women, two Somali and one Iranian woman. The Iranian is in hospital. One of the Somali women is pregnant as a result of the rape. It took the police four hours to arrive, and then … pretty much nothing happened. None of this is new or surprising. In July, the Immigration Department heard again of rampant violence against women and children, and then … pretty much nothing happened. Advocates Pamela Curr and Daniel Webster know that these three women are “the tip of the iceberg.” Despite the State trying to keep the media away from its penal colonies, none of this is secret or surprising. A week ago, the mother of the Iranian woman, despondent at the entirety of the situation, attempted suicide. Apart from placing under surveillance, under the guise of a suicide watch, nothing changed.

Pediatricians in Melbourne are organizing, refusing to send children back to detention centers, because the situation is so dire. The situation was always dire. It was meant to be. Study after study suggests that the problem of health care for asylum seekers in detention is not inadequate health care. The problem is detention. Study after study shows that children in detention breathe sadness and fear, trauma, that will stay with them, for many forever.

The news this weekend is that the Somali woman may be brought to the mainland to receive an abortion … and then what? Nauru said it would process everyone within a week and now backtracks on that. Australia is planning on moving some or all of the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island to the Philippines, and none of the refugees or asylum seekers has a heard a word about this from the State. Across Australia, many marched this weekend to protest the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

This is democracy in the current world order. To ask for help is to give up citizenship. If you are a woman and you ask for help, you give up your humanity. The gulag archipelago never left. It became the democratically elected global archipelago.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

Pregnant women refugees Maryam and Tahere refuse Australia’s prisons

Maryam and Tahere, two Iranian women, each heavily into the eight month of pregnancy, are spending a third night on a bus outside the Wickham Point Detention Centre, in the blistering heat of Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia, Australia’s refugee detention capital. They refuse to get off the bus and subject themselves to the indignities of the Australian prison system. Their story is the latest chapter in Australia’s shameful trade in refugees and asylum seekers.

Maryam and Tahere are Iranians who, with their families, have spent the last fifteen months in detention on Nauru. The Australian government found them to be `credible’ refugees, and so were “resettled” within Nauruan communities earlier this year. When their pregnancies turned out to be too complex for the hospital on Nauru, they were flown to Australia … where they were put on a bus headed for the detention center. Their families offered to pay for a motel in the area, and the authorities refused. Apparently, the women are more valuable as `guests of the State’ than on their own. And so the women said, “Enough. No more. No!” They refused to leave the bus and enter, or better re-enter, confinement.

No good news comes from inside the walls of Wickham Point. At the beginning of the year, it was the focus of a campaign protesting the humiliating treatment of women asylum seekers and refugees. The treatment of asylum seekers in Wickham Point is often called dehumanizing, inhumane and shameful, and each report highlights the particular indignities that women are forced to undergo. Suicides, such as that of Haidar Ali Ikhtiyar last year, and self harm, such as that of the 17-year-old woman asylum seeker who jumped from a second story window three months ago, are regular features at Wickham.

Maryam and Tahere may or may not know the details of what’s been transpiring at Wickham Point, but they know. They know it’s a bad place. They know they deserve better. And so they have said, “Either take me to a hospital here or ship me back to Nauru. Better a hellhole than this.” They know. They know that the desperate one here is the State, desperate to incarcerate and cage by any and all means. And they say, loudly and clearly, No!

No good news comes from inside the walls of Wickham Point Detention Centre, but perhaps something like good news will come from outside the walls, the news of women’s refusal and of women’s insistence on their dignity.

 

(Photo Credit: Refugee Action Coalition)

Another Aboriginal woman dies of `natural causes’ in custody

In August, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu complained, some say screamed and begged, of intense pains. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died, in the emergency room, within 20 minutes. It is reported that she never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.” That wasn’t enough.

Ms. Dhu joins a long line, actually a mob, of Aboriginal women who have died in custoday in Australia. In 1982, 40-year-old Nita Blankett was in custody for driving under the influence, a six-month stay. She complained of pain, became distressed, was ignored. Finally, and too late, she was dumped into an ambulance, where she died en route to the hospital.

In 1989, 38-year-old Muriel Gwenda Cathryn Binks died in custody. She was in for non-payment of a $30 fine. She complained of severe pains. No one listened. For 22 hours, she received no medical treatment. Muriel Binks died of multiple organ failure … for thirty dollars. That was the going price for an Aboriginal woman’s life in 1989. It hasn’t gone up.

The stories pile up; the women’s bodies pile up. People gather in protests and demonstrations, as they did today across Australia. The family calls for an inquiry. The State at first refuses, then relents. Elected officials promise action. Everyone is shocked.

Two years ago, Maureen Mandijarra died in custody. As of yet, there’s been no inquest date set. The police report, two years later, was only recently turned over to the coroner.

Meanwhile, Aboriginal women are increasingly destined for incarceration. In the last year alone, incarceration rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have skyrocketed 18%. The government “response” is to cut funding Indigenous legal and family violence prevention services. Aboriginal? Woman? Need help of some sort? Have we got a place for you … prison.

Twenty-five years ago, commissioners looking into Muriel Binks’ death concluded, “the time for tolerance of such official neglect and complacency has passed.” Not.

Australia, like the United States, Canada, others, has invested heavily in the devaluation of Aboriginal women’s bodies and lives. The rising rates of incarceration married to the plummeting budgets for assistance say as much. So do the women’s corpses, decade after decade, year after year. For Aboriginal women, the histories and lived experiences of colonial occupation and violence not only continue to this day. They are intensifying.

A contemporary postcolonial, anti-colonial politics begins and ends with the State murder of Aboriginal women’s bodies, which runs from lack of services and assistance, from cradle to grave, to mass incarceration to dumping into the mass graves of historical amnesia. Another world is possible … and it requires more than an endless cycle of “discoveries” followed by commissions.

 

(Photo credit: Jade Macmillan/ABC News)

Australia’s shameful trade in refugees and asylum seekers

What’s the going rate, the market value, for refugees and asylum seekers these days? Ask the Australian government.

Australia and Cambodia are close to finalizing a deal on refugees. No one seems to know the details of this arrangement, because both countries are keeping it very hush-hush. But what we do know is it involves refugees and asylum seekers being moved from Australia’s catastrophic adventure in Nauru, to Cambodia. Some, in the Cambodia opposition, say this could involve as many as 1000 refugees, and they are most likely going to be `relocated’ on a remote island off the coast of Cambodia.

We also know that Australia is one of Cambodia’s largest aid donors. Over the past four years, for example, Australia has donated over $329 million to Cambodia. We know that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. We also know that Australia has criticized Cambodia’s human rights record, more than once and most recently at the United Nations.

We are told that refugees will be `relocated’ only if they volunteer, but if they refuse to volunteer, their refugee status will be reviewed.

In both Cambodia and Australia, opposition to this deal has been fierce and intense. Much of it has centered on the conditions in Cambodia and the folly of sending refugees, many of them fleeing the violence of conflict zones, to an area just emerging from a long and brutal civil war. Others point to the economic hardship of life in Cambodia and others to the difficult political, civil and human rights situation.

What about the marketization of refugees and asylum seekers? Australia won’t be `relocating’ refugees. It will be dumping human beings, like so much cargo, and wiping its hands clean … or dirty. One thousand human beings who have asked for help and have already been dumped on one inhospitable island are now to be dumped again on another, even more inhospitable island? This `deal’ takes the privatization of `care’ for asylum seekers and refugees to a new, and yet very old, place: offshoring.

Cambodia will `volunteer’ to take the refugees because Australia has offered it cold, hard cash, or financial benefits. And so the entire region will become one giant marketplace for human cargo, not quite slaves, not quite not slaves.

 

(Photo Credit: TheDiplomat.com)

Australia is `shocked’ by its routine torture of children

Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands. Among `detained’ asylum seekers, children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior, according to Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission. According to Triggs, between January 2013 and March 2014, there were 128 reported self-harm incidents by children in detention. Triggs characterized these numbers as “shockingly high.”

The numbers are high. The stories are heartbreaking. The pictures drawn by children are devastating. One girl draws her own portrait. It’s a close up of her face, pressed against bars. Her eyes are blue, her tears, streaming down her face, are blood red. All the self-portraits are similar: the children are crying and are all in cages. Doctors and others report that children can’t sleep, suffer trauma, regress, suffer clinical depression, self-harm, and die inside.

There is no shock here. This has been Australia’s public policy for over a decade, and the policy has only worsened. As Gillian Triggs noted, “Children are being held for significantly greater periods of time than has been the case in the past, and that leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance.”

Leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance. Just call it ordinary torture, and be done. The delivery of medical services is worse than toxic, and the stays get longer and longer. Today, Australia holds more or less 1,000 children in “closed immigration detention.”  The longer children stay in “closed immigration detention”, the more likely they are to suffer mental health crises and the more severe those crises will become.

At a hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission this week, Triggs asked, “Is it acceptable to have children held on Christmas Island in shipping bunkers, containers, on stony ground, surrounded by phosphate dust in that heat?” The government representative replied, “The last time I looked, president, there was no shipping container. They are containerised accommodation, they are not shipping containers.” Unfortunately, “containerised accommodation” does clarify everything. The State sees these children as less than less than less than human.

A child will die in one of those cages, and that child will have been a human. Perception matters, as Australia’s women asylum seekers and their children well know. Torture matters. The torture of children matters. Children matter. Tell Australia, and tell all the nations of the world that throwing asylum seeking children into cages. Children matter. It’s not shocking.

 

(Image Credit: The Daily Mail)