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)

Canada’s meager response to the current refugee crisis

Palestinians pay tribute to to Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi

Palestinians pay tribute to to Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi

“The true measure of the moral level of a society is how it treats the most vulnerable people,” –Noam Chomsky

As the woefully unprepared Europe struggles to handle the overwhelming influx of migrants who have endured perilous crossings arriving at its borders, Canada’s response has been terribly disappointing for a country that is proud of its record of compassion.

A week ago, the photograph of the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach, which woke up the world to the refugee crisis, also awakened the Canadian election campaigns. While the Canadian public ‘decisively and suddenly’ wants the government to start accepting more refugees, Canada’s federal leaders are still contemplating what Ottawa can do to help. The conservative Ottawa dithers, as Harper tries to approach this issue with the same unsentimental approach he brings to governing. As he stated in 2006, “My strengths are not spin or passion, you know that.”

The Liberal and NDP leaders who have also recognized this issue as a game changer in the upcoming October elections are trying to offer few specifics on how Canada could contribute as they still haven’t formulated any solid strategy.

Harper states that he has a target of settling 10,000 Syrian migrants over the next three years and 23,000 Iraqis by the end of this year. However, while pressing the necessity of ‘taking the military fight to Islamic militants responsible for the carnage’ to deal with the root of the problem, Harper said “We have plans to do more, but I would say repeatedly that as we are doing more, we can’t lose sight of the fact that refugee resettlement alone cannot, in any part of the world, solve this problem.”

Harper is concerned about security issues that could follow accepting refugees from the world’s current epicenter of ethno-religious violence. He suggests that these refugees require proper screening. But proper screening takes time and is a long bureaucratic process. As the NDP leader Mulclair said on Tuesday: “You shouldn’t have people in this desperate situation falling into a bureaucratic trap, where they’re being asked to produce identity papers as if you had time to renew your driver’s license when you were walking across the desert with your family”. He suggested that officials should be sent to the refugees in the camps and the Canadian military could help bring the refugees to Canada.

Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees if the party wins in October and has pushed the Liberals into the middle ground suggesting that Canada needs to keep in mind the importance of training the Iraqi fighters to stand up against ISIS, along with helping to ease the suffering of refugees. “We have a federal government right now that thinks military action is the only solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East,” Trudeau said in Vancouver. “And we have an opposition party that takes the opposite extreme position that there is never a military role to play in solving challenges like the crisis in the Middle East.”

Recently it came to light that Aylan Kurdi’s family’s refugee application had been rejected in June by the Canadian Immigration Department, which allegedly drove the family to attempt their fatal voyage to Europe. Canada’s immigration minister, Chris Alexander, suspended his re-election campaign to investigate why the Kurdi family’s refugee application was rejected. Alexander claimed that “Canada has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world”, saying that “the government was planning to accept 23,000 Iraqi refugees and 11,300 Syrians”.

In the wake of elections, the refugee crisis can become yet another rhetorical device to win the electorate, and then be shelved in the forgotten land of election promises. It is up to the public to remind the Canadian government of its moral responsibility following the election and pressure it to live up to its international image of an inclusive, peaceful, and immigrant-friendly society.

 

 

(Photo Credit: aboutpathankot.com)

When does Rosie the refugee become South African? Never?

Rosie” was born in 1987 in Angola, during the civil war. In 1997, her father brought her and her three siblings to Cape Town, where he dumped them in a shelter and disappeared. At the time, Rosie’s siblings’ ages ranged from five to eight years old. Rosie has lived in South Africa ever since. She spent ten years in Angola, eighteen years in South Africa, but she’s still a `refugee.’ The war has ended, and so Rosie and her siblings are now liable for deportation, or not. “We don’t know Angola as ‘home’. We want to get student visas so we can stay here. We don’t have anything to go back to,” Rosie explains.

Last Friday, various reports circulated claiming that the South African government was set to deport as many as 2000 Angolan refugees, as well as a smaller number of refugees from Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone. Over the weekend, the State leapt into action, explaining that it “is firmly committed to ensuring the fulfilment of its international obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers in terms of its ratification of the relevant international protocols.” Which means less than nothing.

Angolan community leader Jao Kaputo has been in South Africa since 1994. He explains the difficulties many Angolans face in the various registration processes, “Our homes were bombed. We lost everything, including documents. We are dispersed; our mothers went their own directions, and our fathers the other direction. As a result some of us are not documented, including children born here, and cannot apply for birth certificates.”

Pedro Nzazi” has been a refugee in South Africa for 20 consecutive years: “Starting over in Angola after 20 years of staying here will be very difficult. I have children at university and others still going to school. If I relocate to Angola, what will happen to them? Many Angolans, whose permits expired already are illegal, may be deported and they cannot access their bank accounts. I know five people who gave up and went back to Angola. They intend to apply for permits from there, but I am worried they might not be successful because of the strict immigration regulations gazetted on 22 May 2014.”

In 1989, Jesus Espirito Do Santos was born in Angola to a Congolese woman, Suzan Ntoto, and her Angolan husband. In 1992, Suzan Ntoto brought her three-year-old Jesus Espirito Do Santos to South Africa and applied for refugee status. In 2009, Ntoto died, and her South African employer offered to adopt Do Santos, but couldn’t because Do Santos couldn’t produce his birth certificate. In 2013, Do Santos, who speaks only English and Afrikaans, and not a word of Portuguese, faced “repatriation.”

Irene Kainda’s story is the same. She came to South Africa as a child refugee, grew up in Cape Town. She and her brother, Felipe, thrived, despite having been abandoned by their mother. And now she faces “repatriation” to a country she does not know that speaks a language she does not speak.

Everything about this is predictably wrong. One could argue that, while the civil war has ended, peace in Angola is still aspirational. For example, the past three months saw activists imprisoned for membership in a book club, and then their mothers were arrested. One could point to the gross injustice of Operation Fiela – Reclaim, an anti-immigrant sweep designed to “restore order” after the March – April Afrophobic, xenophobic pogroms in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. South Africa’s firm commitment to the strangers in its midst under brutal attack has been to brutally attack those strangers. While the courts have temporarily stopped many of the deportations, the arrests continue, and the brutality intensifies in the Lindela Repatriation Centre. Here’s Fiela: a mountain of warrantless searches and improper arrests, deployment of the military as police, overly long stays in detention, evisceration of due process rights, intensification of xenophobia and Afrophobia. This does not restore or reclaim anything good. It merely terrorizes any South African-based, low to moderate income African born outside of South Africa.

The worst, though, is the willful imposition of inhumanity, the broad-brush practice of State terrorism and violence against those who came seeking succor and have actually thrived. The State will clothe its terrorism in legal language, but it remains terrorism. In South Africa today, what are the borders of being-a-refugee? When does one stop being a stranger and become simply a neighbor? Irene Kainda, Jesus Espirito Do Santos, “Pedro Nzazi”, Jao Kaputo, “Rosie”, and thousands of others want to know.

 

 

(Photo Credit: GroundUp)

On BBC News, amnesia passes for history, and the refugees are doomed

Young girl returning from the store with a pot of soup and a bottle of milk, Lodz

On BBC News today, Dariusz Rosiak from Polish National Radio concludes an interview with an afterthought, “You also have to understand that there is a cultural gap which is important and it has to be taken into consideration … Poland is a one-religion, one-ethnic country, and has been like that for the last 50 years. People, they have to understand the necessity to accept people of different color, of different creed, of different culture. You can’t expect them to be able to do it just like that.” And the interview ends.

For the last 50 years.

My father’s family came from Piotrków Trybunalski, near Łódź, and, apart from my father, they were all killed during the German occupation. My father, Charles Moshenberg, was born in 1926, in the midst of the Second Polish Republic, which ended with the September 1939 invasion of Poland. My own family’s history and that of Second Polish Republic haunt Rosiak’s comments as well as his historical amnesia.

When the Germans and their Soviet allies invaded Poland, the country was a patchwork of national minorities. While the 1921 Polish census listed 30.8 percent of the population as “national minorities”, the 1931 Polish census put that figure at 31.1 percent. During this period, Poland was also undergoing intense urbanization.

Who were the national minorities? Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, Germans followed by much smaller communities of Lithuanians, Czechs, Armenians, Russians, and Roma. Along with Jews, Poland also boasted, or not, an array of religions, from Roman Catholics to Greek Orthodox to Protestant.

By 1931, Poland had the second largest national Jewish population in the world: “At the time of the population census of December 9, 1931, there were about 3,136,000 Jews in Poland, i.e. 9.8% of the population, making them the second largest Jewish community in the world. In 1931 more than a fifth of all Jews lived in Poland.” At the time of the 1939 invasion, the number of Jews who claimed Polish as their first language was rising, as it had been for the past decade.

And then they were gone: the Jews, the Roma, the “national minorities”, the others, dead in the ghettoes and camps or fled.

Fairly quickly, Poland became used to the story of being one religion, one ethne. By letting the story stand, unquestioned, the BBC colluded in this myth making. Interwar Poland was not a model of diversity, but it was a thriving, growing multinational, multiethnic, multi-religious nation-State. The loss of that multi haunts more than Poland. Now more than ever, that history should be invoked. Rather than circulating naturalizing alibis for murderous inaction, open the doors to the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, around the world.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Roman Vishniac Collection, International Center of Photography)

In the US and Europe: women, migrants, and injustice

Two news stories worthy of comment today: first, The New York Times reported yesterday that a nine-man, three-woman jury acquitted a young man from the elite prep school of St. Paul’s of rape charges, even when his 15-year-old victim reiterated over and over, that she had said “no” to her rape, several times during the ordeal.

What part of “No means No” did this jury not get?  In the twenty-first century?

The defense lawyer’s bizarre and illogical closing argument, which clearly found favor with at least some of the jurors, was this: “He’s not a saint. He’s a teenager.”  As if all male teens (and all men, it seems to imply), unless they are saints, will rape and assault young girls, and that that is a normal, acceptable thing; as if somehow, rape by teenagers should not be named or punished in the same way as rape by those who are not teenagers.  One of the six men who brutally raped and killed the bus commuter Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012 was a 17-year-old teenager.  Describing someone’s age status is not an argument. It is shameful that it became one, with a whole set of unspoken assumptions about acceptable sexual behavior, and seems to have been accepted by a majority of the members of that jury.  How this majority male jury was selected to decide a case involving a young girl’s rape, gender bias, and other serious concerns about this grave failure of the justice process also emerge.

The other story takes us to violence against a different vulnerable population: those Syrian, Iraqi, Eritrean, and Afghani refugees dying on Europe’s roads and shores, in its fields and seas– those that European countries and international media dishonestly and dehumanizingly call “migrants.”  As Hannah Arendt forcefully argued, based on the experience of Jewish refugees in the mid-twentieth century, these minorities have lost the protection of their states, and are “stateless people” – NOT “migrants.”  Even the term “refugee,” she argued, hid from view the fact that these people were in the position they were in because their states could/would no longer protect them and their basic human rights.  Instead of dehumanizing these stateless people by building more walls and pushing them out to sea, Europe needs to deliver on its promises in the 1951 Geneva Convention—made in the wake of the independence of most of the world from over 300 years of brutal British and European exploitation, dehumanization, enslavement, and colonization—to respect and protect the human rights of refugees.  Somini Sengupta nailed it when she noted, “Countries are free to deport migrants who arrive without legal papers, which they cannot do with refugees under the 1951 convention. So it is not surprising that many politicians in Europe prefer to refer to everyone fleeing to the continent as migrants.”

If European states refuse to help these human beings and turn them away from refuge, they are no better than the state governments people are fleeing. In the dissembling name “migrant” that denies people their history and human identity, Europe simply reproduces the inhumane state violence of those regimes it disparages.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Telesurtv.net) (Photo Credit 2: EurActiv.com)

South Africa built a special hell for asylum seekers: Refugee Reception Offices

A report released yesterday in Johannesburg reveals “shocking levels of corruption and serial abuse” at South African refugee centers. Of the five Refugee Reception Offices, Marabastad, in Pretoria, wins the Most Corrupt Award … again. The report, while dismaying, is no shock.

According to the report’s introduction, “Established in 1998, South Africa’s asylum system was designed to identify those individuals in need of protection in accordance with the country’s international obligations and democratic character.” By 1998, the South African government had traded in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, or RDP, for the Growth, Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR, strategy, which traded any promise of social justice for something called “growth.” Asylum seekers and refugees didn’t fall into the GEAR strategy, and so by the time South Africa decided it was time for asylum, it was already too late: “The current state of affairs is the product of a deliberate government choice to avoid addressing fundamental issues in the asylum system.”

Here’s Marabastad in 2008: “Asylum applicants at Marabastad have taken to sleeping outside the office, in the hope that this will improve their chances of getting inside. There are regularly between eighty and three hundred people sleeping outside. At night armed criminals visit the site. Incidents of theft are common. There have been several reports of rape. There is no shelter in the vicinity of the office and people often endure rain and very cold conditions. Many women sleep with babies by their side. On some occasions the police have visited during the night and arrested asylum seekers or extorted them for bribes. Fights about places in the queue are common, sometimes degenerating into the throwing of bricks and stones and leading to several cases of hospitalisation. On at least one occasion metropolitan officials arrived in the morning to clear all temporary shelters, bedding, and belongings of people gathered outside the office.” In 2011, “the conditions at Marabastad … still are, to most objective onlookers, appalling.”

And now, in 2015, Marabastad is the most corrupt, and this in South Africa, which had one of the highest asylum and refugee rejection rates in the world last year, rejecting between 90% and 100% of all asylum applications processed from Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, India, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Burundi and Uganda. South Africa is the land where all roads lead to rejection.

To the toxic brew of incompetence, underfunding, and xenophobic and sexist violence, yesterday’s report adds corruption. One has to pay to play, and many are the ways: pay to cross the border, move up the line, renew a permit, pay spurious fines, avoid arrest, and generally improve `service.’

Women figure in this variously. First, the researchers interviewed mostly men because there were more men than women outside the reception centers and because “women were generally less willing to participate.”

Second, in discussing the Department of Home Affairs, or DHA, tepid response to corruption, the report tells a story, “In July 2014, an asylum seeker told Lawyers for Human Rights that a refugee status determination officer (RSDO) at the Marabastad refugee reception office had asked her for R2500 in exchange for refugee status. LHR contacted the counter-corruption unit, which agreed to set up a sting operation.” What followed was a nightmare of bungling and general lack of concern on the part of the DHA, so that, in the end, all the weight falls on the most vulnerable and least able: “Asylum seekers must be willing to come forward, despite fear of reprisals, and must be able to provide … details. The DHA does not target the wider processes outside of these individual complaints.”

Finally, one asylum seeker in Cape Town reports: “People ask for money. Officials don’t help you or tell you what is happening. They play on their phones. Security guards ask for money but not openly. It is a previously made deal. Then they grab the people and take them to the front of the queue. Never women. People from Zim only get a one month extension and other people from other countries get 3 to 6 months.”

Never women.

 

(Photo Credit: Kristy Siegfried / IRIN)

In France, give the migrants legal documentation!

When the European Court of Human Rights was formed in 1959, many thought that it was a good step toward a more human Europe and hoped it would inspire better behavior beyond Europe. On June 8th, in Paris refugees escaping wars and human rights violations asked where was the European Court of Human Rights as they were thrown forcibly into a police bus on the Rue Pajol in the 18th district of Paris.

Despite a protective cordon formed of residents of the district, Communist Part and Left Front elected officials of Paris, and members of the many associations who bring support to migrants and refugees, the police special unit CRS intervened on the Rue Pajol in the 18th district. The police intervention was violent and destructive.

The refugees regrouped, after the police dismantled a nearby camp. These refugees have traveled far, mainly from Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt, and Sudan, and, since the summer of 2014, about 350 of the hundreds of thousands who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea have landed in this very visible improvised camp under the Parisian metro of Porte de la Chapelle, in the northern part of Paris.

On June 2, the first police intervention moved some asylum seekers to hotels in various areas around Paris and left others. Some came back even though they had a room in a hotel. They felt isolated, and they were starving since the authorities did not include food in their plans. As the executive director of the federation of associations dealing with social rehabilitation explained, at least in Paris, associations would deliver food to the camps.

In France, associations have historically formed a strong civil solidarity structure. Thanks to the work of associations such as France-terre-d’asile, Salam, and others, migrants receive support and food. These associations denounced the hypocrisy and repression but also welcomed the recent changes in the asylum bill that simplify the demand process and remove some of the constraints that were a true conundrum for refugees and plan for more housing structures. Additionally, since 2012, Europeans in France are permitted by law to welcome undocumented migrants in their home. These associations still question both the lack of financial support in this time of financial austerity and the expulsion process.

In fact, France terre d’asile had alerted the authorities of the formation of these camps some time ago, demanding decent solution for the migrant refugees. Today, they condemned a year of inaction that has left migrants living in precariousness and terrible sanitary conditions.

Despite an unprecedented mobilization of associations along with the OFPRA (Office francais de protection des refugiés et apatrides, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People), the State solution was to send the police and inflict violence on migrants.

Many camps have formed in France, especially in Paris and in Calais. Migrants face different legal situations. Some file for asylum, others don’t want asylum in France. But the main issue is to welcome them, explained Danielle Simonnet, a Paris Councilor. Although she judged it too late, she welcomed the proposition of the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to create transit camps where each migrant would receive the administrative, medical and human support needed. This is a question of pure solidarity, according to Danielle Simonnet, adding that France has not reacted in a timely manner to the situation. Among the refugees of Porte de la Chapelle, 16 of them had proper asylum documentation and still did not know where to go. In France, the law requires providing accommodation to asylum seekers. In addition, Pierre Henry, of France terre d’asile, had to intervene to get refugees out of detention centers, even though it is unlawful to detain them.

So why did the authorities respond with police instead of applying the law and behaving humanely?

Surveillance, policing and austerity are articulations of the current security mentality. The response from leaders of the right and extreme right has ranged from Marine LePen’s send them back to their war-torn countries and apply Australian immigration policies to Nicolas Sarkozy comparing the migrants to a water leak. With their disinformation, these leaders spread fear and intolerance, dehumanizing refugees and migrants. They bully the concept of solidarity. In fact, with 600 000 asylum seekers in 2014 for 500 million Europeans, Europe is not overwhelmed.

Instead, Europe must first end the Dublin II regulation that forces migrants to seek asylum in the country they first entered the EU. This regulation has caused migrants great suffering.

What of the people who live in France and don’t match any of the asylum categories? Danielle Simonet, Pierre Henry and many others respond, “Just give them legal documentation,” let them live decently, put in application the human rights concept!

(Photo Credit: NouvelObs)

Racism has produced the Mediterranean `refugee crisis”

Today, thousands of people escaping violence are killed or die because of the color of their skin, their origins, and because there are too many of “them” to fit into the neoliberal order of exploitation and competition. At the same time, the disequilibrium of the climate originated in the global North and has had a devastating impact on the global South.

The European Union had no qualms when it defunded and thus forced the Mare Nostrum Italian program to be abandoned and then moved to the Frontex program, based on nationalist (here European) security and militarization. Mare Nostrum saved 150 000 people, while Frontex, not designed to save people, has already killed thousands with more deaths to come.

This move seemed innocuous from the United States where the militarization of civil society has already been normalized.

After the events of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, went on air to establish that, thanks to the police and the military, the city was back in order, adding that Baltimore was resilient. Resilience rhymes with silence, and, as Audre Lorde taught, “silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness”.

The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means. Organizations as respected as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors without Borders), whose President once opposed the Western military actions in Libya, present in their latest reports evidence of this racist indifference and its consequences for real human beings. Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, continues to defend his government’s decision to involve France in the bombing of Libya. At least, another French president refused to participate to the destruction of Iraq but that was then.

Amnesty interviewed refugees to document the reality of the very long journey to the Mediterranean Sea shores. Libya is often the destination. People risk abduction and extortion by smugglers and police. Women face the additional risk of sexual violence, and all in the context of growing racial and religious intolerance. The next goal is to escape Libya where the rights of allegiance to local powers prevail over human rights. With the complicity of many, the smugglers have developed a new crude business in this zone of no rights.

The smugglers are merely taking advantage of a situation that has it source somewhere else. As Loris De Filipi, MSF President explained, “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible.” Both Amnesty and MSF are demanding a change of European policies.

The European Commission has proposed to create a quota system to distribute the migrant population among European countries according to their size and economy, “share the burden.” Thus far, only six countries out of the twenty-eight countries have agreed to participate to this program. British Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected participating in any EU migrant resettlement proposal. Her conservative counterparts in the EU have agreed with her. Instead, they have offered a military intervention to destroy the smuggling business in Libya.

The formula of “nothing for refugees and everything for the military” comes from a radically racialized world vision. The “refugee crisis” is is not a question of choice or opportunity, to use neoliberal language. People just want to escape the impossibility of life.

With about 19 000 km of walls built in the world, the message is violent and the violence it creates. We should instead look at opening the borders and learn about the racialization of humanity. Only by freeing the movement of people can the world start a desegregation process that is necessary if we want to survive. Every serious geographer agrees people thrive when they can move and not be fixed in place.

We have been told the markets should be free because they can regulate themselves. It’s not so. Having no real existence, markets, can never be free. Only the people can regulate, and only the people can know freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: MSF / Ikram N’gadi)

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)

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)