The time for concern is over. Shut Yarl’s Wood down today!

Last year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded a report on Yarl’s Wood: “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern … Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held … We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances.” Over the weekend, it was reported that the Home Office refused to reveal how many women have been raped or sexually assaulted because “disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests” of companies that run Yarl’s Wood. Serco runs Yarl’s Wood, and G4S provides Yarl’s Wood health services. Today, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women held in immigration detention, which would mean primarily Yarl’s Wood. This demand comes after months of the Home Office refusing to answer questions, refusing to acknowledge that questions and requests have been made. When it comes to women, the only thing that counts is corporate and State profit. Mass produced illegality is big business, generally. The big business of women’s illegality has been secured in black sites in our backyards. Across the suburban spectrum of so-called liberal representative democracies, women asylum seekers are being renditioned.

Yarl’s Wood is filled with pregnant women, women trauma survivors, lesbian women, African women, women torture survivors, women seeking help, and it is as it has always been, a special “hell on earth” designed to torture precisely those women. Ira Putilova, a Russian LGBTQ activist who sought asylum in England and was thrown into Yarl’s Wood, reflected on the case of Prossie N, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was deported to Uganda: “We came and left, but Yarl’s Wood stayed and we should do something with it. Help people inside. … Because borders and detention centres should disappear and all homophobes and racists should be sent to the moon! Fuck them! Free Prossie N!”

Borders and detentions centers must disappear. This is the inhuman geography of purchased security, in which the State acts as nothing more than the bouncer at the door of the global club of “commercial interests.” The time for “concern” is over. Yarl’s Wood is a black site in which women are being abused in an ever growing infinite of ways. It is an abomination, and it is being replicated everywhere. Tear it down … now. Shut Yarl’s Wood and its fraternal order of detention centers across the “free world” today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Establishment) (Photo Credit 2: BBC News)

War against the refugees, madness, madness, war

The news today presents the two faces of a spinning coin. On one side, the direct war against asylum seekers. On the other side, the structural war against asylum seekers. Spin the coin, and the two become one.

On a morning talk show today, Australia’s Prime Minister was asked about the varieties of silence and secrecy that mark the State’s campaign against boat people reaching Australia. Boats have been secretly towed to Indonesia, according to some reports. Reporters are routinely denied access to immigration prisons. The Prime Minister’s response is telling: “The public want the boats stopped and that’s really what they want – that’s really my determination. If stopping the boats means being criticised because I’m not giving information that would be of use to people smugglers, so be it. We are in a fierce contest with these people smugglers. If we were at war we would not be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves.”

When it comes to the immigration centers, the Prime Minister continued his line of reasoning: “I am confident that we are running these centres competently and humanely … Let’s remember that everyone in these centres is there because he or she has come illegally to Australia by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong. We don’t apologise for the fact that they are not five star or even three star hotels. Nevertheless, we are confident that we are well and truly discharging our humanitarian obligations. People are housed, they’re clothed, they’re fed, they’re given medical attention, they’re kept as safe as we can make it for them, but we want them to go back to the country from which they came. That’s what we want.”

The public wants, we want, war. Under the new campaign, Operation Sovereign Borders, Australia militarized its refugee practices, policies and policing agencies. In permanent of border protection, all’s fair, and no need to discuss justice. It’s about winning the fierce contest. The Prime Minister bristles with military `confidence’.

On the other side of the world, the British government today received a report from its National Audit Office. The report, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, suggests, in detail, that the `confidence’ placed in private corporations that house asylum seekers was, at best, misplaced.

COMPASS stands for Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support. As always, this outsourcing was meant to save the government money. In March 2012, the government contracted three companies: G4S, Serco and Clearel. From the beginning, Clearel seemed to meet its contractual obligations, and complaints from residents were far and few between. G4S and Serco, on the other hand, started poorly and continued in that vein. This is not surprising, given that neither Serco nor G4S had any experience in housing asylum seekers. They knew how to detain them, how to put them in cages and throw away the keys, as the Yarl’s Wood experiences have shown. But they had never actually housed asylum seekers in communities. So … how did they get the contracts?

Confidence.

The two largest outsourcing and private security corporations in the world exuded confidence. The State felt confident as well. And now, two years later, they’re failing, and the government wants to recover £7m, and that’s just for starters.

Sometimes the housing was substandard, other times the processes were inhumane. With little to no prior warning and absolutely no consultation, women and children, in particular, found themselves shunted from one side of the country to another. Women asylum seekers also reported that staff would carry out unannounced property visits. Sometimes staff would enter into the house or apartment without even knocking. Some women asylum seekers reported these intrusions “made them feel unsafe.” The majority of women asylum seekers in England, as everywhere, are fleeing sexual violence, more often than not from partners or community members, and are single. None of that mattered to the staff; they had their jobs to do.

When it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, only confidence counts. The State has confidence in itself and in its contracted confreres. In the Australian and the British cases, this confidence is intensified by the racial/ethnic dynamic of White majority governments declaring war on individuals and populations, and in particular women and children, of color.

Where once the situation was “war amongs’ the rebels, madness, madness, war”, today the song sung with confidence is “war against the refugees, madness, madness, war.”

 

(Photo Credit: AAP/Scott Fisher)

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)

In the UK, disbelief haunts the asylum process for women

Two hundred years ago, poetic faith was described as “that willing suspension of disbelief.” At that point, a culture of disbelief meant folk cultures and fantasy were relegated to the dustbin of history by `the lettered classes.’ Today, disbelief sends women asylum seekers to prison. Progress?

In the United Kingdom, women asylum seekers encounter a “culture of disbelief.” When Asylum Aid looked into the situation of initial decision-making in women asylum seekers cases, they found that 87 percent were turned down at the first hearing. Why? The UK Border Agency agents didn’t believe the claims. 87 percent is high, but that’s actually not the higher math. 42 percent of the rejected claims were overturned on appeal. In fact, 50% were ultimately overturned. The over-all average for overturning rejected appeals is 28%. That means that women’s stories are discounted as lies, at least by the border agents who make the preliminary decisions.

And it gets worse. Women wait longer than men to hear a final decision. How do they live while waiting?

In Scotland, all asylum seekers receive free healthcare. This includes those whose claims have been rejected. This means women. First, women make up a proportionately large part of those appealing, post rejection. Second, addressing women’s health concerns and, even more, women asylum seekers’ health concerns by engaging with the women as autonomous persons helps bring them into the larger and everyday social world. It is part of a larger Scottish project of refugee integration. But Scotland is the exception. For the rest of the United Kingdom, for Westminster, the situation is toxic, lethal.

Asylum seekers do not need to labor under the additional burdens, or are they punishments, of isolation and desperation. And depression. The vast majority of women asylum seekers are fleeing sexual and physical violence. Add to that isolation and a dehumanizing process, and you have a perfect recipe for self-harm and worse.

What is the architecture of the culture of disbelief? Prison. Private prison, at that, such as Yarl’s Wood, run by Serco. The typical scenario for a woman asylum seeker is travel long distance, end up in an overcrowded room with tons of strangers, approach a person sitting, austerely, behind a glass, and then, in a loud enough voice to be heard by a bunch of people, tell him or her the story of how you were violated. And then suffer rejection, being called a liar. And then go to Yarl’s Wood … or some other prison.

Welcome to the so-called “culture of disbelief.” Welcome to `democracy’.

It’s not disbelief. It’s efficiency. If 87 percent of the storytellers are rejected, that’s because the judge isn’t listening. Anyway, it’s more efficient to reject 87 percent, even if half will be overturned. Think of the savings from those who don’t appeal and from those who appeal and don’t succeed. And then think of the profits generated through the incarceration of innocent women courageous enough to tell their stories to strangers, courageous enough to seek a better world, despite all odds. That’s extraction of value, of profit, from time, from flesh, from pain and suffering, from degradation, from women.

This system, this version of `democracy’, was established during the bubbly times, during the economically ascendant times … for some. What is coming, as the UK charges from efficiency to austerity, is predictable. More cuts. Cuts to legal aid. Cuts to health services. Cuts upon cuts.

What is needed is a national campaign of willing a suspension of the culture of disbelief. Call it …  democracy. Call it, as well, feminism.

 

(Photo Credit: Liverpool Antifascists)

Who will write a requiem for Josefa Rauluni?

Once upon a time a man named Josefa Rauluni left the island nation of Fiji for Australia, where he applied for asylum, or “protection”. He was turned down. He was taken to Villawood Detention Centre, a private facility run by Serco. He continually appealed the decision. He continually appealed to the State for asylum, for protection. He maintained he feared for his life if he returned to Fiji. The State responded with a deportation notice. The State told Josefa Rauluni that he would be deported on September 20, 2010.

The night of September 19, Josefa Raulini sent two faxes to the Ministerial Intervention Unit at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They read, ”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”. The State did nothing.

And so, on the morning of September 20, 2010, Josefa Raulini informed the guards, “I’m not going, if anyone goes near me, I will jump“. The guards did nothing. They did not try to reason with him. They did not try to calm him down. Finally, they tried to use force. As they moved in, Josefa Raulini jumped from a first floor balcony railing. He dove, head first, hit the ground, and died.

And the State did nothing to stop him.

It turns out the State could only do nothing because the Villawood staff has no suicide prevention training. Imagine a prison for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected and who are awaiting imminent deportation.

Now imagine no one with suicide prevention training. The State `forgot’.

Today is the second day of an inquest into Josefa Rauluni’s death. It is the first of three such inquests into Villawood `suicides’. Josefa Rauluni did not commit suicide. He was pushed. Not by a physical hand but rather by a State whose efficiencies include the absence of mental health care providers in a place designed to drive its residents suicidal and mad.

“”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”.

Who will write a requiem for Josefa Raulini and for all the imprisoned asylum seekers  who have perished in State custody? Who will write a requiem for the terrible years?

Fifty years ago, in 1961, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova concluded writing “Requiem”, an account of “the terrible years of the Yezhov terror”, 1935 – 1940, during which she spent seventeen months, every day, waiting in a line outside the Leningrad prison, waiting for someone who would never return.

The poem begins:

“No foreign sky protected me,
no stranger’s wing shielded my face.
I stand as witness to the common lot,
survivor of that time, that place.”

Who will stand for the time and place, who will give witness to the life and death, of Josefa Raulini? Will we have to wait thirty years, and more, for the foreign sky that offers haven rather than death? Until then, Josefa Raulini haunts the contemporary prison-State.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.matavuvale.com)