We, detainees and ex-detainees, have endured many hardships. We have survived wars, terror and violence, crossed borders and reached perilous open seas. Where we have hoped to find sanctuary, we have instead been greeted with hostility and state sanctioned violence in the form of mandatory, indefinite detention. For more than two decades our communities have been languishing inside Australia’s detention centres and have been left waiting in-limbo in impoverished conditions in community detention. Where we have hoped to find freedom, we instead have been imprisoned, punished and used as political fodder for the self-interested prerogatives of politicians and the media.
When we ex-detainees speak up, our voices are marginalised, used as add-ons and props whenever it suits: Nothing About Us Without Us
It is evident to us that Australia is succeeding at enacting, or at providing the world with a blueprint for contemporary modes of border imperialism. Australia’s unrelenting devotion to its politics of deterrence, built on the foundations of racism, punishment and imprisonment demonstrates to us that this country is one that not only allows but applauds its on-going mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Despite the extraordinary lack of transparency, detention centres here and across the world, have become well established as sites of institutionalised torture and inhumane operations. Our suffering is not happenstance but is in fact the direct manifestation and primary objective of consecutive governments’ “tough on boats” policies.
Regardless of our age, gender or body, immigration detention centres have a detrimental effect on all of us. Inside Australia’s detention centres we endure more abuse, torture and suffering. Our ongoing persecution by the Australian government violates our basic human rights and contravenes multiple international conventions, law and covenants. There have been many inquiries and many reports of deaths and sexual abuse within these camps yet nothing has changed because the Australian government is not being held accountable. Refugee cases have been mishandled, unfairly dismissed and processed without proper adherence to refugee rights protocol and this should stop immediately.
We come to Australia as survivors of institutionalised torture, political persecution, sexual abuse, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discriminatory and violent treatment. Trauma features as a constant in our lives and when we are detained indefinitely and treated with abject hostility, this compounds the debilitating effects of trauma and further robs us of our dignity. Upon leaving the detention centre we continue to carry those physical and mental scars with us. Permanent psychological trauma overwhelms our lives and this is the same for every detained and ex-detained person around the world. It is worrying that after the trauma of fleeing one’s homeland, the trauma of indefinite and prolonged administrative detention and the trauma of settling into an unfamiliar environment, people are expected to deal with such overt anti-refugee sentiments every single day. Such sentiments serve as a reminder to us that in Australia, we do not belong and that our existence, if eventually welcomed, will always be marginal.
We, detainees and ex-detainees, completely oppose all forms of detention, whether this is for one year, for thirty days or even for one minute. Mandatory detention, from its very inception, is premised on the assumption that asylum seekers and refugees are “risky” and “dangerous” people who require differential treatment and containment. Such assumptions are based on malice and directly feed into negative images and discourses about us. Such assumptions have a severe, deleterious and prolonged impact on us. They criminalise us and suggest that no matter what we say or what we do, our communities will always be and already are being considered as deviant, marginal and criminal.
We, detainees and ex-detainees, object to forcibly restricting the movement of asylum seekers to a specified location and the requirement of regular reporting in community detention. Although not confined to a physical building, community detention continues to be oppressive on the individual liberty of a person. This de-facto institutional detention is tantamount to arbitrary and indefinite detention, which for many of us is experienced as highly debilitating and degrading. The situation is further exacerbated by the deportation of refugees back to countries where it is certain we will face further persecution for the very issues from which we seek refuge, and for some of us, we will face imprisonment for the very act of fleeing the country.
We ex-detainees, who have sought protection and freedom in Australia, acknowledge that we live on colonised land where Indigenous peoples are the traditional and on-going owners and where sovereignty has never been ceded. We recognise that the racism that pervades this country’s institutions and public spheres – the racism that we have been subjected to in Australia’s mandatory, indefinite detention system – has its foundations in the systemic and structural violence that Indigenous peoples of this country continue to experience to this day. When we call for an end to the vilification of asylum seekers and refugees, and an end to border imperialism, we call for solutions which centre justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – justice as called on by them, on their terms and nothing else.
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