The callous cruelty of mandatory detention of asylum seekers

On this day after a detained asylum seeker threw himself off a detention centre roof to his death rather than be deported back to persecution in Fiji, this terrible yet fantastic post from Pamela Curr at the Drum should be required reading for all Australians with a social conscience:

As the antipathy towards asylum seekers grows, carefully nurtured through successive elections by our politicians, Australia is reaching a position which allows any cruelty and indignity to be visited upon asylum seekers and their children.

Curr (campaign coordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) goes on to outline an appalling litany of neglect and abuse:

Right now our detention centres are filled with people who have experienced or witnessed torture and trauma. Teenagers without parents who have nothing to do all day but worry about their widowed mothers and vulnerable brothers and sisters in camps. One 16-year-old who slashed himself told me, “I had to cut myself because of the pain in my head – it was exploding”. He is still in detention waiting with nothing to do all day, locked in the same place for six months.

There are people with bodies full of shrapnel. Shrapnel moves inside the body, rubbing and slicing muscles and nerves, destroying tissue. The contracted medical services have decided not to remove shrapnel because “many people in detention centres have shrapnel wounds – these injuries which are not life threatening, occurred before they came into the centres”.

Last time it took the discovery of a blond, blue-eyed Australian resident to ring the alarm bells on Australia’s mandatory indefinite detention policy. Change was enacted to relieve pressure on an embarrassed government but legislation did not make this change lasting and so here we are five years later back in the brutal dark ages where human rights abuses can be enacted on asylum seekers in detention.

There’s so much more to be ashamed of, as Carr lays out.

She finishes with the hope that a minority government, especially once the Greens hold the BoP in the Senate, might finally work to improve matters with regard to treating asylum seekers with simple human dignity and a modicum of kindness. I’ve been reading a few people on other blogs pointing out how different was the rhetoric about boat-people back in the 70s and 80s, where media coverage concentrated on the horrors they were escaping and the neighbourly kindness of Aussies welcoming refugees to the safety of our communities. Back then we had Migrant Hostels, not Detention Centres. Grateful new residents wanted to work hard to repay their new country and were assisted to do so, and their children and grandchildren are citizens who make a solid contribution to Australia now.

How did we let ourselves go so wrong, and what can we do to fix it?

Categories: ethics & philosophy, media, Politics, social justice

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3 replies

  1. My parents lived in migrant hostels, it’s where they met. Sadly, my father does not have any compassion for these poor people. I hope we can fix this horrible attitude in our society. I can’t fathom abusing people who came to us for help.

  2. It does seem to be sadly rather common amongst some migrants from previous generations to believe that today’s asylum seekers are somehow cheating the system.
    There’s a couple more good articles today:
    Russell Skelton in the SMH: Human price of immigration detention centres ‘too high’

    Jeanette Gibson believes Australia has treated its hardened criminals more humanely than its asylum seekers marooned in the legal limbo of indefinite detention.

    Harry Minas in The Age: The problem is detention, not asylum seekers

    The individuals who have tipped this bucket on Australian public life have much to answer for. It is bad enough that their expressions of prejudice, opportunism and ignorance have gained such currency. It is worse that they have done much to entrench ineffective, wasteful and harmful practices.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have been wondering what in hell I can do to influence this myself since seeing the Darwin compound and reading about it in Crikey. I don’t have many suitable words to describe our actions as a country here… ‘horrifying’, ‘disgusting’, ‘soulless’, ‘cruel’ don’t even seem to approach it. It is all so unnecessary. I can’t believe we used to have migrant hostels!!!!!!!!!! so much a better idea!!!!!!!

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