For the past 10 months, I have been visiting an Immigration Detention Centre in Melbourne. In this time, I have meet some of the most amazing, strong, determined and brave people I think that I will ever meet. For many, their incarceration has been over 6 years. They have not been charged with any crime or offence, nor have they been told why they are being held.
Essentially, they are being held indefinitely, with no end in sight. The only reasons given is, that ASIO has determined them to be ‘undesirable’. No further explanation has been given, and therefore no chance for the detainees to defend any accusations made against them.
Imagine for a moment that you and your family were faced with potential harm, murder, rape, beatings, incarceration or persecution for your beliefs, your values or simply due to the colour of your skin, all at the hands of your government. Obviously you would want to flee before you are discovered, to avoid these terrible things happening to you and your loved ones.
Searching the area, you realise that surrounding countries have extradition deals with your country, meaning that if you sought shelter there, you risk being sent back immediately to receive your fate.
Your options limited, you now seek a country that is a signatory to the UN Convention for Refugees (1951), meaning that they must accept you, process you in a timely manner, and assist with your settlement (and NOT send you back to the horrors that you have fled from).
Australia in your sights, you take a harrowing journey on a leaky boat, with no one on the boat able to swim, all fearful for their lives, but knowing that even this fate is a better choice than the horrors you are fleeing from.
Upon arrival, you are snatched up, whisked away, perhaps separated from your spouse, children or friends. Interrogated, and given a number (replacing your name) you are sent to a camp on a remote island. You are unsure if your family are arriving there also, or if they are sent elsewhere. Scared and alone, you discover that some people have been there in the camp for 18 months, 2 years, 3 years… Surely they are isolated incidents?
Eventually you are reunited with your family. Huddled together, you find that you now need to clamber for food, water, showers, toilets, sanitary products, soap, and even clothing. This is still better than where you have fled from, albeit rather inhumane.
Eventually one of your loved ones falls ill. Now you can experience the terror of being ignored when pleading with your captors for medical assistance. Doctors are only available 1-2 days a week, and the nearest hospital is partly burned down and riddled with Asbestos. For extreme cases, there are rumours that they can fly the sick person to the mainland, but they remain under guard and handcuffed like a criminal. Once well, they are returned to the camp. Sanitary conditions are below most standards of the developed world, with no water for toilets, 2 minute showers to conserve what water is available, and general filth coating every wall that you have seen.
As the months pass by, and slowly turn into years, you realise that this is your life. This is all you have now. It is still a better option than the terrors you have left behind, but every day has you question if it all might have been easier if you had stayed and faced the government, possibly being executed or forced to watch on as your daughters, wife and mother are raped before you are killed.
If faced with these circumstances, what would you do? Of course, I will assume that you would at least expect better treatment in the camp, or perhaps you would demand to be released, as you are seeking asylum? Now imagine that the government holds you in the camp indefinitely, without charge, without reason, and without communication. Essentially locking you up for the remainder of your life, simply for wanting to pursue the basic human right to feel safe and not fear being murdered or raped. I will assume you would be rather upset, angry, saddened, angry and most likely anxious and depressed.
THIS is happening in Australia right now. Today. In 2015.
THIS is an embarrassment to this once great country of ours.
Are we not better than this? Surely this is not how we want to be remembered in the history books?