05 November 2013

On Detention

When you’re unemployed you suddenly find yourself with enough time to do some of the stuff you’d always thought you’d do if you had enough time (obviously keeping my blog up-to-date is not included in this paradigm). So last week and for no-apparent reason I decided I’d go down to the weekly meeting outside the immigrant detention centre at the airport and check out what’s going on there.

For context, I will at the outset acknowledge that I have written before about supporting the off-shore processing scheme, and that I am generally in favour of keeping tabs on people who have arrived in some way other than by official channels.

I also know what it’s like to be locked upon attempting to enter a supposedly civilised country, albeit  only a few hours, not months or years like the detainees experience here.

It was a very strange experience for me. A few locals go down to the centre quite regularly, and a number of detainees come down to the fences with their children to meet and talk about what’s going on. It’s great to put a human face on the issue and to hear what the detainees have to say. It’s clear they are desperate to get out and under a lot of stress from the uncertainty of their situation. And in a number of cases their detention is probably unnecessary, but it’s just so difficult to know the whole story.

One of the most frustrating things about being intelligent is the tension that constantly comes from holding two competing and even mutually exclusive ideas in your head at the same time. I would have to say I’m still in favour of mandatory detention while refugee claims are verified, but I’m sure there has to be a better way to accommodate families than the facilities being operated at the moment. I would encourage anyone who is interested in the issue, whatever your opinion on the matter, to get down to a centre and see the situation for yourself.

Except that now that opportunity is probably gone. The last time I was there, a news team from the ABC came with a camera and documented the stories from a number of detainees. And just like that, the visits at the fence stopped. There are still locals outside wanting to meet detainees, but none are coming to the fence.

Why not?

The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) reports it has received communication from inside the detention centre that Serco (the company that runs the centres) employees have told detainees that they aren’t to talk to people at the fence, and that if they go down and talk, it could endanger their application status.

If it’s true, this is appalling.

Serco have repeatedly insisted that the facilities they run are not prisons. They’re facilities that people are locked up in and which they are not permitted to leave, but they’re not prisons. Also the detainees are not criminals. To tell the detainees that they can’t interact with the people outside, and to use people's asylum applications as blackmail, is either a blatant admission that Serco’s attitude doesn’t match its public rhetoric, or it’s just a massive and flagrant case of bullying the defenseless. Either way, it’s not acceptable.

I’m still in favour of keeping tabs on new arrivals while their identity and background are confirmed. But there’s got to be a better way to do it. And there’s got to be a better company to do it through.

Make of that what you will.



Garry with 2 Rs
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