Detention Centre Australia

Australia’s immigration policy has been in the spotlight in recent times, especially since a violent riot in a detention centre on Manus Island where one detainee was killed and 77 were injured.

The Australian government currently ‘processes’ all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat in Australian-funded ‘offshore processing centres’ on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru.

Even if asylum seekers are deemed to be ‘genuine’ refugees (by either the governments of PNG or Nauru), however, they will still not be granted asylum in Australia. The only options ‘genuine’ refugees have are, currently, that they return to their often-war-torn country of origin[1] (and its persecutions) – from which they have already fled, bringing not much more than their own lives, and usually spending all their money to do so – or that they re-settle in PNG or, possibly, Nauru. If they are not found to be genuine refugees, they will be returned to their country of origin (or, possibly, some third country other than Australia). [2]

Conditions on both these island nations are relatively harsh, however, and are unlike – both naturally and culturally – what they are used to or what they were hoping to reach (i.e. Australia).[3] In addition, it seems no concrete deals have actually been made between PNG (or, it seems, Nauru) and the Australian government. (This was apparently made clear by PNG officials to asylum seekers shortly before the recent violence took place on Manus Island).[4] To date, none of the 1332 asylum seekers on Manus Island have had their applications processed since the centre opened in November, 2012. Not wishing to return to their country of origin, therefore, they are effectively cast into a black hole of indefinite detention.

Conditions at the detention centres are extreme, and have been condemned in recent UNHCR reports.[5] Accommodation is largely in tents. Air conditioning is apparently partial or non-existent,[6] with maximum daily temperatures averaging around 30 degrees Celsius (and minimums averaging around 26 degrees), with maximum daily humidity averaging around 93 per cent.[7] Other facilities are also basic, meaning there is little for refugees to actually do, other than wait – though for what is unclear.

Add to this charged situation already-existing cultural and ethnic tensions between various groups – as well as between refugees and some locals – and an explosive situation rapidly ensues.

Whistleblowers have now come forward to state that on the night Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed, locals entered the compound to directly confront refugees.[8]

Additional information on the event, as well as on the centres themselves, is limited at best. This is primarily due to the Australian government’s lack of transparency about what is actually taking place. The previous Australian government at least alerted the media every time a boat arrived in Australian waters or on Australian soil. The current government limited this information to a once-a-week press briefing, before scrapping even this. In addition, journalist’s visas to Nauru have risen from $200AUD to $8000 – an increase of 3900%.

The Australian government’s rationale for their policy is clearly to deter refugees from attempting to come to Australia by boat, come what may for those who have already done so, or will do so in the future. It is a policy aimed at deterring. It says, simply, ‘you are not welcome in Australia, even if you are fortunate enough to make it this far; you should not attempt to come here, or if you do, try some other way.’ (Australia accepts around 0.6 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers, or around 13,000 per year, compared to the USA [around 55,000], France [around 43,000] and Germany [around 41,000]. Around 85 to 90 percent of asylum seekers who have previously arrived in Australia by boat have been deemed genuine refugees, compared with around 40% of those who arrive by plane.[9] The vast majority of the world’s refugees, however, are forced to remain in the region neighbouring their country of origin, where years can go by in camps waiting for applications for asylum to be processed. It is, therefore, developing countries who carry the burden of the vast majority of the world’s refugees.[10])

In this sense, the policy itself is a kind of publicity stunt – a kind of detention fence – in order to keep people away, as are, tragically, the events and activities on Manus Island. Just as worrying, however, is the publicity message it sends to (and feeds off of) Australians themselves. It represents a pandering to a particular way of thinking that can exist among Australians, as well as a growing of this same paradigm. It is a planting, tending and harvesting of a particular mental ‘crop’ that appears from time to time in the cultural landscape of this country in often strange ways.

It is interesting, in this regard, to see how Australia (as a ‘nation’) came about. For more than 40,000 years the indigenous peoples of this continent have lived in harmony with and in service of the combined natural and spiritual environment – or ‘country.’ With the arrival of Europeans, however, this selfless service to country was largely replaced with selfishness and greed. Welcoming and introductions to country based on formal protocols were largely replaced by a taking of country. Who did the taking? It was taken by a whole wave of activity centred around those who did not want to be here at all, but who were no longer welcome in their own country – all those rotting in overcrowded prisons in Britain due to harsh laws for petty crimes. Convicts did not wish to come to Australia – did not wish to be sent from their families and homes, often for menial crimes – but they had no choice. They were sent to the other side of the world – to Australia – whether they liked it or not. Only some survived the voyage, however, and fewer survived conditions once they arrived.

Following this wave more individuals did actually choose to come here, choosing their land as they came. The claiming of Australia by Britain for its unwanted under-classes became a claiming of Australia by Britain on behalf of those who increasingly wished to come here, even up to this day. It was a mentality that said, ‘let us keep others out (also for economic reasons), so that we can send there those we do not want,’ towards an ever-increasing mentality of ‘let us keep others out so that we can be there and use it if we so wish, and perhaps gain economically in the meantime.’ (This remains today as a, conscious or otherwise, feeling among many Australians when it comes to the ownership of land).

In time this mentality grew, and grew into policies based simply on race. The White Australia Policy meant immigrants from certain European countries were intentionally favoured, especially Brits. This followed racial tensions that arose though various gold rushes in which, for example, Chinese nationals were effectively excluded from arrival into the state of Victoria (through an ‘arrival’ and ‘protection’ tax), only to land further afield and walk to the goldfields, if they were able to survive the long journey. Pauline Hanson’s ‘One Nation Party’ brought a flaring up of similar racist sentiment in the 1990s. Today, both sides of government seem to have picked up the same thread.

And what is this thread? What is it, essentially, an expression of? None other than a detained thinking activity. Whether it is planted and grown among Australian citizens, or whether it is already present and merely pandered to, or both, the kind of thinking that leads to the situation as it currently is, is none other than a thinking that is detained, and detained, potentially, indefinitely.

And so we must ask, Who has done the detaining? Such detained thinking activity comes from without and connects with its likeness in us – with thinking we have yet to liberate – and vice versa. Who is it that can liberate this thinking, then? Who can escape from the detention centre we have erected in our own minds? It is none other than ourselves. Only we ourselves are able to free our thinking and thereby ourselves from the kind of thought structures which lead to ‘this is mine, and you are not welcome, whatever your plight.’ Only a detention-free thinking can move from ‘me and mine’ – from the kind of selfishness that saw Australia ‘settled’ in the first place, and all the ‘settling’ that has gone on since, which is none other than a kind of ‘unsettling’ of all that is possible for this place and the human being today – only a self-liberated thinking can get beyond the selfish ‘out of sight out of mind’, ‘I am too busy with my own life to care for others’ thinking – and begin to move towards a form of selflessness and service-inspired thinking that recognises, paradoxically, something of one’s own self in those human beings our government currently locks away indefinitely in our name.

The real detention taking place here is the tragic detention unfolding within the hearts and minds of Australians and their so called ‘representatives’ in government. And because of this the real detention centre is everywhere this kind of thinking prevails – in every human being who keeps themselves detained with the sort of selfishness which rises to the surface here and elsewhere around the world. And because such thinking activity now forms policy on the national level we could say that the real, physical detention centre is not on Manus Island or Nauru, but is the nation of Australia itself. Australia has returned to something of its convict stage, albeit in a roundabout way. Now, however, we need no guards, for we keep ourselves detained. The guards are there to keep others out, for no-one else is welcome…unless, of course, one is white or has the time to go through the proper channels – in short, those, generally, not as desperate as those currently arriving here by boat.

Following the violent death of Reza Berati (the cause is still unclear), many Australians participated in candle-lit vigils, as did others around the world. Around 20,000 people took part in over 750 events of this kind. Members of the civil society group GetUp continue to fund visas for journalists to travel to Nauru. Minor parties continue to fight for more rights and better policies for refugees. Other civil society groups continue to be active. Amid the shadows and darkness there still burns bright a light.

And it is this light in each one of us that can provide the spark necessary to burn down the fences and guard towers that exist around our own minds and hearts, as well as around our will to act. We can become self-reliant individuals capable of seeing the reality of the matter at hand, which is that each and every individual detained in a foreign land by a government acting – supposedly – on our behalf – in each of these individuals there burns a candle, burns a flame for freedom, equality and humanity just as strong as our own, and that in joining together such candles – be it with other Australians or with other nationalities – we burn down not only those detention centres that keep us enslaved as individuals, but all those that keep us from our fellow human beings. In doing so we will be able to see and feel their suffering and their striving, and see it for what it truly is – our own as well.

In this way the fences and guard towers of Australia can finally begin to crumble, and the borders of this country can grow to include the whole of the rest of the world. We as individuals can hold the whole of the world within our borders; we as a country can do the same.

Then will Australia have something not to deny the rest of the world from having, in an isolationist way, but something it is prepared to give away freely.[11] This is a grand movement from selfishness to selflessness, of finding ‘the other’ and the world in myself, and vice versa – and of freely choosing to put myself in service of this – of the true sprit of the earth today, and the true spirit of our time. It is an echoing of the original Australian relationship between human beings and country that still continues to this day, though one which has passed through the needle-eye – the detention centre – of selfish individualism to an individualism that encompasses the whole world – the whole, global country – and all human beings.

Only out of the reality of such an experience as this will right policies be made now and into the future.

 

John Stubley


[1] Wars in which Australia has frequently participated.

[2] The whole situation is kept considerably and deliberately vague.

[3] The Australian government itself urges the exercising of “a high degree of caution” when visiting PNG, saying there exists “high levels of serious crime” such as car jacking, sexual assault and large crowds which may turn violent. See http://smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/papua_new_guinea

[5] Of Manus Island the UNHCR report finds that it does not comply with international standards and in particular that “current policies, operational approaches and harsh physical conditions:
a) constitute arbitrary and mandatory detention under international law;
b) do not provide a fair, efficient and expeditious system for assessing refugee claims;
c) do not provide safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention; and
d) do not provide for adequate and timely solutions for refugees.
Further, the ‘return-orientated environment’ observed by UNHCR at the RPC is at variance with the primary purpose of the transfer arrangements, which is to identify and protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection.” Similar things are said of Nauru. See http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/2013-11-26%20Report%20of%20UNHCR%20Visit%20to%20Manus%20Island%20PNG%2023-25%20October%202013.pdf  and http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/2013-11-26%20Report%20of%20UNHCR%20Visit%20to%20Nauru%20of%207-9%20October%202013.pdf

[11] Then will the grand Australian ideals of ‘a fair go,’ ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘mateship’ find true fruition in the world.

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