Tragedies Highlight Importance Of Activism

Regrettably, this year marks 20 years since the introduction of mandatory detention in Australia. 20 years of mandatory detention is simply 20 years too long.  That is why on Sunday the 17th of June, in commemoration of World Refugee Day, the Monash Refugee Action Collective (MRAC) joined more than 1200 people from over 50 advocacy groups to bang our feet on the ground and send a message to the Australian Government that it is time to put an end to the mandatory detention of refugees and asylum seekers. Pre-march speakers included Godfrey Yoganath, from the Tamil Youth Organisation, and Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. The march opened with a run-through banner to symbolise the breaking down of detention centre fences. Despite light rain, spirits were high as we proudly raised our signs and our voices in welcome of refugees.

Currently, there are over 4,400 refugees locked up in detention centres across Australia, more than 500 of whom are children. This blatantly violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which a child should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest time frame possibly. It is a completely indefensible act.

It is also important to remember the refugees and asylum seekers who are locked up in these prisons are people who have committed no crime, are fleeing from terror and oppression in their home countries, and yet are subjected to the horrible conditions of mandatory detention. Major depression has been diagnosed in more than 60% of asylum seekers with a group of Australian psychiatrists recently identifying a new type of insanity specific to the torment that asylum seekers experience after arriving in Australia and being detained.

The refugee determination process in Australia puts such a strain on refugees that even those who are granted asylum have been known to experience post-traumatic stress disorders and insomnia. At the Broadmeadows Detention Centre (euphemistically referred to by the government by the Orwellian title Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation), up to 70 per cent of detainees are being supplied with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills. In Darwin, on average, five asylum seeks are brought to the emergency department every day as the result of suicide attempts; since the year 2000 more than 35 people have died in mandatory detention. The way Australia processes refugees is shameful and needs to change immediately.

Then there is ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. They are responsible for holding 60 refugees in detention indefinitely, six of whom are children, because they have been deemed an ‘adverse security threat’, meaning they are too dangerous to be released into the community but cannot be sent back to their country of origin as they have been granted refugee status. ASIO holds this power to detain refugees indefinitely without needing to allow the refugees to see the evidence against them or to know the criteria that is used to make this assessment.

And then we have the most recent tragedies. Within two weeks of hitting the streets for World Refugee Day, up to a hundred asylum seekers in two separate incidents were killed when their boats sunk enroute to Australia. In response, our politicians espoused to be ‘humanitarians’, looking for a ‘solution’ to this ‘problem’ faced by our nation. The media shamefully followed their regressive rhetoric.

But detention, offshore or onshore, has proven to be a hideous, discriminatory policy, founded on racism and xenophobia. It is an utterly abhorrent way to treat desperate, vulnerable people who have turned to Australia for help, looking to escape horrendous circumstances. To describe this as a solution is disgusting.

Furthermore, it is the policies of the Australian government, both past and present, that have been murderous. Through their scuttling of asylum seeker boats upon arrival, through their active participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and through their support of oppressive regimes such as in Sri Lanka, the Australian government has forced people to get on these shoddy, leaky boats and is ultimately responsible for their deaths in Australian seas.

The fact is there is nothing humanitarian about the policies of both our major parties. Humanitarianism is not locking up innocent men, women and children, whether in Malaysia, Nauru, Christmas Island or Broadmeadows. Humanitarianism is not painting asylum seekers and refugees simply as ‘problems’ that need to be ‘solved’. And humanitarianism is certainly not deterring the boats or towing them back. Humanitarianism is helping others. Humanitarianism is letting the boats land.

Sadly, the two weeks following World Refugee Day highlight exactly how important such an event is, and how vital it is that a movement exists within Australia that continues to fight and campaign for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Such a movement is something that MRAC wants to help create and sustain. MRAC is here to fight the continual demonizing of refugees and asylum seekers by our governments; we are here to act as a political voice opposed to regression and racism; and we are here to ensure that when innocent asylum seekers are politically persecuted by the Australian government, they are not alone in their struggle. Why not join us in our fight?

To find out more about MRAC or to get involved, contact MSA Environment & Social Justice Office Bearer Laura Riccardi on 0401315387 or at 

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