Another small victory against detention
It’s not enough though

Maryam Namazie
Published in Hambastegi English
December 16, 2002

Under massive international and national pressure, the Australian government has partially backed down on the issue of detention of asylum seekers. Under new guidelines released by Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, unaccompanied minors will now be placed in foster care and women with children will be offered an ‘alternative’ to living in high-security detention centres. Also, the Australian government has reported that it will shut down Woomera detention centre as soon as possible. As Hambastegi readers know, Woomera has been labelled the worst detention centre in Australia for its human rights abuses and has been the scene of intense opposition by the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, asylum seekers, refugee rights activists and others nationally and internationally.

The release of women and children from detention and the shutting down of Woomera are critical gains and show just how important protesting, raising public awareness and mobilising support for asylum seekers is. We must keep this pressure on and escalate it. We must keep organising positive forms of protest including demonstrations, sit-ins, speaking tours, caravans and public meetings to gain public support in Australia and internationally. We must organise escapes and break-and pull down detention centre barbed wire walls (as was done at Woomera) and so on.

Yet while the partial retreat of the Australian government is significant, it is in no way enough. It is not enough for the Australian government to release women and children. It is not enough for them to shut down Woomera. It is not even enough for them to end the policy of mandatory detention. The Australian government must completely end its policy of detaining asylum seekers and shut down all its detention centres. It must end the so-called Pacific solution and allow asylum seekers entry into Australia. It must pay reparations to all those it has interned and mentally and physically abused. (We recently received news that the Badraies, parents of Shayan, a seven-year-old Iranian boy who was seriously traumatised and mentally scarred by two years in detention will launch a $750,000 legal action against the Immigration Minister and his department for Shayan’s pain and suffering and the costs of ongoing psychiatric counselling.) The Australian government must give in to an independent inquiry to investigate the extent of its abuses and that of private companies like the ACM that have been managing centres and abused rights. The Australian government must officially and publicly concede wrongdoing. The Immigration Minister Ruddock and Prime Minister Howard must resign.

Of course, whether or not these happen, depend on us. Human beings, within progressive movements, make change for the better, not governments. Will we be able to force the Australian government to a complete retreat? Can we make the law on detaining asylum seekers as much of an outrage in public opinion as the Australian government’s 1930s law which allowed Aboriginal ‘half-caste’ children to be removed from their homes and transported to ‘re-education’ centres where they were trained as domestic workers in order to ‘integrate’ them?

There are many factors involved in whether we can succeed but there are several important ones that need to be mentioned here. One is that the protest we continue to organise must be a positive and international one. We mustn’t allow asylum seekers to harm and mutilate themselves in the ensuing protests. In defence of asylum rights, too, advocates mustn’t use backward and negative methods such as hunger strikes or symbolic mutilations just as they wouldn’t use these methods say in defence of a firefighters’ strike. The working class must intervene in this struggle as a struggle that affects all of society. We must never compromise on people’s rights. We must call detention and detention centres what they are. Detention is a sanitised name for imprisoning innocent people who have committed no crime. Detention centres are concentration camps. These centres are nothing but symbols of state racism (while the Australian government has conceded that most ‘illegal’ immigrants are British, it is the ‘easterners’ that are locked up like animals). They are nothing but institutions of state-sponsored violence under legal cover. Clearly, detaining innocent people who have fled persecution, violations, political Islam and countries like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, even for an hour is a crime. On these we must not compromise.

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