Maryam Namazie
Published in Hambastegi English
July 2001

Innocent people are often incarcerated in order to deter, control and intimidate the population at large. In Iran, runaway girls are imprisoned by the police for refusing to conform; in Jordan, women escaping honour killings are locked up while their accused male relatives roam free; and in Pakistan, women who have been raped are arrested and put away on charges of adultery.

In the West, too, there are innumerable innocent people who are detained and imprisoned – sometimes indefinitely. An ever-increasing segment of these innocents are asylum seekers who have fled war, civil rights violations, terror and persecution and have entered “illegally,” without first obtaining valid travel documents from their persecutors. Upon reaching “safety,” they are persecuted once again – imprisoned, treated like criminals, abused, dehumanised, brutalised, strip searched, shackled, chained and isolated. Women, men and children are physically and mentally tortured and broken. They are placed in conditions that will make any sane human being insane. Like death row inmates, detainees are faced with the daily mental anguish of awaiting deportations back to persecution. Deportation, like the death penalty, is another form of premeditated murder committed by the state.

Yet, western governments continue to build these concentration camps – many of them privately run – right by our homes and in our cities. Many of these centres are top security prisons. Many are old buildings, warehouses, army bases, and shutdown prisons and dorms no longer functional for citizens. In the US, every day, an average of 20,000 are held in immigration detention centres, many of them asylum seekers. In the UK, over a thousand are held in inhuman living conditions such as in Campsfield. In Australia, child sexual abuse, brutality and poor living conditions in detention are rife. Recently, a father in the Woomera detention centre “farmed” his son out to other detainees for sex in return for cigarettes. A Woomera medical officer stated that the sexual abuse was not reported to outside agencies because the Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), a private US company contracted to the Department of Immigration to run the detention centre, did not want the abuse to be known. Despite the scandal, the Australian government is negotiating with the ACM on extending its three-year contract, which expires next month.

Australia is the only western country, which has a non-reviewable, mandatory detention policy for all asylum seekers who enter without documents. Its adverse consequences on actual human beings are unmistakable. Peaceful protests staged at the detention centers against living conditions turned violent in August when 80 detainees burnt buildings. In July, 140 asylum seekers barricaded themselves in at Sydney’s Villawood camp and threatened to cut their throats, protesting inhumane conditions and mistreatment. In Western Australia, a series of fires was started at the Port Hedland detention center. Earlier this year, a dozen asylum seekers at the Curtin camp sewed their lips together as part of a protest. Conditions have led to such depression that three Somali asylum seekers have recently “voluntarily” returned to persecution rather than remain in Australia after three years in detention, as they had been traumatised by their experience.

The detention of asylum seekers is state-sponsored violence against victims of persecution. There is no justification for such brutality. Detention and deportation must not be tolerated in the twenty first century.

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