May 8, 2013
Minister O'Connor has announced that families with young children will soon be eligible for release into the community and that families will be spend less time in immigration detention. So we should be rejoicing right, planning another end to ChilOut. Sadly, nope.
Here's a wrap up of what the Minister had to say, our take on it and some of the questions that remain unanswered.
No Advantage Bridging Visas (BVs) - In announcing the changes to BVs the Minister stated that he is "not changing the no-advantage principle".
Does this mean people will be on bridging visas for five years? This is the length of time the Govt has suggested people will be detained on Nauru and Manus Island. The "no advantage" principle applies to those who arrived after 13 August 2013, who is selected for detention on Manus Island or Nauru and who remains in Ausrtalia is a complete lottery.
If processing of refugee claims on Nauru and Manus Island continues to be delayed, will BV holders in Australia also have to face delays just to keep them in line with their extremely unfortunate counterparts detained offshore?
Giving advocates what they asked for. Minister O'Connor stated that his announcement was "...a response to, I think, advocates who've called for ensuring that people are treated properly." Ummm, these changes are not what we or any of the organisations we work very closely with asked for. We have all called for well supported community detention not bridging visas. We have all called for asylum seekers in the community to have work rights and we have all called for money to be spent on positive community programs rather than remote, costly detention facilities.
Releasing people into the community without adequate support can be devastating. here is just one article exploring this in November 2012.
Cost Effective - the Minister stated that a reason for including families in BV grants is that it is"cost effective".
Yes there will be a huge saving by having less people in expensive, remote detention facilities for long periods. But this isn't exactly what's happening...In the same press conference Minister O'Connor confirmed that families will be detained at Curtin (very remote WA) and Wickham Pt (35km outside Darwin). Transfer costs alone involved in getting people to and from these centres are huge, let alone running costs and capital upgrades needed.
Dumping people in the community to fend for themselves may be an immediate cost saving for the Government, but it means that charities and NGO will be stretched even further to provide basic assistance to vulnerable men, women and children. Families will receive around 89% of Newstart allowance, no housing assistance (or perhaps bond to be re-paid via deductions at a time chosen by the government) and will not be permitted to work.
Is it really cost effective in the long-term to leave people destitute, out of the work force for five years, have them needing crisis assistance and potentially developing mental health issues as a result of their desperate situation? (the cynic would say the long-term is not important to this Govt)
Unaccompanied Minors - Minister O'Connor did not mention and was not asked about UAMs. There is no suggestion that children will be thrown out into the community to fend for themselves on BVs. However, we are very concerned that these changes could indicate a winding back or even end to Community Detention and therefore a hugely increased time in remote detention facilities for children who arrive to Australia without an adult relative.
What are Bridging Visas? This visa class is exactly what it sounds like, a stop gap between visas. Something to keep you afloat, or in this case to keep you living in the community with a lawful visa status. They're not just for asylum seekers by any means, someone who came on a tourist visa and is awaiting their de-facto or other substantive visa may be granted one. Briding Visa E (BV E) is the one most commonly granted to asylum seekers in the community, associated conditions are that the holder cannot work and cannot apply for family reunion. BV E's leave people in a complete state of uncertainty. You try going to a real estate agent and asking for a lease and then saying you're not sure how long you will be in the country, that you are not and cannot be employed and that you have two children.... straight to the top of the list of potential leasees...?
What is Community Detention (CD)? Supported living in the community, the Red Cross is the lead agency funded to run this program which commenced in 2005. Unaccompanied minors and some families with children have been eligibile for this program. Assistance is provided in the following ways; access to accommodation, health, education, a living allowance and English language classes. Read more from our great friends at the ASRC.
Would you people stop whingeing. It seems we're never happy, we're always telling the Government that they got it wrong. We are not trying to be adversarial, we do give credit where credit's due. Yes, we did call for children and families to be released for immigration detention. Doing this is a manner that leaves people destitute is yet another prong to Australia's inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Perhaps it is part of the deterrent plan (which has not worked to date. Over 15,000 people have arrived by boat since the commencement of the no-advantage policies). Perhaps the Government is hoping that some people will become so desperate, in poverty and without their family that the 'choose' to return home. We have never questioned the need for prompt health, security, identity checks. We have never suggested that asylum seekers be given a silver platter on arrival to Australia just a level of support and that sees them being self-reliant (able to work), safe and living above the poverty line. We are simply calling for dignity, humane treatment and particularly for Australia to meet its obligations to children.
This comprehensive document from the Australian Parliamentary Library describes CD, BV E's and outlines different programs and treatment of asylum seekers.
Apr 29, 2013
Photo Credit: ABC4Corners
- offshore processing is costing $2.3billion and we know the Government is looking for money ahead of the 2013 budget to fund disability and education committments.
- we are currently spending around $1million per asylum seeker on this model of detention and it hasn't acted as a deterrent. Since Nauru and Manus Is detention re-opened in 2012 15,543 people have arrived by boat seeking protection.
- children are suffering. There are 30 children detained on Manus Island. They are witnessing self-harm, suicide attempts, they are bored, afraid, they are drawing things like this
- Dr Vallentine previously employed at the Manus Island facility has stated that 'on medical grounds alone, this location is not suitable for children'.
- President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Professor Gillian Triggs; 'One has to argue about not only the legal but the ethical dimensions of using some children and some families to send some sort of deterrent message that clearly is not being effective'.
Apr 24, 2013
Rumours have abounded in the past week that children are to be sent to the detention facility at Curtin, remote Western Australia.
The facility is currently a place of detention for 748 single adult men (according to DIACs latest statistics). The centre has long been referred to as one of the worst in Australia's detention network. Then Immigration MInister, Chris Bowen indicated that Curtin would be the first centre on his list to close, stating; 'We need to reduce the number of people in detention, and obviously I would consider Curtin as a centre to close before I close other centres which are perhaps less confronting and less harsh.
How serious are the rumours? Unfortunately, we think there is every likelihood that children will be transferred to the Curtin facility in the very near future.
What's so bad about Curtin? Location, location, location. Here's a little of what has been written about Curtin in the past...
Zachary Steel, a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of NSW, studied the mental health of 10 families held at Curtin and called the facility a "psychiatric catastrophe". More
Curtin is the facility that drew headlines for continual lip-sewing, self-harm, suicide attempts, mistreatment of asylum seekers by guards, extreme mental illness, desperation from parents and children alike. In 2010 when the Curtin Air Force Base was being re-opened to detain asylum seekers, the UNHCR warned against the move stating that location made "the provision of essential social services very challenging". The UNHCR is opposed to secure detention of children in any location.2011 Human Rights Commission report following their visit to the Curtin facility commented many times on the harsh, isolating and extreme conditions. The Commission noted specifically: "Limited outdoor recreation areas. As noted, the heat at Curtin is often extreme and there are limited shady areas for sports or recreation. At the time of the visit there was a dirt soccer pitch and a recently refurbished volleyball court, but with limited shade they would be unsuitable for use during much of the day."
But the numbers of children in detention are so high. Surely the Govt needs to look at new centres to place children? There are presently more children than ever in Australia's secure detention facilities, over 1000. The answer is not more damaging, costly, remote detention centres. The answer is to expand the existing and successful model of community detention where families have relative freedom and live within the Australian community. Or, to look towards flexible approaches such as the open centres that exist around the world and once existed in Australia as well. These are located in metropolitan areas, people are not locked inside them 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. There are some restrictions and safeguards and they are shown to work, absconding is not an issue.
Australia is bound to act in the best interests of the child. How could anoyone claim that detention at Curtin is in the best interests of any child?
Mar 14, 2013
It is so refreshing to be sharing good news with you, and from Manus Island at that!
Today around 20 people, men, women and children have arrived in Adelaide from the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island. The women (apart from one discussed below) are pregnant and it has been decided that detention on Manus Island is not a suitable place for them to be. Thank goodness for common sense. This is not an appropriate environment for any child to be, nor any asylum seeker for that matter.
What now... The families have been taken to Inverbrackie in the suburbs of Adelaide, to an ex-defence housing facility used for several years to detain families seeking asylum. This location is far more preferrable than the RPC on Manus Island. Still, it leaves children locked up. It means that babies will be born into detention. And for these families, we fear it could mean up to five years detained at Inverbrackie. Most families spend less than a year in this facility. Those brought from Manus Island are part of the Government's new 'no advantage' policy and were told they would face around five years in detention.
A firghtening alternative is that these families with their newborn babies could be moved from Inverbrackie back to Manus Island. We are asking for confirmation from the Government and the Department of Immigration that this will not happen.
And some alarming news from Manus Island. An 8 year old girl needing medical treatment for a blood disorder and ear condition has been transferred along with her mother to Adelaide. This is welcome and clearly indicates that the medical facilities available at the RPC are inadequate. However the little girl's father and brother have been left behind.
It is unclear how long the little girl's treatment will take and whether she can even return to Manus Island. In the meantime a little boy is without his mother and a father cannot hold his daughter's hand or support his wife through the medical procedures that lie ahead.
The need to retain the family unit has long been expressed, agreed to and stressed by experts in child welfare and in the refugee sector. We are shocked to learn that Australia is reverting back to these inhumane and uneccessarily cruel ways.
Let's keep up the pressure, we can see it is working. These men, women and children may be out of sight but they are in our minds.
Mar 7, 2013
There are so many stories of inspiration, of success, of triumph over adversity. I am thrilled to celebrate the incredible achievements women have made and are making across the world. However, this IWD I keep coming back to the mothers caught up in Australia's refugee and asylum policy. Perhaps that is because I have just returned to work from maternity leave, perhaps it's Ranjini and her newborn, I don't really know why... but here's who is my thoughts this IWD;
Nasira has fled Afghanistan with her two sons and daughter. Her husband is with her sometimes, and at other times he is not, he travels far seeking income anywhere he can. Nasira's daughter is her eldest child, she wants her to have a life, Pakistan is no life. They are not treated as citizens there is no security and Nasira knows, no future for an Afghan woman. Nasira is sad but also happy when her daughter marries and Egyptian man and moves to Egypt. Nasira will soon be a grandmother but doesn't know when she will meet her first grandchild. Nasira's oldest son Ali is 15, her youngest, Mohamed is 12. School is sporadic, the boys want to work, although Nasira doesn't say, they know the family needs money.
Nasira has left behind a comfortable house, a life with support of extended family and the community she had lived in since she was a little child. Her daily life now is tedious, she lives in Quetta in a tiny apartment that she pays too much for but has no option. Nasira feels uneasy in such a big city, she is accutely aware of being a second class citizen and wants desperately to return home. Her brother has remained in their home village and sends word that the threat is not subsiding, neighbours have been killed, even little Mohamed's friends. It has been 19months since Nasira left with her children.
Ali has a proposition, 'Mum I will go. I will find safety and then we can all be safe.' Nasira has heard of this, of other families splitting up and trying anything in any direction to get some kind of secure life. Sometimes the stories are good, sometimes bad. She tells Ali he is too young, he cannot go alone and to wait a bit longer. They argue for weeks. Nasira understands why Ali wants to go but cannot support it. Her husband reluctantly agrees after a close friend says he can put Ali in touch with the right people. Nasira knows her son; he is being distant, she knows he is having second thoughts, he is worried about upsetting her. She musters all the composure she can find and gives him her blessing and tells him he will be ok, inshallah.
The first leg of Ali's journey takes him to Malaysia. He has never been on an aeroplane, neither has Nasira. She is excited for him, and optimistic and terrified. Ali is able to contact Nasira about once a week. After 4 months in Malaysia, Nasira can hear Ali straining to find positive things to say. She has to constantly reassure him that he has not let anyone down. Meanwhile at home she is dealing with a frustrated Mohamed who cannot understand why he too is not on this journey with his big brother, or at least off working with his father. Ali's registration with UNHCR was a milestone for the family. Then the reality set in that Ali was not safe in Malaysia and could be there waiting alone for years. This time the journey involved a boat trip, it would take about 8 days and Nasira would have no way of knowing if Ali was ok. He couldn't swim, no-one from their village could swim! Nasira woke every night in a helpless sweat wondering about Ali on a vast ocean she could only imagine as dark and swaying. Nothing... no word for 15 days.
Finally Ali rang he was in Australia, he thought. Christmas Island, it sounded good, But no, he was confused, there were guards, he had done something wrong, he wasn't sure what, people were asking him all sorts of questions all at once. There were other young boys like him, their dialects were close enough that they could share stories and fears. Nasira learned that Ali was in detnetion, he had been locked up. She couldn't visit him, she couldn't get him out, she had no idea really where he was and no-one had any idea how long he would be there. After 8weeks and 3 days (Nasira kept a calendar marking off Ali's journey) Ali called from Australia. He had been on another aeroplane (three more actually) and now he was definitely in Australia. Nasira was delighted. But no, Ali was in another detention place, this time with around 200 other boys all without their parents. Were there people visiting? Was the food good? Did he feel ok? When would he be allowed to leave? Ali was short on the phone, his answers made Nasira desperate. What had she let her son do? Why? She had to constantly remind herself that it would be for the best, that it was not possible for them to return home and it was not possible to make a home where they were.
Nasira, I am sorry. I am sorry that Australia has caused this extra and uneccessary anguish. I know that when he is released from detention there will be mothers here who will care for Ali and support him and who will understand some of his pain and yours.
Today there are nearly 1,000 children in secure detention facilites. Hundreds are unaccompanied minors detained on Christmas Island, in remote WA (Leonora) and now in Pontville, Tasmania. Most are boys aged between 14 and 17.
**None of the names in this piece are real. The story is created from many, many interviews and cups of tea with many asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.
Sophie Peer. Blog not neccessarily the views of ChilOut.
Feb 26, 2013
Mayhem on Manus
ChilOut and other advocacy groups have maintained ongoing contact with families on Manus Island and we’re sad to report that the situation is not improving. Read on for further updates on these devastating conditions.
A ten year-old-girl is ill, she may have malaria. The government was warned by doctors in 2002 after 14 people contracted the disease that the centre must be closed. The government ignored the warnings. Now the centre has been re-opened and a child has fallen victim. She's not the first, and sadly won't be the last.
Hediye is an 18-year-old Iranian woman currently detained in Australian Immigration Detention on Manus Island.
In a letter to ChilOut she has spoken about why she left her homeland in search of greater opportunities, equality and a better life In Australia.
In Iran, Hediye faced extreme and consistent gender discrimination: women are not allowed to frequent certain public places, drive a motorcycle, pursue a career as a musician, report domestic abuse, gain full custody of their children post divorce or seek equal pay.
A woman can be publicly stoned for cheating on her husband, while polygamy is embraced on behalf of their male counterparts
Police publicly monitor adolescent behaviour in Iran to ensure boys'/girls' appearance and attitude upholds Islamic law. As a result, women can be charged for the most minor or issues, eg, having long fingernails.
Reports received indicate that many asylum seekers have been refusing food and self harming in a desperate protest against their forced transfer to Manus Island
A 19-year-old man attempted to hang himself and was quoted as saying "Here is end of my life. I had lots of dreams but now all hope is gone. I am suffering from this".
While there were further reports of suicide attempts, DIAC insists they have not occurred.
Asylum seekers have written letters to PNG’s opposition leader Belden Namah illustrating how they were forcibly removed to Manus Island.
One woman described arriving on Christmas Island in a physically and psychologically exhausted state and being made to sign documents, which she did not understand.
On the actual day of the transfer to Manus, the same woman recalled being woken at 6.30 in the morning for a ‘meeting’, Serco guards conducted body checks and loaded her and others onto a bus, they were then informed they were being transferred to Manus Island. In the interim their items were carelessly packed (some items were lost), they were searched again and they were not allowed to say goodbye to their friends.
On the plane trip they were given minimum food and water, not allowed to adjust their belts and were escorted to and from the bathrooms, where the toilet door was forcibly left open, granting them very little privacy and stripping them of what was left of their dignity. They described the experiences as being treated like criminals.
Since their arrival detainees have also documented the terrible living conditions apparent on Manus Island which include: sleep deprivation due to a lack of doors on their huts and overcrowded tents where single men are ‘housed’, poor quality of food due to hygiene problems, high risk of malaria and painful side affects from injections and other malaria treatment and most importantly the psychological affects suffered by children who have little understanding of the situation, have witnessed violent suicide attempts first hand and are restricted in their activities. The children consequently blame their parents for their predicament, which clearly impacts on family interactions.
One of the young boys currently being housed on Manus Island wrote the following letter: "I want to escape out of the fence and swim in the sea and I want to be free. I get bored, all the people cries because they have nothing. Even it does not have park here. There is no telephones to talk to our families. My grandfather has pain in his legs and cannot come here. Here is only my mum and dad."
Read more about these appalling conditions.
Feb 6, 2013
The following is a letter wriiten by a concerned member of the public to their local MP the Hon. Warren Entsh enquiring about his stance on the current immigration policy involving indefinite detention.
Dear Mr. Entsch, I, like many other Australians, was touched by the story of Ranjini – the refugee mother of three facing indefinite detention at Villawood Detention Centre. I am interested to know your personal thoughts on indefinite detention and the legal black hole it creates for Ranjini and others on adverse security assessments. Your voice carries substantial power and I hope you might speak out against indefinite detention in the hope of inspiring your colleagues to act. Sincerely,***
In response to this letter, Mr Entsch replied with his own letter, which outlines in great deatil both his personal oppinions as well as the Coalitions policies on this issue:
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about indefinite detention and adverse security assessments. Accepting legitimate refugees, and ensuring they go through a positive settlement process in Australia, is a vital part of being a humanitarian nation.
Unfortunately, when a government loses control of its borders - as we have seen in the last five years - it loses control of its detention network. With 550 boats arriving since Labor took power, and more than 30,000 people claiming asylum, true refugees have been caught up in this massive influx of illegal migrants.
At the recent inquiry into detention, ASIO presented evidence that showed people coming by boat were twenty times more likely to receive a negative ASIO assessment than people coming by any other method. They also said that of the people who came by plane and sought asylum, not one person in the last three years received a negative ASIO clearance.
I am in full support of the Coalition’s long-held policy on ASIO clearances, which is that these assessments are what the government of the day must rely on and their procedures and processes are paramount to the security of this country.
I also do not believe that ASIO rulings should be reviewable. The current processes that ASIO go through are already incredibly sensitive and we rely on them absolutely. ASIO makes a finding based on their assessment and the government then makes a decision about a visa.
The Coalition’s policy that we will be taking to the election on September 14 is to go back to the source and ensure that people are not coming on boats. We must have these strong measures in place – temporary protection visas which enable people’s refugee status to be reviewed, offshore processing and turning the boats back where it is safe to deter people smuggling operations.
I hope this outlines my, and the Coalition’s, position.
ChilOut thanks Mr Entsch for his detailed response outlining his opinions and policy positions in relation to the issue of indefinite detention.
We would first like to point out that it is not illegal to seek asylum and international law does not allow for the discrimination of someone based on their mode of arrival. Of the arrivals over the last five years the vast majority have been found to be ‘true refugees’ so to call them illegal is both legally incorrect and morally reprehensible.
ChilOut is not disputing the important role that ASIO plays and we can certainly acknowledge and appreciate the need for security checks. However, we dispute the notion that such security assessments can be done in the absence of natural justice.
Think on this: a person who murders or steals has the right to trial, to defend themselves against that charge. A mother with two young children and a newborn baby held in Australian immigration detention with a negative ASIO assessment has no such right. She has no right to know what evidence is being held against her. No right to defend herself. The government argues that this is due to national security. Even the worst terrorist known to our time, a man responsible for the deaths of over 3000 people in the World Trade Centre is being tried. While his acts are certainly a threat to national security he still has a right to see the charges and defend himself against them. In Australia we allow a mother less rights than this man; all in the name of national security? Does this sound right to you?
A person should be able to know the allegations made against them and have a fair, just process within which to challenge this information. We do after all reside in a democratic nation and our court system is well equipped to deal with cases involving sensitive information and legal representatives are in turn able to observe the court's guidelines. It is also reasonable to note here that other nations have mechanisms to ensure individuals’ human rights are respected in such situations.
We have such mechanisms in Australia. The minister can release people on any conditions he so chooses. He simply does not choose to make that determination. When it comes to single women with young children and newborn babies, we at ChilOut cannot fathom why this is so.
A one size fits all policy is simply unsuitable as the circumstances and background of each individual can often be quite different. This should therefore be taken into account and adjustments should be made accordingly in determining levels of risk during security assessments. Moreover, without any method of review, the answer to an adverse security assessment is invariably indefinite detention, possibly at an offshore location. We have now received reports of how both physically and psychologically damaging these environments can be for adults and especially children. Indefinite detention only serves to further punish an already vulnerable minority of genuine refugees.
ChilOut would also like to note that ASIO has been proven wrong in the past – as is evident in the case of Dr Haneef (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20071001/haneef/default.htm). This example shows the absolute need of an independent reviewer to investigate the negative security assessments handed down by ASIO. While cases can now be reviewed by a judge, ASIO is still the final arbiter of decisions.
The former policy of TPVs of the Keating and Howard governments was one of the most damaging aspects of the regime. When a person is found to be a refugee they are a refugee for all time under international law. They should not be subject to review and removal at the whim of a government when circumstances change in their country.
Imagine if you were forced to wait for three years to be recognised as a refugee. Then imagine you created a home, a family, a business of your own perhaps, and after five years things changed in your country of origin and you were removed from Australia. What kind of country would do that with no legitimate justification besides political gain?
TPVs have also had other disturbing side-effects. For one they encouraged the increase in numbers of children and women getting on boats. As you know TPV holders do not have the option of family reunion. Before TPVs were introduced mainly men got on boats, then brought families across once they gained protection. After the introduction of TPVs gradually more women and children got on boats. Some argue that TPVs have led to the loss of women and children’s lives at sea.
Boat arrivals in Australia are minute when compared to world refugee numbers. We are talking about a few thousand people, a drop in the ocean. Yet within the political sphere people who arrive by boat are treated as an ongoing threat that must be repelled at any cost. The problem is not boat people. The problem is our perception of boat people. They are not a threat to our country – not one person has been found to be a terrorist – they are an asset, and they are human beings. The policies of both major parties have missed that point entirely.
The policy of turning back boats has been rejected by the Australian Defense Force and it remains impractical to return those seeking asylum to third party nations, who may be unwilling or unable to accept such a responsibility.
What of our international obligations? Where is towing back boats mentioned in the Refugee Convention? Is the Coalition government prepared to blatantly disregard that convention? Why be a member to a convention that states that the rights and wellbeing of a child will be considered above all else, when your intention is to rid your country of that child, and ensure it is someone else’s problem? It is not someone else’s problem. We are a first-world nation and it is our position at ChilOut that we should start to act like one.
Chilout urges both our members and the wider community to see this election year as an opportunity; an opportunity to demand answers from our politicains. Approach your local MPs for their viewpoint on the issues that matter most to you. Don’t let them hide any longer – ask for a public declaration as to where they stand on indefinite detention. Our democratic nation means that we decide who governs this country. We therefore have the power to incite change and to hold our politicians to account. So act now and make every vote count.
Leila Druery, Campaign Director, ChilOut
Jan 6, 2013
Dear Ms Roxon,
I am sorry to interrupt your Christmas holidays and time with your family, but my Christmas was interrupted on Boxing Day when I read about Ranjini and her children who are detained in Villawood Detention Centre.
I had tears in my eyes when I read about her fears surrounding the upcoming birth of her baby and postnatal period. When I think about the wonderful births of my two children and the supported postnatal period that I enjoyed, I feel distressed at the polarity between our situations.
We live in the same city, yet our experiences of birth and the postnatal period will be worlds apart. The weeks immediately following birth are a time when women can be emotionally vulnerable and need the support of family and loved ones. While her and her baby’s medical needs I hope will be met in Villawood, this is not sufficient for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Aside from the upset I feel about Ranjini birthing in such stressful circumstances I am appalled that a new born child is starting its life behind bars. You may argue that a newborn child has no knowledge of its surroundings and only needs its mother but there is some very strong evidence to suggest that the stress and trauma a mother feels while she is pregnant can have drastic effects on the unborn child (eg. Beydoun & Saftlas, 2008 Paediatric and Perinatal and Epidemiology, volume 22, pp.438-466). A newborn also needs a mother who is emotional able to respond to its needs, not a mother who is traumatised and stressed because she and her children are being held in indefinite detention.
Ms Roxan I beg you to take a closer look at this situation. I implore you to try your hardest to find a way for Ranjini to be able to live back in the community with her husband and her children. Find a way for her child to be born free.
(Mother of Lewis and Rowan)
Jan 1, 2013
This is a poem written by one of our supporters Royce Levi. Sadly it is as fitting today as it was 7 years ago...
In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply
can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.
My mother bore me
In this detention camp.
This was my cradle
Which was distant from every place.
Here I have faltered into childhood
Wondering what I am.
Slowly, slowly I have learned
That the world is flat,
A very small place
Where the sun casts shadows
Of wires across your face
And clocks are dead
And the sound of keys is their tic tock
And footsteps come and go
Never to stay.
Here I have learned
Slowly, ever so slowly,
That faces can be read
Like tragic books
And their eyes have no other fate
Than anguished looks.
Here hope is a caged and troubled creature
Rattling the bars of existence,
Shaking them but never breaking them
Until in the end
It gives up the ghost of itself
With whimpering resignation,
Into the shifting sands of seclusion.
Here I have discovered,
In the painful ooze of days,
That indifference wears a uniform,
Keeps strict rules of time and place,
Heeds higher authority,
And yet has never to meet it face to face.
Here no one ever hears
The tangled messages of my dreams
Entwined in the unrelenting tumult of my muffled, silent screams.
My mother bore me
In the shadows
Of other people's contempt.
Yet, from her warmth
I have felt love
Tame the savage beasts of sadness
And in the comfort of her arms
I have felt the peace of what was once an everywhere.
She now is my only wisdom
And, if ever I am free,
I will have learnt through her fatal longing
Never again to wander
Into the dark hostility
Of someone else's promised land.
Dec 20, 2012
Yesterday I went for a visit to Villawood Residential Housing – a detention facility for families in immigration detention. Officially I was there on behalf of ChilOut lobbying to release children from immigration detention. But unofficially I was there as a friend.
I’d been looking forward to this for weeks; I wanted to see the smiles on the faces of the thirteen children who live there as they unwrapped their Christmas presents. But the experience was overshadowed by the poor health and mental state of the mothers, in particular Ranjiny who will give birth on 6 January.
I’d met Ranjiny on previous visits, learning the story of the young mother and her two children via ChilOut. They’d been assessed as refugees but detained on the basis of a secret negative ASIO assessment, which they could not defend themselves against.
I thought I was prepared for what I’d see. But I wasn’t.
Ranjiny came out from her house to meet me on a park bench. As she walked towards me I could see the pain and discomfort etched on her face. Her baby belly round and full was disproportionate to her tiny frame.
She held my hands as I helped her to the seat. But before I could even ask tears ran down her face. ‘There are so many problems, I don't know what to do, no one is listening to me.’ I told her I would listen.
During our conversation her two boys circled around their mother, obviously effected by her tears and very protective of her and their unborn baby brother. Ranjiny is hard on herself disappointed by her tears. ‘I have to be strong for them, I don't like to cry because I know they get sad too … They also get sick when I'm sick … Sometimes they don't go to school as they are too worried.’ And they have much to be worried about.
Ranjiny is suffering from extreme back pain and has had trouble sleeping for weeks. ‘If I wake up in the middle of the night I cannot go back to sleep, maybe the more I sleep the more the baby will grow and he is already too big.’
She was given medication for extremely low iron levels but she couldn't swallow it and it made her sick. When she asked for smaller capsules she was told, ‘Everyone has those tablets so you will too.’ She thought ‘Well everyone isn't pregnant.’
Ranjiny described going to the doctors as a daunting experience, ‘I feel like people have told my doctor, I am …a terrorist because that is how I am treated... this is how I'm made to feel.’
Doctors requested in writing that detention guards not to wave the metal detector over her belly as it may be harmful to the baby. The guards ignore this request. Ranjiny tells them ‘There is nothing in there but my baby … Please stop harming him.’
Ranjimy is due to give birth in two weeks, yet she still does not have a birth plan. She doesn't know what will happen when she goes into labour or what will become of her two young boys. She has been told that 'someone' will care for her children while she is in hospital. But who that someone is will be decided on the day. I know I'd feel uneasy to say the least, if a complete stranger was charged with the care of my children. And it gets worse. Once Ranjini returns to the detention facility, she'll be left to care for three children alone. All the while trying to recover from her recent birth and settle a newborn baby.
She is terrified about this, ‘When I gave birth to my last son he was very big and it took me a long time to recover, I couldn't walk or lift my eldest son … I am older this time so I am worried things will be worse, my children already miss out on going on excursions because I am too sick to take them. This is not fair, I feel bad for them.’
As is customary in her culture, Ranjini will remain at home for three weeks with her newborn baby. Her husband is denied access to her house, which invariably means she'll be caring for three children, without any help or support. As she shared this with me I remember her saying: ‘I wish they could spend time with my husband, he is a good man, and has become the only father they can remember, they need a man in their life, they need a parent to give them attention and care for them while I'll feed and recover with the new baby.’
Other detainees approach me during our conversation and stress that Ranjiny needs help. They all have their own plights but are united in getting Ranjiny through this tough time. When one is down the others step up, a true spirit of compassion and loyalty among them. It’s heartening to see.
Ranjiny is one of the strongest women I've ever met and her children are blessed to have such a mother. I tell her that we care about her and want her in the community where she has many friends. She smiles and asks when I'm going to give my husband a baby. We laugh and I'm convinced she’s in cahoots with my mother. One day I hope our children will play.
In all those hours I spent listening I did not cry in front of Ranjiny and the kids. I wanted to give strength and hope not add to their sadness. I will cry tears of joy the day this mother and her three children meet me outside detention. They are not a threat to Australia. ASIO, the Australian government are responsible for damaging these young lives and this beautiful family. It’s time for the game to stop. It’s time to let these people go.
ChilOut will continue to resiliently advocate for the rights of children until they are avidly enshrined in both law and practice. The public have a right to know exactly what is happening in Australia's detention facilities and we will fervently hold to account those responsible for the gap between what policy supposedly promises and what is actually delivers.
Stay tuned for our upcoming campaign – 'born free’ – to support Ranjini.
Leila Druery, Campaign Director, ChilOut