Quizzically Musing

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Australia’s Christmas Island

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Zulu Dormitory, Christmas Island

What images does the word Christmas conjour up for you? Fun, laughter, love, family?

Yesterday it was reported that several asylum seekers have stitched their lips together at Australia’s Christmas Island detention facility.  I am not at all surprised.  When you herd people together in facilities such as that place, serious consequences are going to follow.

This facility was recently the subject of a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which can be found here. The photos, a couple of which is shown here, are graphic illustrations of what we are doing to those people fleeing conflicts, in at least one case a conflict in which we ourselves are involved: Afghanistan.

Not only does Australia have adults in mandatory detention, we also have unaccompanied children in detention, being denied access to education in many cases.
Tents in Red Compound, Christmas Island IDC


It is interesting to note that our nation’s desire to house asylum seekers off the mainland was essentially nothing more than a way to deny them access to the Australian legal system.  Their claims for protection could be assessed outside the legal framework.  Thankfully, The High Court of Australia recently handed down a decision which closed this little loophole and it was reported today at least 150 refugees will be granted new hearings.

We, Australia, have accepted an international responsibility to provide asylum.  Yet, according to the ASRC we take a disproportionately small number compared to other countries.  Why?  We are a rich and large nation.  We can afford to share our wealth and our good fortune.  Many refugees have made wonderful contributions to our nation, a gold medal winner at the recent Commonwealth Games being one such example from the sporting world.  There are many others.

Recently there was a suggestion that we pay asylum seekers $4,000 to go back to the very places they fled from in the first place.  What, may I ask, is $4,000 going to do?  Very little.

We insist on mandatory detention.  Why?  The ASRC can show it costs much, much less to house people in the community.  Renown psychologists warn repeatedly of the dangers and inhumanity of mandatory detention.  The UN has criticised our treatment of asylum seekers.  Yet we persist.  Why? I suggest that in no small part it is because of a vocal minority who spread misinformation, unfounded fear and vilification and that sells papers.

Christmas Island.  What images does the word Christmas conjour up for you? Fun, laughter, love, family?  Father Christmas and presents?  Perhaps the odd uncle or aunt who over indulges at the family celebration?  For our detainees, the people we as a nation choose to imprison, the word will be forever tainted in their memories.  What do you think?

Photo credit: AHRC Report : “Immigration detention on Christmas Island 2010


Written by Robyn Dunphy

November 20, 2010 at 9:37 am