Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Detention Centres

I'm still obsessing over asylum seekers and detention centres.

I looked at three things today, not including a brief thing about Paul Keating and some immigration statistics from government PDF's.  

What I'm seeing is making me think that it's NOT simply a matter of asylum seekers having high expectations...wanting five star accommodations rather than two star.

Are they wanting a hotel and getting a hostel?


Probably not.

And I'm not just going by the three websites I visited this afternoon. They're all from the left side of the argument. I know I need to be aware that there are other viewpoints out there.

But there's one other thing that I looked at today. And it made me less skeptical about these websites. 


I can't say I did an exhaustive search.

But I was curious and plugged  Villawood Detention centres into the keyword thing.

I got three pages of photos. Most of them were of protesters protesting the detention centres.

I found no pictures from inside the place.  

Where are the pictures of people hanging out?

Eating and cooking meals together.

Playing sports

Doing crafts

Watching television

Hanging up laundry

Studying English together.   

The lack of photographs is creepy.   Spooky.


I looked at the photos this morning.

This afternoon I sat down to do more research.

First I found this disturbing editorial about children in the Christmas Island detention centre.

On Christmas day, some decent people got together and created craft kits for detained children, along with other gifts. They brought these gifts to the detention centre and were told by a guard that the children couldn't have them.   Why?  Because they might draw on the wall.

The good news is, the centre eventually changed their mind. It took several days, though.

And there's just something icky about that.

No crayons?

Then why do we allow any kids to use crayons?

What about all those crayons handed out at restaurants? Might kids ruin the restaurant walls?

How about schools?

There's something evil about a place that doesn't allow children to have crayons.

The editorial was written by a woman named Sophie Peer.  She's the campaign manager for an organization called Chilout. They're against children in detention centres.

They have a nice myth and facts page.  One thing that's been brought to my attention in the past few days is that there's no real queue.  I guess I heard that on Q and A? 

Anyway...It's not like people standing in line at Disney World, waiting for 45 minutes. Then a family comes along and buds in front of them.

It's like Disney World with no lines, and a mess of people waiting and waiting and waiting. There's no real order to it.

There's little hope, and probably no sense that an end is in sight.

The website also talks about the we'll-be-swamped-with-newbies myth.

Australia is being swamped by newbies, but most of them aren't asylum seekers. The website says Australia gains 300,000 new people a year. Refugees make up less than 1% of that. The rest are probably students, migrants, and new babies.  

After I looked over their myth page, and other stuff, I looked at Amnesty International.  

They went time in detention centres reduced. They also say they want more interaction with the community.   In all detention centres asylum seekers ability to communicate with the outside world must be significantly improved. Specifically, increases in access to both outbound and inbound telephones, Internet, external activities, and visits from the Australian community.

I definitely agree with that.

I'm not really sure I'm against detention centres.  Maybe change the name, though, because it sounds like a punishment.  And is a punishment. So they should change all that too.   

The thing is these people need a place to go. It's not like they're coming off the boats with money and great English skills.

Without the detention centre, a lot of them would be homeless. That's probably somewhat of an improvement over the detention centres, but not too much so.

My feeling is they should simply improve the centres.

I think the most important thing is to give people more freedom and contact with the community.

Also....allow crayons.  

I like the idea of volunteers collecting donations of craft materials from the community.  Detained folks can make crafts, and then they can have monthly craft fairs to sell their stuff. Maybe the artists could keep a portion of their earnings, and another portion would go towards improving the centres.

Maybe they could also have performances at the fair. So if some people are better at singing than making earrings, they can contribute too.

You know what will make me happy?

If one day I get a comment from someone in a detention centre.  In their not-so-advanced English, they'll tell me they live in a centre.  They can't wait to get out and live a regular life, but their life is fairly decent in the centre.  Also, their comment will link to their own blog.  There they will have lots of photos of the detention centres.  And they'll also have photos of outside the detention centres, because there will be lots of field trips.

You know what.

Schools in my mind are pretty much just a prison.  I'm not really in support of them. But I'll admit they're not as bad as a jail where you put criminals.  

So maybe they should make detention centres more like schools and less like jail.

Does anyone else have any ideas of how to make detention centres less awful?  I mean besides closing them down?

Edited To Add:  I ended up finding photos of detention centres.  They're in the next post.  I'm not sure if they're realistic images or government propaganda.  OR maybe what I read for this post is the propaganda. 

Perhaps it's all propaganda to a point.  


  1. I don't know whether you've noticed (or whether you saw any of the very good original series) but apparently we are getting a new series of "Go back to where you came from". There may be more on Detention Centres in that.

    I seem to recall the original series noted that cameras weren't permitted inside when participants visited the Villawood centre. I'm not sure why but it may have had something to do with prejudicing legal proceedings in some way or protecting the privacy of detainees. They are my most charitable guesses.

    I want to say, though, that there really is a kind of 'cutting in' involved even if there is no very formal queue. Australia is admitting people directly from refugee camps in Africa. They will have formally applied to Australia and been accepted (in many cases having spent decades in camps). Given that they are applying and there is an almost limitless number of them that Australia could take and given that Australia is reasonable in wanting to limit its overall refugee intake (is that too big an if?), Australia is forced to reject legitimate applications each year from long-term refugees from places like Africa because in many cases short-term refugees could afford to get on boats. That is discrimination against the most poor and disadvantaged and therefore why I think of getting on leaky boats as a form of queue jumping (as well as being quite reckless) and don't like it. I'm sorry if you've heard all that before. I do sympathise with all refugees but always more with the poorer and more patient ones.

    The overall solution must be that rich countries need to go to all the displaced/refugee camps around the world and empty them to the satisfaction of all the inmates but until that happens there is rationing. Surely accepting countries have some rights when deciding how to ration the intake and Australia is being thwarted in helping really the most needy (as determined by the Australian government, I admit, but having enough money to pay to enter a country irregularly should surely not be any guarantee of preferential treatment and in fact suggests to me that such refugees' needs are most likely less great in many cases). End Rant.

    I've been hearing about the labour shortage problems China is having resulting from what I regard as its otherwise responsible one-child policy and hope one day China will become the kind of place refugees will want to go to in large numbers (rather than get out of) and will accept many more refugees. That could potentially be a win-win for the people of the world (as long as the concerns about China you mentioned in another post today aren't warranted).

  2. Actually that China blog post I mentioned was from some time ago (from around the time Obama was in Darwin discussing the rotation of marines there). I was reading it today and confused myself.

    Regards, Martin

  3. Belle, I am 150% in agreement with you about queues in Africa, and that travelling by boat to Australia is effectively queue-jumping.

    Dina, I can't get over the two pieces I quoted from the book about Ali Al Jenabi in a recent post. Considering the man has had so much pro bono support and the author took 3 years to put his story into book form, the contradictions in his story about queue jumping are ridiculous.

    Also Dina, I agree with you and am appalled by the refusal of detention centre operators to allow the craft-packs in.

    On the other hand, sending unaccompanied children on a leaky boat to Australia is unforgiveable. Despite everything that is tragic about living as an illegal immigrant in places like Indonesia, these children are not necessarily in immediate danger of death.
    As all 3 of our enquiries into child-theft have shown repeatedly, the separation of children from who and what they know inflicts appalling mental damage. Sending children on their own is a decision based on economic prospects for the child. While it's not wrong to want things for our children, the cost of separation is too high.

    In contrast, the Kindertransport during WWII was about saving children from a certain horrible fate, and it was organised so children went straight into the community.

    We shouldn't do anything to encourage people to send children unaccompanied by boat.

    It hurts to agree with Abbott about anything, but releasing people into the community on temporary protection visas is a good idea. Just the same, detention is important at first so people can be screened - especially for contagious diseases for their own sake as well as ours.

    The centres might also be better if running them wasn't contracted out to a private corporation specialising in running prisons. It's just another one of those cheap tricks used by governments to distance themselves from responsibility to what happens in these places.

    Don't ever stop caring, but don't let it do your head in!

  4. PS I meant to add, I'm sure you had a post at some point showing the inside of a new centre? [but I wouldn't know where to start looking for it :( ]

  5. Fruitcake and Belle,

    I'm going to respond to both of you at once.

    I'm lazy.

    I'm up with insomnia again...reading.

    I'm trying to learn, but I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere.

    And if I do get anywhere...if I do gain a true understanding about something. Well, I'll probably forget by next month.

    From what I'm reading, it seems the government is making improvements on detention center. For example, sending less children there and putting more people into the community.

    Yet I also got the sense (from reading) that, no matter what, refugees are going to be in psychological distress.

    There's this idea that if we close down the detention centres, everyone is going to happily integrate.

    It's not true.

    I'm honestly still confused about the queue jumper thing. I'm not disagreeing with you guys. I guess I'm just lost on how people come over without a leaky boat and a smuggler?

    Does an airplane come to the refugee camps and pick them up?

    I was reading that America uses charitable organizations to retrieve people. I guess Australia does the same?

    Where do people sign up for all this?

    I'm going to go reread both your comments and see if I can learn more.

  6. Okay...I have more to add.

    Belle: That would be cool if China takes in more refugees.

    Fruitcake: So you think most of these families are sending their children for economic reasons and they're not truly in extreme danger?

    I definitely agree that families should make it a priority to stay together.

    I've read books about the Holocaust where people send their children away. It's heartbreaking.

    I agree that some amount of detention is needed. And I agree that they shouldn't be run by prison companies.


    The above link gives a hint about what happens for the lucky ten percent who are able to get into the queue (around one million out of around ten million people of concern to the UNHCR). They probably sit in refugee camps for decades to which the UNHCR has access. The UNHCR then aims to resettle families and especially vulnerable and unaccompanied women and children by contacting various governments participating in the UNHCR resettlement programme. Finally they come to the head of the queue at one of the countries and are able to be driven to airports and flown to countries like Australia. No leaky boats or people smugglers are required but a lot of patience.

    It's not easy while governments baulk at the cost of resettling many more and that's why this issue doing your head in just means you're a serious thinker about the issue.

    I notice from the UNHCR website that there are around fifty people from Australia who are either refugees from Australia or are seeking asylum outside Australia. I wonder what we as a nation did to them. Randomly selected by me for comparison, Denmark has only 12. The US has 4,371 who no longer get along with it. China and the US currently have around the same numbers of official refugees or asylum seekers from other countries within their borders (around 300,000) but China also has around 200,000 official refugee claimants and asylum seekers FROM China seeking to live outside of China.

  8. Belle,

    Well, that makes me a bit skeptical about the whole thing. I know America and Australia aren't great for all. But do people really need to flee?

    Or maybe I should be skeptical about Australia and America.

    I guess someone like Bradley Manning would need asylum. If he managed to escape.

    It's interesting that some people are wanting in and others are wanting out.

    I didn't picture that. It's a bit ignorant of me.

    Thanks for the link and the explanation about the waiting.