About thirty minutes drive north from my house, in Broadmeadows, sits MITA, the Melbourne Immigrant Transit Accommodation facility. You hear that name and it’s possible to imagine that the people who are detained inside are merely on their way through, temporarily being held there until they are released in some way. Tragically though, at the moment that’s not the case.
Approximately 50 refugees – people, most of whom are Tamil, who have been through the disastrously long and unwieldy processes that our government hurls at them and have proven their refugee status – being imprisoned there have been given a negative assessment by ASIO. They are “ASIO rejected refugees”. This means, quite simply, that ASIO has said that there is a problem with them – that they are a danger in some way – but they have not explained how, or in what way. As others have pointed out, this can mean that there has been a determination not that a refugee has done anything wrong before, but that they have the potential to do something wrong in the future. Moreover, ASIO assessments are kept secret: the refugees are not told of the allegations against them, nor are their lawyers. nobody. there is no possibility of appeal. The effect of this is to create a situation of indefinite detention: they are refugees, but are not allowed out of prison. Think about that. (it seems to me just one more reason why systems of detention are never ok, why we need to be working so hard to take that right to imprison away from governments)
And so some of these men – 27 at the moment – sitting in Broadmeadows, have begun a hunger strike. Today is day 6. They are spending their time sitting outside, and have painted banners (one of which you can see here) to try to communicate with the Australian population, and with the Government who holds the key to their futures. On Day one they released this statement to explain what they are doing:
MESSAGE FROM THE ASIO REJECTED REFUGEES:
We are 30 people here at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (25 Tamils, 2 Burmese and 2 Iranian) and 56 people all over the Australian detention. We have been here for four years and more. We cannot tolerate it any longer. We need to be released to save our
At 2 a.m. today (Monday, April 8, 2013) we began a hunger strike together. All 30 of us plan to keep doing this until there is solution, one way or the other.
We will gather together in the grounds of the detention centre and stay there until we get a solution. If the Australian Government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully.
We have painted banners as part of our protest. There is one that shows many people hanging. That is what we want to happen to us if we are not released. for life here.
People in here are jumping off rooves, they are going on hunger strikes, they are taking tablets, they are trying to hang themselves……It is a cruel and inhumane environment for everyone.
We plead with you, the Australian people, to help us. We are on the edge of life and don’t know how much longer we can stand it.
We ask Prime Minister Gillard, Immigration Minister O’Connor, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus Opposition leader Abbott and ASIO director David Irvine to stop this torture of all of us……. of
men, women and children, who have done nothing to warrant this cruel treatment that is destroying our minds.
We ask the authorities : You say we are a threat to this nation. So if we are such people why have they now put women and children and families in here with us? We are willing to be released into
the community under strict orders if they think we are threats, which we aren’t. But whatever they want we will do.
But we can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery.
We don’t want to die. We left Sri Lanka, Burmese and Iran because we fear to die. We came to Australia to live, not die. But death would be better than the life we have.
ALL ASIO REFUGEES-AUSTRALIA.
This is happening 30 minutes down the road from my house. That fact hits me over the head; my friends have kept remarking on it in the last couple of days (despite the fact that we try to care about, mourn, and grieve lives that are damaged all around the world, that we fight against injustice in all sorts of places). There is something particularly awful about this happening at the edge of an industrial park, just down the road.
Some people have set up a 24 hour solidarity vigil at MITA, people are going inside to visit the refugees, and others are visiting the vigil briefly. I went yesterday for a couple of hours. It was one of the more distressing moments of a life. We went around the side, and stood with a warehouse, long driveway and fences between us and the men. We waved to each other, clapped so we could all hear each other, and those of us on the outside shouted words of support. And it seemed quite simple: this situation should not exist. And quite horrifying: but it does.
So what can you do? what should you do?
Firstly, you should care. You should care that this is being done by your government, that this is happening just down the road.
Secondly, you should take action. There’s so many levels to what needs to be done. The Minister – Brendan O’Connor – is the man who can make the decision to free them. What power he holds. You can contact him and tell him to release these refugees. Send him an email, call his office, visit his electorate office (which happens to be in Caroline Springs, also not far down the road).
You can go join the vigil. It doesn’t matter how long you go for, anytime offers something. I’ve been told that the vigil brings some comfort and support to those on hunger strike. There is no doubt that being able to see each other, and interact in that small way, brings some comfort. By visiting you can also support those who are camping there, and maintaining the vigil.
And, it seems to me, everyone should see what is being done, what is happening. Everyone should understand the processes put in place to determine the lives of people. Everyone should understand the structures of control and discrimination operated by the government. This should not be happening. Neither ASIO nor the government should have this power over life and death. The people must be freed.