The detention centre on the hill

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Sunday, September 2, 2012
The Yongah Hill Detention Centre appears suddenly amidst the farmland and bush of the Avon Valley, located just outside of the town of Northam, about 80 kilometres east of Perth in Western Australia. Beyond the electric fence of the imposing steel and concrete structure are 521 asylum seekers who have travelled to Australia by boat. The men, most Hazara, Tamils or from Bangladesh, have been transferred here from remote Christmas Island, the first processing centre for boat migrants. The anti-climb mesh fences and steel gates locking each housing block certainly give the appearance of a high-security prison. I'm getting a tour of this brand new, $125 million facility, closely escorted by a spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and an administrator with Serco, the private company hired to run the detention centres. 

Australian immigration officials insist mandatory detention of boat migrants is not punitive, but administrative, while they can confirm their identity, do the proper security checks and assess refugee claims. They say the men have access to Internet, television, can see vistors and can go on escorted outings to the beach. The "green heart" at the centre of the detention centre is a square of three soccer pitches, basketball courts and an outdoor gym. As the lunch hour approaches, the men walk down the path toward the cafeteria, some horsing around, others smiling and saying hi to the administrator and others asking me, the lady with the notepad and camera, to take their picture, which is strictly prohibited.

There's a lot I can't, and won't, see. Refugee advocates point to the high rate of self harm, suicides and psychological distress endured by detainees as evidence long-term detention is an unjust punishment for people who have committed no crime. Many are fleeing countries where they've endured civil war, torture and persecution and the lack of freedom worsens their already fragile state. Marcus Roberts, a social worker and activist who has visited detainees at the Christmas Island detention centre, says he's seen the visitor room turned into an overflow suicide watch room, because the main suicide watch room was full. He's witnessed hunger strikes and seen children in detention. Roberts, a spokesman for the Refugee Rights Action Network, was among about 150 people who converged on Yongah Hill on Aug. 26, holding signs that said "Free the Refugees" in protest of the Australia government's detention policy. 

Roberts says it frightens him that Canada is following the path of Australia in passing mandatory detention laws for "irregular arrivals" or people who come on boats. He said not only does the policy of mandatory detention break international law, "it breaks people."   



Make a Free Website with Yola.