Abuse in Villawood detention centre

Issue 

A 21-year-old Tamil refugee has allegedly been the victim of an assault while in detention.

Leela Krishna was recognised as a refugee by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in April this year, but is still held in Villawood detention centre.

He was waiting for security clearance from ASIO before release. But, on August 21, he was allegedly assaulted in an isolation unit by a former professional kick boxer.

The police are investigating the attack, and Serco — the private contractors who manage the centre — have placed Krishna in the “housing” component of Villawood.

Australia’s current immigration policy means Krishna and hundreds of other refugees remain in Australia’s stressful — and often violent — detention centres, despite having been recognised as refugees by government agencies.

Comments

While I am certainly not an advocate of the current system by any means - quite the opposite, I do think that this incident needs to be located in context as indicative of some wider issues, and that broad statements like 'Australia's...often violent detention centres' are unhelpful to the cause you're advocating.

As you noted, centres are intensely stressful situations, compounded by the long periods of uncertainty and waiting. Given that detention centres house often traumatised individuals from a variety of backgrounds in a high stress and confined location, occasional conflict does occur between residents, as it would in any shared living space, but this hardly constitutes an environment of violence.

Leela's move was part of a serious wider circumstance of which this 'alleged assault' was a small part. As far as I know police are not investigating the situation and the other party involved, a fellow refugee, has recently received his visa and left detention.

While obviously this does not detract from the fact that asylum seeker policy is flawed and detention is an extremely unhealthy place to hold people in limbo for such long periods of time, selectively reporting incidents to paint a picture of frequent and unprovoked assaults undermines understanding of greater issues that take place in detention.

While you'll probably still elicit the indignation of your readers as you intended, your ability to credibly hold policy makers and service providers to account is severely diminished if you misrepresent who and what is being reported.