Deaths in Custody Watch Committee WA and Refugee Rights Action Network WA released this joint statement on August 10.
* * *
Every afternoon at 4pm on Nauru, asylum seeking adults and children stage a peaceful protest at the gate of the OPC3 family camp, which they have done since March 20 (Palm Sunday). Four weeks into their protest, refugees in the RPC3 camp opposite joined them.
They have been protesting more than three years of indefinite incarceration and their proposed “resettlement” on Nauru — a proposal proven to be untenable. They have raised a banner that reads: “We are asking the world to take us from the hell”.
August 4 marked 138 days of peaceful protests and 1111 days in detention. It also marked the second anniversary of the death in police custody of 22-year-old Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu. On this day, people incarcerated in the Nauru family camp held signs saying: “We stand with Aboriginal Australia”.
On seeing the photos of this protest Shaun Harris, uncle of Ms Dhu and family spokesperson for the Justice for Ms Dhu campaign, sent a message of thanks for the show of solidarity. With the knowledge of how his niece had died in custody, one of the women in the Nauru camp replied with the message: “pPease send them love from all the people in Nauru”.
At the Nauru protest the following day, people chanted “Ms Dhu, Ms Dhu, Rest in Peace”. The demonstrators have previously chanted for their friends and fellow refugees who have died in the custody of the Immigration Department. These include Reza Barati, Fazal Chegani, Omid, Rakib, and Hamid Kehazaei, whose death of septicaemia and medical neglect has eerie parallels with Ms Dhu's passing.
The chants ended with the words “happy freedom”, which can be taken as meaning that under the so-called deterrence regime, freedom can only be found in death.
Systemic racism condemned Ms Dhu and Hamid Kehazaei to die in agony as septicaemia overwhelmed their bodies. Their cries went unheeded, they were presumed to be “faking it” and neither was offered medical intervention until it was too late. Both were subject to institutions that deemed them as disposable and unworthy of care.
The sovereignty and sanctuary movements in many ways try to resist and dismantle the same colonial constructs of the border and the nation state, and the violence that is used to uphold these constructs.
The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (WA) and Refugee Rights Action Network WA acknowledge that we are fighting against the same racism and will continue to work toward a future where Aboriginal people do not die in custody and people who have been forced to flee their countries in search of safety do not die in detention camps.