A protest organised by the Refugee Advocacy Group (RAG) brought about 100 students, teachers, politicians and activists to rally in opposition to mandatory detention on April 21.
Marking 20 years since the introduction of a dehumanising system of discriminatory detention for asylum seekers who arrive by boat, the student group led a march through Geelong to raise public awareness of their ongoing campaign.
Speaking at the rally were Pamela Curr (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre), Gavin Brown (The Greens), Sofia Viegas (Sacred Heart College), Haidar Ghasemi (former detainee at Christmas Island) as well as several speakers from Monash Refugee Action Collective.
More than 4000 refugees are currently held in detention across the country, about 500 are children. Although the 1951 UN Refugee Convention — to which Australia is a signatory — specifies that arriving in Australia for asylum is not a crime, the ALP government has committed close to $1 billion locking up innocent refugees this year alone.
Far from fostering relationships and promoting personal development, detention centres have been described by 2010 Australian of the Year Pat McGorry as “factories for producing mental illness”.
With recent reports of a 10-year-old refugee cutting themselves in a Darwin detention centre and an average of five admissions of detainees to Darwin hospitals a week, McGorry’s warning could not be closer to the truth.
RAG member and Deakin University student Nicole O’Donnell said: “This epidemic of self-harm and suicides that we are observing is the result of indefinite detention. We call on the government to end mandatory detention, impose a strict time limit on processing asylum seekers and protect the security and welfare of asylum seekers while they are being processed in the community.”
If you scratch the surface of the ALP’s and the Coalition’s feigned interest in “breaking the people smugglers' business model”, it is evident that mandatory detention is a deeply flawed system.
First, breaking the people smugglers' business model involves addressing the problem at the source. It does not involve imprisoning men, women and children and hoping that asylum seekers will opt for a more perilous journey to other countries.
Second, although there is an alternative to mandatory detention, it applies only to a comparatively larger group of plane arrivals. Ninety percent of boat arrivals are found to be genuine refugees, but the government maintains that its discrimination against boat arrivals is an essential part of Australia’s border security.
RAG members intend to keep working to heighten community awareness and let people gain insight on how detention affects detainees. If Australians knew the true nature of detention, it would not exist.