Manus Island and Nauru detention centres

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” is a chant that has been synonymous with the refugee rights movement in Australia since I became active some years ago.

That was a time when putting children in detention was, to some extent, something to hide — not a policy to win support from your voting base.

The fate of more than 600 people rescued at sea by the Doctors Without Borders rescue ship Aquarius is one more example of the impact of right wing populism on human rights in Europe today.

Asylum seeker Abdul Aziz Muhammad asked the ABC’s Q&A panel on December 4 in a video question why the 650 men on Manus Island are being used as political pawns in a life or death game.

Aziz, who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for 4.5 years, said he had seen 6 friends die because of violence and medical negligence.

The Manus Island tragedy is the latest in a series of systemic human rights abuses by successive Australian governments in recent decades.

But there is another story: one of courageous resistance in some of the most hostile situations imaginable — a resistance led by several hundred people on Manus Island who are still protesting, still demanding “freedom, nothing less than freedom”.

There have been numerous instances of human rights abuses since the Nauru detention centre was reopened in 2013 and then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that no refugee who arrived by boat would ever be given safety in Australia. The Guardian’s Nauru Files give detailed accounts of children being assaulted, women sexually abused by guards and suicide attempts laughed at.

In March last year people in the Nauru detention centre began a daily protest that lasted for 240 days.

Candles were firmly held against the darkness of Australia’s cruel bipartisan refugee policy on July 19.

Initiated by GetUp! and supported by numerous refugee rights organisations, the vigils drew thousands of people to more than 50 locations across Australia from big cities to small country towns.

The vigils marked four years since then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that anyone who came seeking asylum in Australia via boat would never be resettled in Australia.

Australia’s refugee policy over the past 25 years has resulted in a detention process best described as “Hell on Earth”.

Mandatory detention was first introduced in May 1992 by the Labor government with the support of the opposition and has been marked with increasing human rights abuses including deliberate medical negligence, sexual assault by guards, self-immolation and murder.

It suffocates people’s hope, as many people have been in detention for more than four years with no certainty of ever being released.

As immigration minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull boast in front of a wall of Australian flags about how they have stopped the boats and saved lives at sea, the Australian Navy is turning boats back to danger.

US immigration officials have admitted it is possible that no one from the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres will be resettled in the US. Meanwhile, Australian border force officers have been ramping up deportations on Manus Island.

Australians overwhelmingly believe keeping asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru indefinitely is cruel, but are evenly split on whether they should be resettled in Australia. 

This was the result of a survey by Roy Morgan Research over February 18 to 19.

The poll found a majority of voters in Victoria (52%), NSW (51%) and Tasmania (58%) supported bringing those on Manus and Nauru to Australia.

A majority of voters in Queensland (53%), WA (57%) and SA (54%) opposed resettlement in Australia.

Refugee rights activists in the Illawarra dropped off nearly 300 postcards at the Wollongong office of local MP Sharon Bird on November 18.

The postcards call on Labor to close the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres and bring the refugees to Australia.

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