Australia Welcomes Asian Refugees with Detention in For-Profit Jails -- Or by Just Allowing Them to Drown
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Then in 2009, Serco signed two contracts with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to manage detention facilities on Christmas Island, Perth, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney. As such, Serco has access to an unlimited, government-sanctioned supply of people to lock up. Ostensibly, the government assumed a private corporation couldn't possibly do a worse job of running refugee prisons than they had.
Last month, a 36-year-old Fijian national named Josefa Rauluni, who was being held at Villawood, killed himself by jumping from a roof. The morning Josefa leapt to his death was also the day he was informed that he was scheduled to be deported back to Fiji. Refugee advocate Sara Nathan says Josefa feared prosecution in his home country, which is under the rule of a military dictatorship that has expelled Australian diplomats.
Following his death, successive groups of prisoners staged protests that lasted for days and included self-harm such as cutting themselves and bleeding on their bed sheet banners and dry hunger strikes. One of the detainees was a woman who was four months pregnant and refused to eat during the demonstration. Another group consisting of 16 Kurdish and Iranian men staged a 12-day hunger strike, which finally ended when the Immigration Department promised to review their claims.
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As we drive through the semi-industrial suburb of Villawood, which consists of tiny, run-down homes and the occasional McMansion, I realize the only thing that pisses off Daniel more than refugee mistreatment are factual inaccuracies.
Daniel has heard all the usual anti-refugee talking points, so he possesses an arsenal of handy facts to shoot down the nationalists and racists. Jails act as deterrents. Nope, not for truly desperate people fleeing a dictatorship or war torn country. It's flee or be killed. Australia is overrun by boat refugees! Nope, boat arrivals only make up five percent of Australia's annual humanitarian intake. There are approximately 50,000 "illegal" persons in Australia at any one time and most of them are British. Immigrants cost Aussie taxpayers money! It's actually more expensive to keep them locked up at Christmas Island.
The arguments are almost identical to the anti-Mexican immigrant bigotry infecting the US right now. Useless proposals like the wall will never stop desperate people from escaping their dire circumstances, and Arizona passed its draconian racial profiling law even though illegal immigration has now declined by 67 percent and violent crime dropped in Arizona by 14 percent.
In times of economic despair, people love to focus all of their hatred and fear at soft targets, and poor brown people who don't speak English are the easiest scapegoats.
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The eeriest part of Villawood is its unostentatious appearance. From the outside, it looks like a DMV, save for the high fences. The inside looks like an airport check-in counter, complete with two women seated behind a counter, adjacent to a metal detector.
Daniel explains we'll need to fill out some forms before we can go into the heart of the center. He takes us over to a table fitted with cubbies that are packed with daunting For Official Office Use Only papers. Daniel finds the correct ones and plops them down before us.
The walls are fitted with large framed posters that look like motivational Benetton ads. People of all races embrace, laughing and smiling above the Orwellian message: "Serco: Bringing service to life." Two Asian men, dressed in construction gear, drape their arms around each other as they pose in front of a crane.