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Australia Welcomes Asian Refugees with Detention in For-Profit Jails -- Or by Just Allowing Them to Drown

Boat arrivals only make up 5% of Australia's annual humanitarian intake. There are approximately 50,000 "illegal" persons in Australia at any one time and most are British.

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The women and children are held in separate quarters, Daniel explains, gesturing into the distance. He guides us into another building where there are a couple of tables and a kitchen.

* * * * *

We're sitting in the kitchen for about ten minutes before two men walk out. They're both neatly dressed and clean-shaven. The men warmly embrace Daniel and we engage in pleasantries, shake hands and walk outside where the men can smoke the cigarettes Daniel brought them.

It's extremely sunny, so we sit in one of the gazebos and Daniel remarks that the hot weather is enjoyable. He explains that some of the refugees are unaccustomed to the cold and had a hard time adjusting to winter.

Both men are refugees from Sri Lanka. Shayan, the younger man, tells us he's 25-years-old. The men have been trying to learn English, but it's difficult without a proper classroom setting. To practice, Shayan has been writing poetry.

He is extremely soft-spoken and at first seems more interested in his cigarette than our conversation. But then, he begins to interject. "Twelve people die in my boat," he says in broken English.

It sounds like a quiet cry for help. Many of the refugees are traumatized from their journey. They have seen loved ones die, and now they don't have access to mental health care facilities. They're alone, terrified and they can't sleep at night.

The men continuously stress their loneliness. Days consist of sitting in their small rooms, which are no larger than typical prison cells. They have been given cell phones, but only a limited number of credits. When they run out, the phones are useless. Mostly, they rely on email and Facebook, though those outlets are limited.

Following some of the protests, the detainees lost their email privileges, they tell us. The Immigration Department has previously said that such protests won't affect the detainees' application statuses, but it does appear to affect email. I contacted Serco about the email allegations and a Senior Operations Manager named Shaun Maxwell responded to my inquiry by suggesting the prisoners raise the issue with the "staff in their accommodation area," a prospect that will surely be most unappealing to the imprisoned. (1)

Waiting is the hardest part. Ramasay, the older refugee, has been in detention, first at Christmas Island and then later Villawood, for a total of 18 months and he has no idea what will happen next. Maybe he'll get released tomorrow, or maybe he'll be sent back to Sri Lanka. Or maybe he won't be released for another two years. He is in a constant state of limbo. He feels like he's mentally deteriorating from the constant boredom and fear.

As a result, the detainees' sleep schedule is completely out of whack, so the guards have been pressuring them to take sleeping pills. If the detainees refuse to take the pills, the guards can send them to Stage One (the high security facilities).

The men say a detainee recently overdosed on the sleeping tablets. I ask Ramasay if he takes the pills. "Of course," he says.

We ask them if they'd like guests to bring them any treats. Fruit? Maybe some nuts? They shake their heads. All they want, they explain, is some company -- someone to talk to. Also, cigarettes would be nice.

The worst part is that these men haven't committed a crime. They are asylum seekers fleeing a Sri Lankan dictatorship. Literally, their only crime is not having drowned during the journey to Australia. At least, that's how they feel. They are strangers in a foreign land and it would be perfectly understandable if they assumed all Australians hate them, which is why they're being kept in a government-sanctioned cage.

 
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