Asia-Pacific, Australia, Human Rights, Editor's Choice

Australia’s Refugee Detention Centers

Being a refugee fleeing war, violence and/or prosecution is arguably one of the worst situations to be in as a human being. We are talking about traumatic experiences and stress most of us, thankfully, never have to experience in our lives, though we are confronted with it on a daily basis as ships filled with desperate souls keep sinking in the Mediterranean sea, as numerous people risk their lives in pursuit of safety and a better future and as resentments against those foreigners spilling into Europe undeniably grow. But on the other side of the world, Australia faces similar issues, to which they responded with inhuman detention centers.

Refugee Crisis

While the spotlight has mainly been on the EU throughout the course of the refugee crisis, it seems the media has forgotten that Europe’s not the only destination for refugees. On average 12,000 refugees arrive in Australia every year, some of them by boat, creating similar problems for the Australian government like deaths at sea. Australia has always been very prudent in securing their borders, which climaxed in the decision on how to treat the boats loaded with refugees coming from Indonesia.

It was decided, that the stance on refugees arriving illegally by sea has to be hardened further to avoid deaths through drowning during the journey at all costs. The slogan “stop the boats” seems to have echoed through every mouth of every Australian politician in recent years and they were indeed able to reduce the arrival of boats, but at what costs? At the cost of human dignity in Australian Offshore Detention Centers.

We are talking about highly desperate individuals here, risking their lives at sea just to have a shot. That is why there is a Refugee Convention that has been signed by 143 nations, including Australia, recognizing that every refugee has undeniable rights, one of which is regulated under Article 31 of the convention. It states that a refugee cannot be punished “on account of their illegal entry or presence” and “States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized”. Well, try again Australia.

Refugees are Welcome … to Offshore Detention Centers?

Instead of making it either easier or safer to reach Australia, the government decided to secure their borders through military, sometimes even towing refugee boats back to Indonesia to make sure refugees trying to get to Australia by sea never get to reach the mainland. This article isn’t about those people though, this article is about those that actually reached Australia and were greeted by an environment that probably wasn’t much better than where they started their journey. It is an achievement in itself, making refugees regret fleeing, but the Australian government achieved exactly that when bringing refugees into its Offshore Detention Centers on Nauru and Manus Island to process their claims.

In August 2016, The Guardian published a database of 2000 reports about incidents on just one of those detention centers, depicting violence and despair among the detainees on Nauru Island. The daily life there has been characterized by a number of incidents including self-harm, sexual violence, and suicide, as a climax of severe hopelessness and inhumane living conditions. The conditions of those camps are in fact so horrific, that Papua New Guinea, in which one of the two is located, ruled the camp illegal recently.

Torturing Uncertainty

There are several reports of people that spent close to 600 days in camp, without information or hope on what may come next. The camps are dirty, families are separated and children are abused. Instead of running away from tragedy, it seems those innocent souls are trapped in one, one they can’t escape because Australia, in an effort to make boats even more unappealing, does not allow refugees with valid claims to come to Australia, period. Any legitimate refugee will be taken by other countries instead, such as Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, a cooperation Australia is paying top dollar for to ensure, that none of those refugees will become Australian citizens.

What Will it Take?

It has to be noted though, that there was one refugee that did successfully make it from one of the Detention Centers to the Australian mainland. In 2014, an Iranian refugee was brought to Brisbane after he got an infection through a small cut in his foot on Manus Island, he died shortly after and was pronounced brain dead which makes abundantly clear what kind of treatment people in those facilities are subjected to. There have actually been reports of people voluntarily going back to their home countries, even though they might be prosecuted, just to flee to yet another country to hopefully get accepted and integrated.

The Australian government remains relatively untouched by those reports on their detention centers though. The current and last administration mask their Detention Center efforts, not as a racist and inhumane way to keep refugees out of the country, but a humanist way of prohibiting unnecessary deaths at sea, which they claim is as successful as it could be. The slogan “stop the boats” is synonymous with the horrific treatment of innocent people in search for a new home, one that is unethical in every way, and one that has admittedly improved in recent years because of the leaks, but also one that is still a present issue that hasn’t been solved, and won’t be unless attitudes in Australia’s administration change significantly.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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