Only a crook would throw his papers away and claim asylum in Australia after passing through several other nations.
‘Worse than jail’: Detainees protest ‘indefinite’ immigration detention
Protesters at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.
Many detainees in a number of immigration detention centres around the country are on hunger strike against what they call ‘inhumane’ conditions as well as their ‘indefinite detention’.
Yongah Hill immigration detention centre in Western Australia is one of them where detainees say they have been on hunger strike since last week.
The Australian Border Force, after initially denying such protests were happening, has now confirmed that some detainees are refusing food at a number of immigration detention centres – but refutes claims that conditions in are inhumane or brutal.
An Indian inmate who wished to be identified as Mr Chahal told SBS Punjabi that over 100 detainees have been on hunger strike since last Monday.
“In the beginning, there were around 300 of us but later some went back. But there are still between 120 and 140 detainees who are on strike,” Mr Chahal said.
Mr Chahal claims that he and others on hunger strike hadn’t eaten at the Yongah Hill detention centre since last Monday.
“We are not even sleeping inside our cells. We sleep out in the open and return to our room in the morning and we are drinking only water,” he told SBS Punjabi.
Mr Chahal said the detainees were protesting against their “indefinite detention” and they were demanding to be moved to a facility closer to where their families live.
“I know some people who have been in immigration detention for seven, eight or nine years. I have myself been here over three years.
Mr Chahal’s visa was cancelled after he was jailed for six months for a drug offence in 2015. He says his incarceration has taken a toll on his mental health.
“It messes up your mind, being cut off from the rest of the world and remaining confined to the four walls of the detention centre not knowing when you’ll be free to go out,” he told SBS Punjabi. His visa cancellation case is in the High Court.
Detainees at a Melbourne and Sydney immigration detention centres have also joined the strike.
Fifty-five-year-old Paul Cambo who served an eight-month prison sentence over domestic violence offences before he was sent to immigration detention said the Broadmeadows centre in Melbourne was “worse than a jail”.
“The toilets have no doors, and with two people in each room, you have to send the other one out before using it. The food is horrible and people are locked up here indefinitely,” he said. He says around 80 detainees are taking part in the protest.
Mr Cambo’s 487 visa was cancelled after his conviction and he has been immigration detention for over two years now. He is contesting the Immigration Department’s decision to cancel his visa.
“All we are saying is deal with our cases quickly. Don’t lock us up here forever. My kids visit me and ask when I will come home… what do I tell them? I don’t know,” he says.
The ABF said the individuals participating in the protest are being “closely monitored” and will continue to receive medical and mental health care as required. It said the force is working with the key organisers of protest to discuss their concerns.
1250 in immigration detention in Australia
There are 1250 people now in immigration detention in Australia. They are boat arrivals dating back to 2013 or earlier, people who have had their visas cancelled on character grounds and those who have overstayed their visas.
The ABF says immigration detention is used as a “last resort”.
“These individuals are free to return to their home countries at any time to await the outcome of any outstanding appeals,” the ABF said in a statement.
“The time an individual spends in immigration detention depends on a range of factors, including the complexity of their case, the legal process they pursue and whether they voluntarily choose to leave Australia.”
However, Mr Chahal claims some detainees who voluntarily agree to leave Australia were also kept in detention for months.
“My roommate agreed to return to India and signed the papers back in September, but nothing happened until December and then he said ‘I’ve already spent four months here, now I’ll fight to stay in Australia’”.