From April 6-9, refugee rights activists will again focus attention on the reality behind the detention wire. This Easter activists will converge on Darwin, which is quickly becoming the detention capital, with up to 1000 imprisoned in three detention centres.
In early February, over the course of two days, four people in the Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC) attempted suicide by hanging and overdose. A Kurdish man—who is among hundreds found to be refugees but waiting for ASIO security clearances—placed six stitches in his lips.
NIDC was in perpetual crisis throughout 2011. As former NIDC mental health nurse Ena Grigg told Lateline, “Being locked in a prison with not knowing how you are going to get out or when you are going to get out or why you are even there… is driving people mad.”
According to Immigration Department statistics, on January 31 there were 283 detainees in NIDC, 450 in Wickham Point (recently built on mosquito infested swampland 90 minutes outside of Darwin), and hundreds more in the Darwin Airport Lodge.
2012 is the 20th anniversary of the introduction of mandatory detention. Easter will mark ten years since the refugee rights movement’s first Easter convergence—Woomera 2002, when busloads of protesters were met by protests by detainees, many of whom leapt through the fence—literally into the arms of the movement.
Across the country, 4783 people are in detention. A total of 528 children are still being detained.
After four years of Labor government, levels of self-harm and suicide in detention are, if anything, worse than they were during the worst years of the Howard-Ruddock regime.
The collapse of the government’s Malaysia Solution and the stalemate with Tony Abbott over offshore processing hasn’t led to any substantial changes to Labor’s policy.
Labor’s opening of the Pontville detention centre in Tasmania last year—where Afghan Hazaras recently mounted a hunger strike—means there are now detention facilities in every state and territory except the ACT.
Over the Easter weekend, there will be protests at each of Darwin’s detention centres, beginning with a protest through central Darwin on Friday, and on Saturday night refugee activists will join with anti-NT Intervention campaigners for a Rock Against Racism concert. On Easter Monday, protests will target Villawood (Sydney) and Broadmeadows (Melbourne).
2012 is set to be a big year—from events in May to mark the 20th anniversary of mandatory detention, to World Refugee Day rallies in June, to increased campaigning aimed at stopping deportations.