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Woomera detainees sew lips together
January 18, 2002 3:07 AM   Subscribe

Woomera detainees sew lips together At least 58 asylum seekers have sewn their lips together during a hunger strike at the Woomera detention centre. I don't know what to think, I know we have to take precautions against letting terrorists in, but this is just awful.
posted by Tarrama (39 comments total)

 
Australias immigration policy has very little to do with the "war on terrorism". There are certain channels that legal asylum seekers can take and then there is the boat loads of miscellaneous flotsam that arrive on our shores, if a person can prove they are a legitimate political refugee then they are welcome, if they cannot then they must be sent home.
If they arrive illegally they should expect to be subject to the process of being detained until their status is determined.
posted by eyere at 3:43 AM on January 18, 2002


They seemed to have mostly arrived legally. Their sewing lips together because asylum not granted fast enough a nice indication of the good citizens they will become. At least they won't scream at guards.
posted by Postroad at 3:47 AM on January 18, 2002


my dream....a woman who can't talk.
posted by billybob at 3:58 AM on January 18, 2002


Postroad: the Woomera detention centre is for illegal immigrant's (read: boat people) I don't think they have arrived legally, if they had they wouldn't be detained, we don't detain people who are legitimate asylum seekers that have arrived through legitimate channels
posted by eyere at 3:59 AM on January 18, 2002


That wasn't funny, Postroad or billybob.
posted by kv at 4:02 AM on January 18, 2002


The Age Wednesday 19 September 2001

Terrorists could be among the flood of asylum seekers coming into Australia, according to Liberal backbencher Peter Slipper.

Postroad, I think conditions must be grim to go to this extreme. Good citizens? they might not shout at the guards but they could ruin the diet industries.
posted by Tarrama at 4:02 AM on January 18, 2002


If they arrive illegally they should expect to be subject to the process of being detained until their status is determined.

So because they're unfortunate enough to come from countries whose citizens don't get automatic leave to enter Australia for a few months just to wander around and spend money in gift shops... and because they don't have the proper papers because they're fleeing those countries... and because some of those countries have also spawned or harboured other people we consider 'evil', people who probably don't consider the ASX a leading symbol of Western capitalism worthy of attack... then we lock them up for years, not months, in the Australian equivalent of Siberia.

Yes, some of these people will end up being sent home. Many of them won't, though, as after a long period of processing they will be found, surprise surprise, to be genuine refugees; and their first year or two of life in their new homeland will be a scar across their memories. That'll really encourage them to fit in and settle down, won't it?

What is wrong with letting these people live in the general community while their claims are processed, perhaps with the condition of having to report to an immigration officer every few weeks? Even paying them a modest welfare benefit wouldn't cost the country any more than it does to run Woomera. And if a few of them go into hiding, so what - how is that worse than an over-staying back-packer from Putney?

If people sewing their lips together in desperation is to be explained away as 'a procedural matter', then Australia has thoroughly forfeited its welcoming, tolerant and humane image.

('Terrorists could be among the flood of asylum seekers coming into Australia, according to Liberal backbencher Peter Slipper.' Yeah, sure. Also, victims of torture, desperate parents, doctors, engineers, honest hard-working individuals, and while we're at it, ten-tentacled shape-shifting aliens from the planet Zog. Flood? 'Trickle' is the appropriate term in Australia's case. Talk to Pakistan, Burundi and Albania about 'floods' of asylum seekers.)
posted by rory at 4:15 AM on January 18, 2002


And Postroad: go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Sit in jail with nothing to do for month after month after month waiting to start your life again while your case file sits in some Canberra bureaucrat's in-tray a thousand miles away. Wonder when or if it will ever end. And then walk out into the streets and become a happy, well-adjusted citizen in the blink of an eye.
posted by rory at 4:20 AM on January 18, 2002


rory: while I respect your altruism, there are certain realities that every nation finds it necessary to observe, we can't just open our borders to everyone who is persecuted in their own nation, really, can't we be realistic about this?
posted by eyere at 4:25 AM on January 18, 2002


Call them what they are: Woomera and Port Hedland are gulags.
posted by GrahamVM at 4:33 AM on January 18, 2002


Postroad and Billy Bob, shame on you both for making fun of retarded whackos.

These people are obviously retarded whackos, and a danger to the people around them. The bottom of the article says that back in December 2 people mutilated themselves and fires broke out that hurt 21 people.

What is wrong with letting these people live in the general community while their claims are processed, perhaps with the condition of having to report to an immigration officer every few weeks?

So the people are getting fed, because you have to be fed to go on a hunger strike. Then they sew their lips together, so in the future they might have problems eating or something. Whackos! Even though they are detained they are getting food. And they did arrive illegally.
So they are bringing this to themselves. I only feel bad for the non whackos stuck next to the people sewing their mouths shut.
posted by Keen at 4:34 AM on January 18, 2002


Incidentally, these detention camps are run by the same American firm that makes a nice killing out of running prisons in the States. I don't know. Americans seem to be mad for locking innocent people up.
posted by GrahamVM at 4:36 AM on January 18, 2002


we can't just open our borders to everyone who is persecuted in their own nation

No one's talking about doing that. These people are usually the fortunate few who somehow scrape together enough money to pay unscrupulous middle-men to take them on a dangerous journey on a clapped-out vessel to a country they know nothing about, because they are in such desperate straits that they figure that anywhere has to be better than where they are. That takes incredible bravery and determination - the stuff of potential 'good citizens' in my book. And they do so knowing that they are leaving behind the land of their birth, a land they in all likelihood still love, a land they hate to have seen fall into ruin. That is something you only do when life absolutely demands it.

I'm currently an emigrant from my homeland - which happens to be Australia - but only because I know I can go back whenever I want to. They don't know that; for all they know, they've taken a one-way trip away from their family, friends, culture, language - everything that's important to them.

Do you seriously think that people will be queuing up all around the world to move away from everything they know and love just because they'd like to see a few koalas and experience the mighty economic powerhouse that is the Australian economy?

I am being realistic. No one is saying 'don't process these people's claims, just let 'em in and let 'em stay forever'. But I am saying 'let them spend the time while their claims are being processed adapting to their potential new home, rather than festering in a prison'. Who knows, by the time their claim is finally, belatedly processed they may have decided that Australia isn't the blissful magical wonderland of tolerance and respect that our politicians and popular media like to paint it, and they'll move home themselves.

And who knows, having asylum seekers knocking on their doors every day rather than tucked tidily out of sight in the desert might encourage the government to process their claims more quickly.
posted by rory at 4:49 AM on January 18, 2002




I'm sure this has been linked to before, but Sydney's Edmund Rice Centre published an excellent fact-sheet debunking the asylum seeker myths.

A few points to note:

1. It is a person's legal right to seek asylum. They cannot be "illegal immigrants" if they are exercising this legal right. The true illegal immigrants are the 50 000-odd predominantly British and Irish visa overstayers who have no legal right to remain.

2. Terrorists are more likely to enter Australia through "legal" mechanisms - on aeroplanes, with false papers. It is simply ridiculous to suggest that a terrorist would pay people smugglers to make a risky voyage in an overloaded craft with a high likelihood of being detained at the other end. Last time I heard, Osama was quite wealthy and can probably afford a few airfares.

3. Mandatory detention breaches Australia's obligations under the refugee conventions. According to the rules Australia ratified, it is only acceptable to detain people if there is a high risk of flight. Canada, the nation even Ruddock admits accepts more refugees than we do, does not mandatorily detain asylum seekers. Instead, they are housed and given pocket money. They don't flee, their claims are processed within the 3 month guidelines (as opposed to over 12 months in Australia) and it costs less.
posted by robcorr at 5:55 AM on January 18, 2002


Hunger strikes are one of the few means of protest available to people in prison. It is likely that these "detainees" (the new p.c. euphemism for prisoners) sewed their lips together to heighten the ethical dilemma for medical personnel who may called in to force-feed them.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:04 AM on January 18, 2002


Carol Anne, I don't think that calling prisoners "detainees" is any worse a p.c. euphemism than describing the act of sewing lips together as a way to "heighten the ethical dilemma".
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:26 AM on January 18, 2002


All I have to say is mmf mmmf meeef hmmmf mmmmeef.
posted by ebarker at 6:29 AM on January 18, 2002


I don't think that calling prisoners "detainees" is any worse a p.c. euphemism than describing the act of sewing lips together as a way to "heighten the ethical dilemma".

Pardon? Carol Anne was not using this phrase as a substitute for some more direct description such as "sewing their lips together" but as a suggested explanation of the reasoning behind the act. I fail to see how this is euphemistic.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:40 AM on January 18, 2002


Excellent points, robcorr - I should have gone with my instincts and put quotation marks around "illegal".

A relevant op-ed on refugee issues [via consequently.org].
posted by rory at 6:49 AM on January 18, 2002


The problem seems to be that many refugees coming to our shores (north america, europe, australia etc) are not in any genuine danger as a result of any political or religious belief or due to their sexual orientation. Although to pretend that these are not genuine problems in some areas of the globe would be disingenious. However, economic factors seem to fuel the clamour of these poor people to reach our shores. To stem this tide one needs to address the fundamental economic problems which drive these people for their homes.
posted by johnnyboy at 7:04 AM on January 18, 2002


'What is the way to get into a country? If you are fleeing from persecution, how do you get to another country?'

Why, you walk into your Kabul branch of Qantas and show them your fresh new ticket and passport with neatly-stamped visa and... what's that? No branch of Qantas in Kabul? Passports hard to obtain from the very regime you were seeking to flee? No Australian embassy in Afghanistan? Good heavens.

[jonnyboy:] To stem this tide one needs to address the fundamental economic problems which drive these people for their homes.

This is true (though the Afghan refugees who have arrived in Australia over the past year have been fleeing more than just a bad economy, as should be blindingly obvious to all of us by now), but Australia's Canute-like stance towards boat-people achieves absolutely nothing in this regard. We're happy to take you if you're fleeing a good economy, though, say if you're feeling oppressed by the northern winter, as long as you bring some of its cash and skills with you.
posted by rory at 7:16 AM on January 18, 2002


i am lead to belive that north america, europe, australia etc. need an increasing amount of migrant workers to balance the 'greying' population.
posted by asok at 7:19 AM on January 18, 2002


belive *is* the australian spelling of believe. possibly.
posted by asok at 7:20 AM on January 18, 2002


Oddly enough, asok, in this case you agree with Pat Buchanan.
posted by darukaru at 7:31 AM on January 18, 2002


The nice thing about non-violent protests, especially the self-punishing kind, is that those in power don't have to do anything at all. "Here's food. Here's medical services. We will keep you alive and physically healthy." Regardless of the reasons (or lack thereof) for the detention, voluntary rejection of basic life needs does not create a bargaining position. It's like the bit where a gunman holds off the cops by threatening to shoot himself: that used to be a fictional comedy bit, but now people actually do it.
posted by yesster at 7:43 AM on January 18, 2002


....voluntary rejection of basic life needs does not create a bargaining position. It's like the bit where a gunman holds off the cops by threatening to shoot himself: that used to be a fictional comedy bit, but now people actually do it.

Yeah, like that Ghandi loser! (did I just break some kind of inverse godwin's law?)
posted by malphigian at 8:02 AM on January 18, 2002


Oh, I'm not saying it's not effective - but the reason it is effective is because of media, which creates public awareness. The threat of bad PR for those in power. But it isn't a bargaining position like, say, holding the gun against another person's head would be.

I think most of us have a primitive (if not intellectually defensible) sense of justice which says, "go ahead, pull the trigger."
posted by yesster at 8:12 AM on January 18, 2002


voluntary rejection of basic life needs does not create a bargaining position

Unless you're doing it to raise media attention and create public awareness of government injustice, in a country where governments crave favourable instances of both. I'd say that constitutes a bargaining position, although not one I'd like to be in. Holding a gun against someone's head, though, would be a terrible bargaining position in this case, as public sympathy would tend towards those at the receiving end of the gun.

The media and public opinion are not 'optional extras' in representative democracies.
posted by rory at 8:23 AM on January 18, 2002


I don't get it. 'Asylum seekers' are relying the the good nature of the country they 'fled' to. And then they get testy because it's taking too long?

This is what bothers me the most. "You're taking too long, even though I'm asking you to do me a favor, I'm going to poke you in the eye until you do me that favor."

Ok, yes, maybe there is a better way for the governments of the world to handle immigrants, legal and illegal. But c'mon - if you're really looking for a better life, why does it have to start right NOW.. isn't it worth the wait, whatever that wait is?

Everyone is so into immediate gratification. Sheesh.
posted by rich at 8:51 AM on January 18, 2002


So if I'm the friendly neighbour in Evil Regime II and someone comes running into my house to get away from the axe-wielding maniac, I get to lock them in my bedroom for a year before I decide whether they have a legitimate reason to be scared? And as long as I feed them they can't complain, because I'm doing them a favour?

And 'immediate gratification'? Wanting to be released from imprisonment that you consider unjust is not the same as wanting an iPod.
posted by rory at 9:50 AM on January 18, 2002


Rory - no one has even broached the subject of the internees being able to leave to go back from wence they came. I doubt if they stood up and said 'I want to leave and go back to where I came from' that Australia, or any immigration area would prevent them from doing so.

But just food for thought.. what if 100 people showed up at your door asking to to get away from an axe weilding maniac and didn't want to sleep on the floor, but in a bed and started trashing your place and threatening you if you didn't give all of them a bed?
posted by rich at 11:09 AM on January 18, 2002


I doubt if they stood up and said 'I want to leave...

Well, quite, but beside the point, isn't it? The point being that seeking asylum shouldn't be equated with asking for a favour. Granting a favour seems a personal thing, not something a state should be in the business of doing - states should be more about justice than favouritism. (I admit that my neighbour metaphor makes the same lapse in equating the reasonable behaviour of individuals with the reasonable behaviour of states.)

what if 100 people showed up at your door...

Well, as soon as Australia (population 20 million) is beset by 2 billion boat people, I'll admit that we have a problem. :)
posted by rory at 12:14 PM on January 18, 2002


You raise the right point - that it is a state. And that state exists for the benefit of its citizens. There has to be some kind of mechanism to prevent people who don't belong to the state from taking advantage of the state at the cost of people who do belong to the state.

In most cases, these are visas and whatnot (and yes, sure, in cases they are abused, but they are mechanisms).

If you go around these 'established' means, there has to be some way to deal with it. Should it be easier to use non-standard means than standard means? And what real responsibility does a state have to those who are not its citizens other than 'no harm'?

'No harm' does not mean that the state has any obligation to give the same comfort that a member of the state enjoys to a non-member just because that non-member wants something better for themselves.

In small cases, you may not see a problem, but in extreme cases, it could lead to the destruction of the state and the suffering of state members in lieu of non-members.
posted by rich at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2002


Rich wrote
In small cases, you may not see a problem, but in extreme cases, it could lead to the destruction of the state and the suffering of state members in lieu of non-members.
And in Australia's case we're nowhere near the "destruction of the state" or even the suffering of members of our state. The fact that this is even an issue now in our country, compared to the bipartisan support for refugees in the 1970's, says something very very sad about the state of this country.

Oh, and states can't exist purely for the benefit of their citizens. Justice for all (not just citizens) must have a part to play. Otherwise you'll be justifying wars of aggression and conquest, next.
posted by grestall at 12:57 PM on January 18, 2002


As someone has already pointed out, Australia has a lot of visa-overstayers from western countries. Surprisingly enough, they rarely face jail terms, and there is little (if any) public outrage about them - most people don't know or care that there are 50 000 immigrants who are actually illegal.

(As opposed to 'boat people' who often don't have the means to apply legally for asylum - in sept '99, the Australian offshore post in Nairobi was dealing with 34 countries, with 3 staff members, and had a backlog of 8000 applicants.)

Surely 50 000 illegal immigrants should be considered more significant than 8128 boat people (the number of boat people from 1989-2000).

(Statistics from the book Borderline: Australia's treatment of refugess and asylum seekers by Peter Mares.)
posted by eoz at 4:46 PM on January 18, 2002


Anybody care to comment on Minister Ruddock's claims that only 1 in 10 asylum seekers/illegal immigrants actually end up qualifying for refugee status?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:37 PM on January 20, 2002


Hazarding a guess: 'asylum seekers/illegal immigrants' - if you include 50,000 visa overstayers from the British Isles among the 'illegal immigrants', then it's quite easy to arrive at that 1 in 10 figure.
posted by rory at 1:57 AM on January 21, 2002


Of the asylum seekers in detention, somewhere between 80 and 95% are granted Temporary Protection Visas - just covered this in my Pol Sci course...
posted by robcorr at 3:06 AM on January 21, 2002


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