Australia’s system of immigration detention has reached a new low, writes Wil Wallace.
When I heard of Somali refugee Abyan’s abduction and imminent deportation, and knowing that I could not physically do anything to stop it, my mind turned to writing. Even if it could not stop what seemed, and has turned out to be, inevitable, that outpouring of shock, anger, disgust and grief might help myself and the over 62,000 others who signed the petition supporting Abyan’s request to come to the mainland “maintain the rage”, and perhaps prevent such a thing ever happening again.
My first thought was to create a parable; to tell a story of a young woman in a remote country town who had experienced similar trauma, difficulties and mistreatment with the final revelation being that the truth of the matter was much crueler, and absurd. Yet it quickly became apparent that the absurdity and cruelty of Abyan’s actual experience is such that no easy comparison can be made: this incident, like the deaths of Reza Barati and Hamid Khazaei, stands by itself. Unique, immutable and terrifying.
Abyan is a 23-year old refugee, one of two women who have recently claimed to have been raped while in detention on the island. The ordeal of the attack has reportedly so traumatised this young woman that she has lost 10kg as the stress has stopped her from being able to eat properly.
Even when planned and with full social and health support, pregnancy is not without challenges. It is little wonder that in the face of enduring pregnancy in a detention camp, where other pregnant women have been forced to make their own toilets and reduce water intake to prevent making long trips to such amenities, where medical support has been rendered inaccessible by long distances that must be walked, and where infants and children face higher risks of infection due to inadequate housing, that Abyan should consider the option of obtaining a termination (abortion).
And these are just complaints related to carrying a pregnancy to term in detention on Nauru: say nothing of the accusations that refugees have been waterboarded by security staff, or the abuses of power by staff who have attempted to ruin asylum applications as retaliation, or coerce women refugees into prostitution. And then there are Abyan’s own words to consider:
“I cannot go back to where this happened to me; I cannot go to where I was raped. What happened to me there [in Nauru]is what caused me to run away from Somalia. What happened to me in Somalia is what happened to me there [in Nauru.]”
After a concerted campaign saw the government begrudgingly permit Abyan to come to Australia and it was revealed that other refugees facing inadequate medical support were also requesting to come to Australia for treatment, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton found it necessary to declare that Australia would not be “blackmailed” by refugees seeking medical assistance.
He accused those imprisoned in immigration detention of running a “racket” and taking the government “for mugs” in a supposed attempt to gain back-door access to settlement in Australia.
Undoubtedly, this belief motivated the decision to seize Abyan and deport her from the mainland when she requested a delay in obtaining her termination to seek further counselling about the procedure.
Oh, the audacity! The impudence and deceit! This young woman, having already obtained special treatment by requesting access to basic healthcare and culturally sensitive care, had now changed her mind! Or as good as, if she was unwilling to proceed without counselling and support normally advised for such a process. How convenient, also, that the speedy deportation that resulted removed Abyan from the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, where an injunction was being sought to prevent her deportation from occurring.
By now it is likely that Abyan has been returned to Nauru, a place steeped in personal and community violence. At 14 weeks into her pregnancy, and with a return trip to Australia required for termination (as neither Nauru or Papua New Guinea have the capacity for such procedures) it is uncertain whether Abyan will be able to obtain termination, or indeed if she will still be willing to fight for that right after enduring the wrath and mistreatment of Australian Immigration Detention.
That such an innocuous request – to be treated humanely, and indeed to be treated – would provoke such a violent and souring response from the Australian Government can only be understood when one realises the paranoia that guides the increasingly militaristic and authoritarian self-deemed protectors of Australian sovereignty.
For now, we must make Abyan’s story known. We must continue to support her, to push the Government even as it squeals about unfairness and exploitation (of themselves) and we must remember that however reluctant we may be to be seduced by nationalistic rhetoric (real Australians Say Welcome, etc), we as Australians are complicit if silent.
Immigration Detention is one of the greater evils of this age. The secrecy and hostility that governs our detention centres hides an intense fear that if freedom of movement matches the freedom of movement of capital, Australia will cease to exist as a sovereign entity. How ironic, then, to have excised the mainland from the migration zone.
Whether on Nauru or at Maribyrnong, at Yarl’s Wood or in a hastily constructed camp along a continental European border, immigration detention reduces people beyond merely three-fifths of a person: it undoes them completely.
Through the travesties of their death and mistreatment, Reza Barati, Hamid Khazaei and Abyan have regained something of their personhood. Our objective should be the completion of this process for the thousands of people caught up in immigration detention around the world, and this can only be achieved through its abolition.
This is why, politically and morally, abolition of detention is the right thing to do.
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