As this edition of Overland goes to print, refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru have been protesting for 180 consecutive days about their 1153 days in detention. Twelve hundred adults, children and babies rammed into (repurposed) containers or suffocative tents in a camp where water is scarce and food rotten, where rape and sexual abuse is an everyday occurrence, where escape is sought through self-harm or suicide. Misery and pain goes unheeded; broken bones, infections, diseases and ailments are treated with, at best, Panadol.
On Manus Island, where conditions are similar, one man says he spends his hours dreaming about eating dinner with his children – a quotidian act many would consider a chore.
We are not facing this crisis for want of information, nor because journalists have been denied visas. We knew these details of detention before the release of the Nauru Files. There has been an inquiry, smuggled footage (as seen in Chasing Asylum), whistleblowing and revelations penned by those interned.
The political class know how refugees are treated because they wrote the policy. We live in a world where money determines the manner in which you cross a border, and those in power are comfortable with that fact.
Our refugee policies, which declare those seeking asylum to be less than human – as deserving of torture – are a shadow that stalks this edition. Its presence can be felt in essays on Australia’s history of using islands as prisons, accounts of refugees in Malaysia, an examination of the absurd amounts politicians earn and treatises on what we could be using fiction and the internet for.
Recent ministerial speechifying about threats to national security – the implication being that Australia is compelled to torture in order to survive – suggests that the coverage of despair and cruelty, the daily protests inside the camps and the pressure from inside Australian borders are all resounding. Now we must turn the volume up.
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