Saturday, 28 January 2012

in detention

a couple of times lately i have spent two to three hours in sydney's villawood immigration detention centre, as a visitor to the detainees there.
villawood, as we know it, is the holding centre for people who are awaiting processing either in an attempt to get australian residence or while awaiting deportation.
visitors are security screened in the same manner we may be screened at an airport, personal items are placed in lockers, wristbands are issued and gifts scanned.
i have only been to one section of the centre which, on first appearance is pleasant enough. detainees are called to the visiting area which consists of an outdoor grassed area with picnic tables and soccer playing males as well as an indoor lounge area, for want of a better word, where there are plastic chairs, a sink and microwaves, a couple of large TVs, a piano, plastic tables and "coffee" making facilities with styrofoam cups.
it is all very clean and newish, tidy and respectable. there are ramps catering for mobility problems and large windows. it is all quite pleasant, not at all the cold drab place i imagined until you start to notice some odd little things.
it's summertime and visitors bring watermelon, the skins are left on picnic tables with the flesh scooped out because there is only plastic cutlery.
the bathroom has no mirror and there is no kettle, hot drinks are made one by one in the microwave.
detainees talk about missing family, not knowing what the future will bring, strange curry not at all as curry should be, the stupidity of blunt razors that dont work but could still be used to self harm.
today i talked to a man who is 39, has been in transit across the world as a refugee for the past 17 years and feels that he has lost his life. he became a little agitated that his younger sister is soon to be a grandmother and he has no family, no country, no trade (though he has skills) and no life. i felt bad about discussing things that were so obviously painful and diverted to my great default conversation, which is food. i didnt know whether or not food would be a good topic with him and the old sport stand-by doesnt work for me so i was on a limb for a second there but it worked like a charm until i realised we were the only people left at the table and i had no idea what to say next......

visiting those people feels so useless and i wonder if they ever feel like monkeys in cages obliged to feel grateful for the peanuts from the visitors.


  1. As I read your report Kylie,I had two thoughts. The first is I bet you Aussies treat them much better than we treat our detainees, in better facilities, even though not well supplied for security reasons and the second came about from the story of the man with no nation.

    I wonder how he came to be in his situation and do any of us in this current climate of distrust of everyone, really have a home anymore?

  2. thanks for dropping by, Mark!
    i'm not sure how the facilities are away from the public areas but i get the idea they are okay as institutions go. the real despair comes from the uncertainty.

    we have had detainees hunger strike and if i wasnt lazy i would look it up but i think some have actually died as a result of protesting the conditions so it's not a pleasant place....

    the guy i spoke to has been classified as a refugee and people tell me he will be definitely be given residence here but our intelligence organisation believe he may be a threat of some type and havent given their clearance so he languishes until he gets it. it has been two years now.

    none of that makes sense to me but i have long understood that these kinds of stories are often confusing and convoluted.

    i might be naive but i like to imagine that my country would always take me in as one of their own. having said that, i take your point, there are not a whole lot of guarantees in life, esp where there is no trust

  3. So much for the lottery of life, by chance you could be born into a silver spoon lifestyle in a wealthy country or born into abject poverty with a feeling of no hope at all in a violent , dangerous life.
    Certainly gives the saying of " don't sweat the small stuff " a lot of clout.
    What a desperate , sad position these poor people are in. I really could not think of a more dire situation.

    Thank you for being so lovely to visit these poor souls,and actually put into action the kind thoughts so many people think about but never actually do..
    I do not think the topic of conversation matters as much to them as opposed to the thought of no-one caring at all.
    That is a credit to you Kylie..
    xoxo FEE

  4. Oh. How lovely of you to be there to provide a human face. I despair when I think of the length of time some of these people languish in uncertainty. And you are right - some have died. And others have been damaged, perhaps broken.
    I am in awe of you for providing this emotionally fraught work. Thank you. So much.

  5. As far as I can tell there have been five suicides at Villawood. I think our xenophobia about refugees is outrageous, he amount of illegals entering here is so small. My objection isn't to detention but the slow rate of processing. Then again, these people arrive often with no identification and it's a massive job to separate the legitimate from the wannabe's. I just wish they'd process these people much, much faster and either let them in or send them home.

  6. Kylie - I would think a visit such as yours would provide a welcome window to the outside world so to speak. Detention in itself no matter how neat or clean still means you cannot leave. A prison is a prison regardless of the reason. I for one couldn't visit as you did only because I would have no idea how to leave - knowing they couldn't.

    Kudos to you for talking about just anything at all. No matter how brief - you became a new best friend.

  7. hi fee!
    well thanks for the huge compliment! i am really no different to anyone, have thought of visiting but never did anything about it until a friend invited me along.
    hope you are good?

    as i said to fee, i dont really deserve such accolades but thank you, it is really encouraging to know that people think it is a worthwhile pursuit.
    so far i dont find it fraught but i have barely scratched the surface and probably have unconsciously put some protective barriers up

    i'm with you, i have no great objection to detention per se but it should be limited and for people already proven to be genuine refugees i see it is a breach of human rights to have them locked up at all, let alone indefinitely.

    as i say to everyone, thank you but i dont really deserve any kudos.
    i am still deeply conflicted as to whether i actually offer anything or am more like some weird kind of voyeur.....

  8. It must be very educational to hear people's real-life stories of why they're in the centre, as opposed to the anti-immigrant propaganda peddled by certain sections of the media.

  9. nick,
    so far i havent heard a lot because i think it must be the story they tell 1000 times!
    but yes, its good to know it comes from the horses mouth :)

  10. Kia ora Kylie,
    Kia ora for showing simple human kindness. The fact is white privilege is alive and well and still running the world. It isn't only in detention centres where that proves true, and being a "citizen" of a country certainly does not mean as much as the colour of one's skin or what god they may choose to worship in how they are treated and the opportunities they have.
    I am heading up to Waitangi this coming weekend with my wife and son, and the local Iwi contingent for our Waitangi Day (which is the day sinnifying the signing of the treaty between the crown and Maori). It will be interesting to truly immerse myself in the Maori perspective of things for the very first time.
    Kia kaha e hoa.

  11. St Matthew's Gospel 3: 35

    I was hungry and you fed me,thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; in prison and you visited me. then to v40 The King will reply, "I tell you,whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me!"

    Looks like the scripture says really, everybody is important.

    Thought provoking post Kylie, good responses from your post readers.

  12. You talking about food is I think no accident, you know and I do too that the special food of one's culture--the smell and taste of it--is the single most intensely locating sense-memory one retains...even to a collective consciousness; even I have a sort of instantaneous feeling of deep resonance when I smell the foods of ancestors, a big part of my childhood...

    that would in general be a great thing to ask, you know, what sort of foods do you miss being in here? I mean it would elicit longing, but then again a comforting thought I suppose...

  13. Hi Kyles!
    Great post.
    ♥ & ((hugs))

  14. Kylie is spelt KYLIE eh?

    So then it is pronounced

    Kie, then the following Ley or a soft lee syllable sound

    AS in SKY or say pie.

    North Americans may have an accent disadvantage with these sounds. Hope this clarifies this CARLY difficulty.

  15. Kylie, I love it that you do that.

    I tried to email you today, and the address didn't work.

  16. Don't know how I missed this post but glad I found it. Maybe you can help some of these people by posting their stories on the blog. Seems like it would make fascinating reading.


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