PROFITS AND RACISM
Prisoners of the global enclosures make a break
AUSTRALIA -Friday, June 9 2000. Within less than 48 hours, over 750
asylum-seekers had broken out of three remote refugee prisons in
experiencing freedom for the first time in over 6 months. The vast
the asylum seekers are from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock, told reporters that the
had the choice of returning to detention or face charges which could
disqualified for visas under migration laws which require that
applicants to be
of "good character". Con Sciacca, from the Opposition Labor Party
Minister for Immigration, said that the escapees would not be getting
sympathy from the public.
All three refugee prisons are in remote, desert locations where
temperatures regularly reach freezing. At least 10 people have been
hospital having collapsed from exhaustion, cold and a lack of food.
Thursday, many of the escapees have been returned to their respective
camps, but many remain free, if without any support, including food
shelter. Each of the prison camps is located hundreds of kilometres
The siting of the refugee prisons in remote locations has an economic
political basis. It has made access to legal aid, community support
scrutiny almost impossible to sustain. Since 1994, a series of laws
restricted access to legal information, including communications from
Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Moreover, the convergence of a restructuring of rural economies and
explicit peddling of xenophobic explanations for rising unemployment
declining incomes by all major parties (Labor, National, Liberal,
Democrats) in the last decade -- a tactic which prompted the
subsequent rise of
the openly racist One Nation in 1996 which targeted migrants and
'welfare bludgers' as the cause of rural misery -- has resulted in the
political isolation of asylum seekers.
No political party in Australia is prepared to defend the right of
seekers to justice, including freedom from arbitrary and lengthy
The refugee prisons highlight the racist exceptions to the rule of law
Australia, including the singular exception to the principle that
charged and tried before a court before being imprisoned. This
exclusion from the rule of law adheres to the same racist logic as
that of the
'internal' mandatory sentencing regime for petty property crimes,
practiced in two Australian states, Western Australia and the Northern
Territory, whose indisputable target is indigenous peoples.
On Thursday, over a hundred people tore down the barbed wire fencing
Woomera prison camp and headed for the middle of the nearby town to
protest against poor conditions, overcrowding, refusals to provide
telephones and newspapers and the slow processing of visa
the rest of the day, another three escapes were mounted bringing the
numbers to around 600. They joined others in the centre of the town
'We want freedom!' They have been held in the Woomera prison camp for
On Friday morning, after having endured cold, without food since
with the only available water from a bore well, the group -- made up
women and several children -- approached the local church to ask for
humanitarian aid. A church staffer told them to remain where they
refused to allow them to sleep inside the church during the night or
them any food.
After negotiations with a representative from the Department of
over half of the escapees from Woomera returned to the detention
assurances that applications for asylum would be processed faster and
protesters would not be disadvantaged by having undertaken the action.
Under half of the escapees have refused to return to the prison
they did not trust the Department of Immigration to stick to any
By Friday morning, approximately 120 people broke out of the Curtin
centre and began walking toward the nearest town of Derby, which is 50
kilometres away. Police set up roadblocks in the path of escapees
Derby, and by nightfall had forced a return to the detention centre.
Late Friday, reports appeared that several more had escaped from
detention centre, Port Hedland in Western Australia, by scaling the
Incarceration industries make money from xenophobia
Businesses in nearby towns tend to see the refugee prisons as a source
revenue, if not exactly jobs, since the collapse of mining and other
industries. Moreover, with rural towns providing some of the most
support for racist organisations like One Nation, the building of
prisons near those remote towns has been welcomed both politically and
economically. A number of shire councils and rural commerce bodies
lobbied the Federal Government to open a refugee prison near their
head of the Christmas Island Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying the
and State Government to establish a permanent detention centre there
dwindling revenues from the Christmas Island Casino. Kambalda, a town
Western Australian goldfields, has made representations to the Federal
Government to build a permanent detention centre there in the hope of
a new industry after a series of mine closures.
The automatic imprisonment of all onshore asylum seekers since 1994
the construction of a number of new refugee prisons around Australia
areas. It has also meant that whilst the refugee prisons are
burghers remain unconcerned about the treatment and health of the
seekers. Derby Shire President, Mr McCumstie, shrugged off reporters'
questions on the availability of water by saying that there was plenty
still lying around from the recent wet season. He claimed that people
happy to have the refugee prison nearby because it boosted local
It is widely believed that the town's 'economy' depends on the refugee
for its viability after the rocket base -- on the site of which the
camps was recently built -- was closed down.
Mr McCumstie went on to add, "There's been no outward antagonism
at all, but that could change if they start to affect the day-to-day
of people in the towns." Riot police from the Australian Protective
cordoned off the town centre, thereby restricting access to local
residents, and have actively discouraged them from contact with the
Local authorities also suggested to locals that they keep their
from school whilst the protesters were in town.
The running of all refugee prisons in Australia have been contracted
Australian Correctional Management, a subsidiary of the US
Wackenhut Corp, which is also contracted to deport. In addition, ACM
30 prisons worldwide, including a number of prisons in NSW, Queensland
Whilst the Government routinely draws attention to the monetary gains
'people-smugglers -- generally, poor Indonesian fishers who can
receive up to
20 years imprisonment even if no money has changed hands -- there is
mention of the millions of taxpayers' money that is delivered over to
migration prohibition industries to keep out and incarcerate around
people per annum. The illegalisation of asylum seekers is the basis
industry in Australia upon which at least one megacorporation makes a
profits. The Prime Minister, John Howard, recently announced an
$240m for the detection, deterrence and interdiction of asylum seekers
arrive without papers.
Recent changes to the law & the creation of reserves of cheap labour.
Under laws introduced in 1992, anyone who makes an onshore application
asylum and is without papers is subject to automatic imprisonment. No
able to review the length or merit of that detention. The so-called
and non-reviewable detention' regime was first introduced by the Labor
Government with the support of the Liberal and National parties.
is the only western government that practices a system of automatic
non-reviewable incarceration. It also receives and grants fewer
for asylum, both on and offshore, than any other western country.
This is the only instance in Australian law which dictates
trial, where such imprisonment is automatic, where no Australian court
review the decision to imprison or the duration of such confinement,
people who are imprisoned have committed no crime or been charged with
the words of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration
"Immigration detention is an administrative sanction, that is, the
of liberty other than as the result of a conviction for an offence."
According to Amnesty International, "The government's refusal to give
seekers a fair chance to challenge in court why they remain behind
for months or even years-a right granted to convicted felons-makes
detainees second class prisoners although they have committed no crime
Making laws to declare automatic detention legal does not make the
arbitrariness of it acceptable."
The imprisonment of asylum seekers is not confined to the
prisons. The JSC noted, "If individual circumstances warrant,
detention can be
provided in prisons or, for short periods, pending transfer, police
remand centres." Such measures-as well as chemical and physical
isolation-are routinely used in order to remove people defined as
'trouble-makers'. Sedation is common practice during deportation
The Australian Government recently froze all on- and offshore
asylum. This means that all applicants for asylum are treated and
illegal. It also decided, with the support of the Labor Party, that
successful onshore asylum applicants could only be granted a 3-year
not be eligible for welfare or medicare, and could not bring family
Australia. This extended the policy of the previous Labor Government
denied newly-arrived and legal migrants access to medicare and welfare
for 6 months -- a policy that the current Liberal-National Government
to the first 2 years of stay.
Through such policies, the Australian State actively creates the basis
pool of workers prepared to do any work for as little pay as possible,
to sweatshopping in manufacture, dangerous work in building, and
below-subsistence work in agriculture. Just as 'mandatory and
imprisonment mirrors 'mandatory sentencing', so too this strategy of
an impoverished and inescapable segment of the labour market is
mirrored by the
operation of the so-called Community Development Employment Programme
indigenous communities. The CDEP, introduced in 1974 by the
Government after the near-total collapse of indigenous employment with
introduction of Equal Pay laws, guarantees the continuing existence of
as the principal instrument of labour market segmentation,
the obstacles to unionisation.
It was not until the last decade that people began to move in some
Africa, Asia, and Latin America to Europe, North America and
so, at least three-quarters of such movements occur between the poor
and are held in check by a vast system of co-operation between states
between states and the UN High Commission for Refugees -- to exclude
seekers from the wealthier countries which are the principal donors to
activities. Ever since 1997, the UNHCR has endorsed forced
Tanzania to Rwanda; to ex-Yugoslavia from around the world; from
Kosova; from Australia to East Timor.
Over the last decade, all Western countries have drastically changed
relating to refugees and migration, most notably the European Union's
Agreement and 1996 legislation in the US. Severe visa restrictions,
as well as
outright bans, have been placed on "refugee generating countries".
governments have effectively transformed the character of the UNHCR
body responsible for ensuring the so-called "right to remain"-i.e.,
administrator and overseer of refugee camps inside or close to the
countries people have taken flight from in order to stop them becoming
in Western countries. In addition, the proliferation of "safe third
laws have worked to confine asylum seekers to border camps and poorer
The so-called misery created by 'globalisation' could not take effect
were not for the system of enclosures that maintain a supply of
and illegalised workers who are susceptible to hyper-exploitation. In
words, without this system of global enclosures which makes the flight
poverty and devastation illegal, there would be no meaning to the
'foreigners who take our jobs'. In this way, corporations make use of
states and the latters' dominance of the UNHCR to create cheap labour
the bottom rung of a world labour market which provides the precise
the conduct of the race to the bottom.