Monday, September 12, 2016

Reading the Nauru Files

Passing the Nauru Files to Cr
Jonathan Sri. 
Being an Australian living at this time, the issue of human rights abuses of asylum seekers and refugees becomes increasingly woven into the fabric of my life from day to day.

This day, I responded with my voice. I was one of scores of people in Brisbane who gathered outside the Federal Immigration Department to take turns reading directly from the Nauru Files in a rolling action that is lasting 10 hours. It follows the 10-hour reading vigil at Australia House in London last week, and is among vigils being enacted at a different city across Australia each day this week.

I arrived at the Immigration Department a little before my reading shift to get a sense of what was being revealed through these leaked papers. As a friend said, it’s nothing we haven't heard before, but the potency in the Nauru Files is that they reflect the relentless, day-to-day evidence of violence, disrespect, abuse and human damage.

It’s an interesting experience reading, live and direct to the public, such stories that you’ve never known before that moment. When one mother left the microphone at the end of her reading and returned to her baby, she shed tears in response to the stories she had just told.

It was sobering, and it was empowering to lend a voice to the voiceless.

But what fascinated me was the act of handing out flyers explaining the Nauru Files Live Reading. One man who had just emerged from the immigration building stood at a distance watching me for a while before approaching. He thanked me very sincerely, explaining that he was a refugee from Sri Lanka. He had been watching people walking past me – some accepting a flyer, some ignoring or rejecting it. He said, they don’t want to know because they’re OK – they don’t know what it’s like to have problems.

It hit home how solidarity with refugees is so deeply appreciated. And it hit home how averse some people are to refugees, how the vilification campaign has seeped so thoroughly into the fabric of Australian life, that a handful of people over the course of a couple of hours did not hesitate to display their disdain.

Another thread woven recently into this experience of current times was a conversation with a refugee case worker. It was a conversation that had a feeling of total desolation. The case worker felt that she was often seen by the refugees in her charge as their only hope. The weight of that role was more than the worker could realistically bear. She felt powerless, not being able to provide the asylum seekers with any solid answers, any real promise that they wouldn’t be sent back to the places they had left behind in order to be safe. And they had arrived at this impasse after years of waiting, years of arriving at impasses.

The detention centres are cruel. And the treatment of refugees on Temporary Protection Visas is a form of psychological torture. And the act of sending people back into danger breaches international law.

The disregard for the dignity and basic wellbeing of people seeking asylum in Australia is cultivated by Federal politicians, enacted by agents such as security firms, distributed via vitriolic news outlets, and harvested in the form of votes and power. It plays on that tried and tested strategy: plain, simple racism.