Detention Centres

September 18, 2010

The Australian Government today decided to open more detention centres in remote areas of Australia to hold the supposed hoards of unwanted and unwelcome immigrants arriving on rickety boats from mostly war torn countries. It seems like we have only one policy for these people regardless of who is in government – lock them up because they are supposedly a threat to the fabric of society.

However there are some things that I think that we need to remember:

  • Seeking asylum is nor illegal (in fact is protected under Australian and International law.)
  • The overwhelming majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat – 90 per cent – are found to be legitimate refugees, many are traumatised and/or have suffered torture.
  • Detaining traumatised people in remote locations far from support services has long term negative impacts on their mental health.

While I am not a fan of detention centres – I accept that there may be a need for temporary detention while people are being processed but this detention should be near support networks and services. Generally this would be in or near a capital city, not in remote or regional areas where these are not available and often the local community can be resentful and hostile. Secondly an enormous amount of money is required to accommodate these people in remote areas. It would be a lot cheaper to have them housed in or near capital cities where the costs are cheaper. Thirdly the processing should be quick and efficient and the asylum seekers should receive the same rights as any one else under Australian law. We should not have a situation where asylum seekers are indefinitely locked up in  detention centres as occurred under the previous Coalition government.

I think that our irrational fear and hysteria of ‘hoards’ of boat people arriving has clouded our Government’s judgement. Let’s face it – we are not trying to punish these people for being asylum seekers. Detain them temporarily if you must – but make sure that you give good living conditions, full access to services and legal rights. And don’t locate them in remote or regional areas so that they are ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’.

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Toxic Waste

September 14, 2010

Recently I came across the Hazardous Waste Landfill at Kölliken, Switzerland. This toxic waste dump located in a residential area was operated between 1978 and 1985 and served as the dumping ground for the local chemical industry. It was operated until it was discovered that waste was contaminating the local water supply. Re-mediation efforts began in 1986 and are scheduled to be complete by 2015. Among other technological innovations,  the re-mediation effort has resulted in the construction over the site of the second-largest wide span hall in Europe with a negative internal air pressure to prevent further contamination of surrounding areas. It is interesting to note that the site operated as a dump for just 8 years, yet by the time it will have been re-mediated back to it’s natural state it will have taken almost 30 years.

In Australia this would be seen as a stuff-up of the most extreme kind and a source of shame and anguish – like the Wittenoom Asbestos mine in Western Australia. However in Switzerland there seems to be a form of perverse pleasure and almost a celebration of the technological achievements that have resulted (through necessity) from the re-mediation effort. At a recent open day, visitors even posed for photographs in a dummy chemical protection suite. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself, the photos are posted on the web.

I don’t know how to take this – it is both funny and sad at the same time. There is also a sense of delight that so many technological advances can come from such an environmental disaster. Let’s hope that this sort of stupid disaster and other debacles like Wittenoom and the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, never happen again.