Today I visited Villawood Detention Centre here in Sydney, where Serco keeps refugees under guard at the behest of our government. I've visited the single men in stage 2/3 before, as well as the high security section stage 1 (where both asylum seekers with criminal records and those who have made trouble or staged protests inside detention centres are kept). But today was my first time visiting the Housing stage, where families and children are kept locked up.
I met Ranjini, a Tamil woman who fled Sri Lanka in 2008, as the Sinhala chauvinist government was tightening the net on the breakaway northern territory of Tamil Eelam. Her first husband, the father of her two boys, was killed in the fighting. Her two boys, 6 and 8, have lived through the voyage from Sri Lanka to India, from India to Christmas Island, then the stagnation of our detention system until about a year ago, when she was released into the community to have her asylum application processed. However, a few months ago she was called up by Immigration, plucking her two sons out of school, to be locked back up in Villawood.
Her younger son is full of energy - he pulled me outside to play hide-and-seek, to build a tent out of the soccer goals, to try and fix his bike's broken wheels. He is allowed out of the centre to go to a public school, where he is accompanied by a minimum of 3 Serco guards; they can visit parks, and once Clovelly Beach, but only after it's been investigated and cleared by Serco. For now, though, he is still full of beans; he reminded me of the young boy at my neighbour's house in Wollongong. But I know that growing up behind barbed wire has to be wearing on his mind. He made me promise to bring him a real tent the next time I visit.
These are the human beings that our establishment politicians and media voices demonise to misdirect our alienation and anger.