Academic journal article Refuge

Human Rights and Refugee Protest against Immigration Detention: Refugees' Struggles for Recognition as Human

Academic journal article Refuge

Human Rights and Refugee Protest against Immigration Detention: Refugees' Struggles for Recognition as Human

Article excerpt

Abstract

When detainees go on hunger strike or riot or occupy the roofs of detention centres, their actions are usually narrated by governments keen to discredit them and their actions as criminal and manipulative and evidence of their barbarity and difference. A secondary, counter-narration is provided by detainee supporters who explain the actions as evidence of detainees' distress and deteriorating mental health. The voices of the actors themselves, people held in detention and taking protest action, are rarely heard in depth. Drawing on in-depth interviews with refugees formerly held in Australian immigration detention centres, and the works of Hannah Arendt, this article argues that the experience of immigration detention is fundamentally dehumanizing and that while detainee protest was aimed at attaining certain material outcomes, it also served important existential functions. The fact of protest was a rejection of a powerless state, a way for detained refugees to experience their own agency and, with it, restoration of some of the "essential characteristics of human life" and a means to use their reduction to "bare humanity" as a basis for insisting upon a place in the polis.

Resume

Lorsque ceux qui sont detenus s'engagent dans des greves de faim ou des emeutes, ou encore occupent le toit des centres de detention, leurs actions sont reformulees par des gouvernements, motivespar le desir de les aenigrer, en recits qui mettent en evidence leur pretendue criminalite, leur volonte manipulatrice, leur barbarie et leur difference. Un deuxieme courant qui va a I'encontre de ces recits est vehicule par les sympathisants des detenus, et consiste a montrer que leurs actions decoulent de la detresse qu'ils ressentent et de la deterioration de leur sante mentale. Cependant les voix des actants eux-memes, notamment ceux qui sont detenus et s'engagent dans des actions de contestation, se font rarement entendre d'une maniere significative. En se basant sur des entrevues en profondeur avec des refugies detenus anterieurement dans des centres de detention pour immigres en Australie, ainsi que sur l'oeuvre de Hannah Arendt, cet article avance que l'experience de la detention d'immigration est profondement deshumanisante, et que les actes de contestation de la part des detenus, bien qu'ils visaient dans un premier temps certains objectifs materiels, remplissaient egalement des fonctions existentielles importantes. Lefait de contestation representait le rejet d'un etat d'impuissance, un moyenpar lequel les refugies detenus pouvaient ressentir leur propre volonte d'action, et consequemment, un retablissement de certaines << caracteristiques essentielles de la vie humaine >> ("essential characteristics of human life"). C'etait egalement une facon de se servir de leur reduction a un etat d'humanite denudee ("bare humanity") pour insister sur leur place dans le polis ou communaute politique dans lequel ils se trouvaient.

Introduction

The use of immigration detention is on the rise globally. More than one million people pass through immigration detention centres in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe each year. (1) They are held in over-crowded, dilapidated detention centres or in modern, purpose-built facilities designed as "super-max" prisons, allocated an identification number, subjected to arbitrary rules and sometimes to arbitrary and excessive use of force, and distanced from legal protections by their incarceration. They have little knowledge and little political voice: they are non-citizens, non-people. (2) Life inside immigration detention centres is precarious, filled with uncertainty and monotony and, too often, degrading treatment. As the use of immigration detention has risen, so too has detainee protest. When detainees go on a hunger strike or riot or occupy the roofs of detention centres, their actions are usually narrated by governments keen to discredit them and their actions as criminal, manipulative, and evidence of their barbarity and difference. …

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