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The voices of the detained

By Kali Goldstone - posted Wednesday, 9 November 2011

For four days, sixty male Afghan Hazara asylum seekers stood on the roof of Darwin Detention Centre, with signs made of bed sheets declaring: "We are human like you," and "We came here for peace and safety." On their shirts were written: "Will I be free one day?" and "Awaiting for your help."

While the government, advocacy and anti-immigration groups have been very vocal in the mainstream media regarding asylum issues, it is rare that we hear from the asylum seekers themselves.

During the standoff at Darwin Detention Centre, which began at 1:30am on 24th of July this year, I was contacted by a group of Hazara refugees who asked me to pass on this message to the "people of Australia - Please come and get us out of the cage."


The Afghan Hazara asylum seekers protesting on the roof told me that their protest against long delays had been "finished forcibly," at 4:30pm on 27th July. The protesters, aged 22 to 50 years old, included hunger strikers and some were self-harming.

Some of the protesters were receiving specialist torture and trauma counselling. They were concerned about being moved away from Darwin and the effect their protest would have on their refugee claims, or, in the case of those whose refugee claims had been approved, their security assessments.

On the fourth day of protests, the Hazara asylum seekers told me that "Serco officers [were] locking the protesters door[s] and collecting their properties. All the doors are now locked." The protesters were "frustrated" and felt "the officials [at] every moment threatening them."

They communicated with me about their concerns: "We respect the Immigration. We respect the people of Australia, and the Government of Australia. We came here and believed in [the] Australian people, that they of course [will] protect us."

Verse two of Australia's national anthem, Advance Australia Fair proclaims:

"For those who've come across the seas


We've boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To Advance Australia Fair."

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About the Author

Kali Goldstone is an international human rights lawyer and journalist with a depth of expertise in managing diverse programs working with minority and vulnerable groups, refugees, IDPs and immigrants for the last 12 years in Australia, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kenya and the U.S.

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