Several hundred refugees and migrants at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) centre began a hunger strike in January.
The facility was opened in 2008 and was only supposed to hold people on a very short-term basis. But the majority of people detained have been there for over a year, and many for several years.
These people are facing a desperate situation. Many have been locked up indefinitely, with no information about when they will be released, or where they will be released to.
The detainees have taken the extreme measure of a hunger strike because of the brutal conditions they are forced to endure. Some have described the conditions as worse than prison.
Days before the hunger strike started, guards assaulted two asylum seekers after they asked for sauce with their dinner.
In addition to concerns about the use of excessive force from the guards, the detainees are protesting against the lack of comfortable seating and tables and the poor quality of food. They want more space to move around so that they can exercise, and a loosening of restrictions on their movement.
Many of those held in MITA have been recognised as ‘legitimate’ refugees, but are being held because they arrived by boat. Others have had their visas cancelled on vague “character grounds”, while some have merely overstayed their visas.
MITA was inspected by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2017 and their report found that there was an excessive use of restraints and limited space and privacy at the centre. The report also condemned the policy of mandatory detention which is supported by both the major parties.
Not only is mandatory detention inhumane, it is extremely costly. The government spends around $237,000 on each person they lock up. This is a huge waste of money that would be better spent on processing refugees in the community.
This would free up millions of dollars that could be used to invest in the jobs, homes and services we all need, including those forced to flee war and persecution.
By Kat Galea