Why I spend my Friday nights in hell: visiting the Melbourne Immigration and Transit Accommodation centre (MITA)

By Sivan Barak. Every Friday night for the past 60 weeks I’ve driven out of the ‘ghetto’, over the river, just 32 km south, to the far away land of Broadmeadows. It’s a weekly participation  in a macabre ritual, the antithesis to Melbourne’s dubious title, ‘most livable city’. During these visits I witness what I can only describe as Australia’s “banality of evil”, Hannah Arendt’s confronting and harsh term, coined after witnessing the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Men and women, who are employed by us, uphold cruel violations of human rights. They maintain they are “just following orders” and “needing to pay their mortgage”. It is a surreal experience, as an Australian, to enter a realm, a bubble in our urban space, in which one relinquishes their rights to as simple a request as gifting a book to a detainee, or pointing out administrative incompetence. The desire to visit the detainees, combined with the constant threat of refusal, is manipulated and used against me as leverage to shut down any discussion or query. MITA (Melbourne Immigration and Transit Accommodation) holds people who are seeking asylum, who have committed no crime. Most asylum seekers detained here are seeking medical treatment. Yet it is a high security facility with rules and regulations for prisons. No mobile phones, musical instruments, or craft materials are permitted during visits. Visitors are required to sit throughout the two-hour visit, without moving from their seat. If a detainee needs to use the bathroom, their visit is terminated.
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Image courtesy of Sivan Barak.
The visitor community is an incredibly diverse group, spanning all ages and genders, united by a deep-set understanding that a terrible injustice, an insidious evil, is being perpetrated in own name. Our role is to witness lives, to know names, to hug and love and support human beings who could be us, who are now our family. Every week, every visit, my life is enhanced by the trust and love bestowed upon me by my friends inside. I would like to share the thoughts of one young inspiring visitor who wrote this last year: “Something which I have been thinking of a lot lately is the way the term ‘the voiceless’ is used. When people refer to people in oppressed situations, they often refer to them as people without a voice or ‘voiceless’. The thing is people aren’t voiceless. People seeking asylum aren’t voiceless. Indigenous people aren’t voiceless. The LGBTQI+ community aren’t voiceless. Minority groups aren’t voiceless. Those living under war, occupation and military rule aren’t voiceless. Situations, governments, armed forces, militaries and institutions use force, control, media, power, money and violence to keep voices quiet. These powers do all they can to speak louder, to speak over the top, to control messages, to control people and put them in situations that limit their capacity to be heard. But people are never voiceless. Sometimes their voices are taken. Sometimes their words are misused. Sometimes they are silenced. But this doesn’t make them voiceless. Despite all the layers of oppression people continue to speak up, people continue to be strong, to be true, to share their stories and they continue to speak out. We just need to listen better. We need to put ourselves in the right places so that we hear the truth. We need to allow ourselves to be confronted by the truth of the world. We need to be the ones listening to the voices of those being oppressed, as they are being oppressed by the very structures and institutions that many of us benefit from. We may advocate and speak of the things we see, hear and know as the unjust truths. But we aren’t (or shouldn’t be!) speaking of, or for voiceless people. We are speaking of people who have strong, brave, determined, and unwavering voices. They’re just not being listened to.” Jasmine Pilbrow 2016   If you want to get involved, there are so many ways. Let me know.
 
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