Guantanamo 6c - Open-air prisons


‘All of the island, same jail’: Open-air prisons

Cartoon by Mahmoud Salameh that depicts Peter Dutton addressing a group of people in a cage with the door open, stating "you are free". They are on a tiny island scarcely bigger than the cage.[imagecaption] Artwork: Mahmoud Salameh.At a protest on Nauru, two women hold a sign that reads "we came for freedom but you gave us fake freedom and put us in a 21 square kilometres island which is another jail we are looking for real freedom".Protest on Nauru, 2016. The message echoes a statement made by an Iraqi refugee, Monawir al-Jaber, in 2005 about his experience during the first iteration of the Pacific Solution ‘The detention camp is a small jail and the island is a big jail. All of the island, same jail. I want to get freedom’ (Gordon, 2006) Amnesty International has reported on how Nauru has become an ‘Island of Despair‘ for people seeking asylum. [/imagecaption]


There is a long history of islands being used as prisons – the jails of Robben Island in South Africa and Rottnest Island (Wajemup)  and Palm Island in Australia demonstrate how this is particularly the case for racialised populations. Islands have now become part of an enforcement archipelago of detention; a tactic of migration control designed to deter, and detain asylum seekers. (Mountz, 2011) The Australian model is being looked to by other nation states seeking to prevent asylum seekers from entering their borders.

From 5 October 2015, in a successful attempt to thwart a high court challenge, Nauru RPC officially was declared an ‘open camp‘.  In PNG, a Supreme Court Ruling in April 2016 found that the detention of asylum seekers was illegal and unconstitutional. The following year, in order to comply with the court ruling, the PNG Chief Justice found that the Manus Island RPC was in fact closed and that the men were now simply living on a Naval Base. As Perera and Pugliese highlight, as a result of this legal fiction and the failure of the court ruling to bring about meaningful change, the men continued to lead arrested lives. ‘Opening’ the camps on Nauru and Manus has had no effect other than to extend the boundaries of their prisons.


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