Technologies of Sovereignty 4e - Technologies of sovereignty: dehumanisation


Technologies of Sovereignty: Dehumanisation

A banner reads '"They call us by number not name. I feel like something from another plant, not human." - N (detained on Nauru) #FreePoetry #EndMandatoryDetention'

[imagecaption] Banner featuring a quote from a woman detained on Nauru, painted as part of the Free Poetry Project held at an International Women’s Day Protest, Whadjuk Nyoongar Country (Perth), 2019. Photo: Marziya Mohammedali. [/imagecaption]

After some others, my number was called: MEG45. I got used to that number eventually. They regarded us only as numbers, no more than that, and I had to set my name aside for a long time. When I was called, my ears started moving. My name, which was a part of my identity was of no use, and all day long, sometimes, nobody even once called me Behrouz.’ 

Behrouz Boochani,  ‘Becoming MEG45’


The process of objectification applied to boats, whose names are transformed into a sequence of so-called SIEVs, extends to the people who arrive on those boats. Through this dehumanising process, peoples’ names are replaced with ‘boat numbers’. Each person who seeks asylum in Australia by boat receives a five- or six-character identifier made up of the first three letters of the name given to the boat by Australian Customs, followed by digits denoting the order in which an individual descended the boat.

In 2013, a human rights advocate described his experience of visiting people at Wickham Point in Darwin and witnessing people being addressed by their allocated numbers rather than names: ‘I questioned a senior officer about this dehumanising practice on my way out of the centre. I told the officer I thought it was inappropriate and went against Serco policy. He responded that this was standard practice, and that asylum seekers “would be more embarrassed if we mispronounced their names.” He realised I wasn’t impressed and justified his statement: “It’s too hard to try to know everyone’s name – they move through the centre pretty quickly you know.”’

It has been reported that children who were detained on Nauru started identifying more by their boat numbers than their names due to the frequency with which they would be addressed with the number by detention centre staff.


Please Read

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.