The Cross Border Collective is a Sydney based group that has been working on projects around race, the border, migration and the state for around two years. In the past, the Cross Border Collective has organised conferences, events, forums, protest and direct action.

Read more about Cross Border Collective activities here.






"We don't cross borders; borders cross us" is a 12 poster series organised by the Cross Border Collective. The objective of the posters is to invite an engaged audience to consider a series of propositions about the Australian border, labour, race and incarceration. The poster series aims to show that the Australian border is not a natural or inevitable thing. They explore the fact that the border is artificial, confront common assumptions about border-crossers, and consider how the border manages peoples' movements to benefit industry and the state.

The process of collaboration in the production of the posters and the stories about their intention has been an important part of the project. The posters are a result of collaboration between the Cross Border Collective, individuals and groups active through art, politics and advocacy in resistance to the effects of the border on people's lives. This includes individuals directly affected by border politics through their experiences of detention, their experiences as refugees, migrants and temporary workers, as well as those affected by border politics despite their Australian citizenship. Groups involved in collaboration include: Treaty Republic, the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Refugee Action Coalition, The Refugee

Art Project, Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association Migration Project, and prison and labour activist groups. The broad range of groups and individuals involved in the project reflects the many ways that the border shapes people's lives. The process of initiating collaboration with campaigns and groups that don't primarily see themselves as immersed in border politics was part of our broader intent to encourage conversations about the intersecting ways that the border shapes different arenas of social life. It is also about trying to find a political axis along which our commonality may form the basis for collective action.



Memorial to Josefa Rauluni

Poster image: Saad Tlaa
Poster design: Anthea Fitzgerald

On the 20th of September 20th 2010, Josefa Rauluni jumped to his death from an upstairs balcony at the Villawood Detention Centre.  A Fijian national, Josefa had applied for political asylum in Australia and was refused.  Saad Tlaa, who was also incarcerated at the Villawood Detention Centre at the time, painted this portrait of Josefa as a gift for his family.  He took the picture around to others inside Villawood to sign, in honour of Josefa’s life.  The Cross Border Collective interviewed Saad about the portrait.  The following is an extract from that interview.

Cross Border Collective (CBC) – Can you please explain to me the events leading up to you painting the portrait of Josefa?

Saad Tlaa (ST) - It was September, I can’t really recall the date, I have a real problem with my memory since being in different kinds of detention.   I did it seven days after the death of late Josefa.

CBC  - What happened to Josefa?

ST – Josefa is a guy, a friendly guy, he is I think from Fiji, he is a Fijian guy.  I think he came to Australia because he have a brother or sister here, a family here.  Of course he has his own problem, political or whatever, and he seek Asylum here, and unfortunately his claim was rejected.  That day immigration told Serco – the company managing detention centre – to force him to leave.  So the officers came to take him to the airport, he refused.  Unfortunately that lead for his death.  He threatening them he is going to harm himself, they didn’t take it seriously unfortunately.  He was climbing the balcony on the second floor, he was threatening he would jump, they put out some mattresses on the floor, but when he jump, he miss the mattresses and went down direct on to the concrete, the cement.  So he died on the spot actually.

CBC – What inspired you to paint the picture of Josefa?

ST-  Actually it was for the mixed feeling.  It was hard when you saw one of your friend die in front of your eyes, so it’s a really hard feeling.  I don’t really know on the day what I would do.  So its come to my mind that I do a portrait for him and give it for a gift for his family.  Just to commemorate him, or just to tell to his family that we also inside detention was also his family.  So after I draw the portrait I went around and let everybody who know him sign portrait.  I frame the portrait, and I send it outside to his nephew, and I ask his nephew to give it to his family, from his brothers inside detention. 

CBC – Can you describe the feeling inside Villawood Detention Centre at the time?

ST – When he passed away it was really tense.  The atmosphere was really bad, sad.  Everybody feeling down.  Really, it was really, I can’t really describe it in specific words, but all in all it was really a sad and miserable feeling for everybody.  Even for some officers who really want to get him by force, when they saw what happened they feel that really bad feeling.  Of course they feel sad for what happened.  On that day when that happened I think we had four or five witness his death in front of us, of course beside the officers.  It was really a tragic, tragic event, I don’t really have words to describe it.  Just imagine one of your friends, or family, or close friend will die in front of you, and you cannot do anything.  It is really very painful, very painful feeling.  So on that day I don’t really know what to do, just on that day when I witnessed that, I just went to the investigation, give my statement to the police and that’s it.  I remember it maybe more than a month after the incident everybody’s mood was down, so the spirit of the death, or the spirit of missing or losing some friend is really hard. 

CBC – What were hoping that the family would understand from the painting?

ST – My message is, big loss for them, but also a big loss for us.  How they are really going to miss him, we are also going to miss him.  Because if you really see a human die in front of you, its really a painful thing. 

It’s not very easy to be in detention.  If someone commit suicide, or kill himself, we cannot just say that he do it because he wanted, no… sometimes he do it because there is a pressure that is beyond the control of the human, and sometime he cannot really control what he is doing.  Or he lost really the correct way for the direction of thinking and that will lead him for committing a suicide, especially if he feel his life will be in danger if they send him back to his country.  Maybe my main message in that portrait, is that the people who are blaming the refugee or asylum seeker, to ask them to put themselves in the place of the refugee.  Just imagine if they passed this experience what they would do.  I’m sure they would do something worse that what the refugee doing by coming by boat, or whatever by trying to have a safe place after all this trouble, in homeless, or refugee place that is not your place.  It is really difficult.  I passed this, I been for long time, travelling from country to country to find a safe place, just to call it home.




“Not y/our place”

Poster design: Anthea Fitzgerald
Original Nation passport: Robbie Thorpe

Two texts introduce the concept behind this poster. The first canvasses some of the connections between border politics and indigenous sovereignty and Australian colonial history that informed the inclusion of the NSW Government Certificate of Exemption in the poster (on the left hand side of the poster). The second text is an interview with activist Robbie Thorpe involved in the development and issue of the Original Nation passport (displayed on the right hand side of the poster). The juxtaposition of these two documents is intended to invoke questions about the legitimacy of Australian government authority over border controls, as well as notions of belonging.

Indigenous people, who prior to the era of violence and massacre were feted as abstract, acultural, noble savages were now reconstructed and imagined by the coloniser as a ragged ‘cultureless remnant’, which had rapidly ‘declined’ as a result of a self-destructive ‘propensity for alcohol and disease’. Not only did the government wash the blood of violence from its hands, it reconfigured itself as the saviour, the ‘Protector of the Aborigine’, now regarded as a landless and homeless refugee.

Tony Birch, The Last Refuge of the ‘Un-Australian’

In 2010, Robbie Thorpe and others issued Original Nation passports to 200 Tamil refugees stuck between Indonesia and Australia.* These refugees had been picked up by the Oceanic Viking after their boat had sent out distress signals. Refused entry to Australia and unwilling to disembark in Indonesia, these men, women and children waited, stuck between two states. The act of issuing these passports was symbolic; the Original Nation passport is not recognised by Australia, and its possession doesn’t grant access to the colonial state. It does, however, undermine the legitimacy of Australia’s right – to paraphrase the words of a previous leader – to determine who has the right to cross the boundaries of the state, and to decide how and when they choose to do so.
The Original Nation passport is an assertion that aboriginal sovereignty was never ceded, despite the imposition of colonial governance. It makes the claim that indigenous sovereignty was not erased by invasion and its accompanying myth of Terra Nullius. Nor was it erased by the symbolic and physical violence towards the indigenous people whose presence contradicted the colonial imagining of an empty land. Robbie Thorpe, the man who issued this passport was, at the time of his birth, a citizen without rights. Like other indigenous people since federation, his citizenship was granted without franchise – without the right to vote – and without access to social security. Furthermore, his citizenship did not give him the right to move throughout the nation-state that he could, nevertheless, choose to die for in war.

Throughout the history of colonialism in Australia, various colonial and then state governments have enacted laws to regulate the mobility of indigenous people. These laws originated with the establishment of Aboriginal Protection Boards in a number of Australian colonies in the decades prior to federation in 1901. Through the Aboriginal Protection Act in Victoria, and similar legislation in other colonies, indigenous people were forced onto or off the missions established in response to those same laws. The legislations relied on complex taxonomies of indigeneity, which divided individuals and families between ‘half-castes’ and ‘aboriginals’. This distinction was typically defined through parentage, but it could be redefined through association; ‘half-castes’ who associated with ‘aboriginals’ beyond a certain age were redefined as ‘full-blooded aboriginals’.

These distinctions had a significant impact on the right to move. ‘Aboriginals’ were confined to the mission unable to go beyond its borders without permission; permission which was given in cases where mobility was for the purposes of work but rarely in cases where mobility was for culture or family. By contrast, ‘half-castes’ were forced off the missions, with the stated aim of assimilating them into white society through labour. They were rarely allowed to cross the borders of the mission to meet with family. According to the Protection boards, they needed to be ‘protected’ from full-blooded aboriginals, lest they ruin the possibility of their assimilation. Through this legislation, indigenous people were citizens without rights. It was not simply that they were unable to vote, they were also unable to regulate their own mobility within the nation.

Through laws that were said to ‘protect’ indigenous people, the colonial governments – and the Australian state that took their place – enacted borders within the nation. The state inscribed these borders on and through the bodies of indigenous people; their function – whether to keep in or keep out – was determined by complex taxonomies of blood, appearance, and behaviour. Imperceptible to most white bodies, the borders produced within the nation regulated the movement of some indigenous people but not others. Individuals who could be assimilated by being made more productive were given exemptions from these controls of mobility. However, these exemptions were always precarious, able to be retracted at any time for their own ‘protection’. This history continues, transformed by an Intervention that forces people to move from homelands back to townships and cities. As Robbie Thorpe states, while explaining his reason for issuing the passport to the Oceanic Viking Tamils:

“We’re living like refugees too. We’re colonial refuges.”
* Robbie issued the passports at a special ceremony in Melbourne.  You can see footage of the ceremony here: http://treatyrepublic.net/content/aboriginal-passports-issued-asylum-seekers-prevented-entering-australia)


Cross Border Collective Interview with Robbie Thorpe 29th of March 2012

Robbie Thorpe (RT) - My name is Robbie Thorpe, and I suppose you would call me an aboriginal activist.  I’m involved in issues like sovereignty, treaty and genocide prevention. 

Cross Border Collective (CBC) – What is the Original Nation Passport and how does it work?

RT – Its obvious what a passport does, it gives you right to enter other peoples land and territory.  Its an entry via our customary law.  Its how any other passport would work.  What it does is give recognition to the Original People of this land, and give non-aboriginal people a way of recognising that.

CBC – Why did you begin issuing passports?

RT – Well, because of the obvious lack of recognition of Aboriginal people in this country and our law.  Despite the Native Title legislation, there is still no proper recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty in this country.  There is the problem.  The fundamental legal question that needs to be resolved is the issue of sovereignty: whose land is it, and whose law applies to this land? 

This is a way that we can promote the idea of First Nation sovereignty.  It’s a legitimate cause and conscientious non aboriginal people should take it up.  It will provide a gateway into the aboriginal community for you too.  If you’re carrying an aboriginal passport you’re going to have a little bit more respect than what you’ve got at the present time. 

CBC - How has the passport been used so far?

RT – Some countries have accepted it.  Its also used as a form of identity.  I used my passport when I had to get on to the dole: I was given 40 points of ID for it which I thought was pretty good. 

When you’re pulled up by the so-called police in this country you can use it as a weapon against them.  You can say that you’re subject to another law in this country, and they haven’t got jurisdiction to be arresting you, or doing anything else with you.  This can stand up in court.  There’s people been using the passport in court as they’re identity.

CBC - Have many of these passports been issued?

RT - Yeah quite a number.  Probably getting into their thousands now.  Its growing.  Its not the only passport that’s available.  There’s a passport coming out of Tasmania called the Aboriginal Nations Passport, there’s the Original Nation Passport, and there’s an older one that’s getting around, but they’re developing all the time.  I’ve just had a look at the Tasmanian passport and it looks fantastic.  Might be worth having a look at that too, getting those fellas to support the idea of supporting refugees who are languishing out in detention centres, or out in boats somewhere. 

We’re interested in the human rights of people and if we can do anything to help we will.  We know that the present day refugees are not like the ones who came here two hundred years ago.  They certainly don’t have the intent that the original boat people had.  We want to get involved in the issue, and make it clear that this land belongs to the original people of this land, the First Nation, otherwise known as the Aboriginal People.  This is our land, and our law.  We want people to recognise that this is a way that they can do it. 

CBC – Have many of these passports been issued to migrants or refugees?

RT – Yeah there was a batch of about 200 we issued to refugees. (eds: Robbie Thorpe issued 200 Original Nation Passports to Tamils who were fleeing the Sri Lankan Government offensive in 2009.  They were taken aboard the cargo ship, the Oceanic Viking when they sent distress signals from the boat they were travelling to Australia in.  The Australian State refused them entry and forced the Oceanic Viking to port in Indonesia where the Tamils refused to disembark.  Robbie issued the passports at a special ceremony in Melbourne.  You can see footage of the ceremony here: http://treatyrepublic.net/content/aboriginal-passports-issued-asylum-seekers-prevented-entering-australia)

CBC – I understand that Indigenous people have a long history of treating refuges from elsewhere with respect, like for example, William Buckley.  Do you understand the Original Passport do be in this tradition?

RT - Yeah, William Buckley was a refugee of sorts.  Australia was established as a convict penal colony.  Buckley was brought to this country as a convict.  Buckley was looked after by Aboriginal people.  Aboriginal people in the first instance, when they saw the condition of Europeans, they wanted to help them.  There’s evidence of our people trying to assist these wretched, poor people who ended up on our shores two hundred years ago.  The British Crown had intent to destroy the Aboriginal people and the convicts were used as weapons.  It was part of a whole military invasion, and the diseased convicts were used as a part of that military take over.  Why don’t these people who’ve been here – they’re not refugees now – why don’t they recognise the fact that this our land, and why don’t they do something about it, rather than continue to support the colonial, racist, imperial regime that brought them here as slaves and convicts?  Why don’t they recognise the true sovereigns of this land?  We’ve never ceded our sovereignty.  We’ve never given our consent to the Europeans, they’ve never sought consent either. The convicts weren’t appealing to the first nations for refuge were they?  I don’t see convicts as refugees in the same light as I see the people coming here today.  The refugees who come here today have got real human rights concerns.  The convict refugees who landed here 200 years ago were a part of the intent to destroy the Aboriginal people and they’ve all gone along with that as well. The evidence is there.  They’ve done nothing about it.  They got their tickets of leave, why didn’t they leave?  They’re the boat people that had the intent to destroy our nation.  They came because they were locked in chains, but they’re not now.  They haven’t been for a long time.        

CBC - I understand that Indigenous peoples movement has been restricted by the Australian State in the past, how was this done?

RT – By incarcerating aboriginal people in concentration camps for a number of generations.  They were euphemistically known as reserves and mission stations.  They were basically concentration camps where Aboriginal people were expected to die out.  We spent generations in those places where they controlled Aboriginal peoples movement.  We weren’t allowed outside those reserves, we were out of sight, out of mind to the wider population.  They had their way with Aboriginal people.  They stole our children, and they restricted us from speaking our language, and from conducting our cultural practice.  The only option was forced assimilation.  They totally and utterly controlled the lives of Aboriginal people.  These are people who survived a holocaust – the smallpox infestation.  The people who survived that were hunted down and shot in the hundreds, the thousands of massacres that happened in this place called Australia.  There is a lot of Aboriginal people – men, women and children – who lie dead on this earth called Australia, and there is not one monument to say this happened.  That is the disgusting vile society that we live in.  That’s the way they’ve controlled Aboriginal people.  If you didn’t assimilate, you were cut out of the whole process.  It was either assimilate or nothing.  A lot of people chose nothing.  That is why there is a struggle still going on in this country. 

The Original Passport is the way out of this.  You don’t have to be subject to this racist, bullshit, lying, and legally founded constitution if you don’t want to be.  When you come to someone else’s country you’re required to go through their customs.  That’s what you’re required to do as Austr-alien.  When you do go through the customs of our people, you learn a little about the law, and you can be renamed and fall into our constitution.  I don’t recognize the constitution of white Australia.  A lot of other people should refuse to too.  We don’t need a foreign country writing our constitution, do we?  What sort of people support that?  Whatever happened to a constitution for the people, by the people?  How far is Australia away from that sort of stuff?  This is what’s going to make it happen. 

CBC – Do you think there is a relationship between the way that the Australian State treats Indigenous people and the way it treats refugees and migrants?                  

RT – Totally.  Absolutely.  We’re treated like we don’t even come from this country.  In fact in 1985 the department of Aboriginal Affairs - headed by Clyde Holding, who was the minister at that time – ran a Australian National Opinion Poll on what the peoples attitudes were towards Aboriginal people were in this country.  Ten percent of the people polled in that poll, said that Aboriginal people shouldn’t have been allowed into the country in the first place.  Its shows how ignorant and totally unaware of Indigenous issues people in this country are.  That’s all by design, this a pretty racist society we live in, you know, they mastered genocide.  They’ve committed genocide on a continent, and they think they’re going to get away with it.  They treat aboriginal people far worse that they treat any refugees.  What they’ve done in Australia, the immigration thing has been very engineered.  They’re looking for certain types of people to occupy this land. 

After the Second World War, Australia became a refuge for Nazi war criminals.  Places like Canada and Australia and other places that didn’t recognize the United Nations Convention for the Prevention of Genocide.  The Nazis came to Australia as refugees.  Australians are beauties, for that.

CBC - How do you think Indigenous people should relate to refugees and other migrants?

RT - Well how do you think refugees should relate to First Nations here?  I’ll turn it back on you.  How should they recognize our people?  Do they know we exist, or do they think it’s some white man’s country they’re begging to get into, and they’re going to give their allegiance to the racist pigs that run this country?  Or are they going to recognize the First Nations?  If you recognise the First Nations you’re in.  If you want to play games with Nazi pigs well, fuck off.  Your just another one of them.  Why don’t they recognise the first people?  That’s what we’re saying.  Recognise the proper law of the land rather than perpetuate the crime called genocide.  They want to be a part of that, then what are they running from their own country for?  You ask these Indians who think they’re coming here for a better world, if this is a place more racist than the places they’ve come from? 

What do these refugees think about the First Nation, shouldn’t that be the question?  They’re coming into our home, they should know a little bit about it shouldn’t they? 

Maybe they’d be welcome.  There’s a good chance.  Our people are welcoming type of people, we share and care.  We’re not like greedy selfish capitalist pigs like the rest of the people are here, we’ve got a different law.  That was reflected in how beautiful the environment was, and how well we looked after the land.  We were the civilised society where these barbarians made out they are.  They’ve all gone along for the ride, and they’re all going to pay the price for that.  For ignorance. 

My advice to the refugees is what do they think about the First Nations, and are they prepared to recognise their laws?  That should be the basis on which you come into the country.  




We don’t cross borders; borders cross us

Poster design: Judita Invisible

“We don’t cross borders; borders cross us” is a 12 poster series organised by the Cross Border Collective.  The objective of the posters is to invite an engaged audience to consider a series of propositions about the Australian border, labour, race and incarceration.  The poster series aims to show that the Australian border is not a natural or inevitable thing.  They explore the fact that the border is artificial, confront common assumptions about border-crossers, and consider how the border manages peoples’ movements to benefit industry and the state.  Many individuals and groups have collaborated in the development of these posters – they are drawn from networks active through art, politics and advocacy in resistance to the effects of the border on people’s lives. 

The ever present question in projects that engage with migration and borders is - who has the right to determine who should be allowed to come within Australia? The simple answer is that the Australian government has the legal and institutional power to control Australian borders. The fuller answer is that the Australian government’s present day power rests on the violent invasion, dispossession and colonisation of indigenous Australia. Sovereignty over Australia was never ceded by indigenous Australians and the legitimacy of white Australian sovereignty remains contested. In this essential way, any discussion about Australian border politics and the violent bordering of migrants and refugees, must start with how the colonisation of Australia constructed the border through violence against indigenous Australians.

The border is more than just a geographical line. It is better understood as a practice of bureaucratic decision making that is performed both within and outside Australia. The border constructs access to rights and entitlements, and bases its legitimacy on principles derived from nation-state sovereignty.  More specifically the sovereign right over territory, to police borders, to confer nationality, to admit and expel foreigners, and to act for ‘national security’.
The ongoing effects of colonisation mean that despite legal citizenship, indigenous Australians remain excluded from its full rights and benefits - partly through the actions of ‘everyday’ policing and imprisonment. Prison time, itself the outcome of systemic colonial violence, restricts everyday movement, and also severely restricts future travel. The colonial capture and concentration of land and resources into the hands of the few, and the prisons and policing that protect and maintain this state of affairs — these exclusions are woven into the same net as the detention centre and the border patrol boats.  Sometimes prisons are even run by the same companies that run detention centres.  This is why we believe that tearing down immigration detention requires the tearing down of all prisons.

The posters series aims to show that those locked up at the border are real and complex individuals. It diminishes all of us to reduce their hopes, desires, resistance and capitulations to one-dimensional caricatures of ‘genuine refugees’.  It is not our place to pass judgement on which circumstances justify movement and which do not. To do so replicates and legitimises government rhetoric along the lines that, ‘we will decide who comes here and the circumstances in which they come’.  The end result is that only silent, apolitical, and compliant representations of ‘victimhood’ are permitted to legitimately cross borders. Representations of ‘victimhood’ are also utilised to legitimise over policing of some migrants, such as migrant sex workers. Effective opposition to this logic must start from the principle of self-determination. Resistance to mandatory detention has been led by those incarcerated — it’s from their courage and determination that we on the outside draw our inspiration.  Ultimately, our freedom is bound up with theirs.  We need to find ways of acting in solidarity.  We cannot be saviours.  

Often the people ‘let in’ by the border are exploited in low paid work; pay exorbitant amounts to enter the bottom of an overinflated housing market; pay massive fees for substandard education; are denied the protections of privileged citizenship; and are heavily policed to ensure that they ‘play by the rules’.  Racism and exploitation of migrant workers only makes it easier for us all to be exploited.  Acting in solidarity with migrant workers, international students and the young migrant poor is to struggle against the border.

The poster series seeks to interrupt the notion that ‘people smugglers’ are the source of violence and danger at the border.  Many of those involved in transporting people to Australia by boat are drawn from communities in Indonesia that have seen their local economies undermined and exploited by the globalisation of market economies. By criminalising and policing movement, the Australian state forces people into more precarious and clandestine modes of travel. This violent imposition of the border is what creates risk - not the poor Indonesian fishing boat crews that attempt to cross it. The construction of the figure of the evil, profiteering people-smuggler is essential for the construction and policing of Australia’s border. If we capitulate to this logic, we cannot effectively resist the border policing regime that makes these journeys so dangerous. 

We hope that the ideas in these posters become a part of conversations about what it means to resist mandatory detention and the imposition of borders across our lives.  We hope that these conversations enable our resistances to be engaged and strong, and leave no one behind. 

This poster series has been made possible by a $4000 grant from Marrickville City Council, which has gone towards the printing costs of the posters, as well as the generous collaboration of people involved in diverse but intersecting campaigns. If you want to learn more about these posters, or if you would like to collaborate with the Cross Border Collective you can find us at www.crossbordersydney.org or contact us at crossborder.sydney@gmail.com




The people smuggler

Poster image and design:
Deborah Kelly and Katie Hepworth

The space between Australia and Indonesia is often imagined to be empty; the water a buffer zone between two borders that circumscribe the edges of the land.  But this liquid space is filled with histories and traditions of mobility and exchange. It is also a space of fraught and contested jurisdictions, of places that are not-quite or not-always part the state: islands and territories between the borders are excised from the migration zone, becoming zones of exception where some Australian laws are applied on the basis of one’s passport; while in others zones Australia, Indonesia and East Timor continually struggle to redraw the line in the water that partitions the resources beneath the surface.

One of these contested zones lie off the coast of West Timor. A treaty between Australia and Indonesia carefully delimited a maritime boundary between the two states. This treaty, which determines who has the rights to the resources in particular zones, pushed the Australian border into the traditional waters of West Timorese fishermen, limiting their access to the waters that their ancestors had fished for centuries.

The maritime boundary produces a strange borderland in the Arafura Sea. It creates an area in which Australia has a right to the seabed, and the trepang or sea slugs that live on it, while Indonesia retains the rights to the water and the fish above it. In this zone, which is closer to West Timor than Australia, the border multiplies but remains unmarked. The line determined in law is only perceptible by GPS.

It is in these indeterminate zones that many Indonesian fishermen men are caught by Australian fisheries patrols. The small zone of undisputed water that is made available to them is now so heavily overfished, that they need to venture close to the maritime border in order to make a basic livelihood. Caught over the Australian seabed, but with their boats still in Indonesian waters, many are forced to watch their boats burnt by Australian fisheries. Although the majority have their charges later overturned by Australian courts, they are not compensated for the loss of their boats. Returning to Indonesia, without the boats that had taken over 4 years of labour to buy, and with debts accrued by their absence while awaiting trial, many choose to work on boats bringing asylum seekers to Australia in order to feed their families.

This is the story of Musilmin.* Musilmin is an Indonesian fisherman who was found on a boat in this borderland where Australia has the sea bed rights beneath Indonesia fishing waters. He was not fishing, and his boat didn’t have trepan or sea slugs on board. Nevertheless he was apprehended, his boat taken – and probably destroyed – while he was trialed and convicted in Darwin. He lost his appeal to the NT Criminal Court of Appeal, but was finally successful in his appeal to the High Court. Although he was found innocent of illegal fishing, he was not compensated for the loss of his boat. Having lost the ability to make a living, he turned to people smuggling. Soon after he was caught and convicted, and is currently incarcerated in Queensland.

As of March 2012 there were over 400 people, like Musilmin, facing sentencing for people smuggling. Only 4 of those arrested were the organisers of criminal syndicates. The rest were crew, typically deckhands or cooks. If convicted, these men face a 5-year mandatory sentence; the judge that presides on their cases will have no discretion to take into account their personal circumstances or the role they perform.

These men bring asylum seekers to islands excised from Australian territory; their departure is policed by the Indonesian military and police funded by Australian dollars. Policies and laws multiply and disperse the border throughout the waters between Australia and Indonesia, producing smugglers from fishermen.

* Musilmin’s story has been drawn from an episode of Background Briefing. For more stories of people smugglers and their families, see: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/casualties-in-the-war-on-people-smuggling/3601454




The guts of the Australian border

Poster design: Anthea Fitzgerald

When we think of a border, we usually imagine a barrier: a wall or a fence. A boundary, whether physical or not, that keeps people out. This is certainly one particularly prominent form the border takes in Australia. The image of asylum seekers attempting to cross the Australian border, repelled by Australian border police, clearly invokes the idea of a boundary.

But borders do not only operate to repel. They also operate to structure and control movement. For most of us, passing through customs and immigration at an airport does not prevent entry. What it does do is remind us we are crossing and that there are rules and regulations that require us to register, submit to searches, declare our belongings and sometimes give our finger prints, before we are permitted to cross. Crossing is not prevented, but managed.

For many this process is benign, an inconvenience at most. For others it is not. In the post-911 world the increasing profiling, suspicion and interrogation people of colour experience at airports is well documented. In this way, by managing border crossings in a particular way, political communities are created. Communities that are unmistakably marked as under threat and in need of protection. Individuals are marked as threat or threatened in the well-worn strategy of divide and rule.

This situation legitimates the state as the rightful arbiter of who crosses, for how long, for what purpose and under what conditions. These decisions are made according to the ‘national interest’, or a little more clearly, to promote Australia’s economic interests but most clearly as, in the interests of profit.

In Australia this regime permits, but tightly controls, the entry of two groups in particular in the interests of profit: international students and guest workers. International students are charged high fees, they make education Australia’s largest non-mining industry. High fees mean that students who come here are usually in debt and work is essential. But student visa holders face are permitted to work only 20 hours a week. This, combined with racial prejudice, means that as well as handing over tens of thousands of dollars in fees, international students are made into fodder for low paid service sector work: for example, driving taxis or working in 7-11s or petrol stations. It also makes them fodder for illegal work at even lower rates of pay.

Guest workers are ‘invited’ to Australia for limited periods in order to supplement Australia’s labour force. In times of high employment, industries that offer low wages and poor conditions often complain of labour shortages. The solution is rarely to pay better wages and offer better conditions, but to design a guest worker scheme with the government. Often guest workers are offered jobs that Australian’s would rather not have. Since 2008 guest workers from the Pacific Islands of Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu have been invited to work for four to six months in the horticultural industry in areas of high labour demand. These are often jobs that are seasonal, temporary and notorious for terrible working and living conditions such as fruit picking work. In 2011 this guest worker scheme was expanded to allow guest workers from Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu to work on farms and also includes East Timorese workers filling jobs in the tourism sector in Broome, WA. Accommodation hotels, a key part of the tourism sector, offer insecure, casual jobs with some of the lowest pay rates and amongst the highest injury rates in Australia.

The agriculture and accommodation industries employ the highest percentages of low paid workers of any industry in Australia and accommodation workers earn 31% less per hour than the average Australian worker. The Pacific Guest Worker Scheme not only provides an opportunity to exploit international workers, it relieves the pressure on these industries, providing less incentive to fix these problems by offering decent pay and conditions. Guest worker schemes refuse to take account of the documented social impacts of guest work to workers and their families and communities at home. The very label ‘guest’ worker implies that Australia is doing Pacific Islanders a favour by offering them low paid, high injury, temporary and exploitative jobs in Australia while disrupting their lives and causing negative social impacts in their home communities.

While drawing on the South Pacific as a low paid labour pool when convenient, Australia is yet to commit to taking ‘environmental refugees’ from the South Pacific (if an island in the South Pacific were to disappear under the rising oceans of global warming, those people would have to fight to come to Australia). 

So we have the asylum seeker, the international student and the guest worker, all people who choose to come to Australia for a variety of reasons and end up having their lives in Australia defined, restricted and exploited by the management of the Australian border. The policing and detention of asylum seekers, builds and is built on the impression that they are a threat to Australia, whether as terrorists, criminals or carrying diseases. A false distinction is created between ‘genuine’ refugees who wait in the mythical queue and those who make their own way. This racism extends to all people of colour, marking them as other, not real Australian’s, less entitled and therefore legitimate fodder for exploitation. The border is not simply a boundary, it is a living breathing system that permits, denies and controls entry in the interests of profit. Asylum seekers, international students and guest workers are all digested in its guts.




We are Migrant Sex Workers

Poster design: Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association Migration Project and the Love Cats

There seems to be an ignorance and voyeuristic fascination with migrant sex workers that is perpetuated by a seemingly never ending stream of ill informed and poorly researched media stories. Dangerously, these stories peddle well worn stereotypes which then become public opinion, and are the drivers behind bad policies that overstep the fair and reasonable application of the law. When it comes to migrant sex workers, fair and reasonable goes out the window, and the voices of actual migrant sex workers are always absent. The Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association Migration Project fights to represent the real situation for migrant sex workers to the media, government, organisations and public. We are staffed entirely by multilingual migrant sex workers. To ensure our work is truly representational of migrant sex workers, and is informed by a strong evidence base, we hold regular steering committee meetings with sex workers from Chinese, Korean and Thai language backgrounds to discuss and provide input into the issues that are affecting us. If you are a migrant sex worker and want to contact us or become involved with our steering committee, you can call us on (02)96900551, see also scarletalliance.org.au.
Read on to find out the truth about migrant sex workers.

Migrant sex workers are well travelled, experienced, empowered and independent.
Research and anecdotal evidence from sex worker organisations demonstrates that migrant sex workers are often older than their non-migrant counterparts. Many migrant sex workers have lived experiences overseas prior to coming to Australia and many report having previously engaged in sex work abroad. The vast majority of migrant sex workers in Australia have independently travelled to Australia. Because of the limited visa options for sex workers travelling to Australia, especially travelling from low income countries, sex workers may choose to engage an agent to facilitate their travel. This need to engage a third party agent is exacerbated by the lack of translated resources and forms when applying for a visa to Australia. Use of a migration agent is common and does not constitute trafficking. There has been a conflation of the terminology of trafficking and migration for sex work. Trafficking has been used as an excuse to introduce excessive regulation of the sex industry and the migration of people for sex work. The reality is that sex workers choose to travel and work, just as people in other occupations choose to do.   

We are strong and choose when, where and how we work.
We choose to sex work for a variety of reasons. This is no different to the decisions people make to engage in any job. If we are not satisfied with our workplaces, we can choose to work somewhere else. If we no longer want to sex work we can choose to leave our jobs. The only threat to our freedom to work how and when we want comes from the restrictive legal environments that are being threatened in the name of anti-trafficking responses. These laws, which are allegedly for our own protection, restrict our movement and our right to choose our occupation. For the vast majority of migrant sex workers who choose to work, these laws only function to harass us, and discriminate against our choices.

We have a strong network of friends and peers who we turn to as our main source of information and support.
Sex workers are most likely to turn to friends for information and support. Research and anecdotal evidence supports this fact. demonstrates the value of peer support and information sharingIn an environment where police and immigration regularly raid our workplaces and harass us - allegedly to “rescue” us from supposed acts of “trafficking”; and many states and territories in Australia still criminalise sex work- it is no surprise that migrant sex workers do not trust anyone who is not a sex worker when accessing support.  

We have high rates of condom use and low rates of STIs and HIV.
The consistent findings of numerous research projects have found that migrant and CALD sex workers have high rates of condom use at work. There is no measurable difference between the condom use of migrant and non migrant sex workers. The findings of these research projects have been supported by the continued low rates of STIs amongst sex workers. In Australia we still have no recorded instances of HIV transmission between sex worker and client.  Despite these findings media outlets still refer to  the supposed “compliance of submissive Asian women to demands of unsafe sex”.

We earn a good income and have workplace satisfaction and a good level of knowledge of sexual health, services and our workplace rights.
In the recent Scarlet Alliance Migration Project survey of 592 sex workers around Australia, sex workers report high level of income, workplace satisfaction and knowledge of workplace rights. Sex workers have always been proactive in regards to our sexual health. Our bodies are our business and we look after them. The harm reduction strategies employed in relation to sexual health services in Australia, whereby sex workers can access services confidentially and anonymously, are also conducive to high uptake of sexual health services by sex workers in Australia. The investment in peer education for and by sex workers means that promotion of these services is widespread.   

Don't judge us because of our occupation.
Sex workers face a disproportionate amount of stigma and discrimination. This case is even more so for migrant sex workers who face dual stigma of sex worker and migrant. Many of the issues that arise for sex workers are not about our job or our feelings towards our job; instead they are about other people’s attitudes to us and our work. This negative perception is pervasive throughout society and manifests in bad media and laws; it manifests in how we are treated in our day to day interactions with services, banks, police and the people around us. Sex work is work and it is our choice to work. Ask yourself what it is about our jobs that make you judge us. Question the deep seated whorephobia and racism in society that perpetuates this ignorance. We are strong, independent and economically empowered.

We don't need your pity- we need our rights.
Choosing to travel and sex work gives us freedom, your racism and stereotypes confine us.




“You Have to Break Something to Get Something Done”

Poster design: Hon Boey
Poster words: Anonymous, formerly incarcerated in Immigration Detention

Immigration Detention Lesson 1: You Have to Break Something to Get Something Done

Anonymous, formerly incarcerated in Immigration Detention 

 “I am Hazara, and me and my other Pashtun friend just woke up and heard noises. We could hear some voices, abusing, yelling ‘motherfucker’ and these things.

So we see him on the roof, smashing this, hitting the roof. He wanted to go for a visit in the other compound.

This one Pashtun friend standing with me says to the other one, ‘hang on my son, one minute’.

He puts his tea down and says: ‘Motherfucker this is not how you do it!’ And he climbed up on the roof, picked up a stick and started bashing the air conditioning unit on the roof, until it was smashed. Then they both climbed down.

If you just suffer quietly they might let you die, they don't care how much pain you are in. Even if you are dying, if you want to see the nurse and get a Panadol, you have to break something.
If you break the window, they will agree that you are dying. You have to break something to get something done."


“You have to break something…” poster

Cross Border Collective

We hope the posters emphasise that those locked up at the border are real and complicated individuals.  It diminishes all of us to reduce their hopes, desires, resistance and capitulations to one-dimensional caricatures of ‘genuine refugees’.  It is not our place to pass judgement on which circumstances justify movement and which do not. To do so replicates and legitimises government rhetoric that ‘we will decide who comes her and the circumstances in which they come’.  The end result is that only silent, apolitical, and compliant presentations of ‘victim hood’ are permitted for legitimate border crossing. Effective opposition to this logic must start from the principle of self-determination. Resistance to mandatory detention has been led by those incarcerated – it’s from their courage and determination that we on the outside draw our inspiration.  Ultimately, our freedom is bound up with theirs.  We need to find ways of acting in solidarity.  We cannot be saviours.  




Villawood Immigration Detention Centre Handmade Tools

Poster design: Anthea Fitzgerald
Poster image: Majid Rabet

Interview with Majid Rabet, with Bilquis interpreting (8 March 2012).

Cross Border Collective (CBC): Can you describe the tools that you made while you were in detention?

Majid Rabet (MR): A double sided screw driver, a four sided screwdriver, a microphone, an electricity tester, two paint brushes, a spatula from a plastic knife, a massager, it had two motors.

CBC: What did you use the microphone for?

MR: As needs arose, I created things.  There was a ceremony they were having in detention, and Serco wouldn’t give them a microphone, so I made one.

CBC: What was the ceremony?

MR: It was a traditional Shia religious ceremony called Muharram. 

CBC: Why wouldn’t SERCO give you the microphone? [Note: SERCO are the private security company contracted to manage Australian immigration detention centres from June 2009-June 2014]

MR: Originally they were giving it to us, and then they banned it for a few days.  So that night I made one.

CBC: What did you use to make it?

MR: A magic marker, a ping pong ball, some plastic from a thong, a headphone wire with the ear plug, some of the parts from an old television, and mixed them together.

CBC: And did it work well?

MR: Yeah! We used it for the ceremony!

CBC: Did SERCO ever find it?

MR: It was so chaotic in there at times that SERCO actually thought it was the microphone that they’d given them.

CBC: What did you make the screwdrivers out of?

MR: The handle of a yoghurt container, a pen body, the spring from a lighter, some electronic bits and pieces, and I mixed them together.  We didn’t have a soldering iron to fix things together, so I used nail clippers to clamp things together instead.

CBC: Why did you need to make the screwdrivers?

MR: I wanted to make them because I was creating other electronic things, and they (SERCO) wouldn’t let anyone bring anything from the outside.  I was also repairing the other guys belongings – DVD players etc.

CBC: did you have to make them in secret?

MR: Yeah, I used to hide them.  If they had searched my room, they would have taken a whole lot of electronics and things. 

CBC: Did they search very often?

MR: Once a month

CBC: What did you do with the things when they searched?

MR: We had a hiding spot they didn’t find – we CREATED a hiding spot they didn’t find.  The boys are still using that one.

CBC: what about the other things you made, why did you make those?

MR: When you’re stuck in a place for 20 months, you start to think of ways to pass the time.  In 20 months, if I had the tools I could have made an aeroplane!

CBC: Why did you have to make your own paintbrush?

MR: I didn’t know that I could have people bring them in for me.  Afterwards, when the Refugee Art Project started bringing in stuff for us, I realised I could have some of this stuff, but before that we just assumed that we weren’t allowed.  We assumed that we weren’t allowed anything at all. 

CBC: Tell me about the massaging machine

MR: I just created that in my free time. 

MR: I’ve made one other thing I’m going to show you.  This is another thing that I made in detention that I was hiding.  You know a shisha?  I made an electronic one.  It’s a fruit bottle, with parts of a kettle, with the knob of a heater – this is what I used to make it.  It draws the smoke down into it.  The tobacco we used to smuggle in.  The pipe was from an old boiler.  After two weeks, SERCO discovered the pipe was missing.  As soon as something went missing, SERCO used to come to my room and say, ‘tell the boys, whoever’s taken it, to bring it back’.  I would say, ‘all these rooms, why would you come to my room?!’

CBC: Does the pipe smoke well?

MR:  There is a lot of mathematics that have gone into it, of course its good! 

CBC: You said that you were bored, and needed things to do in Villawood – were you busy while you were there?

MR: There is only so much you can do to keep yourself busy; it does get very, very boring.  It makes your soul exhausted.

CBC: Was everybody bored?

MR:  Yes.  I got sick from it all.  I used to go for months without asthma, I now I have 16 pills a day.

CBC: You were there for 20 months, was that a long time compared to others?

MR: It was a lot of time.

CBC: These things you made, were they out of need, because you couldn’t get them otherwise?

MR: Yes.  For example I made myself a grinder from a fan motor.

CBC: Like an angle grinder?

MR: Yes, but they took all of that.

CBC: How did they find it?

MR: I used to hide the really essential things.  The big things, that I could just make again, I used to leave that in the open so they could take it.  I could get out of there in ten minutes.  What you guys use a key to get into, I could get into without a key.  But I’ve come here to live legitimately, not to live illegally, so I stayed. 

CBC:  What did it feel like to need things that SERCO wouldn’t let you have?

MR: It was really difficult.  Like for a bit of sticky tape I’d be coming and going for a month just to get a bit.

CBC: Was that frustrating?

MR: I used to get frustrated at times, because like what’s a bit of sticky tape to be taking so long?  If somebody was going to escape it wouldn’t be contingent on some sticky tape, if someone was going to do something illegal in there they wouldn’t wait for some sticky tape to do it.  Everybody knew that I was creating art in there, and that’s what I needed sticky tape for. 

CBC: How did you learn how to make all of these things?

MR: Even before I was an electro-mechanic so it’s the way you think, you handle things.  I already had that background.  It doesn’t matter what you want to make, it’s how you think about making it.

CBC: Do you think being in detention made you a better electro mechanic?

MR: If they allowed me, I would have been a genius! I had 20 months to practice.  20 months to think about everything and make things.

CBC: Did other people come to you for things?

MR: it was usually my own ideas, but they did used to come to me for repairs.  If something broke down, they would get Majid to fix it.

CBC: Did that happen everyday? What kinds of things?

MR: Once or twice a week.  Mobiles broken, headphones broken, television not working, a fridge, anything that could be broken they used to come.

CBC: SERCO wouldn’t fix those things?

MR: No, if SERCO knew we were fixing those things there would be trouble.

CBC: What would they do?

MR: If it repeated they would probably send someone to stage one.

CBC: Was there others making things?

MR: Nobody else

CBC: If there were tools that you could have taken in to work with, what would you have taken?

MR: Soldering iron and a multimeter.

MR: I made a phase tester; I needed it for so many things.  I made a multimeter in Parramatta since I’ve been out.

CBC: In a picture I have seen a little hammer you made – what was this used for?

MR: I used chopsticks and some form work.  A hammer is one of those basic implements you need for everything.  A screwdriver and a hammer are your basics.

CBC:  What did SERCO say when they kept finding your implements?

MR: They didn’t say anything, they just take it.  They would bring a cart and fill it up, then they’d come the next month and there was more to collect.

CBC:  Is there anything else you would like to tell me?

MR:  The people inside detention are just wasting away in there.  They’re eventually going to come out, so it’s better that they acquire a skill while they’re in there.  I was happy to give classes while I was in there on the theory of what I was doing, but it needed to be possible, and SERCO didn’t allow it.

CBC: If people are bored does it make them hungry for knowledge, or just depressed?

MR:  You see we were under such pressure, each day we were thinking ‘when am I going to go out, when am I going to go out?’  If you’re busy, you think less about those things.  




The Baida Strikers

Poster design: Rascal

This poster came out of conversations around how to address the claim that “migrants steal (our) jobs.” It draws on discussions about the ways that governments help out employers by making it possible to employ people on lower wages because they are non-citizens, or on temporary visas, or because they have less social power. Unfortunately, many people imagine this is a situation that migrants have created, as if their mobility determines economic policy. The poster emphasises what we as workers have in common across the borders of nation-states, and what we lack in common with those forces that would see us divided.

The strike at the Baiada factory in Laverton, Victoria in November 2011 saw workers across cultures, visa categories, ages and genders demanding better conditions together. Chants from the picket lines rang out in many languages. Workers identified racism as a tool used by the bosses and the mainstream media; a strategy which would allow them to be paid as little as $8 an hour cash-in-hand, to have them work unpaid overtime, compete with each other for shifts and to do dangerous tasks if ordered to by management.

The strike was remarkable, but the situation of the workers that took this action isn’t unique. Over 25% of workers in Australia are casuals. Many are forced to work informal, cash in hand jobs just to make ends meet. In times of market contraction those of us who work these jobs are the first to be made unnecessary. And yet, resistance can and does take place, inverting this schema, pushing against and breaking down the constraints on our movement.

Perhaps then, the question we should be asking is whether we are free to move, or rather does the movement of capital constrain our own? These movements take place both within countries and globally. Some of us respond to worsening conditions by leaving one workplace in the hopeful search for better conditions elsewhere. We are permanent residents. Some of us cannot be unemployed for more than 28 days before facing deportation. We are on 457 Visas. Some of us are paid three quarters what others are paid. We are women. Some of us are forced into un-waged apprenticeships or informal work because our visa constrains how much we can work. We are International Students. We are all temporary and yet, somehow we are constantly working.

The Baiada strikers won minimum wages, equal pay for temporary and permanent workers, and permanent positions are now to be offered after 6 months of casual contract - but the broader condition of casualisation and insecurity remains in their workplace. No single factory, no single group of workers can overcome this alone. Through sharing experiences of struggles and their victories we hope to surpass the bogus scapegoating of migrants for a situation caused by capitalism.




“Who’s backyard?”

Poster image and design:
Daniel Haile-Micheal and Tiago Pires

Daniel Haile-Micheal and Tiago Pires

The issue of public space and young people has been around for a while.  It’s called ‘public space’, but our young people seem to be pushed off it because they are viewed as troublesome. This issue becomes even more intense in public housing estates where hundreds of people are concentrated in small areas and thus the rare basketball court or garden becomes your ‘backyard’. It’s troublesome to ask young people not to hang out in their backyard.  Not only does it impinge on their fundamental human rights, but it also increases the tension on the strained relationship that young people and police have. The constant harassment by police that young people face - especially those from marginalised communities - begins the process of criminalisation. Young people start to feel victimized.  When they express their frustration they’re dealt with swiftly by heavy- handed policing.   This creates mistrust and hostility. Due to the large power imbalance between police and young people, in most situations it’s difficult for young people to assert their human rights. Whenever an attempt is made it’s seen as an attack on authority.  The voice of police is heard, whilst the pleading for some basic rights isn’t even acknowledged.

This poster is a representation of an event that happens routinely on public basketball courts near housing commission properties. The power imbalance between the police officer and the young people is symbolised by the size difference of the speech bubbles. You can see from the body language of the characters that the policeman is asserting his authority whilst the young people simply want to enjoy their game. Furthermore the officer has driven onto the basketball court to prevent the game, just to gain some “intelligence” on local kids doing suspicious activities - such as playing basketball. The bottom line is our young people are becoming the target of lazy policing which targets the most vulnerable members of our community.





Poster design: Gem Romuld

Gem Romuld

This poster was inspired by a visit to the new South Coast Correctional Centre in Nowra, NSW. The prison, the walls of which are shown on the poster, was open to the community for free tours and a sausage sizzle before the first imprisoned people were to arrive. It was strange to wander around an empty prison amongst curious families and balloon-holding children. There were prison officers scattered around the facility to answer questions. They proudly told us about the compulsory full-time work that all inmates would be performing at the prison for $20 a week in wages. When we asked, “where do the profits go from such cheap labour?” we received a range of responses. The first response was “to charity”. Other responses were vague, suggesting that Corrective Services Industries is making big dollars on caged labour. Further along the tour we browsed a big shed showcasing all the products that inmates make for Corrective Services Industries, including stationery, clothing and Indigenous souvenirs.

While privatisation of entire prisons has slowed down and in some cases reversed in Australia, private companies are increasingly involved in caging and profiting from society’s most underprivileged people. Prison labour is nothing new, however the increasing convergence of imprisonment and private interests indicates the fervent development of the prison-industrial-complex in Australia. Locking people up and profiting from their labour does not address the reasons and causes for peoples’ imprisonment and never will. The images in this poster are meant to communicate simply a sense of who enjoys power in the prison-industrial-complex and who does not.


Why is the prison an issue of border politics?
Cross Border Collective

The national border filters people’s access to Australia – and the Australian labour market – according to the needs of Australian big business.  It is part of the system that keeps poor people in the global south locked into deeply exploitative conditions, while global capital flows freely. The national border is part of the system that criminalises some border crossers and not others - by restricting the legal options for entering and remaining in Australia, and making some people ‘illegal’. The political justification of the Australian border and its enforcement via immigration detention is deeply racialised. The processes of criminalisation used in border control share many features with processes of criminalisation more generally. The prison industrial complex (PIC) functions to control those on the margins of Australian ‘citizenship’: Indigenous people, the poor, the young, the non-heteronormative, people of colour, the unruly and the ‘dangerous’. Throughout Australia’s colonised history, racialised communities have been disproportionately targeted for incarceration: Indigenous, Irish and Chinese people early in Australian colonialism, and since then Lebanese, Vietnamese, Africans and others. All of these communities – especially Indigenous communities – continue to be pushed to the margins of Australian ‘citizenship’ and especially targeted by the PIC to ensure that they ‘play by the rules’. The PIC does not solve issues of poverty and violence; it contains the fallout from structural inequalities primarily to make sure that the privileges of the powerful are protected. 

The government does not consider immigration detention to be ‘imprisonment’. However, prison and immigration detention are both forms of incarceration, and display the same function, that is, to control. This is particularly evident from the experience of many people who took part in protests against immigration detention conditions throughout 2010 and 2011 and were moved from immigration detention to maximum security prisons in NSW. In addition, migrants that have committed criminal offences face a double punishment. Imprisoned first for their crimes, on release migrants often then face visa cancellation, detention and deportation for failure of the ‘character test’ that all non-citizens are required to satisfy. Even those migrants that have lived in Australia almost their whole life face this double punishment.

Further, often the same multinational prison corporations are involved in both prisons and detentions centres. For example SERCO have the contract to run Australian detention facilities as well as criminal justice prisoner transport. In these ways, the prison and detention centre work in tandem to control unruly border crossers.

Thus, creating a future that has the possibility of justice and freedom requires that we dismantle the border. Just as the many injustices of the present benefit the few, the possibility of this future must include everyone, everywhere.  To unravel the injustice of the border, the prison too must be abolished. There are many networks of people in Australia struggling to abolish the prison industrial complex, led by those most deeply affected.  If you are interested in finding out more, or connecting with these struggles, check out the Centre for the Human Rights of Imprisoned People (http://www.chrip.org.au/), Sisters Inside (http://www.sistersinside.com.au/) and Flat Out (http://www.flatout.org.au/)




Deaths at the border

Poster design: Anthea Fitzgerald
Poster text: Charandev Singh and the Australian Border Deaths Database

We don’t know the names of most people who die at the Australian border. For some who have died on boats in journeys to Australia, it is years if ever, that their families learn whether they have safely arrived. For some boats lost at sea, no bodies are ever recovered. Within Australia, deaths in immigration detention are not included in statistics published on deaths in prison or in police custody. The 353 deaths of those aboard the SIEV X which sunk in 2001 are one of the rare instances that deaths at the border that have been publicly commemorated. A five year campaign for the installation of a memorial to the SIEV X resulted in permission for the installation of a six week memorial in Canberra (www.sievxmemorial.com). This poster is part of an attempt to address the erasure of the violence of the Australian state, border politics and border policing.

The list of names and details in this poster is titled “deaths at the border”. The 617 deaths noted between 2000 to March 2011 cannot be considered a list of deaths of asylum seekers, or any other identities that might be assumed from the place they died. Some may be asylum seekers, some may be workers on boats providing passage to Australia, others may be those detained after visa cancellation or visa expiry in Australia. Their identities are largely unknowable, their stories not easily accessible. The deaths at the border detailed in the poster include the names of individuals where known, the names of the boats lost at sea where known, and any known details of the date and place of death. What are deaths at the border? The list published in the poster includes deaths within immigration detention in Australia such as those deaths by suicide or other means, deaths in medical facilities following transferral from immigration detention, deaths during pursuit by immigration officials, deaths at sea in journeys to Australia, deaths at sea following Australian naval interception, suicide following visa rejection, and death following deportation.

The details of the names and details of people who have died at the border have been derived from two sources. Firstly, Charandev Singh has compiled a list of deaths at the border including names (if known), the date of death, and the place of death (whether in detention or elsewhere). Mr Singh’s record keeping means many of those individuals listed can be memorialised by name. Secondly, the Australian Border Deaths Database is a record of all known deaths at the border for the period between 2000-2011, and is periodically updated. [http://artsonline.arts.monash.edu.au/bordercrossings/595-2/] The database records the date, number of cases, personal details and details of the incident that led to the death. It draws on data from official sources, media reports and lists of deaths collated by non-governmental organisations in Australia. It has been compiled as part of an academic research project by Sharon Pickering and Leanne Weber of Monash University, Victoria.

Documentary lists such as that published in this poster are important, but they are also fraught. Lists in particular are treated as sources of “facts”, but the lists of those who have died at the border only ever tell part of the story. It is critical to remember what is missing from those lists: the experiences of those individuals that led to this point. The list also does not include those individuals that have not died, but whose experience of border violence has shaped their lives: via the ongoing effects of post-traumatic stress from immigration detention; separation from family due to visa restrictions; and other ways that immigration legal status affects an individual’s autonomy over where and how they live. Further, the list represents only deaths known to be attributable to migration control operations. It cannot capture those whose experience of detention led to their suicide years after release from detention. Nor does it include all those persons who are returned to their country of nationality after being refused asylum in Australia only to die from the harm that prompted their initial escape. Politically, the number of deaths can be used to illuminate the hidden violence of the state, but it is important not to attach the significance of these deaths on their number. One death is one too many.

It is important to understand deaths at the border in the broader context of deaths in state custody in Australia. Between 1980 and 2008, there have been 2056 individual deaths in custody. There were 1260 deaths in prison, 779 in police custody and 17 in juvenile justice custody (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2010). Indigenous Australians account for almost one-fifth of these deaths in custody, yet make up just 2.6% of the national population. This reflects the systemic and institutionalised racism that leads to the over-representation of indigenous Australians in prison. Deaths at the border and deaths in custody share a point of connection, as both these forms of death can be attributed to violence perpetrated by the Australian state, and in many of the deaths at the border, specifically the violence of incarceration. In 2012, a national deaths in custody watch network has been established (www.isja.org.au). The Cross Border Collective supports and participates in this coalition.