ben moretti on Sun, 7 Jul 2002 05:59:10 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Worst of Woomera - Introduction

[Dave McKay's vital book of stories of people from Woomera. Please read 
and spread this widely. I will post a chapter of this to Nettime every 
second day. Ben]


The Worst of Woomera - Introduction

by Dave McKay (as related by Cherry McKay and Robin and Christine Dunn) 

My first glimpse of the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing 
Centre (WIRPC) came on March 29 (Good Friday), 2002.

Along with ten other people from a Newcastle group called HOPE (Hunter 
Organism for Peace and Equity) Ross Parry and I had journeyed to 
Woomera, South Australia, to participate in the Easter weekend 
demonstrations in support of asylum seekers. In the crowd of nearly 
2,000 demonstrators, there were the usual ferals and political 
activists; but many were like myself... ordinary citizens who felt a 
deep concern for people who had apparently been imprisoned for no other 
reason than that they had arrived on our shores in desperate need, and 
seeking asylum.

But we learned shortly after arriving that the 334 people being held 
there were regarded as the worst of the worse asylum seekers in 
Australia. These were people who had either exhausted all of their 
appeals and were awaiting deportation as indisputable "illegals", or 
they had been labelled as trouble-makers and had been sent to Woomera in 
order to isolate them from other more co-operative asylum seekers. 
Obviously, our efforts would have been better spent defending someone 
more deserving.

That same day, when some 800 of us walked up to the fence surrounding 
the main compound, we discovered just what desperados these people were. 
Without warning, we found ourselves involved in one of the biggest 
escapes from custody in Australia's history.

 From inside the compound, some of the asylum seekers had managed to pry 
apart two of the bars on the fence. Fifty prisoners poured through the 
hole before the guards stopped the flow. Eleven of those escapees were 
still at large when this publication went to press. (One is rumoured to 
have been accepted as a refugee in the UK!)

There is much debate in Australia over whether these are innocent 
victims or dangerous renegades with a potential for terror. In the 
months that followed that escape, with the help of my wife, Cherry, my 
daughter, Christine, and her husband, Robin, I had the opportunity to 
learn something of the background of many of the people being held at 
Woomera. That information forms the basis for this publication.

However, before we begin, I should state that another interesting thing 
happened during the first two months after Good Friday, 2002. The 
population of Woomera IRPC dropped from 334 to 203. To my knowledge 
there was not a single deportation during that time. Instead, over 
one-third of these people--the worst of the worse--were given temporary 
protection visas and allowed into Australia as bonafide refugees!

This book does not include the profiles of any of those people. Instead, 
it focuses on the 203 who remained, including some of the returned 
escapees. Assuming that the people given visas were the best of the 
worst of the worse, then this book could more accurately be described as 
an account of the worst of the worst of the worse.

Dave McKay
July 2002

ben moretti

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