To Build an Immigration Detention “Home”

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Detainees playing football in the detention center

Immigration Detention Centers are called in Indonesian “Rumah Detensi Imigrasi” literally translated as ‘Immigration Detention Home’ or ‘Immigration Detention House’. They are the technical implementation units of the immigration office functioning as temporary shelters for foreigners violating the Immigration Law, last revised in 2011. Chapter III of the this regulation defines where an Immigration Detention House can be built, on what conditions a person can be sent there and for how long he or she can be detained. It also states that it is part of the government’s duties to provide immigration services, enforcing law and state security and so facilitating people’s welfare.

During the first four months of JRS Indonesia’s presence in one of the Immigration Detention Houses the element of enforcing state security became apparent. “This is a jail although we are not criminal,” summarizes one detainee from Pakistan. Detainee is an asylum seeker detained in an Immigration Detention Center.

Calling a detention center ‘Immigration Detention House’must have a certain intention. Placing the word ‘house’ for a place where its occupants are deprived of their freedom seems a paradox. A ‘house’ or ‘ home’ for the most of us is a secure and pleasant place where ‘love’ is present through people we love. ‘Home’ is the first place of appreciation to the human civilization, a place for us to grow up within.

The house or home becomes a place we look forward to come back to when physical distances separate us from it. So, is the word ‘house’ an appropriate name for a place where its dwellers are confined against their will and cannot feel the presence of love even from those who are very close to them every day? The House becomes an abstract concept irrelevant to the detention’s daily conducts. The House does not mean close anymore, instead it means far, be it physically or spiritually. “This isnot home for us,” said an Afghan asylum seeker

Perhaps the policy makers in this country are aware that the asylum seekers and cross border refugees are not criminals violating the Indonesian Law. Treating an imigration detention house the same as a jail is a big mistake. The guideline on handling the refugees and asylum seekers clearly states that the asylum seekers and refugees should not be allowed to be put in a place along with criminal convicts. This awareness eventually leads them to using the word ‘house’, not institute or facility.

This would bring us to the thoughts that those who will stay at the Immigration Detention House are people who are far, evicted or lost their home.  “With this kind of activity, dancing and singing, we feel that our home is nearer,” said an asylum seeker.

The Javanese people often relate the house with ‘pulung’ or a supernatural prize for those who are ‘chosen’. The prize is something we have to pursue. It would not come when we don’t do anything at all. So, obtaining a ‘pulung’ means that we are harvesting our hard work.

Providing a “detention house” is like running after a ‘pulung’. When the word ‘house’ is stuck on the Immigration Detention terminology it doesn’t mean a dream ‘house’ is already put in place right away. Instead, when ‘house’ is augmented, there are responsibilities and consequences to bear and to face. This becomes a vocation and moral challenge to fight for the enforcement of human principles. To bring into reality our dream to provide a place where we feel secure, safe and protected, where loves can perfectly grow, as if without any end.

The Immigration Detention House is still far away from the idealism of a ‘house’. It is not a place people long for, yet. The Immigration Detention House is virtually a cursed place for everyone inside it. It brings no blessings but burdens also for the people working there. “Six months are like two years,” said an Immigration staff.

“The actual problem among the migrants is their acceptance. The migrants can’t accept this present situation as a result of their actions,” explained another staff member.

Acceptance is the challenge the detainees and immigration officers have to face. Both of them just can’t accept the reality related to their presence in the detention center. Working as staff or officers of an Immigration Detention House is far from what one may think when, for the first time, receiving the duty and responsibility as immigration officer. “I’ve never thought of getting this placement here. In the past I’ve always been appointed to work at airports, seaports and immigration offices,” one officer added.

For the detainees, being at the detention center is just a bad luck. They have been caught on their way to the final destination: Christmas Island, Australia. The detainees have never wanted to waste 15 months of their lives in a situation full of distress and uncertainty. “They don’t want to be here. If you asked them, they will answer that they don’t want to spend their 12 months here only to drink milk, play karambol or football,” snarled a Pakistani detainee.

Detention in the eyes of the detainees is an obstacle between the present and the future. It blocks their way to make their dreams of living in country granting political asylum come true. The detainees as well as the Immigration Detention House staff similarly build a denial against the present conditions. Both argue that they should not actually be present in this location. They feel rejected and marginalized. “Here we work hard, but whenever one of them tries to escape, we will get the blame,” said a staff member.

 “They never think about us. Immigration and UNHCR,” said a detainee. “UNHCR make us wait for one year, more than one year for nothing. They make us in tension” added another detainee. The idealism of ‘house’ cannot be materialized through a single denial. How the detainees and the immigration staff as well could discover the other side of their daily lives in the detention center when they make their fate dependent on others’ faults. In the detention center’s routines they tend to lose the awareness of the present. The absence of this kind of awareness triggers dreams about ‘another world’ where all things are beautiful and cannot be found here in the detention center, but fails to motivate them (detainees) to do something. They’re just like illusions. People have to rise, leaving their dreams behind and start to try to reach their goals in the real world. With this the change will come.

The change toward making the immigration detention HOUSE a reality begins when all parties can accept and understand its essences. They have to help themselves develop in history of civilization based on the humanitarian spirit – when they feel the depth of love in a limited environment – through meaningful daily actions.

“We will start to understand each other through meeting and dialog. We can not build understanding by throwing rock to immigration,” said a detainee from Pakistan on February 1, 2012 before he opted to return to his country. A desperate and dangerous journey ‘Home’.

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