Angela Mitropoulos on Wed, 5 Mar 2014 11:04:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Australia's internment camps, Sydney Biennale Boycott, etc

Dear Friends,

To update you on recent troubling events and issues regarding border controls in Australia. Perhaps some of you already know much of this, perhaps others are only beginning to hear of it, and perhaps then only in the context of a boycott of the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

I will come to this, but first some backgrounding:

As many of you know, successive Australian governments have had a policy of mandatory detention for some twenty years. This means that people who arrive in Australia seeking asylum by boat have been automatically detained without charge, in many cases for an indefinite period.

Over these decades, that situation has worsened. More recently, Australia has established concentration camps (there is no other word for them) on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and on Nauru.

In recent months, it has become clear that these concentration camps have nothing to do with 'refugee processing' but are, in reality, mechanisms of deterrence. In other words, the Australian Government is determined to treat asylum seekers worse than where they are fleeing from.

In recent weeks, a 23-year old Kurdish asylum seeker, Reza Berati, was murdered on Manus, in circumstances that can only be described as horrific. Many others were injured. You can find reports on these events here from a legal representative of the detainees and a translator, both of whom were present on Manus at the time, and have since resigned their positions:


There are many other reports.

For many of us who have been involved in these issues, this was foreseeable. For some time, things have become extraordinarily, horribly worse.

With that in mind, in November last year, a few of us gathered in Melbourne at a forum organised by Beyond Borders (Melbourne) to discuss ways to break the downward spiral of Australian politics. You can find a video of the forum here: <>. The Working Paper that emerged from those discussions can be found here: <>.

The research/info website is at present: <>

As you might be able to glean, the other thing that has occured over this period is that the concentration camps have been subcontracted to private companies. They are public-private partnerships involving billions of dollars.

In short, and in discussions with representatives of (ex-)detainees, asylum seekers, refugees, and (the increasingly few) networks that had not become part of the supply-chain of mandatory detention, we decided to launch a campaign of: Boycott, Divestment & Withdrawal.

This is why there is now a boycott campaign against the 19th Biennale of Sydney:

This is the video callout that Beyond Borders (Melbourne) did for a boycott of the Biennale:

Why, now, nine of the participating artists have withdrawn their work from the Biennale of Sydney.

Workers involved in setting up the Biennale have begun to resign:

There is a further list of actions regarding the Biennale and its links to the company Transfield:

There is also in these moments when there is tumult and movement, also an unfortunate tendency toward misrepresentation.

The artists & artworkers who have withdrawn from the Biennale speak for themselves. They are not, in fact, represented by anyone other than their own voices -- despite what others might seek to claim. I recommend direct contact rather than intermediaries.

The same is particularly but especially true of people in detention. We have established networks and lines of communication. And while communication is always difficult in such circumstances, many of us believe it is crucial that those in detention are not subject to the added abuse of being treated as the objects of 'activist' or 'academic' discourses on the matter. On this, there has been increasing debate. See for instance this: <>. In any case, some of you here will already know my position on this, from my involvement in organising the Woomera 2002 protests to now. I strongly believe that the erasure or dimunition of the perspectives of detainees and non-citizens generally is symptomatic of the same racism that justifies the concentration camps.

Regarding the campaign of boycott, divestment and withdrawal, the relevant organisations are RISE Refugee, Beyond Borders (Melbourne), and xborder Operational Matters. (There are groups that have assumed similar names but they are not the same.)

RISE represent (ex-)detainees, refugees & asylum seekers; Beyond Borders (Melbourne) is a noborder group in Melbourne that is *not* a front group for any other organisation; and xbOps is a research/info portal for the Boycott, Divest, Withdraw campaign. I am involved in the latter. XbOps are committed to a decentralised, non-hierarchical structure because it is our experience that anything else replicates the very boundaries of citizenship and racism.

My apologies for the inelegance of exposition, but I thought it was important to simply circulate some of the key bits of information. And, of course, to extend an invitation for you to show solidarity with those who are currently being held in indefinite detention in Australia's concentration camps.

Angela Mitropoulos

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