Exiles of the World

There is a vast chasm between the description and the described. Although the cold dead language politicians’ use does indeed reflect the cold deadening reality facing refugees, the descriptions of ‘detention centres’, ‘refugee camps’, and ‘transition camps’ fails to capture the truth.

Each description – detention, camp, transition – utilises the wrong modal form. These words imply movement. Detention is about a break from the normal order, implying a soon return to it. Camp is an organisational structure that is made to be put up and pulled down with little notice to ensure continuous travel. Transition is about moving from here to there, standing for a finite process between two points in space and time. However, ironically, these are the exact attributes denied to refugees who seek to come to Australia. The camps, detention centres, gulags or whatever one wishes to call them, are no longer breaks along the way, pit-stops, or road-inns. They are the final station, the last point on the train line, where the map ends and movement stops.

People are born and die in camps, visiting no other places in their life. They see nothing, hear nothing, and know nothing of life outside the camp. They are told that they will never leave the camps. The sick and dying have little to no chance of being rescued and leaving the camps.

The centres exude finality. Not the finality of having reached a destination, but of the process of transition calcified into a state of permanence.

Transition, detention, camp, detainment, etc. – these are all oxymoronic, conveniently selected by power-holders to give an air of possibility to an otherwise impossible situation. Refugee centres are not about having somewhere to go, they are the consequence of everywhere else being cast as off-limits.

Refugee camps are not about being insiders within the camps but about being outsiders from the world. They have been evicted from humanity, exiled from a world of nation-states.

It is more of the same thing with refugees ‘displaced’ by war. ‘Displaced’ implies that there was a place to which these people belong but also that there is a place to which they can yet again fit. Kurds exiled from Turkey and hunted by the state are ‘displaced’ people, Rohingya Muslims are displaced too. Displaced turns into no-place.

Nation states and the heavily militarised borders that characterise them are not places for others. The laws and protections granted to their citizens are not the laws and protections of man, but of the particular citizens of that nation-state. To be displaced is to have no place, no border, no law and no protection.

To become displaced, a refugee or an asylum seeker is to be evicted from the world shared by the rest of humanity. Eviction, the state of permanent exile is the sole constituent of the identity of the refugee. They are nameless, depicted as an amorphous mass, their only statement of identity being that they do not belong. That they ‘do not belong’ teases out the central point, that the issues with refugees is not where from, but where to. It is the prohibition of alternatives and the impossibility of arriving anywhere that sets these exiles apart from the rest of humanity.

They are the refuse of the world, unwanted by their own nations and unacceptable to others. These superfluous people lack the one crucial trait which would make them worthy of participation in the concert of nations: wealth. The wealthy Indonesian who flies first class to invest in real estate is a welcome visitor who will bolster Australia’s GDP. Of course, the poor Indonesian fleeing terror and military police at home, who hops on a leaky boat to find security and safety in the wealthiest democracy in South-East Asia, will find no such warm embrace. He will be thrown into permanent transition. The state must separate the useful from the wasteful products, and ensure the waste is marked for transportation to the tip. Once there, the walls of militarised police will ensure the decomposition will do its work.

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