Although we might hear news reports of ‘illegal’ boat arrivals, and the appalling conditions of Australian and off-shore detention centres, the voices of individual asylum seekers inside these centres are rarely heard. In Human Rights, Refugee Protest and Immigration Detention, Lucy Fiske seeks to fill this void. By providing a platform for asylum seekers to speak for themselves, we are given the opportunity to better understand what their experiences of detention are, and why they protest. By interviewing former detainees, Fiske explores why protests such as hunger strikes, lip sewing and escaping are so common in detention centres. The current discourse, where asylum seekers are either feared or need to be saved, fails to convey the complexities behind protest actions. All the former detainees interviewed by Fiske spoke of feeling powerless and frustrated, and of a need to feel – and be recognised as – human. Those in detention have little control over their situation, from everyday activities such as choosing when and what to eat, to the core issue of seeking asylum. Rather than simply being criminals reacting to failed visa applications, those in detention are seeking to reclaim agency over their situation.
Lucy Fiske is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.