Monday, April 14, 2014
Transcript of Sarah Ross' Palm Sunday speech
I stand here today, delivering one of the most difficult speeches I have ever written. The past few weeks have been filled with heartbreak, injustice and stories that are longing to escape the confines of the fences they are contained in - and I have to grapple with my desire to tell you all of them. I have never felt a more pressing or urgent time or sense of responsibility to tell them than now.
I deliver this speech to you today with the voices of a man in Yongah Hill Detention Centre - who has been denied as a refugee, despite having Taliban bullets still physically embedded in his body - in the back of my mind and at the forefront of my heart.
I deliver this speech to you today, with the assumption that my friend on Manus Island who first introduced himself to me as FRT 003 – his boat ID number because he had forgotten his name – is yet again under suicide watch as I haven’t heard from him the past three days - and having had him confess to me that he had tried to hang himself and would undoubtedly try do so again.
I deliver this speech to you today with the knowledge that last week an asylum seeker on Manus Island tried to electrocute himself, and another put his head through a glass window. That in Sydney a Tamil refugee doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire because he would rather burn to death in Australia than be sent back to Sri Lanka.
I deliver this speech to you today with the knowledge that there are two Syrian men in Manus Island Detention Centre who have been on hunger strike depriving their bodies of food for the past 60 days.
That symptomatic of starvation, their bodies are breaking down their muscles, their organs, their nervous system and that the beat and strength of their hearts grows fainter with each day. That they are on hunger strike because they wish to be returned to Syria - a brutal warzone - rather than stay in an Australian Immigration Detention Centre.
As someone who visits in detention I can say with no greater certainty or authority that Australian Immigration Detention Centres are factories for mental illness. They are institutional machines designed to detain, to deter, to degrade and most of all to break people. They are machines engineered to replicate conditions more horrific and more inhumane than the horrendous genocide and the blood soaked war zones that people are fleeing from.
They are machines that systematically strip people of their dignity, their family, their name, their sanity, their will to survive and most of all their hope.
The refugees detained in our detention centres are sending us a clear message - with their bodies and their desperation as their medium - that their incarceration is killing them slowly, progressively, surely and without mercy.
It is up to us respond to this call. In the words of Mario Savio “There’s a time when the operations of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to indicate to the people who own it that…the machines will be prevented from working at all.”
The only thing that allows this policy to continue to happen is the silence of good people. We must ask ourselves the question, are we the type of people to meet desperation and injustice with silence and apathy or are we the type of people who choose to speak out.
We are in the midst of history in the making and we must choose which side we are remembered as being on - for it will inevitably be history that judges our silence.
I have seen the horrors of detention and I am sickened and I choose to be silent no longer.
Let us not send sympathy across the ocean to Manus Island and Nauru. Nor sympathy over the towering fences and vast distances of the onshore detention centres.
But let us match the calls of those inside. Let it be our voices that the refugees on Manus Island hear over the racist rhetoric of the government and the media. Let it be our voices that they hear over the guards. And let it be our voices that our politicians in parliament hear. But in order for them to hear us, we need to raise our voices.
I ask you today, to join with me to take a stand against these policies, to raise your voice. To write a letter to parliament, to visit a detention centre, to take up the argument with your peers and to take to the streets to publicly demonstrate that you do not support what is happening. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, and take it one step further.
Let this be the very day, that we start a movement. That we declare to ourselves and to each other that we will no longer remain silent.
Let this be the day, that we start a movement in which we will no longer tolerate this purposeful infliction of cruelty upon innocent human beings in our country and under Australian polices.
Let this be the day that we start a movement that will fight for a nation where people are treated according to the rule of law, equally, with justice and compassion regardless of which border they were born within or in what mode of transportation they arrived.
For the sake of every man woman and child in Australian Immigration Detention let this be the very moment that we begin a movement that fights for their freedom as if that freedom is inextricably bound in our own freedom.
Say it loud, say it clear. Refugees are welcome here.