Author Archives: Marissa Ram

Marissa Ram

About Marissa Ram

Marissa is a Human Rights Center Fellow and Berkeley law student. She is interning with the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, helping to provide legal representation to refugees subject to Australia’s controversial “mandatory detention” policy.

No goodbyes for us

Watercolor of prisoner

“When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings.” – Oskar Schindler  *** Politicians’ voices dominate the public discourse about forced migration, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. During my time in Sydney, I encountered very few citizens who had ever met an asylum seeker or refugee. This is not surprising, as asylum seekers comprise less than 2 percent of the country’s migration intake, and those individuals are detained upon arrival in mostly geographically isolated localities.  It’s not easy to relate to invisible people whose voices aren’t heard on the nightly news. The most powerful illustrations of … Continue reading

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Manufacturing mental illness

Painting by asylum seeker

Last week, a mental health nurse was fired from an immigration detention center in Darwin, Australia for saying that mandatory detention contributes to mental illness in asylum seekers.  Just days ago, the Australian federal government’s Detention Health Advisory Group, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses and the Australian Psychological Society recommended an end to mandatory detention, noting the high levels of self-injury and hunger strikes by detainees. Immigration detention centers have been called “mental illness factories” by several advocates (see press accounts from The Australian and ABC). Comcare, the federal government’s own workplace safety agency, recently delivered a disparaging … Continue reading

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The price of a disproportionate response

Protesters with banner on roof

The glass-enclosed visiting room in Silverwater Prison is awfully bleak. Four young men walk in wearing white jumpsuits clearly too big for them. I shake one’s hand and he gives me a shy smile. We’re the same age, but his hair has started to turn gray since being taken from Villawood Immigration Detention Center to Silverwater Prison’s maximum-security unit about three months ago. He’s anxious, thanking me repeatedly for visiting him. The sides of his fingers have self-inflicted cuts. He mentions to an advocate from Balmain for Refugees that he is worried about his mother, sisters and brothers back home. … Continue reading

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Four legs good, two legs bad: The ‘Malaysia Solution’ and the live refugee trade

Drawing of refugee children being deported

“These people, who arrive with such relief and hope after experiencing trauma in their home countries, should not be treated in this way . . . (T)he consequence of the constant political refrain that Australia is being ‘flooded’ by people who are ‘queue jumpers’ has resulted in a stigmatization of an entire group of people, irrespective of where they have come from or what dangers they may have fled.” — U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, speaking in Canberra in May *** Canberra is a cold place in Australia’s winter months.  It’s administrative and functional, in that way that most … Continue reading

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Two faces of Sydney

painting of refugees in boat

Sydney is beautiful. Stunning beaches. Towering skyscrapers. Terrace houses. Arresting views of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. Unique cuisine (albeit, in this metropolis of the Three-Dollar Banana, exorbitantly expensive), shaped by the multitude of immigrants who inhabit this city. But right now, all that seems very far away. I’m standing in a holding area of the Stage 1 security clearance in Villawood Immigration Detention Center. Questioned, frisked by guards, stripped of camera, cell phone, water bottle, everything I carried here save my pen and papers, stamped, and assigned a security tracking number. Frozen here in a tiny, concrete, windowless … Continue reading

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