I WAS IN PRISON ....
visiting asylum seekers at the Baxton Detention Centre in South Australia
We come to the door of the Baxton Detention Centre in South Australia in the afternoon. The young man in charge is cheerful and efficient. We ask him how he likes his work: "It's great ... I feel sorry for the people in there, but as for me, the pay is good and I really enjoy what I am doing."
We go through the electronic check-in procedures into the antechamber. Finally, we enter the visiting room. Many people have come for the visit; two bishops and a few people accompany the priest who regularly leads the service in the afternoon and some other visitors arrive independently.
Four of the nine people we have requested to see are already there, in conversation with other visitors. Progressively, they come and greet us. We are pleasantly surprised - they look healthier and more tanned than in November. They are still gentle and polite.
Soon the conversation is rolling. Our musician friend is still playing music at the weekly communion service which is now held in the visiting room every Thursday afternoon. The Canadian wife has been waiting a further 11 weeks for her husband to join her in Calgary. The partner of another detainee and her three sons whom we visited in Adelaide are also waiting for him to join them.
The young man who was pale and drowsy on our last visit now looks healthier and alert. We understand that this is due to a change in regulations; when authorised, travelling from one compound to another or to the visiting room was previously done under escort in a van; now, while authorisation is still necessary, detainees can walk to these places unescorted. This is great, though they all agree that nothing can really change when the basic reality is that they lack their freedom.
Another man whom we meet for the first time enters and greets us. An Afghani, he has been detained for nearly three years. He is very serious and shy. He was told three months ago that he had been granted refugee status and would be released on a temporary visa ... and is still waiting for the door to open.
The young woman is there with their now six month old daughter, who takes interest in every bit of conversation, looking in turn grave, then questioning, then smiling. They share their time between the different groups of visitors. I exchange a few words with the mother, who looks as elegant and smart as she did in November. But she does not smile much.
The few words that she speaks echo the feelings of a previous letter: she loathes her child growing up in prison, and with no other children around. She has had enough of this kind of life! She could have gone with other women to a house for women and children in town but has chosen instead to remain with her husband in Baxter. I certainly empathise with her stand and admire her for it.
I believe that Christ came on this earth to bring a message of liberation. Keeping innocent people in detention is in complete opposition to this message. We shouldn't forget that Christ lived in a community where people of many different religions met and his active life is a permanent outreach to these people.
by Francoise Creevey
Chair, SA Migrant and Refugee Committee
taken from Australian Catholics
Winter 2004, Volume 12 No. 3 p. 19
Visit the Web site Australian Catholics
The Passionist Superior General, Fr. Ottaviano D'Egidio, C.P., and his secretary
Fr. Enzo Del Brocco, C.P., outside the Baxter Detention Centre in 2003
May the Passion of Jesus be always in our hearts