• People from around the world are rallying shut down Australia's detention centres. Featured: a man from Maharashtra, India. (International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention)Source: International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention
There's a whole international activist group protesting Australia's offshore detention policy.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

24 Jun 2016 - 11:28 AM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2016 - 9:56 AM

Australia hasn't had the greatest track record when it comes to our treatment of those hoping to call our sunburned land home. Take the White Australia policy, which was only abolished in the 1970s, the Cronulla Riots from 10 years ago, or the attacks against Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney in 2009.

But in recent years, Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers has been front and centre. The state of our offshore detention centres has made headlines, with accounts of sexual abuse, disease and even death coming to light. 

In fact, it has led a group of people from around the world to rally together to protest mandatory offshore detention in Australia.

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Called the International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention, it's a network of activists located around the world who collectively advocate for the closure of detention centres in Australia.

“The Alliance is crucial because it is a way of indicating to the Australian government that the world is watching and that whatever image they want to project to the world of Australia as being a decent and civilised nation is not getting through and cannot get through while its brutal treatment of refugees persists,”  Nadine El-Enany tells SBS. El-Enany is a legal academic at the Birbeck Law School in London and active member of the Alliance's UK-wing.

A few months ago, the organisation released this video featuring Alliance members from all around the world - including Iceland, India, and Cambodia - standing up against offshore detention in Australia.

"Although the sole objective of the Alliance is pressuring Australia to end its mandatory detention of refugees and asylum seekers, our objective is connected to other broader struggles surrounding anti-racism, migration, and human rights,” Sarah Keenan, a colleague of El-Enany’s at Birbeck Law and committed Alliance member, says to SBS.

The organisation communicates primarily through Facebook, with each country or major city championing their own protest projects. Both Keenan and El-Enany have been involved in multiple protests in London through the Alliance, including one last April, where the faces of three Iranian-Kurdish refugees, who died while in Australian detention, were projected on the wall of the Australian Embassy in London. 

"There are videos on constantly from inside the embassy, projecting promotional tourist campaigns outside to passersby. We wanted to also show the other side of Australia - a racist violence that lies at Australia's foundation," they say.

Fazel Chegeni died on Christmas Island last year, trying to escape the detention centre. Reza Barati and Hamid Kehazaei died on Manus Island in 2014. Barati died during a riot, and Kehazaei died from preventable illness.

Keenan, an Australian who's been living in the UK for the last seven years, has been a part of the Alliance since its conception in 2013, after then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reopened offshore processing. She says the group's membership is diverse, made up of people from varied walks of life.

"There are lawyers, students, at least one doctor, mums, carers, artists, office workers, labourers, and from a wide range of different backgrounds. No, they are not all professionals and grad students," she says.

Many are Australian migrants settled overseas, says Keenan, but just as many are not Australian.

El-Enany, a Muslim-Brit and native of the UK is not surprised so many activists behind the cause are not Aussie. Why? Because for her, Australia’s poor treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is an issue of racism.

“I believe that at the heart of Australia's mandatory detention policy is the racism that is rife in the country… [Australia] is probably the country which treats refugees the worst,” she says.

Keenan and El-Enany claim the Alliance is not blind to the drowning boats and border protection issues in play, but refuse to see catchphrases like 'Stop the Boats' as helpful.

"If drownings are the concern, then create legal avenues for those wishing to travel to Australia to seek protection, put more funding into rescue operations (that policy reduced drownings in Europe when it was implemented), don't confine them to destitute conditions and drive them to self-harm and suicide," says El-Enany.

“We have definitely raised awareness all around the world of Australia's treatment of refugees. I don't think anyone in the group thinks that we alone can change the policy - that has to come from within Australia, but international pressure can help, and that's what we create.”

SBS has reached out to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for comment.

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