My visit with Nades by Simone Cameron
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
After navigating the Border Force online system for organising a visit to a detention centre, I was approved to visit Nades at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) on Tuesday the 27th of March. The following is my recollection of the conversation between Nades and myself. Although I have tried to convey precisely what Nades told me, I want to acknowledge that we have a language barrier (I speak only English, and Nades speaks Tamil first, and English as an additional language).
I press the buzzer at the bleak, jail-like entrance to MITA, say my name, and I am allowed through. I show my hundred points of identification to the brusque Serco guard on the front desk and I am directed to put my handbag in a locker. I have a bag of food to take to Nades, which is searched thoroughly by the guard. No fresh fruit or vegetables, only packaged food is permitted. The newspaper clipping I bring to show Nades is confiscated by the Serco guard. It’s an article about Nades and Priya, and Biloela’s efforts to have them returned home to Biloela.
“No media allowed”, he says. I don’t ask why. I can only suppose it is because a newspaper clipping is evidence. Evidence that there is a growing number of Australians who are repulsed by the concerted campaign of xenophobia, prejudice and fear which has been waged by successive governments against people seeking asylum in Australia.
I walk through the metal detector and I am then able to enter the Visiting Room. After sitting in the Visitor’s Room for a while, I see Nades being escorted toward the building by two guards. I have to check a few times that it’s him, as he looks different than I remember him.
The man I first saw pushing the Woolworths trolleys in Biloela had a bounce in his step and an ever-cheery smile. This man is much thinner, and decidedly dispirited.
Nades and I sit down at one of the numbered tables and begin to talk. Nades tells me of the family’s harrowing time in detention. They are the only family currently in detention in MITA, housed in the family section, on their own, separate from the individual living quarters. The family are confined to one room, watched constantly by two or three guards, who report on the family’s actions throughout the day.
His kind eyes cloud over with tears as he speaks of the effects of the almost constant indoor confinement on his young family. Kopika is nearly 3, and Tharunigaa is 10 months old. Kopika asks constantly for her friend from Biloela, Kesane. The family are permitted to go outside for just 30 minutes a day, when they can access a small playground for the children. The rest of the time, Nades says, the girls’ crying is relentless. They are too young to understand why they are locked in and can’t play outside.
Another low point is the indignity of the first eight days of detention, when no one was permitted to shower or use the toilet with the door closed, because the guards needed to be able to check on them at all times. Nades looks incredulous as he questions how anyone could think he would hurt himself when he has a wife and children to care for.
His voice wobbles as he says quietly, “My life has been different and difficult in many ways...Sri Lanka, coming to Australia, making our life here...But this time now, in detention with my family…this is...very difficult.”
I ask Nades if there is anything they need, tell him that there are many people who are willing and able to help with any material requests. Clothes, toys, anything? He says they don’t really need anything, but they don’t have too many clothes. During their transit between Perth and Melbourne, two bags went missing, and have not been located or returned. One of the bags contained some of their everyday clothes. The other bag contained the couple’s wedding clothes, which are sacrosanct in Tamil culture.
The only time he really smiles is when we talk about Biloela. We talk about the local Woolworths, where Nades got his first job on the trolleys before being employed by the local abattoir. A trip to Woolworths Biloela is the social outing you didn’t plan; where invariably you run into at least five people you know, and it takes an hour to get out, although you just popped in for one thing. Nades laughs and says “Biloela is a good place. I only want to live in Biloela, not a big city. People know us in Biloela. They say hello to us and are friendly to us.” I ask him if there’s anything he wants people to know. “All I can say is thank you to the people of Biloela. Thank you.”
Before I go, I arrange another visit with Nades. The bag of food I brought in lies untouched. I urge Nades to ask the guards if he can take something back for Priya and his daughters. He asks the guards, who seem kind enough, if he can take something back for his family. No, they say, that’s against the rules.
The rules. A tangled web of policy and legislation made by both Liberal and Labor governments in Australia, who for years tried to outdo each other with progressively punitive measures for people who simply asked for our help. Discomfort and uncertainty seem to be the only goalposts for successive governments’ treatment of people whose only mistake was to run from danger in a way that displeased Australia.