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On Thursday Week Two, the Richardson Institute of Peace Studies Annual Lecture was delivered by professor Linda Briskman, a human rights activist from Curtin University, Australia.
Professor Briskman’s lecture, entitled, Banishment at the Border: Retreating from Human Rights, was a startling insight into the rights, conditions and suffering of asylum seekers. Her lecture argued that as state borders become increasingly sacrosanct, governmental immigration policy has become increasingly racialised. Asylum seekers are often indefinitely interned in immigration detention centres and forbidden rights of citizenship and access to healthcare. Briskman believes they are demonised as freeloading sources of disease and societal breakdown and that they are discussed with a criminalising discourse that bypasses the reality of their flight from danger.
Attendees included students, professors and visitors and there was a mixture of people coming from far afield to listen to the lecture. History & International Relations student, Victoria Crosbie, said: “The lecture really interested me. It’s a subject I’ve never really thought about in great detail before, but I think it really needs to be discussed more to challenge people’s prejudices”.
The lecture was organised by the Richardson Institute of Peace Studies. It was established in 1959 as the first Peace Studies Institute in the United Kingdom and the annual peace lectures began in 2005. Past guest speakers include Sophie McNeal, Martin Bell and Tony Benn.
[pull name=”Professor Linda Briskman” title=”Curtin University Chair in Human Rights Education”]Students and young people are the future’s only hope, and it is them who are going to be the ones to bring about change.[/pull]
During an interview with Briskman after the lecture, she commented on what the focus of her research was, saying: “It focuses on two areas: the human rights of asylum seekers in Australia and across the world, as the situation has become so horrific”. Her inspiration for researching this subject was she said “rage”. She went on to say that it was “visiting detention centres and hearing asylum seekers’ stories and the brutality and unfairness with which these people were treated that really propelled me into action”.
Briskman also discussed how Australia was the main focus of her research. In explaining why she focused on Australia, she said: “The numbers of asylum seekers are relatively small, but the hysteria is enormous. The response in Australia has been very harsh. It is mandatory to be detained if they arrive without authorisation, without any documentation, whereas that doesn’t happen in the UK. People go in and out of detention here for several reasons”. Another shocking revelation Briskman mentioned, was that there are more than 700 children in detention in Australia.
When asked if there was a way for students to get involved in improving the conditions of asylum seekers, Briskman suggested that students should “try and familiarise themselves with what’s happening in the UK. The next thing is to consider visiting detention centres, or join the very many advocacy groups that are working towards having the rights of asylum seekers achieved.”
Briskman also divulged some opinion into why the media and politicians are so reluctant to discuss the conditions of asylum seekers whilst in detention, saying: “There is not really bipartisan support for good policy on asylum seekers […] and some of the press have scaremongering headlines. Largely, political parties go for the policy that will get them voted back in”. Briskman also proposed that we can change governmental policy by “talking to local MPs, telling them about some cases of destitute asylum seekers in the community, or someone that has been detained unfairly. That’s a really good way of influencing policy, rather than abstract figures”.
Briskman added: “Students and young people are the future’s only hope, and it is them who are going to be the ones to bring about change. I really encourage students to inform themselves on what is happening in Australia, and what is happening in the UK. You do not need to focus on asylum seekers, and it doesn’t have to be time consuming. But it is important to be an advocate of social change”.
Professor Briskman’s lecture can be viewed on the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies’ website.