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Piven (2008) uses the word interdependent power. This is the power for the analysis of movements which substantially impacts on politics usually reflecting cultural benefits that are directly or indirectly caused by actions of the government (p.3). This interdependent power is also significant in other institutions. For example, the economy, family, and local community which in return have consequences in respect of the power contests we recognise as politics (p.3). Such movements can aim for change on an individual level, a broader level, a group level or societal level. Other movements may advocate change on minor levels. One example of a social movement is the Woomera detention centre movement which helped to free detainees from harsh, unlivable conditions.
There is no limit under Australian Law to say how long asylum seekers will spend in the detention centres. Many asylum seekers spend lengthy periods of time waiting for their claims to be processed. A term of four or more years is not uncommon. More often than not the asylum seekers have suffered past trauma and experiences torture. There have been many protests, riots and strikes in these centres from the detainees trying to have their voice heard. These include countless protests, hunger strikes, self injury and attempted suicides. In August 2000 tear gas and water cannons were used to subdue a riot that was occurring in one of the centers (Bebe, 2002 p .792).
The centre which was designed for 400 people accommodated 1000 within weeks of opening and by April 2000 1,500 were crammed in. The staff had no official interpreter and were not educated about detainees suffering from heath problems. In one case, a young child with cerebral palsy was detained for weeks before staff became aware of the child’s condition. The conditions were poor, the centre had only three washing machines and five toilets and women were not provided adequate supplies of sanitary products (Skeers, 2013).
Now with many immigration detention centres being held offshore, it is nearly impossible for activists and protestors to go there. However, there are new campaigns along traditional strategies to continue such social movements for asylum seekers and refugees being incarcerated today.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is Australia’s leading asylum seeker organisation. They are an independent, non-government funded, multi award winning humans rights organisation. They work in assisting some of the most disadvantage people in communities.
Slideshare week 12 - Social Movements
Asylum Seekers and refugees
When movements become a force of change
• Protest movements have played a large role in history, especially
those that humanised our society
• Such movements include the black freedom movement in
America that confronted the system and led to their government
passing the legislation that implemented the promises of the
• The Vietnam antiwar movement brought the war in Southeast
Asia to an end.
• The woman's movement and the gay liberation movement won
legal rights and saw the American social life and culture
• During 2002 hundreds of committed social activists protested
Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers which aided in closing the
Woomera detention centre.
(Piven, 2008, p.2)
Detention of asylum seekers in Australia
• Under the Migration Act 1958, asylum seekers who come into
Australia and do not have a valid visa must be held in immigration
detention centres. They are held here until they are removed
from Australia or granted a visa.
• In 2012 the Australia Government introduced a third country
processing system for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. These
people are transferred to a third country unless they are exempt
by the Minister for Immigration and Border Security.
• The two third countries where the asylum seekers are sent to are
Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
• Asylum seekers who arrive unauthorised by boat but are granted
permission to stay in Australia, have their claims processed under
Australian Law. Those who are sent to a third country have their
claims processed under that particular countries laws.
Woomera detention centre
Woomera immigration detention centre was build on a defence site in
South Australia in the middle of the desert, a two hour drive from Port
It was opened in 1999 by the Howard Government and was closed in
2003 after numerous protests.
The center housed close to 1500 asylum seekers, including 500 children.
The Woomera refugee and asylum seeker centre breached many human
rights laws. Many detainees were mistreated including being mentally
and physically abused.
Studies confirm children were being raped, women were being
administered vaccinations while pregnant and others were miscarrying
and not provided any medical assistance.
The treatment of the detainees began a social movement to campaign
against Australia’s system of mandatory detention.
Woomera social movement
• In 2002 the detainees participated in a hunger strike; over 30 people
including children sewed their lips together. Some started to drink
shampoo in a suicide attempt. They wanted their voices to be heard.
• With no action taken and no response from the government the detainees
became frustrated and angry which in turn resulted in people rioting with
one detainee hopitalised after jumping off a roof.
• During Easter 2002 direct action was taken when protesters arrived at the
detention center and broke down 30 meters of fence.
• Some detainees escaped while others were arrested by police.
• ACM guards became aggressive and started beating people and throwing
them over the fence.
• Police and guards surrounded the place with no escape and the situation
was contained and the centre went back to normal.
Champion of Change
• Bebe, L. (2002). Detention of asylum seekers in Australia. The
Lancet, 359, 792-793.
• Fernandez, R. (2013, May, 5). 10th year anniversary of the
closure of the notorious Woomera detention centre. Asian-
Australian arts and culture. Retrieved from
• Piven, F. (2008). Can power from below change the world?
American sociological review, 73, 1-14.
• Skeers, J. (2013, June, 3). Australia: staff expose inhuman
conditions at Woomera detention centre. World socialist web
site. Retrieved from
Picture reference list by picture number
1. Global Research, http://www.globalresearch.ca/imperial-
2. BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1900482.stm,
2014, May, 22.
3. Right Now, http://rightnow.org.au/topics/asylum-seekers/the-
economic-cost-of-our-asylum-seeker-policy/, 2014, May, 22.
4. Prospero Productions,
2014, May 23.
5. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, http://www.asrc.org.au, 2014,
2014, May 20.