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Opinion | ‘White Australia’ Policy Lives On in Immigrant Detention

Australia presents a beautiful and attractive image of itself to the world but the modern history of Australia is full of puzzles. The more you investigate the more absorbed you become in its history. My journey educated me in its hidden, darker history of prejudice and xenophobia. It is a history written in places like Manus Island and Nauru, and has its roots in its settler colonial origins.

The Stolen Generation is another chapter in this story; for many decades, thousands of Indigenous children were separated from their parents by the state and forced to assimilate into settler colonial society.

Twelve years have passed since 2008 when Mr. Rudd, during his first term as prime minister, apologized for Australia’s violent mistreatment of its Indigenous people, for stealing their children. Still a disproportionate number of children and youth incarcerated in the Northern Territory, in Queensland and elsewhere in Australia, are Indigenous.

Five years after apologizing to the Indigenous people, the same Mr. Rudd forcibly sent me and thousands like me to imprisonment at Manus Island. His government’s policies, hardened further by the three prime ministers who came after him — Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison — have resulted in many children being separated from their families for years.

The White Australia policy, which officially ended in 1973, continued under another guise. The colonial habit continues in Australia, with the government using Nauru and Papa New Guinea for exiling undesirable people. Australia’s presence on Manus and Nauru seems like a thread that leads you further into a dark cave with no end.

Australia is a beautiful country with great artists and writers but it is also a country where brutality and suffering are interwoven into the sociocultural fabric, ingrained in the soul of the nation. People like me represent a part of its unofficial history, a history that is full of trauma and violence.

Behrouz Boochani is the author of “No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison,” a co-director of the documentary film “Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time” and a senior adjunct research fellow with the Ngai Tahu Research Center at the University of Canterbury. This essay was translated from the Farsi by Omid Tofighian.

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