Ai Weiwei on the US-Australia refugee deal: ‘Its exactly like slave trading’

Chinese artist brings three tackling runs about refugee crisis to Australia with a message

The internationally renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei believes the US and Australia are engaging in a slave trade.

His claim comes amid a discussion of worldwide refugee movements, the impact of globalisation on human suffering and a lack of humanity in the west- which form the context of his contribution to this month’s Sydney Biennale exhibition.

Ai is well aware of Australia’s refugee policies, including its most recent chapter- a deal with the US to take up to 1,200 refugees languishing in offshore detention centres.

” That is a complete insult to the understanding of refugees ,” he says.” It’s exactly like slave trading. You cannot deal with human being by violating their[ rights ].”

Ai is in Australia this week to launch three of his runs- two exhibiting at Sydney’s Biennale. All confront and question the west’s complicity in the refugee crisis gripping the world.

One, Crystal Ball, is a two-tonne installing made of crystal and lifejackets, offering a chance of reflection on the chaos of the crisis.

The other, Law of the Journey, is an imposing 60 -metre-long rubber boat crammed with almost 300 gigantic faceless figures. It fills a warehouse on Cockatoo Island.

Ai Weiwei in front of Law of the Journey, a statement on the therapy of refugees, at Sydney’s Cockatoo Island. Photo: Ben Rushton/ EPA

The oversized life raft and its occupants are all black, made of the same rubber and by the same company that manufactures the barges most often used by refugees for the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

Ai built it to sit in the National Museum of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic- which accepts no refugees- and it was coincidence that it resolved so perfectly into an Australian space, one with its own history of displacement and detention.

Ai will also deliver a keynote address to launch his refugee documentary, Human Flow, for Australian audiences.

He spent two years traveling the world, visiting 23 countries and more than 40 refugee camps, to generate the confront movie and he remains shocked by what he saw.

” You just couldn’t believe it’s in Europe. It’s not shocking to find people escape, from fire, killing- this is natural. People bring their loved ones and just leave ,” he says.

” But it’s not natural to see Europe, which has been so superior in every aspect- not only economically but morally … their work on human rights has been the foundation of our modern society .”

Instead they are building walls and fences and camps, and changing migration laws and chasing down the boats, Ai says.

” It’s so cold, virtually pushing them back in the ocean if they can ,” he says.” Greece said … it’s just not possible for us to push them back to the ocean, otherwise they would do it .”

Australia does. For many years the Australian government has operated the legally contentious policy of boat turnbacks in the seas to its north, sending asylum seekers back to where they last came from- usually Indonesia- in purpose-built barges to stop them landing in Australia.

The numbers are tiny as compared with Europe, but the governmental forces tells it has stopped people drowning at sea in their thousands. Thousands of others are in the offshore camps or on tenuous temporary visas in Australia.

Ai appears to target countries with his exhibitions, displaying the Law of the Journey first in the Czech Republic and now in Australia. But he says he has thought about boycotting to send his message and has done it at least once- pulling down his show in Denmark in protest against the government’s decision to confiscate the belongings of refugees.

” I tried both ways, but most of the time I want my voice to listen to ,” he says.” I guess, as artists, to give just a gesture is sufficient to. The fight takes a real conflict. To devote a moral kind of superiority presents a problem, because we have to see that we’re all together. The struggle builds the meaning. I prefer to have a real fight than withdraw from the fight .”

‘ You simply couldn’t believe it’s in Europe ‘: Ai Weiwei at a refugee camp between Greece and Macedonia. Photo: Valdrin Xhemaj/ EPA

Ai has been arrested, jailed and beaten for his activism. Friends and coworkers have been arrested, some have disappeared.

” It’s always personal ,” he tells.” When I run very personal, it always becomes political, all my work is like that. I’m always searching for answers: “whats happened to” my father’s generation, what would it be if a writer lost his chance to express himself ?”

Twice during the interview, Ai brings up those pre-dawn hours on Lesbos, watching a mob spill from a refugee boat. His own background is one of displacement and exile, and his research clearly affected him.

” Very often people say,’ what can we do ?’ … I think if we as individuals- all those tragedies are made by humen- we are genuinely can solve it if we want to ,” he tells.” If it’s not solved, it’s simply because we don’t want to solve it, because we is beneficial for the situation. Other people’s suffering and desperation is beneficial, so if those questions are not being answered, we will never solve the problem .”

He hopes people who ensure his run will be moved towards activism.

” I think everybody who respects “peoples lives” should be activists, because liberty is struggle ,” Ai concludes.” If for a long time you’re not used to fight, it is because you don’t care and you don’t treasure the freedom .”

* The Sydney Biennale opens on 16 March and operates until 11 June

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Manus Island: PNG police move into detention centre and tell refugees to leave

Refugees report they have been told to hand over phones and go within hours as journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani arrested

A police operation is currently underway on Manus Island, with Papua New Guinean police and immigration officers entering the former detention centre in an effort to move detainees out, more than three weeks into a degenerating humanitarian crisis.

Refugees inside the centre have reported large numbers of officers, including the paramilitary police mobile squad, have entered and given them an hour to leave. The officers wailed at detainees and demanded they hand over their phones.


Manus Island detention centre

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New Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd announces people who seek asylum by boat will never be settled in Australia, with all sent to Manus or Nauru.

Reza Barati dies

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Hamid Kehazaei dies

Iranian Hamid Kehazaei dies after a delayed medical evacuation to Australia, as a treatable bacterial infection develops into septicaemia.

Mass hunger strike

More than 500 men begin a two-week hunger strike in protest against conditions on the island. Two sew their lips together, three swallow razor blades and collapsing strikers have to be forcibly removed by security.

Healthcare failings uncovered

A Guardian investigation reveals widespread fails in the healthcare services provided by IHMS in detention centres, including Manus Island.

Rape accusation

A PNG woman employed by Transfield alleges she was raped by Australian colleagues inside the centre. The alleged perpetrators are flown out of the country.

Supreme court regulations Manus illegal

Papua New Guinea supreme court regulations the detention centre is illegal and unconstitutional and must be closed.

Manus to close

Australia corroborates Manus detention centre will close but says none of the 854 men still there will be resettled in Australia.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed dies

Sudanese refugee Faysal Ishak Ahmed diesafter six months of suffering numerous blackouts, falls and seizures inside the detention centre.

Services shut down

PNG immigration officials confirm the centre will close on 31 October, and tell detainees to ‘consider their options’. Over the following months basic services are shut down around detainees, to encourage them to leave

$70 m compensation

The Australian government settles a class action, paying $ 70 m compensation to more than 2,000 detainees for illegal detention and mistreatment, but denies any liability.

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Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Shamshiripour is were dead, having taken his own life. His friends “says hes” pleaded with the Australian government to provide treatment for his mental health problems.

First detainees flown to US

Twenty-five men leave Papua New Guinea for the US under a resettlement bargain between Australia and the US. The total number to be transferred is still uncertain, with the US under no be obliged to take a defined amount.

Sri Lankan refugee dies

A formally recognised refugee dies in Lorengau hospital.

Detainees refuse to leave

A week before it’s due to close, it’s disclosed more than 600 detainees are refusing to leave the centre, citing fears for their safety in Lorengau.

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Refugees described police as intimidating and aggressive as they dismantled structures and hurled away refugees’ belongings. One policeman was considered carrying a large bush knife, which are common on Manus.

A video livestreamed from inside the facility showed men chanting” human rights help us, they want to kill us”, and two men apparently unconscious. Walid Zazai, filming the scene, said it was a medical emergency but they had no assistance.” We don’t know if he had a heart attack because he had previously problems ,” Zazai said of one.

The second unconscious human had epilepsy, he said.

Walid Zazai (@ ZazaiWalid)

https :// BEa5yhYZXV

November 22, 2017

Abdul Aziz Adam (@ Aziz5 8825713)

We need urgent help any Dr of nurses we have one refugee in the worst conditions voXXtSQUYI

November 22, 2017

Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani was arrested as police and immigration officers swept through the camp, destroying furniture, property and food.

Footage demonstrates Boochani being led away, held by two uniformed policemen, and surrounded by several others. He does not physically resist.

Other refugees said police were specifically looking for him.

Boochani has been the most outspoken proponent for the refugees held on Manus Island, filing reports regularly for the Guardian and other news outlets and giving interviews with media across the world.

Abdul Aziz Adam (@ Aziz5 8825713)

They are looking for me and Behrouz they found him but they are not going to find me. These are police are taking Behrouz. G01bA46ETC

November 23, 2017

On Thursday morning Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, corroborated a” police operation” and accused the detainees of junking it.

” I think it’s outrageous that people are still there ,” he told 2GB radio.” They’ve junked the facility, they’re living in squalor .”

” The Australian taxpayers have paid about $10 m for a new facility and we want people to move .”

He likened the situation to building a new house for tenants who refuse to move in.

Dutton’s repeated claims that the alternative accommodation divisions are ready and suitable for detainees have been consistently debunked by observers and published videos and photos of blocked lavatories, bathrooms without water, and buildings still under building. Detainees are systematically claimed they are not safe in the new housing in Lorengau, citing frequent violent attacks and a lack of security.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, recurred the messages of his immigration pastor, and said the refugees should leave the centre and go to the alternative accommodation where “several hundred” had already moved.

” They should heed the law and the lawful authorities of Papua New Guinea ,” said Turnbull.” There are alternative facilities that have been made available with food, water, security, and medical services .”

Turnbull also said those inside the centre were hoping to force the Australian government into bringing them all to Australia.” We will not be pressured ,” he said.” Our perimeter security, the integrity of our borders is maintained by my government and we will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers .”

Some refugees have taken shelter on roofs inside the decommissioned detention centre. Some had been sleeping on top of shipping containers, in expectation the police would move in.

Walid Zazai (@ ZazaiWalid)

They destroying all our property.
They are so angry, and telling us leave our land
First they said move to town, now more angry and telling us leave our land otherwise we will kill u.
Police commissioner Yapu said: It’s an Order from Australian and PNG governments to move u out uyA7p 4wcsI

November 22, 2017

Abdul Aziz Adam (@ Aziz5 8825713)

The police and immigrations are destroying Australian property QZVuccYjRw

November 23, 2017

Abdul Aziz Adam (@ Aziz5 8825713)

This photo will show how peaceful we are and how we respond to the immigration and police to the violence and aggressive behaviour 9lnUQ3yXyO

November 22, 2017

Before his arrest, Boochani reported from inside the centre that immigration and police started searching rooms and telling people:” Move, move ,” and,” You only have an hour to move .”

Boochani said some refugees were constructing barriers to halt police progression, others were hiding.

Behrouz Boochani (@ BehrouzBoochani)

They are taking the phones and are very aggresive and are taking out some refugees who still remain in the rooms. Something terrible is happening right now, they are taking the refugees out of the rooms.

November 22, 2017

He added:” They are destroying everything. Shelters, tanks, beds and all of our belongings. They are very aggressive and put our belongings in the rubbish bins. The refugees still are silent are watching them so scared.

” The refugees are sitting peacefully and immigration and police are asking them to leave the prison camp. The refugees are only listening and altogether silent. They are talking on the microphone and hollering’ move, move ‘.”

The belongings of the refugees and asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre are messed up by PNG police. Photo: Anonymous

Video from the Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam demonstrated immigration officers in yellow shirts surrounded by uniformed police. It showed one PNG police officer issuing instructions over a megaphone to the 380 men barricaded inside.” This place where you are living right now is no longer legal centre for the refugees and non-refugees reside ,” the officer says.” This place will be handed back to the PNG defence force.

” It is their military base, and your staying here … would be seen as illegal and unlawful.

PNG police had originally planned to launch its “Operation Helpim Friends” on Wednesday, but it was cancelled pending a court appeal , now adjourned to 15 December. The police commissioner, Gari Baki, described the operation as “politely” asking the detainees to leave, and said no force-out would be used.

An Australian federal police spokesman denied earlier reports its officers were involved. He said their one liaison policeman there was not links between Thursday’s action.

Lynne Murphy (@ lynnemurphy1)

Police navy immigration pushing us to move
‘They were so aggressive with us when they come pushing, operating behind us they pushed me on the ground wanted my phone i get up and ran
@ManusAlert 95 c6rVdiHt

November 22, 2017

Amnesty International said serious injuries were entirely foreseeable, and the PNG government was ” knowingly placing the refugees at risk “. Amnesty’s Pacific researcher, Kate Schuetze said:” There is no justification for this action.

” International statute and standards demand that refugees enjoy international protection. The country where they sought refuge- Australia- has infringed their rights at every turn. PNG has aided and enabled Australia’s policy of cruelty and degradation of the refugees .”

The Australian director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said Australia’s reputation was on the line.” Australia is standing idly by as PNG security force are trashing the compound, confiscating telephones, and aggressively telling refugees and asylum seekers they must leave ,” she said.

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Julie Bishop hits back at Trump over Brigitte Macron remark but says refugee deal intact

Australias foreign affairs minister says she would be taken aback if US president induced comment to her

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has assured voters that the refugee swap agreement between Australia and the United States is still intact, despite US officials abruptly departing Nauru on Friday, 2 week before they were due to leave.

She has also criticised the US president, Donald Trump, for telling the first lady of France last week that she was in such good shape.

I wonder if she could say the same of him, Bishop said on Sunday.

The viability of Australias refugee swap arrangement with the US has been questioned after US officials left the Nauru detention facility abruptly on Friday, halting screening interviews with detainees.

They were scheduled to be on the island until 26 July but their sudden exit, with a fraction of detainees having completed US processing, appeared to hurl the operation into doubt.

Washington announced last week the US had reached its annual refugee intake cap of 50, 000 people.

Bishop ensure Australian voters that the US government was still upholding the refugee swap agreement, telling the Turnbull government had been given assurances by Trump and the vice-president, Mike Pence, that the agreement would be adhered to.

The United States, like Australia, has a quota per year for the refugee intake, Bishop told the ABCs Insiders program on Sunday. I understand that the quota has been fulfilled for this year. It kicks over again on October 1.

I have no doubt that the agreement is progressing as the relevant US authority confirmed this morning.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist on Manus Island, said the announcement of the US deal had brought is expected to be detainees last year, so news the US had reached its cap was frustrating.

The US deal has already been clouded with uncertainty and worry that it is just part of a cruel game, he said.

If the refugee swap deal is indefinitely deferred it would have significant repercussions for the Turnbull governments pledge to close a second detention centre on Papua New Guineas Manus Island on 31 October.

But, despite the uncertainty, the closure of the Manus camp has continued. Detainees have been told to move out of sections as they shut, closing down facilities including the gym and shutting off utilities.

Australia struck its one-off refugee swap deal with the former US president Barack Obama last year to provide refuge to up to 1,250 asylum seekers but it ran into trouble earlier this year when Trump raged publicly at the dumb bargain, telling Turnbull in a private phone call it was the worst deal ever.

Trumps administration has since said it will merely honour the deal to preserve a strong relationship with Australia, and then only on condition that the refugees satisfied strict checks.

In exchange, Australia has pledged to take Central American refugees from a centre in Costa Rica, where the US has taken in a larger number of people in recent years.

Bishop was also asked on Sunday what she thought of Trumps remarks about the physical appearance of Frances first lady last week.

Trump was filmed looking at Brigitte Macron, the wife of the French chairperson, when he was standing with her in the marbled corridor of the Htel national des Invalides in Paris on Thursday, during his first nation visit to the country.

Youre in such good shape, he told her . He then turned to her husband, the newly elected French chairperson, Emmanuel Macron, who was standing beside him, and recurred: Shes in such good physical shape.

Bishop said she would be taken aback if Trump said something similar to her.

Its a rather interesting commentary to stimulate, she said. I wonder if she could say the same of him.

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Peter Dutton’s office tells Canadian-Australian: ‘go back to US and deal with Trump’

Doug Stetner, who has represented Australia in underwater rugby, called Duttons office to voice support for asylum seekers

A Canadian-born Australian citizen who called Peter Duttons Brisbane office to voice opposition to treatment of asylum seekers tells an electorate officer told him to go back to the United States then and deal with Trump.

Doug Stetner, an Australian citizen for 21 years, who represented the national humen team at the 2015 underwater rugby world cup in Colombia, said the response from the immigration pastors staffer was both offensive and comical.

Basically, go back to where you come from. I felt like I was talking to Pauline Hansons party. It was very disappointing, Stetner said.

The Brisbane resident, who has been eligible to vote in the last eight federal elections, said he decided to contact his local MP Ross Vasta after reading of revelations of the strategic exacerbate of conditions for Nauru and Manus Island detainees.

But Vastas office did not pick up, so Stetner decided to contact the immigration pastors electorate office in Strathpine. He said a male staffer fielded the call.

Stetner, 55, a university computer systems administrator, said he was polite but firm. Basically I said I disagreed with the way the latter are handling things over there[ on Nauru and Manus Island] and they should bringing all of these people back to Australia until they can determine whats going to go on with them.

Douglas Stetner( front, left) and his colleagues in the Australian underwater rugby team. Photo: Douglas Stetner

He said the staffer told him he did not know what it was like in the detention centres as reporters are not telling you whats real.

I said, If you let the reporters in there, we might get whats real, but theyre blocking the media so you simply get to a point where you dont trust the government on anything theyre saying, Stetner said.

Stetner told the electorate officer it stimulated him embarrassed or ashamed to be an Australian to see this going on in Australian-run detention centres. And then he came out with, Well, why dont you just go back to the US then and deal with Trump?

I was a bit surprised by that. I said I was an Australian citizen and Canadian , not American. Anyway, they represent us and all I can do is call them and tell them this is what Im thinking.

Guardian Australia twice contacted Duttons electorate office to seek the staffers account of the conversation. Two male staffers who answered calls denied having a conversation with Stetner.

Neither the office , nor Duttons ministerial media spokesman, also contacted by Guardian Australia, provided a response.

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