Introduction remarks from the curators
In January 2019, we participated in a seminar on art and migration at Gothenburg University. There, we had the pleasure of meeting the Netherlands-based Iranian filmmaker Arash Kamali Savestani and also listen to the Kurdish journalist and author Behrouz Boochani on a Skype connection. They discussed their collaboration on their documentary film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time from 2017, which depicts the immense suffering of asylum seekers detained in Manus Detention Centre.
This center was one of Australia’s controversial offshore immigration detention facilities, run on the island of Manus in Papua New Guinea from 2001-2017 to keep refugees out of Australia. Refugees using boats to get to Australia's shores would be stopped by the coastguard and subsequently sent to one of several offshore detention centres. There they would be detained until their asylum claim was proven valid. If not, they would either be sent back to their country of origin or remain in detention indefinitely.
We were struck by the similarities between the Australian immigration detention practice and changes in Danish immigration policies. Denmark has its own detention center called Ellebæk that not many people know about. There, rejected asylum seekers and undocumented migrants can be detained for up to 18 months, for instance if the immigration authorities suspect you will go underground, or if you stay away from an appointment with the authorities.
Between 2015–2018, the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration also established a number of deportation centers for rejected asylum seekers in remote facilities – with the declared aim of making life as intolerable as possible, so people will give up and voluntarily leave Denmark. Center Sjælsmark was established in 2015 and houses rejected families with infants and children. Center Kærshovedgård was established in 2016 and accommodates single men, single women, and criminal rejected asylum seekers on so-called ‘tolerated stay.’
In the deportation centers, all privileges are taken away from you. You are no longer entitled to a cash allowance, to activation programs, or to cook your own meals, but live in run-down prison-like facilities on cafeteria food served three times a day. Children don’t have access to snacks in between meals and many dislike the Danish-style cafeteria food. You can leave the facility in the daytime, but have to spend the night and report to the police several times a week.
Also in 2018, the former Danish government decided to establish a new exit center for criminal rejected asylum seekers and aliens on the uninhabited island of Lindholm. The plan was later dropped by the new government, but the deportation and detention centers still exist – and it is still the ambition of the government to erect a special facility for criminal rejected asylum seekers and aliens somewhere in the country. The ruling social democrats are also working on establishing an offshore asylum reception center outside the European Union.
So before leaving Gothenburg, we promised Arash to curate an art event presenting works that throw light on the similarities between the Australian and Danish policies.
Under the heading “Spaces of disappearance,” the event took place in September 2019 and brought together authors and filmmakers, who offered us an artistic lens through which we could better understand – and react to – the ’out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ logic behind refugee detention and its destruction of human life and dignity.
By CAMP founders and curators, Tone Olaf Nielsen and Frederikke Hansen.