As we struggle to understand our nations obsession with detention, it is helpful to examine who else in our short history we have chosen to lock away “in the national interest”. Australia a nation founded on the need for England to dispose of her unwanted, transported and detained people convicted of a wide variety of crimes from stealing food to political action and all shades in between. We seem addicted to a culture of incarceration. This article reminds us of the detention of Italian Australians during WW2 which seems incomprehensible now.
How many years will it take for the detention of asylum seekers to seem similarly incomprehensible.
When ethnicity counts: civilian internment in Australia during WW2
When Fascist Italy declared war on Britain in mid-1940, almost 5,000 Italians living in Australia were imprisoned in internment camps. Few Italian families escaped the human cost of detention as “enemy aliens” during World War Two. Even after seven decades, many pre-war Italian migrants still have sad…
Founding Partner of The Conversation.
Mia Spizzica PhD Candidate at University of Melbourne
6 December 2011 Why Australia must apologise to Italians interned during World War II
When Fascist Italy declared war on Britain in mid-1940, almost 5,000 Italians living in Australia were imprisoned in internment camps. Few Italian families escaped the human cost of detention as “enemy aliens” during World War Two. Even after seven decades, many pre-war Italian migrants still have sad memories of being locked up or stigmatised as enemy aliens, event though they may have been anti-fascist or even apolitical. Many innocent, hard-working migrants became unwillingly caught up in the consequences of war. They were usually locked up because they were Italians. It didn’t matter how much work and loyalty they had towards Australia.
Nothing could halt the unrelenting rounding up of Italian enemy aliens across Australia. But, the vast majority had never shown any disloyalty or wanted a war. Italian families were caught by surprise as their men were rounded up often in the clothes they stood in. They were herded off to local prisons to be figure printed, photographed and numbered. The lucky ones were given time to wash, pack a small suitcase and dress in their Sunday best. Wives and children had few precious moments to wave heart-wrenching goodbyes as hundreds of men were herded at gunpoint onto trains with barred windows. The survivors tell of the incredible terror they felt because no one knew if they would see their families again.