Australia forcibly imprisons all its refugees in isolated, desert camps until they gain permission to remain or a ticket to another country—processes that can take years. It's the only nation in the world to do so. Refugees, without committing an offence, are the sole group in Australia who can be imprisoned indefinitely by order of Parliament—and no courts may order their release. These policies, widely condemned by the international community, are the target of From Nothing to Zero—a grim compilation of letters written in captivity, plaintive testaments and fierce counterblasts of a wretched Untermensch that came to Australia in leaky boats or suffocating containers looking for a lucky break they were almost always denied. Though normally a travel publisher, Lonely Planet has lent its worldly-wise imprimatur to this book in order to give the issue greater currency.
Though refugees do eventually make it out of the camps, Australia's policies are nonetheless shameful—and have plenty of historical precedent. The country's refusal to accept refugees from Nazi Germany was notorious in the 1930s. ("We have no racial problems in Australia and no desire to import any," a government spokesman snapped at the time.) Likewise the White Australia immigration policy, which restricted immigration from countries such as India and China until 1973, was a gross insult to the generations of Asian pioneers (principally Chinese) who had helped develop Australia's farming, mining and mercantile sectors.
Australia is often tardy in owning up to its darker past. One need only look at the Howard government's refusal to apologize to the "stolen generation" of Aborigines to understand that. The detention centers described in From Nothing to Zero are nothing more than convenient oubliettes allowing most Australians to consign refugees to dusty oblivion, aided by the fact that the media are not allowed to visit refugee detention centers. You would have expected protests about that—but there have hardly been any. In a vast, sunburned land where the beer is always cold and the surf forever up, darkness is more easily avoided than confronted.