“Nauru riot was inevitable”
MEDIA UPDATES UNDER THE STORY
Anyone who has worked in Nauru will see them as the desperate souls they are,' Salvation Army workers said in a statement after the recent riots at the Nauru island detention centre. RELATED: “Everything is hostile to these people here” | Many asylum-seekers say they are still determined to take their chances at sea | We’re funding murderous PNG cops watching the refugees | Researcher finds that Rudd got his refugee resettlement numbers wrong | Greens’ compassionate and legal refugee policy | “Anger growing in PNG” | Think you’re being snowed? | Malaria death risk for mothers and children | Thousands protested in Sydney | “Since 1788 a part of the population has worried about being overrun by foreigners.” | “One of the hardest and most retributory policies since the White Australia program”
Former and current Salvation Army staff who have spent the last 10 months working with asylum seekers at the Regional Processing Centres in Nauru and Manus Island issued the following public statement.
“For those of us who work and have worked in Nauru, this riot although shocking, was an inevitable outcome from a cruel and degrading policy. Since the opening of the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (NRPC) there have been incidents of unrest that have reoccurred in escalating seriousness. Salvation Army staff in Nauru have been predicting such a tragedy for a long time.
“We have worked alongside these asylum seekers since the opening of the NRPC when the men were first housed in tents. Brought them pedestal fans when the temperature within their tents soared to over 50 degrees. Used buckets to empty rivers of rainwater when the same temporary accommodation flooded during the wet season. We comforted men who were brought to Nauru in handcuffs by the Australian government under false pretences. We watched their numerous peaceful protests against the uncertainty of their future. We saw the scars of self-harm, and suicide attempts.
“We tried to motivate the hundreds of men on hunger strike to eat again. The asylum seekers have been given no idea of when their applications will be processed, or when they can leave Nauru. If they are found to be refugees, they do not know if they will be resettled in Australia or on the other side of the world. Meanwhile their families are left struggling in their home countries.
“Countless men have suffered physically and psychologically. The mental health impact of detention in this harsh physical and policy environment cannot be overstated. The service providers in Nauru have been unable to prevent the marked deterioration in health in wellbeing. Previously healthy, resilient men have been worn down. We have witnessed a man scrabbling in the dirt, suffering a psychotic breakdown for several days without treatment, read another man’s suicide note apologising to his family, and seen countless others who suffered similar mental breakdowns.
“Thousands of tax-payers dollars have been spent on flying asylum seekers to the Australian mainland for medical treatment on ailments suffered in detention. The asylum seekers have voiced their concerns over and over again only to be continuously ignored by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). Despite this constant degradation and suffering, we have witnessed the strength, humility and resilience of these people. We have seen men from all cultures pour their energy in to keeping themselves and each other alive and hopeful.
“The support and kindness that the men detained in Nauru offered to each other and the staff never wavered, even in the face of increasing injustice and frustration. There are countless examples of their good nature, not withholding the Tamils indicted in this current unrest. The Tamils who were always the men who put their arm around you in a friendly gesture and assisted in labour with no thought of reward.
“The most recent incident in Nauru was not borne out of malice. It was a build up of pressure and anxiety over 10 months of degrading treatment, and a planned peaceful protest that degenerated. It was a reaction to a refugee processing system that is devoid of logic and fairness. While we do not condone these actions and are horrified by what has happened, we can understand the frustration and the anger that led to such a demonstration. We would also like to offer our sympathies to the Nauruan people who have suffered during this period.
“We have good reason to believe that those asylum seekers arrested and detained in Nauruan jail will not be provided with legal representation. It is likely that a large number of those men arrested in the riot did not in fact act criminally. As such we advocate for everyone to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in a court. This is especially pertinent given the comments of Minister Tony Burke already stating that visas may not be granted to those men arrested. We also believe that there are many injured men who are not receiving adequate medical treatment. We call for immediate action from human rights groups to be present in Nauru to assist those men in jail and those men who need immediate medical treatment.
“We fear that their reputations and the reputation of all asylum seekers will be marred by an incident which was 10 months in the making.
“For those people who sit outside of Nauru, who have never met an asylum seeker, it is easy to judge these men as dangerous, destructive or ungrateful. But anyone who has worked in Nauru will see them as the desperate souls they are. Fathers, sons, brothers, who are trying to forge a life for themselves and their family. Frustrated and down-trodden by the degrading bureaucracy implemented by our government.”
Whistleblowers expose unspeakable conditions in Australian refugee camps
James Cogan wrote on the World Socialist Website:
“Horrific details have emerged about the conditions inflicted on refugees imprisoned by the Australian Labor government in its South Pacific detention camps on Manus Island, to the north of Papua New Guinea, and Nauru. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has responded by insisting there will be no turning back from Labor’s policy of indefinitely condemning asylum seekers to what are being described as “hell-holes” and “gulags.”
“The accounts provided by whistleblowers who have worked inside the camps establish once again that Labor’s policy is based upon maintaining a detention regime that drives refugees into insanity, self-harm and suicide.
“Rod St George, a former security officer, has provided a detailed account of the conditions on the Manus Island. The camp, which was used to detain refugees by the previous Howard Liberal government from 2001 to 2004, was reopened last year by Labor when it fully embraced Howard’s refugee processing “Pacific Solution” policy. Under the even more brutal plan announced by Rudd last Friday, every asylum seeker who reaches Australian territory by boat will now be deported to Manus or other locations in Papua New Guinea and will be permanently barred from settling in Australia, even after official refugee status is granted. The Manus camp is being vastly expanded, so that it can imprison up to 3,000 refugees—including families and children.
“In an interview by the Special Broadcasting Service’s (SBS) “Dateline” program, St George denounced Manus Island: “I didn’t expect it to be run as a prison—worse than a prison actually… Words can’t really describe… I have never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless, and so hopeless before… In Australia the facility couldn’t serve as a dog kennel. Its owners would be jailed.”
“Earlier this year, St George, who had worked in Australian prisons for nearly ten years, became a compliance manager for G4S, the private company that runs the Manus Island detention camp. His primary responsibility was to monitor the health and safety of both the refugees and company guards and employees. After barely a month, he resigned in outrage and shock at the conditions being inflicted on the 300 detainees.
“Video footage—taken from outside the camp as the media have been shut out of the facility—shows that the refugees are housed in poorly constructed huts or in tents. Manus is a tropical island, located in the Bismarck Sea to the north of Papua New Guinea’s main landmass, with a population of barely 40,000. Its main industries are subsistence agriculture and coconut cultivation and its largest urban centre, Lorengau, has a population of less than 6,000. A malaria outbreak is currently underway on the island and at least 15 refugees have been hospitalised.
“St George described how the conditions on Manus led to almost daily cases of attempted suicide or self-harm. An unnamed local guard supported his claims, telling “Dateline” that detainees would “go crazy, cutting themselves up, trying to hang themselves… They get pieces of metal, like wire or something, and cutting themselves.”
“A refugee told the SBS program that detainees were saying “we can’t tolerate this place, it is such a hell and we are going to stay here for a long time. Its better we die here.”
“St George alleged that the Labor government had established a regime in which immigration officials would not even take action over reports of rape and abuse. Men who alleged they had been raped or physically assaulted by other detainees, he claimed, were left in the same compounds as their purported attackers. St George stated: “There was nothing that could be done for these young men, who were considered vulnerable, which in many cases is just a euphemism for men who are being raped. They had to stay where they were… No-one leaves Manus. That’s the message.”
“He added: “I suppose being an Australian, and knowing that this is what my government is doing, that my government has sanctioned this, made me feel ashamed.”
“The conditions in the detention camp on Nauru are little different to Manus and provoked an uprising on July 19. More than 500 desperate detainees held off security and police for over five hours and set fire to most of the camp, in the hope it would force the Australian government to transfer them off the island. At least 80 percent of all buildings were destroyed.
“32 Salvation Army staff and former staff who have worked at Nauru joined Rod St George in publicly condemning the conditions imposed by the Labor government. In speaking out, they risked being subjected to legal action for breaching “confidentiality” agreements.
“Kevin Rudd has dismissed any concern for the mental health and well-being of the asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and Nauru. “We don’t apologise for our policy of saying to people-smugglers that if you bring people to Australia by boat, that they will not be settled in Australia,” he declared yesterday. “[I]f you come to Australia by boat then you will be assessed in Papua New Guinea, including on Manus Island, and if you are proven to be a bona fide refugee the agreement we have with Papua New Guinea is that you be settled there.”
“The Rudd government has made clear that it welcomes the “Dateline” program’s revelations of the conditions on Manus Island. The premise of Labor’s anti-refugee policy is to inflict sufficiently barbaric punishment on asylum seekers to “deter” others from making the journey to Australia and exercising their fundamental right to claim asylum. It is spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign, in Australia and around the world, warning that refugees are no longer accepted in Australia. The public relations offensive this week saw the immigration department release a photograph of a woman about to be deported to Manus weeping into her hands, with an accompanying caption, “A female asylum seeker comes to terms with the fact she won’t be settled in Australia.”
“The utterly lawless character of the Rudd government’s refugee policy is a foretaste of the anti-democratic measures being readied against the entire working class. Workers and youth have a responsibility to defend the democratic and legal right of every person to live and work in any country of their choice, with full rights.”
Rape and torture on Manus Island detention centre: whistleblower
The former Head of Occupational Health and Safety at the Manus Island refugee detention centre, Rod St George, condemned it as not even fit to “serve as a dog kennel”.
“I’ve never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless and so hopeless before,” he told SBS reporter Mark Davis, as he described repeated instances of rape and sexual abuse between asylum seekers with the full knowledge of staff.
“We might separate people in those circumstances on the mainland, but there aren’t any facilities at Manus to do that, so these people who have been assaulted are forced to remain back in the tent,” he said.
“We talk about this as an island that’s 700 kilometres north of Port Moresby… [but] if you knew there were people next door being raped and you said nothing, you’d be complicit.”
St George also described how detainee ‘heavies’ forced other asylum seekers to sew their lips together, and he detailed how one man had an ear drum perforated when he was tortured by other detainees.
And he claimed that acts of self-harm and attempted suicides are occurring “almost daily” among asylum seekers waiting months for their asylum applications to be processed.
“In Australia, the facility couldn’t even serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be jailed,” he told the Dateline program. “I felt ashamed to be Australian.”
St George resigned from his role after just a month.
Dateline put the allegations to recently appointed Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who revealed it’s the first time he’d heard the most serious claims.
“I need to hear the very specific allegations, I need to make sure they’re properly investigated,” he told Mark. “If the implementation of different policies needs to be reviewed as a matter of that, then that needs to occur.”
Mr Burke asked to be put in touch with Rod St George to hear further details.
Dateline's latest revelations follow Mark’s disturbing story two months ago about life at Manus Island, when Australian officials at the detention centre went to great lengths to stop him filming.
Read more on the Dateline website.
Rudd’s lurch to right on refugees exposed 'barbaric core of imperialism'
A Socialist Alliance statement:
A Third World country suffering rising violence, rapes, political corruption and plagued by endemic diseases such as cholera and malaria will be the new dumping ground for Australia’s refugee arrivals.
Detention, assessment and resettlement in Papua New Guinea will lead to myriad human rights violations.
The “Regional Resettlement Arrangement” between Rudd and PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill would be in place for at least the next 12 months, and there is no cap on the number of refugees Australia can send.
Those found to be genuine refugees would still be barred from resettlement in Australia, and new assessment processes would deport more people with less right to appeal and due process.
In exchange, Australia would fund so-called health and education reforms, in addition to a recent pledge to send 50 Australian police to PNG to “tackle crime” after armed soldiers attacked a hospital.
Rudd has also started an international campaign to weaken the refugee convention, which makes up a large part of the moral and humanitarian backbone of the refugee rights movements globally.
The plan goes further than anything an Australian government has carried out since boatloads of refugees fleeing imperialist global conflict began arriving. It promises the displaced and brutalised people of the world that: “If you come here by boat without a visa, you won’t be settled in Australia.”
Violating the Refugee Convention — that forbids discrimination against refugees on the basis of how they arrive — and expelling them to a nation that is also subject to Australia’s colonial power is a move that exposes the barbaric core of imperialism.
Australia is part of the rich-world fortress, which forces most of the world’s people to live in poverty and subject to exploitation and military terror. Most of the global conflict underway today is the result of this system, and so is the relatively small number of people that resort to take risky vessels to Australia.
No amount of promises to resettle “refugees that have been languishing in camps for years” can reconcile Rudd with any notion of upholding human rights. It is essentially a move to try to beat Liberal leader Tony Abbott at his own filthy political game.
One thing Rudd said was right. The refugee crisis is growing worse globally and more people are being forced into seeking asylum by any means necessary.
First World countries like Australia are growing increasingly reluctant to shoulder humanity’s calamity because it is a direct result of capitalism’s systematic exploitation and brutalisation of the world.
The numbers making it to Australia are still tiny compared with the rest of the world. But the government is now, in effect, bribing a neighbouring poor country to accept the legal, moral and humane obligations that are categorically Australia’s. PNG has no chance of providing a safe new home for refugees, and the move will lead to disaster.
Seeking asylum by boat is not a crime. People have a human right to seek asylum and be resettled in Australia. There are policies that can be implemented straight away that would reverse this spiralling descent to the bottom.
All refugee supporters need to stand up and show their outrage at what Rudd is doing because other countries are watching Australia to see if they can get away with it as well.
The Socialist Alliance supports:
- Ending Australian support for and participation in all imperial wars and occupations.
- Implementing a foreign, trade and aid policy that puts people’s needs before corporate greed. An example is what is being done in Latin America through ALBA.
- Ending Australia's rogue climate nation status (which contributes to global warming and the subsequent displacement of millions of people) and begin the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels. The technology exists, it is affordable and will create useful jobs.
- Closing the offshore and onshore asylum seeker detention camps, ending mandatory detention and using the billions paid to Serco (the multinational security firm that runs these camps) to fly in the desperate refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia who are trying to get on the boats. Also stepping up efforts to resettle refugees from UNHCR camps around the world.
- Fully respecting and implementing Australia's obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.
The day Australia closed the door
Whether you abhor or reluctantly support it, there's no denying what this policy means: detaining asylum seekers in tents on a malarial island off the coast of an impoverished, violence-ridden state. We are sending refugees to a country Australia has actually sheltered refugees from. GetUp have spoken directly to children and families inside the Manus Island detention centre, which Mr Rudd plans to expand, who have told us about the conditions there.
Many of us are looking for information free from the political rhetoric of Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott – and looking for what we can do to make this situation less horrid. We'll be in touch with more you can do in coming days and weeks. Here are two ways to make a difference now:
1 - Email or call your local MP and Senator today. What they hear from the community now is of huge influence, and there's so much we need to fight for now.
Here's what's at stake in coming weeks
- Will the Government pay for this policy by reducing Australia's foreign aid?
- Will we address the inhumane conditions asylum seeker children and families are being held in?
- Will the Government increase Australia's humanitarian intake of approved refugees?
We can't have a more compassionate and sensible policy on asylum seekers until we change the national conversation. We can't rely on our political leaders to do that. It's up to all of us to bring facts and fairness back to this debate.
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