Horrors of Off-Shore Detention Centres

From the Communist Party of Australia

Last week a former Nauru detention security guard testified he had seen male detainees gasping after experiencing the horrible waterboarding torture, and there are continuing reports of the rape and sexual assault of women, girls and young boys.

Many of the guards are former soldiers, described by journalist Martin McKenzie-Martin as involved in a “hyper masculine and immature culture”. They refer to the detainees by identification numbers, not by name.

The women detainees must take showers close to male guards, and must ask them for sanitary pads, because the management maintains they might be set alight and used as weapons during riots!

Morale collapsed within the centre last year after the government announced that no detainees would ever gain Australian citizenship. Incidents of rape, assault, self-harm and attempted suicide increased.

The Abbott government persuaded some detainees with refugee status to resettle on Nauru, offering them rudimentary education, employment and accommodation services. However, that generated bitter resentment among some Nauruan citizens who saw it as an act of favouritism for the “illegals”.

Many resettled women have been attacked. One is dying in hospital after having been raped and beaten. She was left semi-conscious for hours before being discovered and taken to the police station and much later to hospital.

Another woman detainee was set on fire after being raped. Yet another found herself pregnant after an attack. Deeply religious, she sought a termination but then attempted suicide after it was performed at a Brisbane hospital. She was then returned to Nauru.

Resettled women have spoken about the “50-dollar man”, who rapes women and then drops a $50 note onto their bodies. However, the Nauruan courts have recorded no convictions for assaults against detainees.

The cover-up

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) claims that some crimes uncovered by the former Moss and Senate inquiries, including rape, assault, sexual assault, harassment and the trade of sexual favours for marijuana, were never reported to Comcare, the national work safety regulator.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) claims it reported 81 notifiable incidents over the last two financial years, but Comcare says it only received 79 reports.

A spokesperson for Connect, the company that organises accommodation and other resettlement services, stated. “We are not aware of any allegations of rape made either to the local police or through Connect’s incident reporting process”.

However, the Nauru police are notoriously corrupt and the courts subject to ministerial control, and the statement regarding the incident reporting process is only technically correct.

Under that process DIBP is required to report to Comcare, any “notifiable incident”, including death, serious injury, or illness arising from a detention centre’s operation. But not all notifiable incidents involve criminal behaviour, and notifiable incidents don’t have to be reported to Comcare unless the patient requires immediate treatment.

One reported case of sexual assault was described as involving “no serious injury or assault”, i.e. not notifiable, so no action was taken. Seven other incidents were described as not notifiable because they “did not result from the conduct of the business or undertaking”.

Transfield, the company running the offshore processing centres for a $1.2 billion fee, has now confirmed there were 67 allegations of child abuse at Nauru, including 30 against members of staff.

An ALA spokesman also claims that cases of typhoid and tuberculosis were not reported, and that DIBP over-reports slight injuries to centre workers, but fails to report serious injuries or incidents affecting detainees.

Meanwhile the Papua New Guinea government is furious because three Australian guards at the Manus Island detention centre who were accused of having drugged and raped a PNG nurse were repatriated before a formal investigation took place.

The DIBP has merely described the event as “inconsistent with expected behaviours and contrary to the service providers’ code of conduct”.

The bigger picture

Only a minute percentage of the world’s 60 million displaced people seek asylum in Australia. This year more than 150,000 asylum seekers crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy and 157,000 from Turkey to Greece.

In March 479 drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean and in April another 1,308, including 800 in a single wreck. Last week approximately 250 drowned off the Libyan coast, and almost 100 suffocated in two sealed people-smugglers’ trucks on the road to Austria.

The huge number of asylum seekers results primarily from wars, most of which involved military interventions by the US, or conflict generated as a result of US intervention.

At least a million people have fled Iraq and Syria, where the brutal terrorist group ISIS has captured huge areas. The Western forces could co-operate with the Syrian government in dealing with the situation but refuse because that government has an independent foreign policy and wants to break the US-imposed arrangement under which global oil sales are conducted in US dollars.

The US also refuses to adequately arm the Kurds of northern Iraq, even though they have fought ISIS with great courage and determination. Also, supporting the Kurds to fight ISIS would enrage Turkey, a key US ally, which has ruthlessly oppressed its own Kurdish minority.

Australia has participated in most of the US-led wars, which have generated the refugee tidal wave. The appalling situation in our offshore detention centres stems directly from the inhumane policies of offshore detention and mandatory detention, the demonisation of asylum seekers by the government, (which incorrectly describes them as “illegal” immigrants and bans them forever from our shores), and the secrecy and militarism which now dominates immigration operations and is beginning to do so in the wider society.

Labor has endorsed the cruel policy of asylum seeker boat turnbacks, and is unlikely to adopt a humane approach. Nor will it resist US attempts to gain our participation in a new war in Iraq and/or Syria, which would add to the numbers of asylum seekers.

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