What follows is the definition of indignity: in the lead-up to Refugee Week this week, PNG police have raided the Manus Island detention centre, allegedly stealing personal belongings including shampoo, clothes, sneakers, mobile phones and MP3 players.
As stated in the search warrant, police were instructed to seize anything that, “relates to the use or intention of committing minor injuries or serious injuries, murder, arson, threatening behaviour, the making of home-made bombs and explosives”.
I mean, I’ve heard of the shoe-bomber but this is ridiculous.
The purpose of such raids is two-fold:
- To remove recording devices, which could be used to embarrass police, security guards, or the governmentduring the Senate inquiry.
- To make conditions so unbearable that asylum seekers accept the blood money to go back to where they came from.
This excerpt from a heartbreaking email I received via refugee advocates, describes one detainee’s desperation and shame:
“It was 9 am when they stormed our compound they had cameras attached to their uniforms, locked us in our rooms and no one could get out. They took all our bags and emptied them in the middle of the compound. Then forced us to Charlie (compound) and kept us there until 5 pm. When we entered our rooms… all our personal stuff such as mp3 players, shampoos, detergents, clothes, toothpastes, sneakers, were stolen by them. TOX090 is on hunger strike because his bag (with all his belongings and diary and documents) disappeared and nobody claims responsibility. The search warrant allows them to search the compound not to steal our properties. They are trying to break us by all means power is cut off from 6 am to 4 pm under the pretext of generator failure. Soap dispensors are not working and most of the time there is no soap in them. Most of the guys do not laugh and I haven’t laughed for 3 months. For tooth decay and infections the only medication available is Panadol. They are torturing us I had blood tests 2 times and have registered to see the doctor 7 months ago. Nobody cares for us. They will send us to hospital when one of us is in critical condition or dying. Please somebody help us most of us have become mentally ill.”
But it’s not only asylum seekers being humiliated by PNG police. According to witnesses, police officers grabbed two local youths passing the detention centre, forcing them to lie on the ground and do sit-ups and swimming strokes, “for no reason other than boredom”.
Some locals came out with machetes, shouting at police to stop.
These may seem small incidents. But they paint a picture of a smoldering powder keg and now it may be about to blow again.
This morning I received information from a credible source that locals, who own the land on which the detention centre was built, are preparing to attack the compounds.
Wilson Security has reportedly set up high fences around the perimeter, and the source says Wilson staff and PNG police are on high alert.
A similar atmosphere led to the February riots, which killed Reza Berati.
For weeks, the Senate inquiry has heard about fears of violence, inadequate medical care, and the existence of a ‘rape dungeon’.
According to Amnesty International, more people have been killed at this detention centre than have had their asylum seeker claims processed.
What will it take for this inhumane camp to be shut down? And who will ultimately be held responsible?
At the Senate inquiry, the Immigration Department said the centre was “PNG-owned and operated”, while former security firm G4S said the government was calling the shots.
But it’s not just the Coalition: Labor re-opened it.
This was the subject of debate in caucus today, with MP Melissa Parke and former Speaker Anna Burke opposing offshore processing on humanitarian grounds. Despite a 3600-strong petition delivered by refugee groups, the motion was defeated.
Last week, Opposition leader Bill Shorten declared the next Labor government wouldn’t dismantle the Pacific Solution, because he believes “regional resettlement” is the way forward. This is despite there being no real regional agreement.
No wonder he’s as on the nose as Tony Abbott in the latest polls.
Perhaps it’s timely to remember these wise words: The UN Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory) recognises that refugees have a right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or whether they hold valid travel or identity documents.
This is a fundamental human right: to be free from violence, sexual assault, threats, intimidation, theft, and humiliation.
Put simply, to live in dignity.