Witness statements detail horror of Aust detention camps
Human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, releases witness statements from people who worked or were inmates at the controversial Australian off shore detention camps on Manus, Nauru and Christmas Islands.
An Australian lawyer has compiled witness statements that detail the horror of the off shore detention camps.
Long time human rights activist, Julian Burnside QC, has frequently represented people wanting to have the Australian camps on Manus and Nauru shut down.
Don Wiseman spoke with him about the witness statements and began by asking about the comments from a doctor who had been on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and who described it as similar to a concentration camp.
JULIAN BURNSIDE: That bloke came to a meeting in my chambers in the first half of last year. I had not met him. He is a person who has spent his professional life in the prison system in Australia, including in maximum security. And there were also a few other health workers in the meeting as well as a senior Labour politician and the doctor said that and the other things that are in that statement, but he also said that within a few weeks of working inside the camp at Manus, he had formed the view that the conditions in which they are held and the way they are treated was 100 times worse than anything he had experienced in the Australian prison system, including maximum security, and that is a fairly shocking thing when you think about it.
DON WISEMAN: Yes he said the camp appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of the detainees - to encourage them to go home.
JB: That is the view that he had formed by the end of his time there and incidentally one of the other people that had attended that meeting was a former detainee, who had abandoned his claim for protection and returned to Iran, and attended the meeting by Skype. And he clearly agreed because he abandoned his claim for protection and was hiding in the backblocks of Iran, but I was going on to say that when the meeting broke up the parliamentarian stayed on, and this is somebody I have known for quite a while and whose thinking on human rights issues I think is fairly sound, and he expressed real shock at the things that he had heard and that he hadn't known about those things before. And then without missing a beat he said it would be political suicide for us to take a soft line on boats. Now in that single sentence I think you capture the problem in Australia in dealing with boat people. Both major parties do it largely for political purposes to advance their political interests, and it seems they just don't care how shockingly they behave.
DW: Yes although there would appear to be in that latest poll perhaps more people becoming concerned about these camps than before.
JB: It's very hard to know. I hope that is true but since about 2002, if anything, I would say the views that I have been standing for have been losing ground.
DW: Just looking at some of these other witness statements, and one came from a detainee talking about what he had seen of people who had witnessed the beating of Reza Barati which had resulted in his murder. They made witness statements and then they were bound up and tortured and forced, or attempts were made to force them to retract their statements.
JB: And this is being done by Wilson Security guards.
DW: And if we can move on to some of the other people, another employee at Manus Island. We have heard a lot about self harm at the camps. This staff person says self harm was something that was ignored. It was almost expected.
JB: Yes and that is entirely consistent with everything that I have learned about the detention system, onshore and offshore, over the last 14 years. One that is not included there, because it a matter in onshore detention, a bloke who had fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Department's notes of interviews with him show that within a couple of weeks of arrival in Australia, they recognised that he had been tortured in Abu Ghraib Prison and the form of torture that most terrified him was being locked in a small cell because in Abu Ghraib Prison he had been locked in a small cell and randomly electrocuted through water on the floor. So he is terrified by being locked in a small cell. After about 18 months he's pretty much given up on everything and he starts to harm himself by cutting himself. So if he could anything sharp he will cut himself. When he cuts himself he is given Panadol, which is the universal cure in detention, and solitary confinement in a small cell. it doesn't help. So when he gets out he cuts himself again, he's given more Panadol, solitary confinement and so on, and this went on for five years. And when eventually the Department was persuaded to have him admitted to a psychiatric hospital for assessment, they performed a physical and mental examination on him, this is a man in his late 20s early 30s. The mental assessment was that he was so damaged he will probably never be able to hold down a job of any sort. The physical assessment showed he had ten metres of scarring on his body from detention. That sort of captures the whole thing when you think about it.
DW: Another statement from a medical doctor who was on Christmas Island and talking about the horrific state that asylum seekers would arrive in and how they were treated. And he talks specifically about the injections given to women and because the medical records went missing, many were given inappropriate injections, including five pregnant women - four of whom had miscarriages.
JB: It is just terrible. We really do treat them as if they are not actually human beings and it is largely driven by politicians' desire to gain votes.
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