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Issue #1583      February 27, 2013

Logan accuse asylum seekers of “staging photos”

National Communications Manager for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Sandi Logan, on Twitter has accused asylum seekers of “staging” photos of the deplorable conditions of their exile on Manus Island. Photos included very basic amenities for water, people lying in camp beds outside to get relief from stifling heat, beds with inadequate mosquito netting, metal containers housing asylum seekers with no doors or screens to protect them from mosquitoes.

“How is it possible,” says ChilOut spokesperson Leila Druery, “to stage a photo of missing doors, flyscreens, no privacy, really basic washing facilities?”

After the photos were published DIAC quickly moved to disable cameras. Detainees could no longer show conditions on Manus to people in Australia or the press.

Mr Logan posted on Twitter that the move was designed to protect the “privacy” of clients held on the islands. “These people chose to take and send these photos,” says Ms Druery. “Surely people have the right to send photos of themselves if they so choose. At any rate the photos only showed the backs of people, all faces were covered, so that no one would be identified. This was done more in fear of retribution by DIAC, rather than over concerns of people’s privacy.

“This is about DIAC covering its backside, not allowing people to see the realities of detained life on Manus. The argument about privacy is simply spin,” says Mrs Druery.

DIAC employs many staff, including a large media department, which creates videos and countless campaigns to show conditions of immigration detention, not always reflecting the reality of harsh conditions people must endure, some might say they are the masters of “spin” and “staging”.

A case in point: In June 2012 DIAC produced a video extolling the virtues of their excellent Leonora educational plan, which they said started in May. ChilOut saw absolutely no evidence of this during their May visit to the remote desert facility, staff didn’t mention it, nor did they mention any expansion of a very basic Australia 101 program, which ChilOut found completely inadequate for the 140 boys detained there.

Ms Druey states “It’s hard to imagine an education plan and its implementation appearing out of thin air immediately after our visit. As far as we can ascertain the video was pure spin.”

With many detention centres being in remote and now overseas locations it’s almost impossible for advocates or agencies to have proper oversight of conditions. The department attempts to control and craft every piece of communication that comes in and out of these centres. Mothers cannot take photos of their newborn babies. Some children, having been born in detention may have no photos of their first few years of life. No cameras are allowed in or out of facilities.

Australia prides itself on freedom of speech, and the notion of a fair go. How can anyone have a fair go if their voice cannot be heard? The government doesn’t want Australians to see asylum seekers’ faces, doesn’t want us to realise they’re human. These people deserve a voice. They deserve to be heard. An open and frank discussion on what we’re doing to them needs to be part of a dialogue between Australians, the government and asylum seekers. Right now one party controls a major part of this conversation, and that’s not right.

Asylum seekers on Manus have asked for media to visit them so they may share information about conditions under which they’re living. The department denies them this right.

ChilOut fights for the release of all children from immigration detention. We will not stop until that is enshrined in law and practice.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, asylum seekers on Nauru were on their fourth day of a sustained protest, according to information supplied to the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney (RAC) from inside the Nauru camp.

Seven detainees have now stitched their lips and have retreated inside their tents.

A protest of more than 100 people continued in the detention camp. This is 30 more people than were involved previously. Detainees are chanting “Don’t kill refugees”, “We are not criminals” and “Close Nauru”, and have written these words on t-shirts.

These events are the latest in months of unrest on the island. There were five suicide attempts in early February, followed by an escape of five detainees earlier this week. October to December of last year saw protracted individual and mass hunger-strikes, suicide attempts and general chaos.

“Nauru must be closed immediately,” said RAC spokesperson Nick Riemer. “Brendan O’Connor (Minister for Immigration) has said he doesn’t want to see people losing their lives at sea. But what of the lives of the detainees on Nauru and Manus Island? Offshore processing has failed as a deterrent as it was always going to. People are coming on boats in greater numbers than ever before. The only purpose served by keeping people in the Pacific is to harm them further. We will see more suicides, more tragic self-mutilation and more lasting psychological trauma until the government brings all the detainees to Australia.

“Lip-stitching was a shocking feature of the darkest years of Howard’s Pacific Solution,” Riemer continued. “A decade later, we’re right back where we started. What needs to happen to get the government and opposition to end this madness? The conditions simply don’t exist on Nauru for humane refugee processing, as both Amnesty and UNHCR have said. The medical centre can’t even cope with perfectly normal health problems, let alone the kinds of things we’re seeing now.

“The only place the right conditions exist is Australia. Nauru and Manus refugees should be sent back to the mainland and allowed to live in the community, just as thousands of other refugees are already doing. Otherwise the humanitarian crisis on Nauru will roll on, leaving its trail of destruction behind it. How many self-mutilations, suicides and broken lives is the government prepared to accept? How many people are to be sacrificed just for asking Australia for its help?”  

Next article – Workers picket Recall Records Management warehouse

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