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Issue #1634      April 9, 2014

Australia built by Boat People

So, 60 percent of Australians want harsher, meaner conditions in detention centres for asylum seekers. They need not worry – the Abbott government intends to deliver.

So what does this mean? What are the present conditions? It is fair to say that because of a media blackout and a lack of communications in detention centres, few know what is really happening. However, ignorance has not stilled their cries for more punishment for asylum seekers.

So what are the conditions?

On arrival at Christmas Island, as people come off the boats wet and dirty after days at sea sitting in the same position with little food and water, families are separated and pushed aboard buses to different camps, with no possibility of phone or computer contact for weeks.

All offshore camps are bare bones and of Third World standard. Aqua has six toilet/shower cubicles for 400-500 people. Pregnant women wait up to 90 minutes in queues to use the wet, stinky facilities. Manus Island is a sea of hot, damp tents with the ground ankle deep in water during rain. The Nauru family compound consists of communal tents with no air-conditioning and fans not working because of power cuts. There is no shade, no facilities for children to play and no going to school at any of these camps for children. Food is the same, day in day out: tough meat/chicken/ rice with boiled, tinned vegetables. Clothing is minimal, with no changes of underwear for some. It is hard to imagine what these Australians baying for harsher conditions actually want.

Australian camps vary widely but are also donga accommodation for most. The families in Melbourne, for example, live in 3 x 3 metre rooms with a double bunk bed on one wall and a cupboard on the other, with one window beside the door at the front. These are stacked alongside others, so there is no privacy. The guards are more civilised in Melbourne. People coming from offshore comment on the fact that these guards do not shout at them and abuse them, as is the practice in offshore camps and in Darwin.

But worst of all is not knowing what will happen and constantly being told by camp staff that they do not know either. Currently there is no process underway. People exist from day to day hoping for information. Christmas Island camps have televisions, but these are not turned on. They have no access to news from radio, print or television. It is the same on Nauru and Manus. Computer access is limited to non-existent, depending on which camp. It is useful only for email and Facebook, as downloading is so slow as to be impossible. All human rights and legal advice sites are blocked – even Google maps!

War on pregnant women

The war on pregnant women is a new phenomenon. Women’s care is so bad and the conditions in which they live so frightening that some in offshore camps or threatened with Nauru have asked for abortions. This is happening because the women fear for a baby’s survival in the heat of Nauru and the filth of the tent camps. The women are told that their baby is illegal and has the same illegal status as the parents.

On return to the detention centre with the new babe, the parents are visited in their room by a compliance officer who delivers the following information: Your child is illegal. Even though your child has an Australian birth certificate (withheld) your child does not have Australian nationality and will never get a visa. You and the baby will be sent to Nauru.

This has led to confusion when distraught mothers have asked what they can do for their babies to get them a visa and legal status, and some officers have told them that the only way was to “give the baby up” to an Australian family or permanent citizen. Some interpreted this to mean that they should give their baby away and they were very angry at the suggestion.

Women are being denied contraceptive packs of pills on Nauru. They are forced to stand in queues in the hot sun for up to two hours daily for an individually dispensed daily tablet. Some women are now asking for the six months’ injection, even though it has consequences, as a means of avoiding this distressing queuing.

Women are being separated from husbands and children and flown thousands of kilometres for basic medical care. Five women recently flew the 9,700 kilometres round trip from Christmas Island to Melbourne for scans. This insanity is practised to keep families offshore even when it makes no sense. There is a rule that all pregnant women, Australians included, must leave Christmas Island at 32 weeks because of the lack of facilities.

Women are being vaccinated on Christmas Island with substances which are contraindicated for pregnant women. One girl told me that she told the nurses that she thought she was pregnant and the nurse replied – it doesn’t matter – and they still vaccinated her.

The women have no choice and often do not know what they are being given. The women sent to Manus were double dosed because their medical documentation did not arrive and so they were done again. I asked if they could refuse. They said no – they told us you have no choice or it will be done by force. Three of the six women pregnant on Manus lost their babies. The rate of miscarriage and neo-natal deaths is alarming and needs urgent investigation.

The health care of asylum seekers is punitive at best. Fifteen doctors signed a letter listing their concerns about this. As they come off the boats, medications, walking sticks, crutches, hearing aids and glasses are confiscated and thrown away. It may be weeks before they see a doctor and by then the damage to health from lack of treatment can be devastating.

These are just some of the conditions now in place in detention camps. These are facts not very prettily presented. Please use them next time you hear the mob baying for more abuse. It is worrying that this nation of privileged whingers so happily chirrups about making life harder for asylum seekers. This government does not need encouragement.

* Pamela Curr – Refugee Rights Coordinator, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

The Beacon

Next article – Unaccompanied children dumped on Nauru

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