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Issue #1648      July 23, 2014

Witnesses to attack removed from compound

Asylum seekers in on Manus Island have raised the alarm as Wilson Security guards removed two of their central representatives and another asylum seeker from the Mike Compound. The three people are also witnesses to the attack in Mike Compound on the February 17, the night that Reza Berati was murdered.

The action by Wilson Security seems to be in response to routine complaints about problems with access and the use of phones and the internet. Guards have refused to say where the three asylum seekers have been taken. Ominously, Wilson guards told other asylum seekers in Mike Compound that, “They won’t be coming back.” Efforts by the asylum seekers to get answers from Transfield and the Immigration Department on Manus Island are continuing.

Transfield has been attempting for months to reintroduce local PNG staff, many of whom were involved in the February attacks, into the detention centre. That move has been so far blocked by the asylum seekers themselves.

Refugee advocates fear that the removal of Mike Compound representatives may be the start of a concerted effort by Transfield to bring back local PNG staff.

“These two asylum seeker representatives in particular have been in danger since the attack on the 17th,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “Transfield, some PNG locals and the PNG police would like them out of the way.

“They are people who have requested witness protection but protection has been denied. Outside of the detention centre, they will be in danger. If they have been handed to the police, as some detainees fear, they could be in grave danger of being harmed.

“The safety of the three asylum seekers lies with Scott Morrison. The Immigration Department must give an immediate guarantee of their safety and that they will be immediately returned to Mike Compound or brought to Australia.”

Meanwhile, The Australian newspaper’s ongoing attacks against the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) have no basis in fact says Ian Rintoul.

In four issues, the paper has been waging a campaign to discredit the claims that women in the family camp attempted suicide on Christmas Island.

“In its concerted attempt to downplay the seriousness of the situation on Christmas Island, The Australian has seriously misrepresented my comments about self-harm in the family camp,” Rintoul said.

“Self-harm” itself is a loaded term, used as a euphemism for “attempted suicide” by Serco and the government in their attempt to sanitise the brutality of the detention system they run.

RAC stands by its original statement on July 8 that “up to ten mothers in the family camp attempted suicide” in 48 hours. “Whether any particular act is to be described as attempted suicide ultimately rests on the intention of the victim. Detainees from the family camp told me that the women had attempted suicide and there is no doubt that the attempted hangings, jumping from containers and the ingestion of toxic liquids are accurately described as suicide attempts,” said Rintoul.

“It is well known that in its public statements the government regularly downplays the gravity of suicide and self-harm incidents among the detainees and its responsibility for the deteriorating mental health of those they keep in detention,” Rintoul continued.

“This is exactly what they and The Australian have done regarding the instances of the family camp on Christmas Island. According to the latest information, no less than 14 asylum seekers are officially on “suicide watch” in the family camp alone.

“The government has contempt for the welfare of asylum seekers who are in their care. Despite medical advice, the government intends to move a Pakistani Shia asylum seeker from hospital to the MITA detention centre regardless of his previous attempts to suicide in that detention centre.”

“The Australian has also suggested that I, along with other unspecified refugee advocates, ‘coach’ asylum seekers to self-harm for political purposes.

“This allegation has not the slightest basis in fact. The ‘coaching’ allegation, made by former Immigration official Greg Lake, has not been supported by a shred of evidence, even under challenge.

“Lake’s claims have only served to deflect attention from the well-established fact that it is detention unnecessarily imposed by the government that has such serious detrimental effects on the mental health of asylum seekers, and is the cause of self harm and attempted suicide in detention centres,” Rintoul said.

He said having made serious allegations against advocates he refuses to name, Lake has been unable to produce one iota of back-up when challenged on his claims’ accuracy.

“His story has also been inconsistent,” Rintoul said. “Lake initially claimed that the basis for his allegations was that the facts were not only ‘obvious’, but also confirmed in interviews with the detainees themselves. He now says that the information comes from monitored communications which cannot be revealed for legal reasons but he has failed to provide any level of detail at all.”

The Refugee Action Coalition stands by all its previous claims unreservedly. Lake and The Australian have only discredited themselves by publishing their baseless allegations.

Next article – Free Gaza – Free Palestine rally

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