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Issue #1749      September 21, 2016

Forgotten men of Christmas Island

The human cost of Australia’s immigration detention system is revealed in a report by Fairfax Media on Australia’s forgotten detention centre. This details conditions inside the Christmas Island detention centre, where people seeking asylum are languishing with little outside contact, difficult access to legal assistance and inadequate mental healthcare.

Refugee advocates Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, and Sister Brigid Arthur, from the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project, travelled to Christmas Island to visit the men seeking asylum, who are currently held in the detention centre, more than 2,600 kilometres from the nearest capital city, Perth.

There they found an environment of fear and physical violence where men seeking asylum face ongoing mental trauma and isolation, all while under the direct care of the Australian government.

“The effects of the extreme isolation, fear of violence, uncertain future, and lack of adequate mental health care has had a deeply dehumanising effect on these men,” said Pamela Curr.

“We met men showing signs of profound mental ill health. One man clearly has an intellectual impairment and is unable to think coherently. Yet he has been repeatedly punished for refusing to comply with instructions.

“We heard about a man so mentally unwell that he barked like a dog. He was bashed so often that he is taken out of the compound each day by the guards to an isolation unit where he spends his time making houses out of matchsticks.

“We talked to men who had been pulled from their beds in mainland detention centres in the dead of night by security force personnel accompanied by dogs. They were then handcuffed, pushed into vans and taken to Christmas Island without warning. We found two who had only ever been on Christmas Island. One man we spoke to had not seen a visitor for two years. ”

There they found the Christmas Island detention centre holding around 30 men seeking asylum mixed in with about 200 men exiting prisons from across Australia after serving sentences of varying length for crimes of varying severity. This places the men seeking asylum at significant risk of harm due to the simmering resentment of some of the ex-prisoner population.

“It is an uneasy mix as Border Force deliberately intersperses the men seeking asylum with the ex-prisoners,” said Pamela Curr.

“Not all the ex-prisoners are violent, but some men act out of a prison culture where physical force rules. They are angry at being taken away to Christmas Island where their families cannot visit and into conditions far worse than any prison in Australia. These men call the men seeking asylum, ‘boaties’ and blame them: ‘This place was made for you not us’.”

The men seeking asylum have experienced and witnessed extreme violence while in detention and live in fear.

“We listened as they asked over and over ‘why am I here – I am no criminal’. Some shake and wipe away tears. Others are without expression,” said Pamela Curr. “We are witnessing men who are without hope and are almost all broken human beings.”

Kon Karapanogiotidis, CEO of ASRC, said this account of conditions on Christmas Island highlights the dehumanisation of people seeking asylum under the Australian government’s repressive detention system.

“People seeking asylum need to be treated with dignity and decency, yet this account of their lives in detention shows the deep harm being done to people caught up in the system,” said Kon Karapanogiotidis.

“It is absolutely clear that the men seeking asylum in detention on Christmas Island are at profound risk of violence and psychological harm. It is obviously not a suitable environment for people seeking safety who are fleeing torture and trauma.

“The people seeking asylum on Christmas Island and in our other offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru must be treated with compassion and respect. It is clear that we must bring them here to safety while their asylum claims are assessed.

“Around the country our community is uniting to call on our government to create a compassionate refugee policy that reflects our values and treats people seeking asylum with decency,” said Kon Karapanogiotidis.“We need the community to call their MP or Senators and tell them to #BringThemHere.”

Next article – Filipinos support Australian peaceful independence

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