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Issue #1782      June 21, 2017

Detention deception

The lies exposed

Detainees at the Manus Island asylum-seeker camp in Papua New Guinea will be paid compensation for “degrading and cruel” treatment in a decision hailed as an important human rights victory. The pay out of a conditional settlement of $70 million, to be shared by 1,905 people who have been held on Manus Island since 2012, is a move by the government to avert a public and damning trial against it and security providers Transfield and G4S.

The announcement of a possible settlement with Manus asylum seekers and the Australian government for false imprisonment and the conditions on Manus Island that caused them physical and psychological harm is an admission that the Australian government is responsible for detention on Manus Island. (The government’s claim that the Manus camp is PNG’s responsibility is a legal fiction: the Australian government paid for the construction of the facilities and employs the staff in it.)

“It puts the lie to the continual claims from Peter Dutton that Manus Island is the responsibility of the PNG government,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“No amount of money can compensate the asylum seekers sent there unlawfully for the damage that has been done to them. They, and their families, have lost almost four years of their lives. Three people have died.

“The Australian government ignored the order made by PNG Supreme Court in April last year that the Manus detention centre be closed.

“Now the government will pay for unlawfully imprisoning them. But there won’t be justice until the refugees and asylum seekers are brought to Australia. The Labor Party, too, must face up to the role that they have played as the government that negotiated an unlawful arrangement with the government of PNG.

“The bi-partisan support for offshore detention must end. We expect Bill Shorten to encourage the Coalition government to immediately bring the asylum seekers and refugees to Australia.

“No amount of money can solve the fact that refugees do not have a future on PNG. Hundreds of people will be left behind regardless of the US resettlement deal.

“The responsibilities of the Australian government for the future and the safety of those on Manus Island did not end with this court case. We expect an apology from Peter Dutton to all those the government has held illegally and we expect an apology for his lies he told when the detention centre was attacked with gunfire on Good Friday.”

Mental health toll

A 2014 study of 5,400 asylum seekers in mainland detention centres, Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru by medical consulting firm International Health and Medical Services revealed that the detainees’ mental health is deteriorating in proportion to their time in indefinite detention, and the problem is exacerbated by offshore detention.

The study found that 13 percent of asylum seekers in mainland detention centres and on Christmas Island were suffering extremely severe depression on arrival. A third of the Christmas Island detainees have major mental health issues, “indicating a high level of need for torture and trauma counselling services on the island”. The mental health of children, who make up about 13 percent of the detainee numbers, was of particular concern.

The number of detainees suffering mental health problems increased to 22 percent for those detained between four and six months and peaked at 44 percent for detention over 19 months. On Manus Island and Nauru approximately half the detainees exhibited symptoms of significant depression, stress or anxiety.

The study claimed that the number of asylum seekers in immigration detention who exhibit clinical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder now exceeds 1,000.

Manus Island has been without a full-time psychiatrist for six months. The study highlighted the need for specialist torture and trauma counselling services and for psychologists and psychiatrists to work in the detention centres, but made it clear the primary difficulty is the detention environment.

Dr Choong-Siew Yong, a former member of the immigration health advisory group (which the government disbanded) commented:

“People are coming as asylum seekers with a high level of mental health problems to begin with, and in the environment of the detention centres and the uncertainty about outcomes, and the fact they are often in detention for long periods of time, those problems remain and in some cases get worse, despite the provision of treatment.”

It can be concluded from the report that the current policies of mandatory detention, offshore processing, detaining and resettling asylum seekers in developing nations and forbidding them from ever resettling in Australia are vicious violations of the asylum seekers’ human rights.

Next article – Those responsible for this crime …

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