Chaos, distress at Manus detention camp

This is a developing story at the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea, for asylum seekers. Riots erupted Sunday for two nights in a row with Monday night more brutal than Sunday. Mainstream and alternative media reported conflicting accounts, but Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed this morning of one death and scores of others critically injured.

Morrison can only say the situation is “distressing” while civic groups said the distress is expected. Human rights groups said Tony Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Border failed to uphold human dignity. 

Civic action against offshore processing outside the Department of Immigration, Melbourne. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Have they been told to rot in Manus without a hope to see the ray of day in promised land? Asylum seekers in Australia’s “Gulag” are reportedly informed they have to stay in the detention centre or they have to seek refuge somewhere else – but not Australia. The current policy reiterates Australia’s door is shut.

Last Sunday’s meeting with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison enraged detainees at the PNG island’s detention centre. Morrison reportedly announced that they would remain in limbo for good. Morrison, however, denies reports that he told the detainees they were not to be resettled in Papua New Guinea.

Thirty-five detainees tried to break out on Sunday but were rounded up by detention guards and PNG police. They clashed with the officers, smashed window panes, knocked down power poles, and breached security fences. Bunk beds and tents were also destroyed and 19 people sustained injuries.

(UPDATE: Asylum seeker dies in Papua New Guinea camp)

Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), said police used force “out of proportion” to contain the protestors. In the RAC website , he said “the number of broken hands and baton injuries indicate a use of force…. One asylum seeker has 70 stitches in his head. “ He is calling for an investigation.

Rintoul said that after the riot, they received reports that Manus Island locals have armed themselves with machetes, knives and guns while an insider fears sections of the perimeter fence have been torn down by locals. The detainees are growing increasingly anxious that they will be the victims of vigilante action.

The Refugee Action Collective join the protest against Manus Island’s detention centre. (Photo: The Green Journal)

There were also reports that local PNG G4S guards have pulled out of at least one compound and asylum seekers have been told that if there is any attack by the locals, G4S will withdraw totally.

The asylum seekers are fearful that there will be a repeat of the situation last October when they were left defenceless when G4S pulled out of the detention centre in the face of clashes between PNG army and PNG police. The RAC continued:

The imposition of the detention centre on Manus Island has created local tensions from the very start. The lack of transparency about resettlement has added to the tensions.

If those tensions are now turned on the asylum seekers themselves the responsibility will lie with the Australian government. The deal to establish a detention centre on Manus Island was always toxic.

The detention centre has shattered the peace on Manus Island. Peace will not be restored until the detention centre is closed. In the meantime Scott Morrison is responsible for the safety of the asylum seekers he has dumped on Manus Island.

Socialist Alternative long opposes Pacific Solution before Operation Sovereign Border. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott enforced Operation Sovereign Border after he won the election in September last year. It is a hardline policy to stop the boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia. He said the only way to avoid disturbances at detention centres was to ensure asylum seekers didn’t try to come to Australia by boat.

“If you come to Australia illegally by boat this is, I’m afraid, what happens to you. As far as this government is concerned the way is shut,” he told a local radio.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International released a new report, This is Breaking People: Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, which uncovers the truth about Manus Island and the degrading conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

Immigration minister agrees to free children from Manus?

GetUp resumes its campaign against Pacific Solution Mark II. Now the group is pressing the Federal Government to release about 34 children detained in Manus Island.

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NewsLtd

Children asylum seekers detained in Nauru. (Photo: News Ltd)

GetUp said,

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor finally pulled his head out of the sand, admitting that asylum seeker detention centres are “not only expensive, [they] take a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing.” 1 Amen.

The announcement will mean newly arrived asylum seeker families would be eligible to be released into the community on bridging visas. Prompting the question GetUp members have been asking for months:

Why is Manus Island Detention Centre still open at all?

The condemnation of the Manus Island detention centre couldn’t be stronger, and it’s coming from all directions. A recent report from the Immigration Department found its own facility poses health risks. In an ABC Four Corners report, Dr John Vallentine said medical treatment in the centre was inadequate. The Coalition have called it a waste of money. The number of boat arrivals shows it doesn’t even work as a deterrent.

 Sign and share this petition so we can demonstrate widespread public support demanding the Manus Island detention centre be shut down once and for all.

SHUT DOWN MANUS!

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The public needs to hear of some breakthrough.

Children suffer at immigration prisons

……Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold. – Brad Pitt

Hollywood actor Brad Pitt never visited Manus Island, but if he does, he will probably reiterate what he said to the children of Africa.

On Christmas and Manus islands, innocent children are not exempted from mandatory detention if they attempt to arrive in Australia by boat.

ChilOut revives a campaign to raise awareness on child asylum seeker (Photo: ChilOut Revived FB)

The Australian Human Rights Commission notes a disturbing number of children in detention centres, citing statistics from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. As of 31 December 2012, there were 1,953 children in immigration detention on the mainland and Christmas Island. Of these, 732 children were in community detention and the remainder (1,221) were in immigration detention facilities.

As of February 2013, there were around 30 asylum seeker children in detention on Manus Island. The Commission is concerned about the detention of child asylum seekers. People who arrive in Australia by boat after 13 August 2012 are to be transferred to designated regional processing countries– Nauru and Manus.

Children have limited places to play in Manus. (Photo: Supplied)

In Manus, children live with adults awaiting news of their fates. Nobody knows how long will it take before the Australian government steps up the processing of their immigration statuses.

According to a ChilOut youth who was locked up in the Pacific island as a child, children who live with adults see the chaos of the demonstrations all day. They also see older people committing self-harm and to the extreme — suicides. They lost years of their childhood waiting in prison witnessing horrendous human suffering.

The Australian Greens notes that experts have been warning that detention is an entirely unsuitable place for any child, particularly those who have already been forced to seek asylum. The mental effects of mandatory detention can be devastating for children.

Children face a significantly high risk of long term mental and physical consequences as a result of detention. Some of these children have spent their whole lives behind bars, having committed no crime other than being born in a country from which they are forced to flee.

There are stories behind bars. The immigration department tried to censor information through various means, including Internet restrictions or phone surveillance. It has also barred the media and human rights organisations from access, including AHRC.

But letters and art work from children have been able to arrive in the mail boxes of human rights supporters.

Art work by a 10 year old sent to Greens Senator Sarah Hanson- Young: “Here in our block, three people passed out and there is no doctor. …is laughing and others are crying.”

GetUp has already launched another campaign to consolidate support for children detained in Manus.

Out of Sight, a GetUp and ChilOut collaboration, aims to raise awareness of the plight of children and adult asylum seekers detained on Manus Island. ChilOut has also put up a Facebook page to provide updates on the issue.

The campaign aims to defy media bans and other forms of communication barriers that attempt to silence the stories of asylum seekers, especially children.

GetUp reiterates the need to give children a voice and put video campaigns on TV screens all around Australia.

“Let’s ensure these children can’t be tucked away out of sight, out of mind. ”

Australia has an international obligation to protect these children, being one of the signatories to the UN convention on refugees.

ChilOut Youth Ambassadors along with 4 other child detainees from around the world presented their stories to more than 25 Governments and 5 key UN agencies. (Photo: ChilOut Revived FB)

Gillard fights offshore, onshore human smuggling

As of this writing, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has negotiated a deal with New Zealand for the intake of 150 asylum seekers a year from Australia. This is insane. The Gillard Government cannot face its responsibility and passing it on to third parties, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Nauru, Manus, and now New Zealand. Why not simply revoke the commitment made to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and admit Australia does not want to take them?The Green Journo reiterates that neither Pacific Solution Mark 2 nor Kiwi Deal can stop human smuggling.

Reposting yesterday’s blog entry:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will stand by the advice of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to enforce Pacific Solution Mark 2 as a way to deter people smuggling.

The solution, which took effect in September last year, sends a clear message to people who are arriving by boat: No advantage. They will to be locked up in the tent city of  Nauru or Manus in the Pacific.

Boat people are assigned to live in these tents in Manus or Nauru. (Photo: DIAC)

ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday aired a testimony of Marriane Evers on the deplorable conditions endured by asylum seekers in Manus. Evers is a trained counsellor and a veteran nurse with more than 40 years experience. She signed up to work in Manus but quitted on the third week.

Nauru is like a concentration camp, she said, except that the Australian Government has not exterminated the detainees. The asylum seekers instead resort to self-harm, while others have turned suicidal.

New Matilda also published open letters of asylum seekers in Manus providing minute details of their harrowing experiences.

Human rights activists stage a rally at the DIAC building in Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/ The Green Journo)

Human rights activists took the streets in October-November following a prolonged hunger strike of detainees in Nauru. Several groups staged protests nationwide to lambast the return of Pacific Solution Mark 2, which violates human rights. This also underscores Australia’s inability to meet its obligation under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

Australian Parliament admits the number of unauthorized people arriving by boat is small compared to the numbers arriving in other parts of the world, like the USA, Canada and Europe.

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney said:

It would take 20 years to fill the MCG with the number of refugees who come to Australia. The United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, estimates that there were 10.4 million refugees worldwide at the start of 2011. In 2010–2011, Australia’s refugee intake was just 13,799 people, less than 0.14%. Australia was one of the only countries in the world to have fewer refugee claims in the first half of 2011. In those six months alone, the USA received 36,400 applications for asylum; France 26,100 and Germany 20,100.

The Coalition added most new migrants in Australia are not refugees. Latest statistics available shows that boat arrivals constituted less than two percent of Australia’s total migration program and much less than one percent of the increase to the Australian population by birth and migration in a given year.

The Government turns frantic every time a boat is spotted heading towards Christmas Island. It accuses asylum seekers who arrive by boat of being queue jumpers, an accusation that human rights organisations reject.

Can Pacific Solution Mark 2 effectively deter human smuggling?

The answer is no. While the Gillard Government has given much attention to offshore smugglers, it misses the large-scale operation of onshore smugglers who are bringing more people into Australia.

Onshore human smugglers are underground intermediaries who are luring people offshore to come to Australia– with promises of jobs, better education, and excellent living conditions, among other promises of a “dream destination.”

These intermediaries are linked to a complex chain of networks such as those arranging sham marriages, forged English-language exams, bogus courses, and other immigration rackets. The DIAC have found these are often involved in various frauds such as taxation and welfare, breaches of industrial, health and safety laws and other unlawful conduct.

Student visas are reported to be the most common form of visa and it is being exploited to smuggle people into Australia via a network of unscrupulous migration and education agents, landlords and employers. Students are promised to get a visa as a launching pad to get into Australia.

The Australian interviewed Tony Pollock, the chief executive of IDP Education Australia, the main recruiter for Australia’s $16 billion industry in foreign students. Pollock described the operation as a “chain of exploitation” which “could be construed as people-smuggling.”

The Herald Sun reported hundred of international students are buying the right to live in Australia by paying criminals for fake work references in a racket worth millions.

The massive scam, based in Melbourne and involving local restaurant and small business owners, has been described by officials as “an organised and lucrative criminal enterprise

In August last year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) announced the Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Bill 2012 which sets out the penalties for employers hiring illegal workers. This amendment bill opened a can of worms exposing the extent of onshore people smuggling. The number of illegal migrants could now be over 100,000.

Stephen Howell who led the review of the bill suggests that non-citizens working in Australia has been growing since 1998. These people do not have permission to stay and work and their presence is very often organised by intermediaries who exploit their legal status.

As part of the strategy to encourage compliance, DIAC has planned to ramp up an awareness campaign and help employers to gain access to information about prospective employees’ visa work status.

Is DIAC ready to launch a crackdown after announcing the bill?

Eye witnesses to a big-time smuggling operation, who requested anonymity, said DIAC is not interested in doing a crackdown. Underground operations in the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, for example, appear to be insignificant. These agents ran immigration-related businesses, including an English-testing system to bridge the requirements in fixing illegal statuses of migrants and their families.

While people who arrived by boat languish to death in the Pacific islands, people who made it onshore en route the aid of well-connected agents continue to multiply and flourish– degrading the integrity of Australia’s immigration system.

Activism against offshore processing at the DIAC, Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)

Demonstration at the DIAC building Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)