Desperation of Europe's refugees mirrors life in detention
AMID the horror of the greatest movement of people since World War 2, it has taken photos of a young Syrian boy's body lying on the beach of a Turkish resort town for European leaders and the world to pay attention.
Aylan Kurdi was fleeing with his parents from the five-year conflict that has ravaged his homeland, bound for the Greek island of Kos when their boat sank.
A rescuer gently lay his lifeless body on the sandy beach at Bodrum, a photographer capturing a scene that has focussed the minds of European leaders, forcing a major policy shift by British Prime Minister David Cameron and unlocking a well of compassion in ordinary people from Iceland to Germany who have offered their homes, clothes and food to assist the Diaspora of the dispossessed.
In Australia the media are denied access to the detention centres where asylum seekers are locked away from view, classified as law breakers.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday declared that his tough approach to stop the boats had been justified by events now unfolding in Europe. What remains hidden, locked away in onshore detention centres and at Manus Island and Nauru, is the terrible human cost of a policy that is literally driving people mad.
A Senate inquiry into conditions on Nauru prompted by allegations of inhumane living conditions and sexual abuse, has handed down its findings calling for the immediate removal of children and families.
Evidence given by nurses, social workers, guards doctors and management of Transfield Services - the company that runs the facilities on Nauru and Manus Island, led to 15 recommendations supported by the Senate inquiry's two Labor and one Green member with the two government Liberal Senators dissenting.
The report found that "the present conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru are not adequate, appropriate or safe for the asylum seekers detained there. The committee believes that the Commonwealth must accept ultimate responsibility for conditions at the centre, commit to a clear plan for its future as part of genuine regional arrangements for dealing with irregular migration, and make tangible improvements to living conditions."
The report was handed down on the same day Transfield was given a $2.4bn, five-year extension to its contract to run the two detention centres.
A woman who has dedicated the past two years to providing pastoral support for asylum seekers brought from Nauru and Manus to Brisbane and Darwin detention centres for medical treatment spoke to the Daily yesterday about the cruel consequence of Australia's border protection policy.
And she's furious that the government is now housing a convicted paedophile, awaiting deportation at the end of his sentence, in the same space occupied by the young children of detainees.
The woman can't be identified, fearing she may lose access to those for whom her compassion affords some respite. What have shocked her most are the stories of cruelty meted out to people who have reached out to Australia for help.
"The government has no plan for the 30,000 people trapped in offshore detention centres or ones in Australia,'' she said.
"They can't go back to their countries or they'll be killed along with their families. They have no choice. They don't have a country where they're safe."
She has seen people in desperate need of surgery being wheeled out of the Brisbane detention centre then left for four hours locked in a hospital room before being transferred back to an offshore detention centre without treatment.
"They're intelligent people," she said. "One man kept saying he hadn't broken any law, hadn't killed or robbed anyone. He said 'put me before a court. Tell me what we've done to be treated like this'."
The woman said it was time for all asylum seekers to be released from Manus Island and Nauru.
"They've had two years to assess if they are genuine,'' she said. "We have to get them out of there, we need to fight for every one of them.''
Australia's treatment of refugees is graphically explained in testimony to the Senate inquiry by the Refugee Action Collective - Queensland.
In Queensland refugees are housed at the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation centre. It holds around 58 single adult males and females, and families with children mainly from Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia. Most are brought from Nauru for physical or mental medical treatment.
"They all fear Nauru … they know they are mentally ill … night terrors fill their night times and they can barely remember their own names or the faces of the family back home in the day,'' one visitor to the centre said.
"They are always afraid of the knock on the door at any time of night. That will mean they are being packed and taken back offshore. Many do not eat for long periods. Many prefer to remain in their room than mix with others, and quite a few have attempted suicide. They are then put on 24-hour suicide watch. I have been in BITA when people have been suddenly taken from the centre in a very distressed state. They are given no prior notice and they are not able to say goodbye to others in the centre - some they have shared a room with for several months ... Another young woman ... was so traumatised at the thought of going back there, that she had to be heavily sedated when taken. She has since returned to the mainland requiring urgent mental health and medical help, due to extreme loss of weight and physical deterioration."
Another told the inquiries detainees had spoken of harsh physical conditions with families living in confined tents in stifling heat with virtually no privacy for close to two years.
"Water shortages are chronic, the food is ordinary and the ground that the children play on irritates their skin and causes all sorts of problems."
Another advocate spoke of the filth in which the refugees are housed on an island covered in bird droppings.
"One man explained that everything on Nauru is dirty. The ground is covered in phosphate and this gets in everything, including the fans. He described how they digest this grey dust which makes them cough. He said the children cough all the time."
Another visitor to BITA told the Senate inquiry that the mental torment was worse than the physical conditions.
"They have no idea how long they have to bear these soul breaking conditions or what their future will be,'' she said.
Another told how she'd seen a 10-year-old boy who was translating on behalf of his family about the conditions on Nauru with a frown and worries that belonged to a 60-year-old man.
"This boy spends time alone just crying and has been in detention for close to two years,'' she said.
"A young boy, an unaccompanied minor, cut himself one evening at BITA after being told he was being returned to Nauru."
Another BITA visitor said of those she has met; "They know the sweet little 23-year-old girl raped and left naked in Nauru a month ago.
"They know the little boy now deformed because medical professionals didn't know how to fix his broken arm or care enough about his pain to give more Panadol ... Their reliance is gone. Twenty-four months of being locked up as cattle has destroyed their grip on reality. They have had no control over the simplest decisions in life for so long now."