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Tag Archives: Manus Island

Send a peace-keeping team where it’s needed most, ScoMo

Em şîv in hûn jî paşîv in,” or, if we are dinner you are supper,  Armenians warn Kurds before Turkish massacres – a recurrent motif in Kurdish oral history.

 

As Donald Trump abruptly withdraws US air support and a trip-wire of US troops from North-East Syria, in the vast Kurdish-controlled triangle, locals call Rojava or “The West”, Sunday, he clears the way for Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to begin Operation Peace Spring, a long-planned, long-threatened military offensive to purge the Kurds. Erdoğan’s blitzkrieg starts Wednesday 9 October.

Turkey is pressing on with its alternative buffer zone concept, trashing the neutral corridor plan the US and Turkey say they’ve been working on for a year – at least. Erdoğan’s plan is to invade Syria and fill the illegally occupied territory along Turkey’s southern border with 2 million Syrian refugees – or “up to half the 3.6 million people”, the UN registers as currently taking refuge in Turkey. The EU can pick up the tab. Ankara’s pitch is far-fetched, impracticable and threatens to re-ignite ISIS but Trump buys it.

ISIS is more acceptable to an anti-Ataturk Erdoğan than Rojava, a Kurdish radically decentralised and democratic social revolution which embraced gender equality and inspired activists worldwide. Rojava’s the antithesis of the more common Middle Eastern patriarchal despotism. It’s easy to see why its radical egalitarian political and social structure is ideologically repugnant to the conservative autocrat Erdoğan.

On top of ancient hatreds are grafted newer layers of distrust. And on top of these are military realities. Former legionnaire and YPG (Peoples’ Protection Unit) volunteer, Jamie Williams successfully volunteered to fight with the Kurds against Daesh in 2017,  he writes in The Saturday Paper. He soon realised that the Kurds were as much at risk from Turkey as from Daesh or ISIS as it prefers to be known.

Kurdish force YPG has its women-only counterpart the YPJ. Our government has provided air support to the group – yet it is linked with PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, whom Erdoğan regards as terrorists, responsible for acts of terror in Turkey. To many commentators they are one and the same group.

Propaganda from Turkey is all about fighting terrorists, spin which our own PM repeats even as civilians are indiscriminately killed in the first few days of the Turkish onslaught. Trump sets off a powder keg.

“All hell breaks loose” says The Washington Post after a Sunday phone call between the two populist presidents. Talk turns to trade and help with defence in the exhausted superlatives Trump favours. Only late in the call, does the topic turn to Erdoğan’s impending invasion and grander aims.

Trump offers a “really good package”, of F35 jets, lemons at $100m a pop, from Lockheed’s $1.5 trillion defence boondoggle, the most expensive in the world, even though Turkey will still buy a missile defence system from Russia, and keep a multi-billion dollar plan to dodge US sanctions on Iran. A presidential visit is thrown into the deal. Trump tells Erdoğan not to invade, he insists. Turkey’s actions attest otherwise.

A White House statement issued after the phone call certainly appears to confirm the withdrawal.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The US Armed Forces . . . having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Turkish officials maintain Trump privately gave Erdoğan the go-ahead. Trump ups his bluster.

Congressional Republicans erupt in protest. Trump denies all report of any such undertaking. Hapless administration officials are scrambled to explain, ineffectually, that Trump’s yes means no; the US does not consent to Turkey’s plans to invade Syria nor collude in Erdoğan’s fantasy of an Ottoman Empire 2.0.

A bipartisan group forms to devise sanctions; put Turkey’s war machine genie back in its bottle. As if.

By Monday, having provoked outrage from even the typically recumbent if not supine Republicans in the House and the Senate, Trump threatens to “obliterate” his NATO ally’s economy, if Erdoğan doesn’t stop invading Syria; rhetoric he quickly tones down.  Turkey is now warned not to do “anything outside what we think is humane” – or the country will “suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy.”

What we think is humane? Pressed for time to interpret Trump’s double-speak, Ankara could do worse than glance at Amnesty International’s summary of the Trump administration’s human rights abuses in its immigration policy alone. Amnesty says the Trump administration’s policy and practices have caused,

“..catastrophic irreparable harm to thousands of people, have spurned and manifestly violated both US and international law, and appeared to be aimed at the full dismantling of the US asylum system.”

Meanwhile, a new wave of 2000 US troops is deployed in Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon announces, topping up a thousand recently deployed there to pot-shot the odd drone, all part of the US bogus war on Iran which Trump & Co are trying to gin up, purely to help his 2020 re-election prospects. The troops will be on hand to “assure and enhance” Saudi Arabia’s defence and no doubt help its women learn to drive.

It’s a low blow to Canberra’s attempts to paint Trump’s capitulation to Erdoğan as consistent with The Donald’s avowed isolationism; his public wish to “get out of these ridiculous endless wars”. Someone needs to tell ScoMo and Co not to confuse Trump’s performance shtick with any deeper conviction.

ScoMo tells Nine Newspapers and others that there’s nothing to see here. The most erratic president in US history is just acting consistently. It’s all going to plan. A po-faced ScoMo claims Trump outlined his aim to withdraw troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq a year ago and is now acting on that message.

“I think it would be wrong to not draw an element of consistency between those statements almost a year ago and the action the United States has been taking since, including most recently,” ScoMo bloviates.

“As is the nature of alliances and friendships, you work through these issues together and you understand them together and you speak frankly to one another and you do that in the spirit of that relationship.”

Bunkum. Part of the outrage amongst even his own party, is Trump’s total lack of consultation. Left out of the loop, say Politico and others, were foreign allies, Congress even some in his own administration.

Trump is working nothing through together, ScoMo. Nor is there any element of consistency. Trump’s administration has, in fact, increased US involvement in what he calls their “ridiculous endless wars”.

US Air Forces central command reports late last month, it launched the most airstrikes in Afghanistan over a single month in roughly a decade. American troops have ramped up airstrikes in Libya targeting ISIS fighters there. And the US continues its shadow war in Somalia to repel terrorists there. The new wave in Saudi Arabia means a total net increase of 17000 US troops in the region since May.

Stung by accusations of incompetence, Saturday, Trump appears on Fox’s Justice with Janine to utter his most pathetic self-justification yet, “He (Erdoğan) was going to go in anyway. They’ve been fighting the Kurds for 200 years. He was going in anyway,” Trump professes US impotence to host Jeanine Pirro.

In doing so, Trump unwittingly confirms that he’s given in to Erdoğan’s demands. It is unlikely to boost his party’s trust or Trump’s self-appointed role as super-patriot and nationalist. His wimpy surrender to Turkey’s territorial ambitions makes America great again? Like his protégé, Scott Morrison, when the chips are down he doesn’t give a toss about principle or consistency or even plausible deniability.

As with any of our current crop of political monsters, the winner-take-all strong men thrown up by neoliberalism’s decline, sky-rocketing inequality and the rise and rise of hyper-nationalism, it’s all about political survival – at any price.

Trump needs a diversion from his impeachment narrative and Rudy Giuliani’s erratic stunts are not helping. He puts on his isolationist mask when it suits. Only Murdoch hacks and ScoMo take it seriously.

Isolationist Trump is stymied because continuous war is vital to the United States military industrial complex if not the economy, a neoliberal supreme being second only to the free market in the cult’s articles of faith. Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul – even more of an embarrassing Trump fanboy than our own PM, rushes to defend his president’s isolationism but, as with toady ScoMo, his credibility is low.

As Republicans and Democrats alike bag Trump for enabling Turkish attacks on U.S. Kurdish allies which could enable ISIS prisoners of war to escape and reform, Paul declares that most Americans would actually agree with President Trump that this is not a war that has our national interest at stake.”

Even if national interest can mean whatever you choose it to mean, it’s difficult to agree with Paul that America’s national interest will emerge unscathed as its reputation as an ally is trashed – and as the Kurdish body count mounts – so far, Turkish authorities claim to have killed 277 terrorists.

Kurdish sources claim that most of those killed or maimed by bombs and air strikes are civilians.

Does Trump give “a green light” or “a trigger” to Turkey’s military ambitions? Experts differ. Trump, himself, is increasingly incoherent and – like his disciple, Scott Morrison -consistently fast and loose and with the truth. What is certain is that the US betrays its military allies, the Kurds who have lost eleven thousand men and women fighting America’s Syrian military intervention in the last five years at least.

What is also clear is that Trump crafts a week of utter confusion over US Middle-East policy in a desperate bid to stem the growing movement to impeach him for enlisting Ukraine’s sad clown, former comic turned President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to help him smear Joe Biden and the whole Mueller inquiry.

Zelensky is now rapidly running up a trust deficit in polls reported this week. His dealings with Trump; his proposals to end the Kremlin-backed war in Ukraine’s East – don’t help. Ukrainians see him less as a running gag on Ukraine’s hopelessly corrupt political system and more like a puppet of a local billionaire.

“Never get into a well with an American rope,” goes a saying, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn reports, is spreading across the Middle East. Will Trump’s treachery also be an object lesson to Canberra?

It’s unlikely given the obsequious fawning of ScoMo’s recent Washington junket, to say nothing of Titanium Man’s subsequent mimicry of Trump on how China is a developed nation and expect no favours over Kyoto targets such as Australia enjoys. But ScoMo knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this week sees him morph even further into a Trump even without fake tan or combover.

On song with Donald, ScoMo also rails against “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracies” which UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reminds our PM, Australia helped set up. The scrutiny Morrison’s government rejects is based on international standards it helped create.

We’re also backing out of the UN Climate fund, Morrison decrees, following Trump’s inspiring example. Money saved can go to the Pacific, (it would, anyway, under the fund), especially our fruit-picking Fijians who will love their rugby until Fiji’s playing fields are underwater courtesy of our heroic contribution to global warming as we squib our commitment to our Paris Agreement target with carry-over credits.

Heroic? When we take into account our exports’ carbon dioxide emission potential, Australia ranks as the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia reports The Australia Institute. Wherever our exported fossil fuels may be burnt, they emit more carbon dioxide than the exported emissions of all but two of the world’s biggest oil- and gas-producing nations.

Helping galloping Trumpism sweep the nation in their own self-righteous, dismissive way on Sunday’s ABC Insiders are Murdoch’s Michael Stuchbury and mining lobby tool, The Sydney Institute’s, merry Gerry Henderson who talk up ScoMo’s climate leadership and still find time to defend Peter Dutton for just stating the obvious about how China does not share our “Australian values”.

Gerry scotches all notion of ScoMo criticising his mentor and BFF Donald Trump.

“There is no reason why the Australian government should criticise the American President” says Henderson, airily, ignoring years of utter chaos, corruption and racist violence since January 2017.

Certainly no criticism of Trump appears in ScoMo&Co’s fabulous Dr Doolittle routine, the Payne-Morrison Foreign Policy Pushmi-pullyu duo who sing from the same ponderous song-sheet, in eerie fidelity.

“The Australian Government is deeply troubled by Turkey’s unilateral military operation into North-Eastern Syria. It will cause additional civilian suffering, lead to greater population displacement, and further inhibit humanitarian access. While Turkey has legitimate domestic security concerns, unilateral cross-border military action will not solve these concerns.”

Take that, Erdogan and your domestic security concerns. Neville Chamberlain couldn’t have put it better.

Or as Orwell warns, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details…. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

Weasel words and the vexed question of his aiding and abetting mad elected-King Donald aside, ScoMo and Co are “deeply troubled” only by having to fake moral outrage at Turkey’s turpitude. It’s a tough gig.

Causing “additional human suffering” bothers a PM who plans to revoke Medevac legislation in November? Hardly. “Humanitarian access” worries the gate-keeper of our asylum-seeker gulags both on and off-shore where mandatory, indefinite, detention is denounced by the UN as be a form of torture?

Greater population displacement worries the architect of the Cambodian Solution? A government which opens Christmas Island for one family is averse to additional civilian suffering? A key aim of our mandatory detention of asylum seekers is to punish those on Manus and Nauru or those locked up on the mainland and deprived of any social welfare payments -as a deterrent to other aspiring boat people.

Shunning the UN and similar international bodies is a retreat from co-operative globalism into barbarism. It is also, as the UN makes clear, a denial of our own humanity, a futile attempt to evade our own conscience; our sense of accountability and social responsibility.

Trump’s sudden withdrawal is a triple betrayal. The Kurds are now at risk not only from Turkey but from ISIS fighters they have captured, five of whom already liberate themselves after Turkish shelling from nearby. Kurdish fighters also face hostility from Assad’s regime – and will lose their homes to strangers.

Many of Syria’s Kurdish people live in cities and towns such as Qamishli, Kobani and Tal Abyad just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier. By Sunday, hundreds of thousands are fleeing south, terrified by the prospect of a Turkish occupation, backed by bands of Syrian Arab paramilitaries with links to al-Qaeda type groups. CNN reports that the bombardment could displace 300,000 people. Some say more.

Operation Peace Spring is Ankara’s Orwellian title for Turkey, and its Syrian proxies’ air strikes, heavy artillery, rocket fire and land assault; a campaign to illegally annex a “peace corridor” of Northern Syria thirty kilometres deep and some say 480 kilometres along Turkey’s entire Southern border with Syria.

Some sources suggest a more modest but no less illegal 120 kilometres of lebensraum is Turkey’s aim. But how can anyone be sure? In a Rafferty’s Rules-based world of disorder only might is right.

Is this what we’ve become?

Ankara has plans to relocate two million Syrian Arab refugees from other parts of Syria it currently has within its borders immediate aim is to seize Rojava; embark upon further Kurdish ethnic cleansing. As it happens, President Erdoğan announces, he’s just discovered that the land doesn’t belong to the Kurds.

It’s not his first invasion. On 20 January 2018, Turkey attacked the Kurdish city of Afrin in Operation Olive Branch, an offensive which displaced 300,000 Kurds who lost family homes to strangers resettled from eastern Ghouta, an urban suburb of Damascus. Human Rights Watch reports that armed Syrian paramilitary groups were permitted to detain and “forcibly disappear civilians.

Nothing to fear from a “mafia, murderer and serial killer” Turkish state mobilising its armed forces to massacre more Kurds? Hurriedly, publicly walking back any commitment he has made privately to Erdoğan, Trump says he’ll keep the Turks in check; “obliterate” their economy if they try any funny stuff.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” the USA’s Tweeter-in-Chief warns Ankara via Twitter.

His Stable Genius has it all under control.

Erdogan gets a hand, meanwhile. Prior to withdrawal, CNN reports, the US persuades Kurds to dismantle fortifications and to move troops away from the border whilst helpfully giving Turkey airspace access and intelligence on the area to improve its aim – or in military newspeak, formulate its target lists”.

Our own Trumpista, Scott Morrison has only recently returned from a brief but sell-out US tour where he did a star turn as Trump’s muppet. It’s a stunt, as Bernard Keane puts it, in which all of Australia’s foreign policy is outsourced to The White House. Now ScoMo must come up with something. He fails.

He rushes to urge “restraint of all those who are involved” – lest Kurds throw themselves rashly under Turkish tanks, or rush to put themselves or their families in line of fire of bullets or mortar attacks.

It’s all in a good cause. More grandiose plans and delusions aside, Erdogan and Trump are both down in the polls. Trump happily abandons US allies, Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, (SDF) and Kurdish civilians to Turkish genocide. It’s certainly diverting attention from moves to impeach him for seeking Ukraine’s help, for his own political advantage; to dig dirt on Joe Biden’s son. He has to be prepared. What if Joe Biden should win the Democratic nomination and not Elizabeth Warren?

Trump’s dumping of former US allies ought to be a wake-up call to those who fetishise the ANZUS alliance- merely an agreement to consult in times of crisis, despite the reverence our MPs bestow upon it.

The world sees clearly both the limits of US authority and how Trump treats US allies, an object lesson unlikely to be missed by Asian nations. Yet the warning is unlikely to be heeded by ScoMo and Co. Morrison’s government and its Murdoch mouthpiece is now so much part of the Trump cult that not only does our PM’s speeches on foreign policy now mimic the US President’s pre-occupations; lecturing China on trade and climate, he reneges on Australia’s commitment to the UN Green Climate Fund.

“I’m not writing a $500 million cheque to the UN, I won’t be doing that. There’s no way I’m going to do that to Australian taxpayers,” ScoMo tells reporters, an antipodean Zelig aping Trump’s 2017 decision.

In other words, ScoMo, you’ll sell us short. Don’t copy Trump. The UN Green Climate Fund -decades in the making – was inspired by the urgent need to support developing nations in responding to the challenge of climate change. It helps developing nations curb their emissions and adapt. It provides for our children and grandchildren – and their children and grandchildren.

Above all, aping your mentor Trump in attacking the UN and other international bodies designed to promote global citizenship and co-operation, you are betraying all Australians and especially those who helped create internationalism; a set of rules and responsibilities, which might help us to act according to our higher instincts. These include resolving conflict, offering refuge, respecting human rights and applying  the rule of law so that we might all benefit from a civilised international society.

The least Australia can do, for starters, is to censure Trump for colluding in Erdoğan’s invasion of Syria; giving the green light to his genocidal plans towards the Kurds. Other nations are already applying sanctions on Turkey. It is imperative we also take a stand against Erdoğan’s invasion before it is too late.

Prevailing on your BFF Donald Trump to resume control of the skies over North-East Syria would be a start while an international peace-keeping team could follow. You can send a team to the Golan Heights on Israel’s border. Surely you can also send a team where it’s needed most.

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The Phone Call – Turnbull Is Assured Or So I’m Led To Believe By Someone Who Shall Remain Nameless!

From “The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has received Donald Trump’s personal assurance that a deal for the US to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island will go ahead, despite the US President’s harsh immigration policies sending shockwaves around the world…

Mr Turnbull’s office declined to comment on the 25-minute phone call with Mr Trump. Fairfax Media has been told the President confirmed his administration would honour last year’s agreement, though it remains unclear how many of the roughly 2000 asylum-seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island will be resettled in the US.
Under the Obama deal, final details, including the number to be resettled, were not expected to be nailed down until the second half of this year, after US officials scrutinised applications and carried out security checks.”

Ok, now I really hope I’m wrong, but it does strike me that this is one of those ones where you say something’s happening and if we all go, “That’s good,” and forget about it then there’s really no problem. However, being a cynical sort of chap, I do have to wonder about three things in the SMH report.

1. Why, if the deal is going ahead, did Mr Turnbull’s office decline to comment?
2. “Fairfax media has been told that the President confirmed his administration would honour last year’s agreement…” BY WHOM? Turnbull’s office is declining to comment about the phone call, Trump’s press release merely said that they were happy that Australia is happy to do whatever the US wants in return for having its tummy-tickled while the President says, “Who’s a good boy then!”, so who was this anonymous person who told Fairfax about the agreement? Was it the same person who led the ABC and The Australian to “understand” that the deal was going ahead?
3. How on earth does it take the USA nearly a year to check out people who’ve had Australia checking them out for the past four years? Do they have to check everything again? And then check the people doing the checking?

Of course, if someone connected to the government was briefing journalists “off the record”, then why is it off the record? And if it’s on the record, why not say a spokesman for Mr Turnbull or the Minister for Information and Newspeak told us the Mr Trump said such and such. Surely, journalists would ask why they’re being briefed off the record, why this isn’t official statement! Surely, they wouldn’t just report someone saying, “Look, I can’t tell you this officially but Mr Trump said that he was totally ok with the deal, but we just have to say nothing for now, but you can report that it’s on. Trust me, I’m saying this on behalf of the people who are declining to comment. Yes, the deal is going ahead and the US will take some of the people on Manus and Nauru. No, we don’t know how many. No, we don’t know when. But it’s definite. No problem. Rock solid guarantee. Trump said he’ll take any that fit the criteria. What criteria is that? Not sure, it was a quick phone call and Malcolm only had time to ask how he was doing and to make a couple of jokes and to say that he was hoping that the TPP wasn’t dead yet, but if it is, well, that’s ok, because the USA has no truer friend than Australia even if, Mr President, I had to spend the first five minutes on of the call waiting while you found it on a map. We still love you, even if you love another more. Well, the criteria might be that they’re not Muslims. Or from Syria or Iran. Or any one of a number of other countries. And, of course, they can’t be law-breakers. No, being an “illegal immigrant” doesn’t count. Why not? Um, look, I’m just speaking of the record here so I don’t have any actual information, but you can just write that it’s going ahead, ok, and we can all get back to worrying about Jobs and Growth… Sorry, don’t mention growth. Jobs and innovation.”

For the sake of those on Manus and Nauru, I really hope I’m wrong. I really hope we see something official in the next few days, but given this government’s lack of follow-through with even the things they’ve announced, I have to wonder when Turnbull’s office is declining to comment. But hey, Mr Turnbull is probably preparing a press release as I write this and there’ll be a big announcement and a timetable for when the people on Nauru will be re-settled. And even a timetable for the ones on Manus who were found to be being held “illegally”. Yeah, all ok now. We can go back to sleep.

P.S. I’ve started tagging a lot of my posts “climate change” in order to waste the time of paid climate change deniers who’ll read the whole thing and then wonder why there’s nothing they can be commenting on. Alternatively, they may comment anyway, which’ll just prove that they’re not really interested in “discussing the science”. My apologies if you read it because you feel that you desperately needed to be informed about the topic and haven’t realised that you’ve probably read enough things that should prompt you to actually start doing something to counter the misinformation out there!

Dutton’s message: torture works

Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees, southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate. Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Protection and Punishment in the People Business

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and an honorary member of PEN International, writes from Manus Island, where he has been interred for 29 months.

Wilson Security is owned by Raymond and Thomas Kwok, two of the richest men in the world, and is sub-contracted by the multi-national company, Transfield, which is contracted by the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection to operate Australia’s Regional Processing Centre, aka Manus Prison on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Wilson Security describes itself: ‘As the region’s leading security provider, Wilson Security takes pride in protecting the wellbeing of thousands of customers and their businesses every day. Above all, security is a people business’.

Integral to Wilson Security is what they call their Emergency Response Team (ERT). ERT is the rough arm, the iron fist of Wilson Security on Manus Island. The men of the ERT are well-known for powerful arms and bodies, and notorious for heavy handed forms of punishment, steroid use and alcohol issues both on Nauru and Manus Island.

Here on Manus Island the ERT enter the quadrangle of camps like a group of lions. Their attendance instils fear into everybody. They come and they go. They deal with ‘behavioural issues’ which may range from someone having attempted suicide or so-called self-harm to an allegation of violence between detainees and movement between compounds. The situations may require very different skills and approaches yet are all dealt with by the ERT, a group not made up of welfare workers but rather of beefed up security personnel who the managers of the Transfield and Wilson’s companies rely on to direct the Manus Camps.

During the big non-violent hunger strike in January 2015, ERT guards rushed and attacked the camps without reason taking dozens of hungry refugees to the island’s CIS prison. They forced refugees onto the ground, turning hands and manacles tightly. Many of us carry the physical pain and effects of those hand cuffs. Many of us still speak of the violence enacted upon us en route from the camp to prison. Many still talk about an Iranian man who was slapped in the face by ERT guards in the bus. We could see no reason as to why he should be hit, especially as his hands were fastened by handcuffs. We could see, however, that he was hit in an attempt to humiliate him in front of others as the ERT believed that he had directed the hunger strike.

After 10 days of being held in the small CIS prison we were transferred to the bigger Charlie prison, part of Australia’s Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island. It was with exultation and pride that these guards punished us there.

One of the duties of the ERT is to enter the camps all of a sudden with cameras attached to their bellies and push their way into our rooms to search our belongings. They search everywhere, inspect everything closely. If someone objects he is cruelly carried to Chauka. Sometimes they search our bodies in addition to our baggage.

One day they tried to strip one of the Iranian refugees of his clothes but when facing the other refugee’s objections they turned back.

Once they forced ‘A’, an Iranian man, onto the ground in front of our eyes and then took him behind a wall to hit him. The ERT despised ‘A’. Although he complained to company managers about this violence he received no response or reply. When our human rights are broken by this force on this island where there is no legal counsel, attorney or lawyer, the only option is to complain to the company managers. We know there will be no reply, investigation or resolution.

Between Foxtrot and Mike compounds in Manus Camp there is a place called the Green zone. It is a remote place familiar to the ERT.

Green Zone has two rooms surrounded by fences. It is a place where refugees who have objected to their bad situations are forcibly imprisoned by ERT. Prior to the Green Zone there was Chauka. Chauka was 300 metres outside of the original camp in a  ruined place. Chauka was as terrible as the Green Zone now is.   Many men have been humiliated and beaten there far from the world’s eyes.

Chauka was closed as a result of pressure by human rights’ organisations but Green zone is still active.

When I was in the Foxtrot camp, groans and cries of miserable, homeless human beings broke the dark silence of the island. Once I climbed up a big tree to attempt to see why the people were crying. Looking down I saw a very distressing scene. A thin boy who suffers from psychological problems had fallen into the ooze and slime near the fence. I could not tell if he was conscious. His beaten face was clear under the weak lamp light. He lay like a foetus in the uterus. His clothes were ragged and scruffy. Four ERT guards were sitting on chairs just beyond where he lay watching his bloody body. One of them caressed the prisoner’s body with a thin piece of wood in his hands.

It is not clear how many refugees have been humiliated and beaten in Manus Island camp’s Chauka and Green zone but something is clear: Manus Island, like Nauru and Christmas Island, was chosen for its remote location so that the companies operating the camps can do whatever they like to refugees easily and without watchful eyes. The most important reason that the camps are out of Australia, outside of what is known as the Australian land mass, is so that Australia can escape from international conventions in regards to refugee rights, in regards to human rights.

To us who remain imprisoned here we know that it is almost impossible for our voices to be heard. It seems that it is only when a refugee dies, like Reza Berati and Fazel Chegeni, that the voices of the oppressed are (momentarily) heard.

Translated by Tomas Askarian and Janet Galbraith.

 

The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, along with former Immigration Ministers Scott Morrison and Philip Ruddock, took to the media last week to voice their disapproval of comments made by Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

There’s little doubt that some of the Grand Mufti’s remarks appear to rationalise, even justify, the terrorist attacks, by pointing to increasing Islamophobia in the West, and its symptomatic widespread willingness to regard all Muslims as harbouring secret and not so secret desires to destroy ‘western values.”

Dutton et al demand from the Mufti not rationalisation, but an unconditional condemnation of terrorist attacks, which is not an unreasonable demand. There’s a fine moral and intellectual line: while it’s important to grasp context, that’s an entirely different matter from using that context as justification for acts of terror.

That the west has been the cause of untold death and destruction in its violent pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East is also suggested by the Grand Mufti as background to current terrorism, a narrative I find difficult to disagree with, while simultaneously refusing it as justification for terrorist attacks.

Such is the state of things at the moment, it’s almost impossible to discuss context and history without being accused of being a sympathiser of whichever faction carries the role of baddie, and that applies to just about every situation, not only terrorism. Nuance is not currently our friend. Hardly anybody has time for it and social media is generally not its advocate.

State-sanctioned terrorist attacks perpetrated by the west are named more acceptably as “just war,” a term bandied about at the time of the Blair, Bush and Howard invasion of Iraq, that act of Christian crusading terrorism (the axis of evil, you’re with us or against us)  that left the country in ruins and some 700,000 of its citizens dead. John Pilger traces western state-sanctioned terrorism from the time of Pol Pot to ISIS, and it reveals us for the blood-drenched, murderous lot we are, despite the treasured “western values” used to justify so much of the horror we inflict on those who are not us.

The three immigration ministers who’ve complained about the Grand Mufti, Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, are responsible for the horrific indefinite incarceration of waterborne asylum seekers, even tiny young ones, in hellish conditions in off-shore camps on Manus Island and Nauru. These incarcerated beings committed no crime. It makes little difference, especially for women, that the Nauru detainees are now permitted to roam that island: they are likely safer in detention.

Conditions in off-shore concentration camps have been  described by the UN as violating the convention against torture. Think about that. Torture. We are torturing people. Yes. Us.

To which then PM Tony Abbott responded that Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN. Well, what torturer ever liked having their crime named?

It is, to my mind, an act of terrorism to indefinitely imprison in vile conditions and without hope, a group of people who have committed no crime and with whom we are not at war. It is an act of terror to imprison and torture those who you know are innocent. These prisoners are subjected to torture in order to deter others from legitimately arriving in this country by boat, and requesting asylum. This is terrorism.

Their imprisonment is an act of violence. It is intended to intimidate a society of people who are unable to remain in their homeland for fear of persecution or death. Its goal is to achieve political, ideological and religious objectives. This is terrorism.

As I write this, there are reports that another boat has arrived near Christmas Island, and is apparently being towed out to sea again by our navy. To what destination? To what fate? Are there children on board? Pregnant women?

So it is with the barking laughter of contemptuous disbelief that I watch these three men take the high moral ground with the Grand Mufti.

It is not ISIS terrorists who will destroy our “western values.” We’re doing that all by ourselves. Yes, I would like to hear the Grand Mufti unconditionally condemn the Paris attacks. And yes, I would like to hear Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton admit to the torture they continue to support and perpetrate, terrorism that is inextricably linked to attacks such as those in Paris.

The three immigration ministers are as fond as is the Grand Mufti of citing justifications for their vile actions. Regrettably, I think we are far more likely to hear unconditional condemnation of terror from the Grand Mufti than we ever will from Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, those valiant upholders of western values,  and steadfast protectors of the western purity of our borders.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Screaming Freedom: Day of the Imprisoned Writer

By Janet Galbraith

‘… the protection of the right to freedom of expression – the freedom to express ideas without fear of attack, arrest or other persecution – has been at the heart of International PEN’s work since it was formed in 1921. PEN’s Charter pledges that all members will oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible’.

November the 15th 2015 marks the 34th anniversary of the annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, ‘an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression’. Each year PEN International, its members and other concerned writers mark this day to raise awareness of the imprisonment, killings and threats writers are subject to.

Seldom has there been a focus on the persecution of imprisoned writers within Australia. Two notable cases are those of two writers detained in the early to mid 2000’s in Australia: Cheikh Kone who became International PEN’s first major Australian writer in prison and Iranian writer, journalist and political activist, Ardeshir Gholipour. Both were freed after a PEN International campaign. Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani held in detention on Manus Island for 27 months has recently been named an honorary member of PEN and his case for asylum supported by the human rights organisation.

Notably PEN International’s approach to the Australian’s government in 2004 resulted in communications between the Australian government and the noted human rights group and the freedom of the above writers. This year the letter sent to the Australian government by PEN International on behalf of Behrouz Boochani has garnered no response whatsoever. This is not terribly surprising as many working in solidarity with those detained in Australia’s immigration detention industry have noted that silence and obfuscation are one of the hallmarks of the Australian government’s (non)response to concerns of human rights abuses.

This year Australia has become under increases observation by PEN International as freedom of expression and information is further curtailed and legislated against. Sydney PEN informs us that:

“… at the recent PEN International Congress in Quebec City, the first resolution adopted by the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, was about Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws. The resolution relates to the constraint of freedom of expression in the name of countering terrorism, especially about operations on Manus Island and Nauru relating to asylum seekers”.

This comes at a time when many international human rights organisations speak out against the Australia’s failure to comply with international law and conventions and as the litany of human rights abuses, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment of people seeking asylum grows. When the Turnbull Government is asked for comment on conditions ‘tantamount to torture’ on people in off-shore detention camps, the strategy seems to be the same as that offered the UN and other international bodies: silence and obfuscation. This is not a new strategy nor is it specific to Australia. Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites’ founding members Professor Perera and Professor Pugliese have identified “parallels between the US extra-legal prisons at Guantanamo and elsewhere and our Pacific equivalents” naming the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru as “Australia’s version of the secretive US ‘black sites‘ that operated during the war on terror”.

Writers detained in Australia’s black sites on Manus and Nauru, as well as the immigration gulags on Christmas Island and throughout the mainland of Australia, bear much of the brunt of these secretive operations and the deliberate curtailing of freedom of information and freedom of expression. Many writers involved with Writing Through Fences, a loosely connected group of writers writing from within Australia’s immigration detention industry, report being subject to intense surveillance, beatings, imprisonment without charge, prolonged detention, unnecessary restraint, isolation, threats of rape, and denial of appropriate medical treatment in attempts to silence them.

The breaking of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, by successive governments in Australia has been discussed in terms of the Border Force Act that sees workers and journalists who disclose human rights abuses within Australia’s detention industry at risk of imprisonment. However, such discussions have rarely included recognition that writers and human rights defenders detained by Australia in our black sites and mainland detention gulags are themselves subject to cruel, degrading and in human punishment as a result of their work.

Mark Isaacs highlight the targeting of writers: “the Nauruan police took Dev away from the camp in handcuffs. They said to him, ‘Goodbye Mr Journalist’, an implication that this was revenge for him having contact with Australian media”. Behrouz Boochani writes in a report to the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders: One time they put me in the jail after the hunger strike. You know in Foxtrot we had no violence at that time. I was in jail just for reporting to the outside about the hunger strike. He writes further, in a private letter, I remember when they moved me from the Lorengau jail to Charlie the officers said: “He is in here because he is a journalist”.

Many of those writing from within immigration detention centres are forced to withhold or change their names for fear of further punishment. At the same time, most of these people also speak of writing as their responsibility, privilege and duty. Others have reluctantly become writers in order to survive. One man detained on Manus Island for 27 months has said to me: “I am not a writer but I must write. I must write to tell the world what is being done to us. I must write to defend our right to live”.

Within this context, writing from within these black sites and detention gulags is understood to be a life-giving practice of survival and a courageous and necessary tool of resistance. A young man from Myanmar incarcerated in Manus Camp wrote to me earlier this year:

“I am a very different young man … I believe it will be difficult for you to accept that I have never been to school or college … With no education but a strong sense of determination I started learning English from scratch in the refugee camps … Being here I have written 1000 pages about my miserable life … Giving this privilege God wants me to raise my voice on behalf of millions of asylum seekers and refugees around the world who are being denied freedom in a safe place” (Khan – not real name).

Artist turned poet, FB writes:

“And the silence breaks its silence
setting free it’s songs from the depths.
The shouts of sleepers
release the voices of the voiceless
screaming
‘Freedom! Freedom!'”

A man held for 2 years in detention on Nauru writes:

“As a victim of injustice and politics, I was forced to face reality and the realisation that I needed to find a way to deal with all the emotions that I was unable to cope with. I took up writing and art” (Ravi).

Asserting existence and belonging before and in spite of displacement and detention a writer from Somalia, interred in immigration detention in Australia writes (excerpt from ‘A message from sweet home’):

OH SWEET GIRL
You were born inside of me.
Why did you leave me like this?
Have you forgotten my warm nights and bright breezy days?
Have you forgotten lying on my sand with a big beautiful smile on your face?
Oh my dear… unforgettable moments!
You were fearless, a strong and beautiful child…
Come home.
On this Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Australia is in the spotlight. We are being held to account for the atrocities enabled by the tax payers of this nation and perpetrated in our name. We cannot say we do not know. The voices are many.

Writing Through Fences joins with Write of Asylum and calls on writers and human rights defenders to stand with, and open space for, those who speak and write from within the detention gulags.

“I die slowly, so slowly in this tight cocoon
with no space to shout’”(M, 2015).

Opening space is important and so is solidarity. When asked about his fears around his reporting from our black site on Manus Island, Boochani said:

“I feel more secure because a campaign to sup-port me has taken shape”.

We who are not detained do have a responsibility, privilege and duty to be aware of how we fill spaces, and how we may open them. We also have a responsibility, privilege and duty to listen to and stand with imprisoned writers, to call on the Australian government to end the punishment of those who speak and write from within the gulags and demand their closure. The voices of the writers imprisoned in our detention gulags are calling, they are screaming “Freedom! Freedom!”

Janet Galbraith
Founder and facilitator of Writing Through Fences
Coordinator Write of Asylum
Founding member of Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites

 

Set the girls free, Mr Turnbull

A letter from the heart, by Bob Rafto

Dear PM Turnbull

During Abbott’s tenure as PM the population was on high alert, not because of any terrorist threat but because of what crazy thing Abbott might do next. The country breathed a big sigh of relief when the Flickman arrived to give him the flick, and then you went about like Mr Sheen trying to give a gleam to the LNP, which according to the opinion polls, now has a wonderful shine.

So far it is working for you, Mr Turnbull, and with that in mind I’m writing to you to open up your heart on behalf of the Australian people to process the refugees on Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island to have them settle on the mainland, a place ‘we call home’ by Christmas. And that would certainly be a Christian thing to do, and an Aussie one as well.

I want to draw your attention, in particular, to the two girls in the above photo. The girl in the left of the picture is ill and has been for a long time. She was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up and she replied “Anything, to be free”. You can grant that wish, Mr Turnbull.

The girls have seen the horrors of war in their homeland and have fled their country with their parents only to be incarcerated in an inhumane hell hole of Nauru. When is enough persecution on innocent refugees and children enough?

If the claim to have stopped the boats is valid then there is no reason to have these refugees held any longer as ‘examples’ to the world of the ‘torture treatment’ we Aussies dish out to asylum seekers who attempt to arrive here by boat.

Mr Turnbull, you have the power to reset the nation’s heart by bringing the refugees to the mainland and close the offshore detention centres. With your ‘electorate loving’ charm you can persuade the nation that by bringing the refugees to the mainland there won’t be a need for the offshore centres, as you’ve stopped the boats and are saving us billions of dollars a year. And further, it will end the UN condemnation of our ill-treatment to refugees . . . a reputation that we don’t deserve (or do we?) and one for you, as only you have the power, to set right.

Set the girls free Mr. Turnbull!

With Great Expectations

Bob Rafto

 

Dutton has lost control.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has well and truly lost control of his portfolio. The past year alone provides a rich field of examples of Dutton’s incompetency. There are many instances which highlight the absurdity of his excuses, claims and justifications for the Coalition’s appalling policies. Yet despite a growing list of clear failures, there is a noticeable absence of demands for accountability. Dutton continues his awful attempts to defend the indefensible and the general public laps it up, convinced by the Government’s lies that it is all for the greater good.

Dutton has demonstrated many failures. A man with his level of ineptitude and incompetency in the private sector would have been fired a long time ago. A man in his position in any other institution, would be loudly condemned, and subject to a fiercely independent investigation at a minimum.

The latest in the string of absurdities must be Dutton’s reaction over the recent death of a person under his care and the following riot on Christmas Island. Dutton brushed off the seventh known death of an asylum seeker since early 2014, with little more than a ‘meh’, followed by loud accusations of violent, hardened criminals causing trouble for no reason at all in the remote prison. Not only does Dutton fail to recognise or even faintly appreciate the duty of care he owes to asylum seekers detained under this watch, but he loudly refutes the provable fact that violent criminals, minor offenders and asylum seekers have all been mixed together and none would be there at all if it wasn’t for him and his party’s policies.

The totally preventable death of Fazel Chegeni is the doing of Dutton. The riot, which looks to cost the Australian taxpayer $10 million dollars, on top of the $100 million dollar blowout in the billion dollar cost of offshore detention, is the doing of Dutton.

Dutton is responsible, and in being responsible, must be the most incompetent Immigration Minister since the equally appalling performance of former Minister Scott Morrison.

If Dutton was an employee in any private organisation, he would have been sacked long ago for gross incompetence. If any individual person was paying Dutton’s remuneration, he would have been sacked long ago. Yet the Australian public, every individual tax payer is paying for Dutton, and yet he continues, unchecked, with calculated, deliberate lies to try and cover up his incompetency. And Australia does not hold him to account.

The mysterious death of Fazel Chegeni, a refugee whose body was found after being chased through the Christmas Island jungle by guards, follows other preventable and inexcusable deaths. In October, out of fear of being returned to detention and dying a slow death at Dutton’s hands, Khodayar Amini doused himself in petrol and self-immolated. Leo Seemanpillai did the same last year. Asylum seeker ‘Reza’, fearing deportation on Dutton’s orders, was found dead at Brisbane airport. Earlier, Nasim Najafi was attacked while under Dutton’s care, placed in solitary confinement, and committed suicide.

Dutton is responsible for these deaths. Just like former Minister Scott Morrison was responsible for Reza Barati’s murder on Manus Island, and for Hamid Kehazaei who died from a septicaemia after a treatable infection on his cut foot was ignored.

Dutton holds the power to giving these people hope, freedom and a chance of a life. Dutton refuses.

Dutton, whose actions are slowly killing the people under his care, is doing his best to convince asylum seekers that it is better to return to their own countries and risk death in a warzone, than die a slow and lingering death under his watch. ‘Khaled’, who saw his own father murdered after they both worked as military interpreters for the US, was coerced into returning to the very city he fled from in Iraq. Officials from Dutton’s Department coerced another man, Eyad, to return to Syria, where he was tortured for twenty days by government officers, before finally making it to his home. A short time later he was injured in a shell attack, which killed his father on the spot. Dutton is responsible for this.

If any other person was responsible for so many deaths, so many atrocities, so much harm, they’d be imprisoned themselves. Not Dutton. No, he is being paid by the Australian tax payer to continue his torturous regime.

Who can forget the boatloads of Tamil asylum seekers Dutton returned to Sri Lanka, despite being subject to persecution? And his refusal to help rescue Rohingya refugees stranded at sea? Or the Vietnamese asylum seekers who were returned by Dutton, some of which were arrested and detained immediately on their return to Vietnam?

And of course there is Dutton’s implied admission that his Department paid people smugglers, in a clear breach of international law, backed up by an Amnesty International report finding enough evidence that it happened.

Dutton is determined to continue to expose children to sexual abuse, assault and torture. The Government-commissioned Moss Report, the Forgotten Children Report from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and a Senate Committee Inquiry found that offshore detention is not safe for families and children. Earlier this year Dutton ordered the transfer of a five month old baby, Asha, to Nauru, where her desperate mother is still gravely concerned for her health. Fully qualified, professional Australian doctors have labelled the Government’s treatment of asylum seeker children as torture. Dutton is unrepentant. Instead of addressing the shocking claims, he made it illegal for ‘entrusted people’ to report the abuse, threatening doctors, nurses, councillors and teachers with two years jail.

The Australian tax payer is financing this abhorrent situation. Every Australian is paying for Dutton to put in place laws to incarcerate anyone who tries to hold Dutton to account.

Dutton refused for months to help a woman who had been brutally raped while under his care. Abyan, another refugee who fell pregnant after being raped, was also denied treatment in Australia until a mass public outcry. Dutton, insistently lying to the Australian public and the world about the poor woman’s situation, despite even the Coalition’s biggest supporter, Chris Kenny, backing up her advocates, has not been held to account for his lies. Dutton only acted after a scathing press statement from the United Nations, yet he still insists that denying a traumatised woman access to a counsellor and expert medical care is appropriate treatment.

Dutton deliberately seeks to expose vulnerable men, women and children to further harm.

According to Dutton, pregnant women under his care who request to give birth in Australia are trying to blackmail him, are taking him for a ‘mug’, and are partaking in a racket to get to Australia. According to Dutton, it is acceptable to force women under his care to give birth in a third world hospital on Nauru, where a newborn baby is seven times more likely to die at birth, and the mother is fifty times more likely to die during childbirth. Dutton has ignored medical professionals and the Australian Medical Association who insist Golestan, a diabetic woman, must be immediately flown to Australia to give birth. Golestan is suffering a complex pregnancy, and despite medical staff expecting her baby will require specialist care, Dutton insists on risking the baby’s life. Will Dutton sacrifice the life of an innocent baby in his race to provide crueler conditions than those which the asylum seekers have fled from?

It is not just asylum seekers Dutton treats with loathing and contempt. A freedom of information request by Fairfax media revealed that Dutton deliberately misled the public when he said there was no way his Border Force agents would be doing random spot checks on unsuspecting and law-abiding Melburnians in August this year.

Spooked by a backlash to the press release that Government agents would stop and speak with anyone they came across during Operation Fortitude in Melbourne’s CBD, Dutton’s kneejerk response at the time was to deny all knowledge of such a planned venture.

What kind of Minister thinks it’s acceptable and lawful to expect people to carry, and produce on demand, their ‘papers’ while out shopping on a weekend? What kind of Minister then lies to say it was never planned? Obviously one who mistakenly thought Australia was a police state, or one who is grossly incompetent. Dutton forgets he is an elected representative paid for by the Australian taxpayer to represent the Australian people, not treat the very people who elected him as criminals.

Speaking of taxpayers, voters, and Christmas Island, Dutton demonstrates yet again his inability to tell the truth. Despite deliberately, unrepentantly and viciously detaining and deporting any non-citizens who have suddenly become socially undesirable, no matter how minor their wrong-doing, or the absence of any actual offence at all, Dutton is adamant only the most violent and hardened criminals are subject to section 501 of the Migration Act. Many of these people have lived in Australia for their entire lives. They have voted in elections. Many have paid their taxes and contributed positively to the community for decades. They have families, wives, husbands, partners, siblings, parents and children in Australia.

According to Dutton, a decorated New Zealand soldier, Ngati Kanohi Haapu, known as Ko, must be banished forever, despite having no criminal convictions whatsoever. Ko’s ‘character issue’ is that he is allegedly a member of a one percent motorcycle club. Despite no motorcycle club being proven to be a criminal organisation, and police and law enforcement agencies being unable to produce sufficient evidence of such, Ko has been detained and set for deportation.

Ko has committed no crime. Not like Dutton, who has paid people smugglers, enabled and condoned child abuse, rape, and torture, and is responsible for at least five of the seven known deaths of asylum seekers.

According to Dutton, a New Zealand born mother of six, who has served her time for minor drug offences is a violent, hardened criminal. If this woman had been born in Australia she would serve her time and move on with her life. But no, according to Dutton, she must be banished from Australia, despite serving her sentence, because a faceless bureaucrat has applied a mandatory provision enacted on Dutton’s command, that she be deported.

According to Dutton, a single mother of two, charged with shoplifting is such a threat to the Australian public, she should be incarcerated, away from her young child and teen daughter – banished forever from Australia, because of Dutton. There is no such thing as rehabilitation or having ‘done one’s time’ under Dutton’s watch.

According to Dutton, a quadriplegic man, who served time for self-medicating with painkillers, is such a threat to the Australian public, he must be deported, never to return to the land he called home.

According to Dutton, a British man, who has lived in Australia for fifty of his fifty-one years, who in a moment of stupidity lit a scrub fire in which no people or property were harmed, is a violent and hardened criminal. Because according to Dutton, only violent and hardened criminals are being held on Christmas Island.

Where are the cries for Dutton’s resignation? Why is the Opposition silent? Why is Bill Shorten not calling for Dutton to stand down or be sacked? Why is the mainstream media not demanding more answers?

No person in anything other than a criminal organisation, a fascist, police state or dictatorship would get away with such criminal behaviour, and wilful and deliberate lies to the domestic and international community.

How many more families will be ripped apart by Dutton’s arbitrarily applied laws? How many more people must die a violent, painful and preventable death under Dutton’s watch? How many innocent children will lose their parents, and how many parents will lose their children at Dutton’s hands? The Government and the weak opposition, the detention centre contractors, and all the faceless bureaucrats, are complicit in the deaths, torture, and inhumane treatment of people under Australia’s care. Every Australian who does not make a stand against the cruel regime, is complicit.

Enough is enough. Rape, murder, suicide, torture, child abuse, violent assaults, death from medical neglect, and wilful destruction of families is all in a day’s work with Dutton in charge. And every Australian is paying for it.

 

The top 5 signs that your country’s Refugee Policy is a disaster

Australia’s Minister for Saying-We’ve-Stopped-the-Boats – one Mr Peter ‘PDuddy’ Dutton – was out and about this morning defending what he and his government believe is the best and most successful immigration policy EVER.

I decided to check out PDuddy’s claim against the following officialesque list …

The Top 5 signs your Refugee Policy is a disaster

Number Five: Refugees would rather return to possible death in a war-zone

than stay in the Refugee Centres your country provides

The Australian government has worked hard to convince as many refugees as it can to return to their home countries, despite the considerable potential risk to those refugees that doing so entails.

One Syrian refugee – Eyad – elected to return to probable death in Syria a few months ago, saying he would prefer to die with his family in Syria rather than stay on Manus island. On arriving in Syria he was arrested and tortured for 20 days. Following his release, he was allowed to return to his former home village where he was subsequently hit by shrapnel and saw his father die before him.

Number Four: You put refugees in the care of a government that has made

money from selling passports to terrorists & money-laundering

The way that Peter Dutton pontificates about ‘smashing’ the business of people-smugglers, you’d think he’d donned a cape and mask and turned into a one-man regional crime-fighting machine.

What PDuddy conveniently forgets to mention, when boasting of his crime-fighting achievements, is that the Australian government is propping up the Nauru government with our Refugee policy – and that the Nauru government is so beleaguered by corruption claims that the New Zealand government recently cut off aid to them.  PDuddy also leaves out the fact that this same government was previously heavily sanctioned by the international community for selling Nauruan passports to terrorists and laundering money for the Russian Mafia.

Number Three: Your Refugee Centres make it onto the UNHRC’s torture list

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Commission released its report on torture, naming Australia as a country who had breached the UN Convention against Torture in our Refugee camps.

Of course our government raced to immediately set up a Royal Commission to investigate the issues raised by the UN. Oh wait – no,  that was a Royal Commission into the unions. What our government actually did in response to the UN report was to say that it was sick of being lectured.

Number Two: You are spending more on your Refugee Policy than the

combined GDP of 9 small countries

In 2015, the Australian government spent at least 4 billion on its Refugee Policy – of which 3 billion was to look after offshore refugees (including just under 1600 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island).

This is the equivalent of the combined GDP in 2014 for Tonga, Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Sao Tome and Principe, Dominica and Comoros.

By way of contrast, the UN has a budget of $157 million USD for 2015 to look after over 200,000 refugees in South-East Asia.

Number One: A country in the Axis-of-Evil thinks you’ve gone too far

Over 110 countries lined up at the UN this week to comment on Australia’s refugee policies. In fact, so many countries wanted to raise issues at the periodic UN review, that each was given a time limit of just over a minute to speak. Between them they still managed to raise over 300 concerns in just that space of time.

Among their number was long-term member of Bush’s ‘Axis-of-evil’ – North Korea – who said that they:

have serious concerns at the continued reports of … violence against refugees and asylum seekers“.

It’s official – Australia’s refugee policy is a disaster …

In all seriousness – our refugee policy really IS a disaster. It is pure propaganda  – truthiness at its finest – to suggest otherwise.

And still Peter Dutton keeps a straight face while he claims that Australia’s Refugee policy:

  • has saved lives – this is doubtful at best;
  • has stopped people smugglers – if this were true, who exactly are they paying to turn around?
  • to be the most generous in the world – this is actually an insult to countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan who lay true claim to this title. We are literally nowhere near.
  • to have protected our borders – from who exactly? From victims of war, terrorism, torture and persecution, who, if they had the funds to arrive here by plane would be allowed to stay? When did we start needing protection from victims? The reality is that these are the world’s most vulnerable people being used as political pawns. They aren’t terrorists. Or economic migrants. They are people with no safe place to call home.

It doesn’t matter what measure you pick …

  • financial
  • humanitarian
  • doing our bit globally
  • stopping crime in the region
  • making our country more secure, or
  • just plain common decency.

… there is not a single measure that doesn’t point at our government’s Refugee Policy as being at best an abject failure, and at worst a complete disaster that will haunt us in years to come.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

 

Nauru: What do bird poop, the Russian Mafia and Australia’s refugee policy have in common?

Nauru was described by The Economist in 2001 as a hotbed of incompetence – as “Paradise Lost … an enormous moth-eaten fedora: a ghastly grey mound of rock surrounded by a narrow green brim of vegetation“.

That same year, Nauru became a cornerstone of one of the LNP’s favourite policies – their refugee policy. In the heady days of the Abbott PMship, barely a day went by when Abbott didn’t boast about stopping the boats. Even in his post-PMship days, Abbott is still annoying people all over the world with his stop the boats mantra. And our shiny new PM – Malcolm Turnbull – has picked up a similar, but predictably longer refrain about his party’s refugee policy:

The one thing that we know is that our [refugee] policies, tough though they are, harsh though they are in many respects, actually do work. They save lives.
(Malcolm Turnbull, 1 October 2015)

One country’s political hot potato is another country’s lottery win

Crucial to our government’s refugee policy – at least so they would have us believe – is the promise that no asylum seeker who arrives here by boat will be settled in Australia. To achieve this, they have renewed and reinvigorated deals with Nauru and PNG (Manus Island) that were first struck by both the previous Liberal and Labor governments.

Rather than considering this to be a hardship, Australia’s political hot potato has been a veritable lottery win for Nauru and PNG. Both have received a substantial increase in foreign aid from Australia as well as a brand new ‘Asylum Seeker processing’ industry to provide jobs and inject hundreds of millions of dollars into their economies.

But who exactly are we financing here? We’ve taken money (and jobs) out of the Australian economy so that we can send victims of war, terrorism and persecution to these islands. So surely, with the well-being and lives of asylum seekers at stake and with billions of Australian taxpayer dollars being poured into sending asylum seekers offshore, we would want to ensure that we are comfortable with the regimes we are throwing our considerable financial weight behind.

Further, as one of the other regularly promoted goals of the LNP’s refugee policy is to stop the “evil trade” of people smuggling, we would certainly want to ensure that any country we are dealing with is above board, and that we are not directly or indirectly supporting any illegal activities through our investment in their economies.

So let’s take a look at Nauru – the Economist’s ‘Paradise Lost’.

Nauru: not so much paradise lost as paradise spent

Here’s some things you need to know about Nauru:

  • Nauru has the second smallest population in the world
    Nauru is a sovereign state – a single island with around 10,500 inhabitants. It is the second smallest country (population wise) in the world – with only the Vatican City in Rome being smaller.
  • NauruSignsNauru is a speck in the ocean, just below the equator
    Nauru is only 21 square kilometers – around the size of an average university campus in Sydney or Melbourne. But thanks to mining, around 70% to 80% of the island is now an environmental wasteland – leaving inhabitants with around 5 to 7 square kilometers of inhabitable space. In fact, Nauru is so small, that it doesn’t even have a capital city.
  • Nauru has almost no arable land and no in-ground water supplies – but it does have a golf-course
    Having given up most of its land to mining, Nauru has very little room for agriculture and as a result imports most of its food (much of it from Australia). There are no clean in-ground water supplies, so all clean water is sourced from rainwater or imported. Despite this shortage of arable land and water, Nauru has still found room for a golf-course.
  • In the 70s and 80s Nauru was THE wealthiest country (on a per capita basis) in the world 
    In the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the proceeds of phosphate mining (derived from bird poop) – Nauruans had the highest income per capita in the world. Knowing that the bird poop would run out at some stage, the Nauruan government did set aside income from the phosphate mines for the future. But it also started spending up big time. For example, it set up a national airline of seven aircraft which were often empty and ran at a huge loss. Further, it created ‘jobs’ in the public service for most of the population. At one stage the government employed some 95% of the island’s laborforce.
  • By the early 90s, most of Nauru’s mining wealth was gone
    Once the phosphate started to run out, the income started to dry up. The Nauru government also made some poor investment decisions with the money they had saved from the phosphate boom – which meant that by 1993 the Government teetered on the edge of insolvency. The 1.8 billion the government had set aside was somehow all but gone.
  • So Nauru became a money laundering centre drawing in the likes of the Russian mafia
    On an island that small, there weren’t too many money-making options left once the phosphate supplies had dwindled to a trickle and the bulk of the land was left stripped of vegetation. So some bright-spark came up with the idea of allowing foreigners to set up their own offshore bank in Nauru online. When you combine the ability to set up your own bank with laws that provide strict secrecy for any banking transactions done in Nauru – and they had created the perfect environment for money laundering. In 1998 alone, the Russian mafia is said to have laundered $70 billion through Nauru.
  • Throw in selling passports to foreign nationals (including at least a few to Al Qaeda) and Nauru was starting to look shadier than a palm tree
    To further supplement the country’s income, the Nauruan government also set up a passport-dispensing operation whereby it would sell passports to anyone who had the money. This included selling much-coveted diplomatic passports – which confer all sorts of legal immunity to the passport holder.
  • This soon bought severe international sanctions
    Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before Nauru’s money-laundering and passport-dispensing boom brought international condemnation.  This was soon followed by sanctions – harsher than those against Iraq – which eventually forced Nauru to do something about its latest money-making schemes.
  • As a result, the unemployment rate in Nauru has been as high as 90% this century
    During the mining and money laundering booms, the Nauruan government continued ‘redistributing’ much of its wealth through government ‘jobs’. Once the government had limited income from these sources, the jobs dried up, leaving unemployment as high as 90%. While employment has picked up a bit lately, that is primarily due to Nauru hosting our Asylum Seeker Processing centre which generates 600 direct jobs and many ancillary ones. Other than that, the key sources of non-government employment are a few jobs in what remains of the Nauru Phosphate mines and a few in fishing.

Nauru finds a new money supply….

Back to 2001, and with its two major income sources under threat, Nauru was in a perilous position. It had even started discussing buying another island and starting all over again. But in the words of the Economist:

“Who in his right mind would let the Nauruans get their hands on another island?”

Luckily for Nauru, at the same time as they were looking for either a new island or a new source of income, the Liberal government of Australia was looking for a way to solve its politically charged refugee situation. Phillip Ruddock – then Immigration Minister of Australia – was in charge of implementing the LNP’s “Pacific Solution”, and offered Nauru a much needed lifeline: a new industry to bring employment and income to the island nation, along with an agreement to substantially increase Australia’s Foreign Aid to Nauru.

Back in 2001, Nauru’s role was simply to play temporary host to asylum seekers while their claims for refuge were being assessed. Once assessed, if asylum seekers were determined to be legitimate refugees they were then moved elsewhere – to Australia, New Zealand and various other countries.

It was just prior to the 2013 federal election that then Prime Minister Keven Rudd signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nauru to extend their role in Australia’s refugee policy to one where they would also allow refugees to settle in Nauru, rather than just staying there temporarily. Two weeks later, when Abbott took the reins of government, he and Scott Morrison endorsed and continued the arrangements that had been made.

Australia: Nauru’s Sugar Daddy

A key part of our initial agreement with Nauru back in 2001 was to increase the amount of foreign aid we sent there from around $3.5 million per year in 2000 and 2001, to an average of around $27 million per year since then. This equates to around $2700 per Nauruan citizen per year. As a result, Nauru now receives aid at one of the highest rates per capita in the world.

And that’s just our foreign aid budget. We also spend an extraordinary amount of money on running the asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru. In the 3 months from July 2015 to September 2015, our government spent 93.26 million dollars to look after 653 asylum seekers on Nauru. This is $143,000 per asylum seeker for the quarter – the equivalent of $572,000 per year. That’s just for operating the asylum seeker centre – meals, water, staff etc.

With that sort of price-tag, you’d be forgiven for thinking that asylum seekers are living in five-star beach-side accommodation on Nauru, each with their own private chef and butler.

Not so much. The $143,000 fee that we – the Australian tax payer – paid last quarter for every asylum seeker on Nauru covered them sleeping on a stretcher in “mouldy tents full of cockroaches and rodents“.

(Now, to avoid confusion, I should point out that not all money for running the asylum seeker centre is going to the people of Nauru. The centre is actually operated by Transfield who clearly have a very large snout in the seemingly endless pool that is the asylum seeker funding trough.)

And that’s not the end of the money that continues to flow out of the Australian taxpayer’s coffers to keep our government’s refugee policy firmly in place. Here are some other examples of money spent by our government on keeping refugees out of Australia and on Nauru:

The world’s most expensive refugee policy?

It’s pretty clear that the government’s refugee policies cost Australians a fortune – over a billion dollars in 2014 for just over 2,000 refugees on both Nauru and Manus Island.

By way of contrast, the UNHCR spent $157 million (around 16% of that) over the same period to look after 200,000 refugees, half a million internally displaced people and nearly 1.4 million stateless people.

Allegations of corruption in Nauru

It’s hardly surprising that allegations of corruption are to be found on an island that provided money-laundering services to the Russian mafia and purportedly sold passports to Al Qaeda operatives. According to Tony Thomas, “anti-corruption drives are often announced and never successful, partly because among any five Nauruans, two are relatives.”

Most recently, New Zealand cut aid to Nauru due to human rights abuses and problems with the Nauruan judicial system (which saw several senior members of the judiciary removed).

There have been other accusations of corruption this year. The Nauru government has attempted to silence local dissent – recently shutting down access to social media from the island and suspending members of the opposition from parliament without pay.

Further, other than hand-picked state-friendly media, the Nauruan government has blocked many media outlets from visiting their island. In the words of  Meghna Abraham, Deputy Director for Global Thematic Issues at Amnesty International:

“Whatever Nauru is trying to hide, it can’t be good if the authorities are so desperate to block all international media from visiting or reporting from the island”

So back to my original question…

Question: What do bird poop, the Russian Mafia and Australia’s refugee policy have in common?

Answer: Nauru has managed to make money from all of them. 

But here’s the thing – there are plenty more questions that we, the Australian people, really need answers to about Nauru. Here’s a few key ones:

  • If one of the key goals of our Refugee Policy is to reduce criminal activity such as people smuggling in the region, then why on earth did we make a deal with Nauru back in 2001? There was no doubt at all at that stage that Nauru was facilitating money laundering and selling passports to foreign nationals – including to Al Qaeda. And even if we made a mistake back then, why do we continue to prop up their regime today when there are so many stories around about government corruption?
  • How could anyone in this ‘entitlement-free’ age think that spending between $400,000 and $600,000 per asylum seeker per year is a reasonable cost when the UN does it for less than $800 per year. Yes, that is the cost differential – I haven’t forgotten any zeros. The UN looks after 200,000 refugees in SE Asia for less than what it costs us to look after 4 refugees on Nauru. And who exactly is getting all of this money? It’s clearly not all being spent on accommodation or food – so whose pockets are really being lined?
  • Why would anyone select an island in the middle of nowhere with less than 10 kms of inhabitable land and a history of unemployment at 90% as a viable solution for resettling a group of refugees? Who exactly would choose an island that even the locals have considered deserting because they are doubtful that it will be able to sustain them? What could be the justification for deciding to increase Nauru’s population by close to ten percent through the resettlement of refugees? And while the government is now looking at alternatives to move some of these refugees – how is $50 million to move four of them to Cambodia any more palatable?

There are also plenty of unanswered questions around human rights abuses and the refusal of Nauru to allow any press other than a hand-picked Murdoch journalist onto the island. However since these questions are being covered extensively elsewhere, I haven’t covered them here.

Nauru: Really?

I find it impossible to look at the image of this tiny little rock in the middle of the Pacific ocean – so crucial to our government’s refugee policy – and not wonder if there is a single non-political reason for continuing our arrangements there.

To me Nauru seems like a ridiculously expensive political solution that has seen victims of war, terrorism and persecution who, having escaped hellholes in their country of birth in order to find a safe place to put their feet, end up in a location referred to by the BBC as Australia’s Guantanamo. Instead of safety, they have ended up on an island where they sleep in moldy tents and are unable to protect themselves and their children from being sexually abused. It’s no wonder Australian officials have been able to convince Syrian refugees to return to Syria – despite the war there continuing to worsen.

Further, at the end of the day it’s arguable that we aren’t doing Nauru any real favours. They clearly had more than enough of their own problems before we came along. With an economy that is probably unsustainable without the Asylum Seeker industry and with the prospect of climate change seeing many of the inhabitable parts of the island going underwater, it’s difficult to see how the island has a future. The Asylum Seeker industry – and the accompanying foreign aid – has propped Nauru up temporarily and stalled them having to face the realities of how they make a future for themselves once the Asylum Seeker Industry is gone.

It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, this government’s refugee policies are an abject expensive failure. They have stayed in place and avoided scrutiny for so long by fanning the flames of bigotry which lie in many corners of Australia, by mixing up the issue of refugees with border security, by hiding behind spurious ‘saving lives’ claims and through the self-righteous (and erroneous) proclamations of having stopped people smuggling.

One day history is going to look back on Australia’s current refugee policies in the clear light of day with horror, disbelief and shame.

This article was first published on Progressive Conversation.

 

An open letter from Manus

By Jane Salmon

This epic howl of anguish came from the RPC on Manus via the internet today.

Mourning and Weeping From Hell

These words are coming from hell. There are many broken hearts screaming with heartache because we have been kept for such a long time, with nothing except failing lives …

Our stories might not be interesting to you. If you spend lots of time doing nothing, please listen to our voices and try to feel what these voices and what this letter tells you. It is not magnificent, it’s pain, yes extreme pain. That pain makes tears for all and everyone’s tears have made this letter for this beautiful nation.

Yes, our dreams are failing, we are failing with our hopes and we are failing with our future too. Our lives were set on fire by inhuman politics, that fire burns us little by little every single second.

Those who can feel our bodies and souls burning with our dreams … you’re the real Australians and great humans.

We can’t imagine why humanity is disappearing from this Nation…Waiting and waiting, but there is nothing, just a little bit of hope in everyone’s deep hearts, that the disappearing humanity will return back to everyone. Then we can see that humanity will feel our pain and extreme grief and share our feelings.

let’s see … we are waiting.

We have kids. We can’t think about our future. We can’t do anything for them, even their smallest wish. Our kids are dying slowly in front of us. We can see it with our own eyes, every second our hearts are crying so badly about our kid’s futures. Where are they going to go, what they are going to do? All these questions are killing us. You also have kids, you’ve made plans for when they are growing up. But what can we do? Just one thing: dying all together slowly, day by day, every single second.Please give us your hand to get us out of this deep dark hell. We are so broken. Our souls are crying silently every night. Only our pillow and bed knows. We can’t share our pain with each other here because everyone is in the same boat. We are travelling into the deep darkness, with extreme pain … we can’t smile, we can’t be happy, these things are all gone. Our mind is melting away from us.Now our heads are empty, our lives too. Oh our Nation, many fathers and mothers have children and babies … yes … they are all happy with their freedom and they trust in their lives but we are wasting our lives inside the fence. Our joy and freedom is locked up in this hell. Still, we can’t start our life.

We are asylum seekers. Sorry but we have forgotten our names because now we are just called by our boat numbers. We have been in detention for years in this hell you call offshore processing centre. We cannot describe our suffering. We are tired of being tired. We are dying every single second because of your inhumane treatment. Our presence is burning here. How can we have a future? All you give us is extreme pain and grief …

When we came here we became the victims of your policy. Sent to offshore processing centres and kept there with 2000 people. By the end of 2012 almost 27000 asylum seekers reached your country by boat. Where are they now? You know well some are unlucky and innocent and are still kept in the hell of offshore processing centres.
All the time we are sorry about our life inside the fence on this dry land. We are coping with time and emptiness day by day you make life hard every second and cause us pain too.

Wondering why our lives were saved in the ocean, if we died in the sea it would be wonderful because we can’t cope with your inhuman actions. You took our joy, you took our hope, dreams and locked us up inside the fence … We can’t breathe freely.

844 people from Manus an Nauru signed this letter (but because of our fear we just sent the signatures to one Senator).

04/10/2015

 

Immigration tries first forced removal from Manus Island

Media release from the Refugee Action Coalition

Immigration tries to intimidate first removals from Manus Island: injunctions sought

Late yesterday afternoon, Thursday 13 August, Immigration authorities used a show of force by PNG police as the first phase of attempting forced removals of rejected asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Up to six PNG police marched into Oscar Compound to remove a 27 year-old Iranian asylum seeker. The man was been placed in a newly built solitary confinement prison compound inside the detention centre, and been given a notice that PNG immigration
has completed a deportation risk assessment and found ‘there is no legal barrier to your removal …’

It is understood that the Iranian man was transferred to Port Moresby on Friday 14 August.

It is expected that up to 10 other “double-negative” asylum seekers could get similar treatment in coming days. The ‘failed’ asylum seekers have been told they can still access financial incentives with IOM if they voluntarily agree to return home.

Departure planning informationAround two weeks ago, Immigration posted notices of “Departure Planning information” (refer photo).

The very public use of the PNG police in Oscar is clearly an effort to intimidate asylum seekers into voluntarily signing to return to their home countries.

Papua New Guinea has no arrangements with Iran to accept forced removal of asylum seekers.

“There is no reason to believe that PNG is any more able to arrange forced removals to Iran, than Australia” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “The use of force is designed to coerce people into signing to return ‘voluntarily’.”

The action against the ‘double-negatives’ also comes on the eve of final directions hearings for Supreme Court challenge in Port Moresby, scheduled for Monday 17 August.

“The Immigration Department is trying to preempt the Supreme Court challenge“ said Rintoul, “We will seek injunctions in the Supreme Court to prevent any removals from Manus Island, before there is a final consideration of the Supreme Court constitutional challenge to the detention centre” said Rintoul.

“The Australian and PNG government have been abusing asylum seekers human rights since they were first moved to Manus Island. The Immigration Department would like nothing better that to remove some of the evidence by getting some of them to sign to return to their countries.”

“Immigration should halt any moves to forcibly remove asylum seekers from Manus Island. They have always been Australia’s responsibility. In the name of deterrence they have been the victims of the worst offshore mistreatment. They should all be brought to Australia.”

 

To Angelina Jolie, on Australian refugee policy

Upon learning that Angelina Jolie will be visiting the Nauru detention centre, Ella Wilkins ‘wrote a letter’ to Ms Jolie urging that the truth about Australia’s asylum seeker policy be shared with the world. Scott Morrison denies any concerns over the visit – as the above linked article notes. However, he should be concerned. We shall wait and see. Let us hope that Ella’s letter (below) helps in some way – should it by chance reach its intended recipient – bring this man’s cruel policies under the global spotlight.

Ms. Angelina Jolie
Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Dear Ms. Jolie,

I sincerely hope this message reaches you. You have built your brand and much of your life on your human compassion and willingness to take definitive action. I have heard many a cynic suggest that everything you do – Your work with the UN, your free time and money dedicated to visiting and supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people, even your family – is simply a PR stunt, a careful layering of the Angelina Jolie brand. I strongly disagree. Certainly, you work in an industry which demands a brand, and in which you are surrounded by people trying to help you build it for their own profit. On the other hand there are much easier, flashier and less humanitarian ways to go about building a brand, and I believe you are truly committed to speaking out against injustice and helping to put a stop to suffering.

Today, I read that you plan on visiting Nauru. I had never heard of Nauru, a tiny island directly on the equator East of Indonesia, until 2001 when our Australian government opened an asylum seeker processing centre there. Recently I got curious, and decided to look for Nauru on a map. This is what the island looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.50.55 AM

And this is where it is:

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I spent a long time deciding exactly what to write to you, how much detail to go into. In doing my research I realised that much of what I would be quoting back to you would be your own organisation’s reports and observations about Australian internment camps. How presumptuous of me to lecture you on human rights abuses, inhumane conditions, the detention of children, mandatory, indefinite detention, the smear campaign being led in Australia against asylum seekers, the return of refugees to the government from whom they sought refuge, on despicable inhumanity.

So I decided instead to beg of you one simple thing – please let this be one of the issues you take loudly and unapologetically to the podium of your celebrity. Scream and rage and refuse to shut up. We’re holding the fort for now, but it feels like nobody hears our screams. One person has already been murdered by locals at the Manus Island detention centre. Another refugee set himself on fire due to the extreme psychological pressure of dealing with the border force. Ten mothers have reportedly attempted suicide in the (mistaken) belief that their children will have a better shot at a future in Australia as orphans. Many others have been injured, and are daily being physically, verbally, and psychologically abused. You have an opportunity to directly affect real change – to sway public opinion in Australia, to focus international outrage. You have a chance to indirectly affect policy and help free these wretched people from cruelty. Please, for the love of humanity I know you possess in spades, seize the opportunity.

Regards
Ella Wilkins
Heartbroken Australian citizen

This letter was first published on Ella’s blog and has been reproduced with permission.

A Failure of Moral Leadership

Reza Barati - mourned by many Australians (image from abc.net.au)

Reza Barati – mourned by many Australians (image from abc.net.au)

The recent review into the events on 16th-18th February at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre that led to the death of 23 year old Iranian Asylum seeker, Reza Barati, raises several questions about the responsibilities incumbent upon the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and its minister, Scott Morrison.

But, more importantly, it also raises questions of political leadership generally.

Commissioned as it was by the Department, the report has been criticised as short on detail and containing little that had not been reported already by New Matilda, the ABC, the Guardian and Fairfax. According to Max Chalmers of New Matilda, the report by former Robert Cornall is a farce.

Despite acknowledging serious deficiencies in the treatment of detainees including the overcrowded conditions, failure to process claims and failing to give adequate answers to questions raised by detainees as to their future, the report offers little by way of corrective action. It does, however, demonstrate a direct correlation between the tension, anger and frustration which led to the riots and the Australian Government’s asylum seeker policies.

Those policies include being sent to Papua New Guinea in the first place and having no chance of being resettled in Australia. It also cites the length of time taken to determine their status as refugees, the length of time spent at Manus and information concerning their resettlement in New Guinea as contributing factors. “Cornall’s most recent review indicates that the frustration and uncertainty faced by asylum seekers awaiting processing, as well as their despair at the prospect of never being resettled in Australia, led to protests and an antagonistic relationship between asylum seekers and locals employed in the centre,” Max Chalmers writes.

Let us consider that prior to the riots, not one of the 1340 detainees’ claims had been processed. Consider that detainees had no idea how long they would be kept in the overcrowded compounds. Consider the heat, humidity, inadequate hygiene, the mental anguish, the depression and the likelihood of racial tension both within and outside the camp. Consider the lack of information being provided. Any one of these factors was enough to cause disquiet. Put together, they became a ticking time bomb about which warnings were issued to the department.

Cornall’s review is disturbing on several levels. It confirms earlier media reports of the involvement of GS4 staff, PNG Police, PNG nationals and Australian expats. It confirms that detainees not involved in the riots were dragged from their beds and beaten. Eyewitness reports confirm Reza Barati was set upon by up to ten people including one PNG Salvation Army staff member and beaten mercilessly. The PNG police are still conducting their own investigation into the riots and now claim they are hamstrung by a lack of cooperation “from all involved.”

The role of the previous government in this tragic event cannot be ignored. Kevin Rudd’s decision to reopen the Manus Island detention centre was political. He acted in a manner consistent with a leader trying to deflect criticism from an opposition that smelt blood. He was trying to deny the opposition traction on a highly toxic issue in an upcoming election. He decided on the policy to permanently deny asylum seekers who arrived by boat, settlement in Australia. That decision was also political. But the then opposition, now the government, were happy to go along with it. They would have done it themselves anyway. The transfer of the first detainees was swift and poorly prepared. It was a failure of moral leadership.

This was not the first time Rudd acted in haste. The present government is conducting a Royal Commission into the pink bats fiasco which led to the death of four workers. That earlier decision to set up the roof insulation programme was also poorly prepared. The present government is now spending millions of dollars designed primarily to embarrass the previous government.

The parallels between the Manus Island riots and the pink bats fiasco where four young men died cannot be ignored. Former ministers Peter Garrett, Mark Abib and Kevin Rudd have been called to account at that hearing. Similarly, a man has died while under the protection of the Immigration minister, Scott Morrison. Why is he not being called to account? The best ‘mean culpa’ Scott Morrison has been able to offer is his ‘great regret’. Morrison added that it was, “terrible, tragic and distressing.”

By any reasonable measure, ministerial responsibility demands Scott Morrison’s resignation. In his statement following the release of the Cornall review he acknowledged the delay in setting up CCTV, better lighting and fencing that he had approved in November last year. Even here, he could not resist firing off a broadside at the previous government who he claimed had done nothing. He too, was playing politics. He has given no explanation as to why, as late as February, still no asylum seekers claims had been processed. Why was there such a long delay? Was the Department of Immigration and Border Control deliberately delaying the process? Were they deliberately leaving detainees to believe that they could be in detention for years as a means of encouraging them to return home? Are not the actions of the department worthy of an inquiry that puts them under the spotlight? This too, is a failure of moral leadership.

Each of the recommendations that have been made in Robert Cornall’s review begs the questions: Why is it there? Why has it not been shut down? Why do we have offshore processing?

For a government so obsessed by waste and so keen to save money, the economics alone should tell them this is bad policy. The inhumane treatment should tell them this is immoral. History will record this period as one of our lowest, rivaling our treatment of indigenous Australians over the last century. Media attention on the pink bats Royal Commission will eventually subside, regardless of the outcome. It is a cheap political exercise. The issue of asylum seekers in offshore detention will not subside. It will remain a ticking time bomb.

Those in the broader community who have supported the policies of both governments should also accept their share of the responsibility. Politicians are weak and feeble people who thrive on what they perceive to be the mood of the people. They are opportunists ever ready to seize upon, and exploit, issues they believe will further their interests. The people who support offshore processing should hang their heads in shame. They, along with John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott are all indirectly responsible for the death of Reza Barati. Bill Shorten’s failure to raise one question this week in parliament about Robert Cornall’s review indicts him as well.

They have all failed in moral leadership.

Thankfulness

Not only are many Australians ungrateful for the privileges and the way of life this country provides us, writes Daemon Singer in this guest post, but they also wish to deny others from enjoying the rewards of our country too. Although many of us are appalled at this, we keep electing governments that perpetuate the cruel policies towards asylum seekers. Where are our hearts? asks Daemon.

It doesn’t really matter how many times I come in to make comments, not only in Independent Media Australia but almost across the board amongst left-leaning blogs and information sharing sites, there is an ongoing process where we as a group do little apart from dump on Tony Abbott and his Liberal/National party mates; calling for their removal or whingeing about their destruction of our country. Yet few of us take the time to be thankful for what we do have even as we complain about what we don’t have.

I was driving through Moorooka the other day and the streets are filled with people from Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, who have successfully sought and been given refuge here in Australia. I sat with one of my clients over coffee discussing the situation in Moorooka and he feels locked out of his community because as the Muslims have been relocated to this fairly quiet Brisbane suburb, they have taken over the commerce and he feels quite confronted at times when he needs to buy something at one of those shops.

I wonder if ever in those places and situations, one of the former refugees, now Australian resident, ever stops to say ‘thank you’, and think where he or she  would be without what this country has done, both for him or her, and for his or her family.

I joined a process sometime back called ‘couch surfing’, where one provides a bed for somebody traveling around the world or around the country and in the recent couch surfing situation I found myself talking to a pair of American guys aged in their early 20s. One of them was finding being 23 and adrift from home and family somewhat of a challenge and we spoke at length about what one experiences as one goes through life and how much one learns not only from friends and teachers but also from one’s family.

Last week I reveived a long email from him, thanking me for taking the time to sit and talk as a mature man to a young man in the way his father never had. The only real advice I gave him was ‘trust yourself and forgive yourself’.

He is now launching off onto the next phase of his journey (to Asia) and getting that letter of thanks has made me feel quite special, simply because it is so rare for somebody to sit down and make a concerted effort to thank somebody for a direct impact on their lives. I wonder how much of that lesson we can all learn from?

Certainly, Tony Abbott is doing Australia no favours and one has to consider that he actually has no idea that what he is doing is negative to the long-term future of our country. We describe ourselves as a ‘sunburnt country’ and our national anthem proudly states we have room to spare. However, Galaxy polling tells us that people in the 64 to 78 age range think asylum seekers should be treated more brutally than they already are on Manus and Nauru. In both of which situations we are expecting a former protectorate to again do as it is told on the back of a bunch of aid money.

As a country we have much to be thankful for and it’s my view that we spend precious little time being thankful for it. Personally, I am thankful that we have a choice in religion – I choose not to follow one and no one comes running after me to question my dedication to that religion. That is certainly not the case in many of the countries where people originate who are seeking refuge on our shores.

Further, I am thankful that I have not only the skills but the ability to follow my own path in terms of employment. No one in Australia is going to hold up their hand and say ‘sorry, you can’t have this job you’re the wrong religion’. That is not always the case in the countries from which asylum seekers originate. I am pleased that were I to have children; boys or girls or both, I could send them to the school of my choice, knowing that they would get something resembling a decent education irrespective of the government of the day. I further enjoy that my children would be safe on their way home from school on the bus and wouldn’t have to put up with some nutter getting on the bus and shooting them in the face because they represented all girls being educated. And this happens in many of the countries from which asylum seekers originate.

It doesn’t matter how many times we complain about the government of the day not living up to expectations. When we go to the polls we should understand that really there is no difference between the Liberal National party and Labor in terms of their appalling treatment of refugees and if you ask them why this treatment is necessary, they will say it is being done to protect our borders from these people. For the life of me I can see nothing that they bring to this country that I require protecting from.

But one thing I am  most thankful for of all things is that every three years I get to be part of a process in choosing will represent me the next time. I hope in my heart that Labor will understand that most Australians actually don’t want people treated like this in our name. We understand Tony Abbott does that because he doesn’t really understand very much at all, but it is a sad indictment on us as a country that we have now put in place four separate governments who decided that the best thing for Australia would be to have people killed in Manus Island in our name for no other reason than they are asking us to abide by our signature on a treaty that has been there since the 1960s.

That is the greatest gift that we all own and when we go to the polls next time at a Federal level we need to make a decision whether to go for Labor or Liberal or do what Indi did and find ourselves a representative who listens to us, as voters, individually, and isn’t going to be bent to the will of the party, rather than the will of the people they represent. Our single capacity for choice in terms of who represents us on the world stage is the greatest thing our forefathers ever did for us and for which we should be eternally thankful.

 

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