Image by Ben Thomson
The death of Reza Barati on February 17 gave us the most recent reminder of the challenges asylum seeker detention centres bring. They’re tinderboxes, ready to ignite, often sitting dangerously close to a flame. Recently released footage of the events that unfolded on Manus Island 24-hours before the riot that killed Barati, again highlights the dangerous tension that exists in centres. In the footage PNG national employees of security company G4S can be seen attacking asylum seekers who have taken cover in one of the detention centre buildings, until an Australian employee arrives and moves the crowd along. The events escalated when asylum seekers attempted to flee the detention centre after being told they would never settle in Australia. PNG G4S staff arriving for work foiled their attempt, shifting asylum seeker resentment away from the Australian government and on to the PNG employees. Tensions grew when detainees began yelling, “Fuck PNG!”, some exposed themselves to people walking along the road outside the centre. The anger in the Manus Island community simmered, spurred by malicious rumours of asylum seekers intentions and the derogatory chants. What happened next we all know. These events reveal the dangerous circumstances that would culminate in the riot that killed Reza Barati one day later. They also highlight fundamental issues with offshore detention centres: security, staff training, and local awareness. While we wait for the government to make a report in to the events public, all we can do is wonder when will it happen again?
– Nauru and the UN aren’t on great terms right now. First the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention wasn’t allowed to inspect detention facilities, which the Australian government totally didn’t, maybe, might have, almost, kind of, never had anything to do with. To escalate tensions, Nauru had to go and be late with its homework. The island nation breached a deadline with the UN by failing to establish an independent body to regularly inspect detention centres, a commitment it said it would meet as a part of ratifying a UN anti-torture convention. The hullaballoo has since raised concerns about Australia’s relationship with Nauru regarding whether Australia is breaching international standards by continuing to send asylum seekers there. No biggie, after all it only holds 1179 asylum seekers.
– It looks like Indonesia has again been passive aggressively throwing shade at Australia. On Monday Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa made thinly veiled comments with implied criticism of Australia’s asylum seeker policy. Doing what politicians do best—not really saying what you want them to say—Dr Natalegawa never explicitly mentioned the Abbott government’s boat turn back policy. Instead he carefully focused on the idea of sharing regional burden. “For Indonesia, the message is crystal clear; the cross border and complex nature of the irregular movement of persons defies… national solutions,” he said. “There is no other recourse but to take a comprehensive and coordinated approach … a sense of burden sharing and common responsibility should be a basis for our co-operation”. Think you’ve had enough? Too bad, he’s also got issue with our detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island, which he implicitly criticised by discussing the human rights of those seeking asylum. The Australian government is yet to respond, but word is they’ve been talking shit in the ladies room all day.
– Finally, some kind of good news from a reoccurring story. In last week’s Hate Boat we highlighted the plight of 26 Australian-born babies in detention who were threatened by the possibility of being sent to offshore detention centres. Following on from the threat of legal action by law firm Maurice Blackburn on the behalf of asylum seekers, the Department of Immigration has provided an undertaking not to send the babies or their immediate family offshore. Only while a court case determining their legal status is pending though. The undertaking also only refers to the families represented by Maurice Blackburn with it currently unknown how many other families could be at risk of moving offshore. The long-term question of whether the Australian-born children of asylum seekers should be considered citizens still depends on the outcome of the Baby Farouz case. The case made news late last year when due to complications a pregnant woman was flown from a Nauru detention centre to Brisbane to give birth. The baby was successfully born in Brisbane, thus lawyers claim the child is entitled to citizen’s rights. The Greens are seeking a conscience vote to ban the removal of Australian-born babies to offshore detention centres.
– How are you feeling after reading this column every week? Lost, despaired, heart shrivelled into coal? Well prepare to have your faith restored and your cockles warmed. Tri Nguyen came to Australia in 1982, arriving by boat with his family after fleeing Vietnam. It was a hell of a journey, along the way he was caged and tortured by pirates. And yet Australia welcomed him and now Tri is a happy, contributing Australian. To raise awareness for refugee issues Tri just completed a 35-day trek from Melbourne to Canberra, dragging a boat behind him for all 670 kilometres. Mr Nguyen hopes his own story and pilgrimage will change the political conversation around asylum seekers. "We are at our best when we welcome the stranger. We are at our best as Australians when we care for the most vulnerable in our community," he says. "And we are at our best when we work for justice for those who have lost everything in life and have gone through so much suffering. That's Australia at its best".
Follow Mitch on Twitter: @MitchMaxxParker