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Asylum policy of deterrence threatening families

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Julie-Anne Davies

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Labor targets Scott Morrison

Uproar in parliament, as the opposition targets the architect of the government's asylum seeker policy, Scott Morrison.

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Asylum seekers being detained on Christmas Island and off shore on Nauru and Manus Island are being subjected to a regime of coercion and intimidation and living in appalling conditions in a deliberate bid to force them to go home.

Well-placed sources working in the offshore detention system report that inadequate healthcare and, contrary to government policy, forced family separation or threats of separation, has created a toxic mix of despair and fear among the asylum population.

The Abbott government policy of deterrence is being felt in every corner of the detention system

The Abbott government policy of deterrence is being felt in every corner of the detention system Photo: Angela Wylie

The Abbott government policy of deterrence is being felt in every corner of the detention system from the moment people get on boats in Indonesia right through to the hot, cramped tent camps and World War II bunkers asylum seekers are forced to live in on Nauru and Manus Island.

Children are being used as a bargaining tool to get people to return home. In a letter received this week from an Iranian on Christmas Island, he says he has been told he will be separated from his pregnant wife two months before she gives birth. ''I have requested from the Immigration officers to discuss my situation, however, they keep telling me to go back home if you want to be next to your wife during delivering the baby,'' he writes.

Several sources have described harrowing scenes on Christmas Island last month when Immigration officers forced two unaccompanied Sri Lankan children aged 12 and 14 on to a plane to return home. They were part of a group of 84 Tamils who had arrived on the Coco Islands after 34 days at sea and within 48 hours were put on a plane and sent back to Colombo.

''The children were crying and screaming and begging to be able to stay,'' said a witness. ''One of the security officers realised they were too young and no one was accompanying them and so took them off the plane. Then there was a stand-off while someone rang Canberra and were instructed by someone very, very senior to put them back on the plane.''

The latest figures released by the Immigration Minister show there were 1128 men on Manus Island, 606 men, women and children on Nauru and 2158 people on Christmas Island. The government will not reveal how many children are living inside the Nauru detention centre although child refugee advocate Sophie Peer estimates between 80 to 100.

''The leash is off,'' said Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. ''The hardliners in the Immigration Department can do what they like. And family separation is the tool of choice.

They can say what they like, it's happening. Under the old government it occurred but it was usually incompetence. Now it is deliberate. They are separating families on the wharf at Christmas Island.''

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed revelations of a 31-year-old asylum seeker, Latifa, who is being kept in detention for 18 hours a day in Brisbane while her week-old son is in hospital with respiratory problems. A spokesman said the mother could visit her baby during the day. ''Doctors at the hospital advise it is common practice for mothers not to stay overnight with babies in special care units due to bed restrictions,'' he said.

The revelations come on the eve of the release of what is expected to be two damning reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on conditions on Nauru and Manus Island.

One Immigration source on Christmas Island described how much things had changed since Operation Sovereign Borders began on September 18. ''We have been told that we are not to engage with the clients now,'' she said.

''So the only message we are told to give them is to leave. We are deliberately intimidating them, we are told to tell them Nauru and Manus are full up and so their only and best option is to go home.''

The government on Thursday denied it was using intimidation to force people to return home. It was unapologetic for its treatment of Sri Lankan boat arrivals but did not deny the children were sent home unaccompanied. ''Anyone arriving illegally by boat from Sri Lanka faces a stringent process and anyone who is screened out will go back.''

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429 comments

  • Am I the only one that feels just a little bit less human after reading this?

    Commenter
    embarrassed
    Date and time
    November 15, 2013, 6:52AM
    • embarassed, no there will be plenty of other bleeding hearts who will be equally fooled by this article into believing asylum seekers are somehow being treated poorly, when in reality they have better facilities and services than those who call Nauru and Manus Island home. The locals can only dream of the benefits that are afforded asylum seekers by our Government.

      Commenter
      murdoch
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 8:52AM
    • I suppose we'll be blaming the Libs now for cleaning up Labor's little failed experiment in open borders. This is the end result of irresponsible policy.

      Labor and the Greens should think carefully upon their sins. A little foresight next time - if not for other people, at least for your own political skins.

      Commenter
      Malik the magic sheep
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:04AM
    • So I guess these are now concentration camps... But I am equally concerned about the people who work there, the guards, how inhuman they would have become by now, and one day they will be back in our community promulgating their pathology, hate, barbarism, anti-life. And someone up there is ordering it and calls it 'good' and 'just'.

      Commenter
      A
      Location
      B
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:11AM
    • Murdoch, if you actually believe that you are truly allowing your egocentric prejudice to overcome clear evidence. Even if it were true, which it is not, it would not justify treating human beings under our legal care in such a despicable manner. Murderers in our country have greater rights, privileges and freedoms than these poor souls who have simply asked to be assessed for protection under our own laws.

      Commenter
      Warwick
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:21AM
    • Murdoch do you live on another reality? I am staggered by the sheer callous indifference of so many Australians. Are we not capable of the most basic decency. Whether you have empathy or not for these people, for them to be treated this way in the name of the Australian public is unforgivable.

      Commenter
      AnneO
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:28AM
    • Murdoch: what rot! The facilities at Manus and Nauru are nowhere near the standard of housing in which the locals live. The New Guinea may live in traditional housing, but at least that is appropriate for the climate.

      Tents, demountables and army huts of corrugated iron are not tropical climate friendly and locals would not choose to live in them.

      Health care? Well, it depends how many medical staff they have provided. My understanding is that the local health systems have had to pick up the slack.

      The Coalition is providing the absolute minimum for life in these centres. The media blackout is designed so we don't find out the privations imposed on these people, 95% of whom are true refugees.

      Australia's reputation as a caring nation has just been axed.

      Commenter
      TiredOfSpin
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:36AM
    • @embarrassed, and also feeling a bit dirty - how could we treat fellow human beings like this.

      To @murdoch et al, just remember, treat people with respect and they will at least have good feelings towards you. Treat people like animals and their hatred and disdain for you grows. This hatred has a way of manifesting itself into violence i.e. suicide bombings. Is that what you want in the future or just remain petty and short-sighted (as usual).

      Commenter
      Jeff
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:36AM
    • I'm not sure if the intention of the Government is to make sure things are so bad that people will choose to return home or not. I'd like to give the Government the benefit of the doubt. Clearly there are major problems with contract management and service delivery in the detention centres that need to be addressed. Forget pink batts, this has the potential to be a much bigger administrative disaster.

      If the current management approach inadvertently sends these people home even more scarred than when they arrived, are we potentially turning many legitimate asylum seekers into radicals that have now have a legitimate resentment for the developed world?

      Internationally, Australia has always been considered one of the "nice guys", but I fear we are actually putting a target on our back for some policy expediency. Are we increasing the risk of terrorism and radical actions against Australian interests and citizens through this policy?

      Commenter
      Cynic of Qld
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:47AM
    • The writer should make a comparison of what these boatpeople experiences with the terrible conditions which most of the 45,000,000 refugees worldwide suffer in their refugee camps. That is why they keep coming.

      I fail to understand the logic of the bleeding hearts. If you want genuine refugees you can get any number from the 45,000,000. Why encourage many of the boatpeople to steal their places. After all ALP leader Bob Carr said most of the boatpeople are economic migrants.

      Commenter
      Penguin
      Location
      Hobart
      Date and time
      November 15, 2013, 9:51AM

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