All refugees in detention are political prisoners

Dear Prime Minister,

Today, Melbourne's port was blockaded by protestors. Their banners included 'SOS Manus' and 'All refugees in detention are political prisoners.' How much did today's port blockade cost Australia's economy? On financial cost alone, how can you continue to allow the offshore detention of refugees?

Do not reply with the platitude 'We need to stop drownings at sea.' It is immoral to imprison and torture  the 2000 people on Manus and Nauru on the pretext of preventing other people's suffering. The boats have continued but now the Australian navy now intercepts them (at vast expense) at sea and illegally and secretly turns them back. Last week, a boat with 29 Sri Lankan adults and children reached Australia's shore, which disproves your claim that no vessel has arrived for 3.5 years. Did the Sri Lankans claim asylum? If so, why were they flown straight back to Sri Lanka? How much did that 'special' flight from Exmouth cost?

Australia hides human rights abuses

Dear Prime Minister

Congratulations on finally ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (Opcat), eight long years after signing the treaty. No doubt we need to demonstrate a commitment to human rights just as we are about to begin our term on the Human Rights Council. However the exclusion of Australia's offshore places of detention from Opcat scrutiny proves your government is trying to hide the human rights abuses on Manus Island and Nauru.

To have any credibility on Human Rights Australia must evacuate all people held on Manus and Nauru to safety and freedom now, and undertake to never operate a system of offshore processing again.

Entitled to be released

Dear Prime Minister,

On Friday 15 December 2017 the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court found that the asylum seekers on Manus Island were unlawfully imprisoned in the Lombrun Detention Centre for three weeks after 26 April 2016. At that time Australia had refused to act on the PNG Court's ruling that the asylums seekers' detention contravened their human rights and was illegal. What is your response to Friday's judgement? Will you hold Minister Dutton to account for this breach of human rights? In February 2018 there will further court cases in PNG to establish the costs and compensation which Australia will have to pay.

On February 5 2018, in a separate but related application by Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani, the Supreme Court has set down a hearing to consider the human rights breaches involved in the siege of, and forced eviction from, the Manus detention centre at Lombrum on 23rd and 24th (Black Friday) November. The PNG lawyers will be seeking damages for the human rights breaches associated with the eviction from Lombrum and the on-going beaches associated with the inadequate and inhuman conditions of the three detention areas on Manus.

Will Australia continue to challenge and delay every part of these legal processes, as it has done so far? Will your government continue to prolong the suffering of the the men on Manus Island? Or will you see that Australia takes responsibility for the situation it has created and provides a safe and free home for all the asylum seekers?

Refugee children on Nauru still suffer

Dear Prime Minister,

Yesterday I asked you to sack Minister Dutton for his lies about the medical services for refugees on Manus Island, and for his department's interventions which prevent medical staff providing medical care to the refugees. Today I hold you to account for the damage continuing to be done to the physical and mental health of the refugees on Nauru.

When paediatric specialists assessed the refugee children on Nauru three years ago they found them to be:

the most traumatised children we had ever consulted on, far worse than children we had seen in Australia, Africa, Asia or Europe. We know the longer you detain people, the worse the effect.
— Professor David Isaacs and Alanna Maycock

These children are still on Nauru, still suffering the cumulative effects of up to 4.5 years of imprisonment and ill-treatment. Writing this week in The Sydney Morning Herald, Isaacs and Maycock conclude:

We are appalled our country punishes children because their parents dared flee persecution.
— http://www.smh.com.au/comment/australia-is-wilfully-damaging-the-health-of-children-on-nauru-to-make-a-point--and-it-is-appalling-20171212-h035cq.html

Give amnesty now to all refugees detained on Nauru. Reunite those who have been separated from their families by Australia. Implement immediate care and rehabilitation to help the refugees begin to recover from the damage that Australia has done to them.

Health care lies

Dear Prime Minister,

This is part of a letter from an unnamed ABF official, recently written in response to concerns about lack of medical care for refugees on Manus Island:

A medical clinic is available at the ELRTC, providing primary healthcare and mental
health services six days a week. The clinic is staffed by General Practitioners,
mental health team leaders and mental health nurses, psychologists, counsellors and
psychiatrists. Outside clinic hours and for emergency care, residents have access to
the Lorengau Hospital.
— Director ABF Ministerial Correspondence Section
Prolonged or indefinite detention itself is known to contribute to adverse mental health and asylum seekers and refugees continue to have inadequate access to the necessary supports and services they require in offshore detention.
— Dr Kym Jenkins
The Australian Government must ensure greater transparency and communication around the situation on Manus Island so the medical community knows that authorities are responding to reports of ill health.
— Dr Catherine Yelland

This week, one of the refugees on Manus reported:

Doctor prescribed medication to One of refugees, when refugee asked how can I buy the medications as I don’t have money? doctor said that’s not our issue and we don’t have medication to give you free.
— https://twitter.com/stavesmith1/status/940895637960212481
Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 9.56.50 pm.png

After 4.5 years of imprisonment with inadequate hygiene and food, limited water and close living conditions, with many also suffering mental illness and pain and infections from untreated wounds, the men on Manus Island need to be free, safe and to have intensive specialised care to become well again. 

Damaging Australia's reputation

Dear Prime Minister,

Let's leave aside Australia's treatment of refugees and focus on Australia's reputation. Is the Pacific region an important region for Australia? Do we want to develop strong relationships with Pacific nations? How can Australia be seen as a leader in the Pacific when the Pacific nations know how Australia is behaving in PNG and Nauru?

You have received a letter from Australians working in the Pacific region which points out the hypocrisy of trying to present Australia as a model for health and governance when Australia violates human rights in PNG and Nauru. The letter calls on you: 

to end this internationally condemned policy... Let our government lead in promoting a vision of human rights for all, particularly the most vulnerable. Doing so upholds Australia’s international obligations, and constitutes the regional leadership to which Australia aspires.

Allow us to continue our crucial work in helping others in our region. Restore Australia’s international reputation. Bring the asylum seekers to Australia.
— Radio NZ

These concerns in the Pacific are being echoed around the world: the United Nations, Ireland, Djibouti, Portugal, USA. What will it take for you to act?

Minister Dutton lies

Dear Prime Minister,

The evidence strongly refutes Minister Dutton's claims of adequate security in East Lorengau Transit Centre, West Haus and Hillside on Manus Island. Locals enter the buildings seemingly at will, sometimes in the middle of the night. Security let them in despite preventing media and aid agencies from entering. Some locals have been drunk and threatened violence, others demanded food. Security guards tried to force the prisoners to delete videos they had taken of the incidents.

As Behrouz Boochani says, the incidents show the growing anger of local people over the relocation of asylum seekers and refugees to the main town on Manus Island. Does Australia's offshore detention policy extend to provoking violent attacks by disgruntled landowners on Australia's prisoners who cannot leave and cannot defend themselves? Why have you not yet sacked Minister Dutton?

A Letter from Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister

The refugees have found the responses and reasoning provided by the government regarding the hostage situation and our incarceration to be absurd. There have been ridiculous fabrications. We have exposed this as a form of political opportunism, as a politics driven by economic mismanagement and incompetence, policies that benefit bloodthirsty financial investors, a politics that experiments in order to further ingrain a system of border militarisation and securitisation.
— Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani wrote this from his imprisonment on Manus Island. Your appearance on Q&A tonight perfectly illustrated his point about political opportunism.

Our resistance is the spirit that haunts Australia. Our resistance is a new manifesto for humanity and love.
— Behrouz Boochani

The refugees have succeeded in establishing the terms: humanity and love. I challenge you to put aside political opportunism and act with humanity and love.

Manus Island mental health

Dear Prime Minister,

The physical and mental health of the people seeking asylum who are kept in PNG and Nauru by Australia has been severely damaged by their 4.5 year imprisonment. In a recent article in The Lancet the authors describe the draconian system of detention, failure to provide even basic health care and the results. In 2016 UNHCR interviewed 181 men on Manus and 90% showed severe mental health conditions such as major depression, severe anxiety disorder and probable PTSD. The UNHCR concluded that the length and indefinite detention with no settlement options had "corroded the resilience of the detainees and made them vulnerable to mental illness."

The article goes on to document the brutal withdrawal of medical services and the pretence of handing responsibility for the men's care to PNG which has neither means nor infrastructure to provide even rudimentary daily needs. The authors conclude:

If they are moved from Papua New Guinea to a safe and supportive environment, refugees could be expected to largely recover from the psychological stress and adversities they have experienced at the offshore immigration detention facility and go on to rebuild their lives. It remains the Australian Government’s responsibility to seek durable solutions for the people who seek protection in their land.
— The Lancet, 9 December 2017

It remains the Australian Government's responsibility. Amnesty now for all detained on Manus and Nauru.

No family values

Dear Prime Minister,

While you claim credit for the Same Sex Marriage Bill, you continue to destroy the families of people imprisoned in offshore detention. All have siblings and parents who fear they may never see their loved ones again. Even worse, in an act of unbelievable cruelty by Minister Dutton, is the forced 'choice' that men on Nauru must make: to stay imprisoned on Nauru forever while their wives and children remain in Australia for medical treatment or to relinquish custody of their children and abandon their wives so as to take a chance of resettlement alone in USA.

Family unity is a fundamental principle of international and Australian domestic law. Australia is a party to the convention on the rights of the child, which states that children have a right to know and be cared for by their parents, and should grow up in a family environment wherever possible. It is also a party to the international covenant on civil and political rights, which says the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.
— https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/07/peter-dutton-defends-nauru-policy-after-refugees-told-to-separate-from-family

End the torture. Bring all people detained on Manus Island and Nauru to safety and freedom now.

What freedom does

Dear Prime Minister,

Despite trying to survive in half built, over-crowded camps, with intermittent electricity, food and water and separated from their friends the men imprisoned on Manus Island still observe their peaceful protests. They use words, courage and persistence, never violence. Their demand is 'Freedom, only freedom.'

https://www.facebook.com/eyesonoffshore/photos/a.1907251372877799.1073741829.1804425649827039/1958291514440451/?type=3&theater

https://www.facebook.com/eyesonoffshore/photos/a.1907251372877799.1073741829.1804425649827039/1958291514440451/?type=3&theater

What will it take for you to give amnesty now and bring all on Manus and Nauru to freedom and safety?

Manus Island Timeline

21 November 2012
Manus Island reopened
Julia Gillard's Labor government reopens detention centre – not used since 2004 – and the first 19 asylum seekers arrive from Christmas island.

12 July 2013
Damning UN report
A UNHCR report finds every asylum seeker on Manus displays signs of anxiety and depression.

19 July 2013
'No chance of being settled in Australia'
New Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd announces people who seek asylum by boat will never be settled in Australia, with all sent to Manus or Nauru.

17 February 2014
Reza Barati dies
Three days of violence leaves 70 detainees seriously injured, with some shot by police, stabbed and with their throats slit. Iranian detainee Reza Barati is murdered after security guards inflict fatal head injuries during the riot.

5 September 2014
Hamid Kehazaei dies
Iranian Hamid Kehazaei dies after a delayed medical evacuation to Australia, as a treatable bacterial infection develops into septicaemia.

13 December 2015
Mass hunger strike
More than 500 men begin a two-week hunger strike in protest against conditions on the island. Two stitch their lips together, three swallow razor blades and collapsing strikers have to be forcibly removed by security.

21 July 2015
Healthcare failings revealed
A Guardian investigation reveals widespread failings in the healthcare services provided by IHMS in detention centres, including Manus Island.

27 August 2015
Rape allegation
A PNG woman employed by Transfield alleges she was raped by Australian colleagues inside the centre. The alleged perpetrators are flown out of the country.

26 April 2016
Supreme court rules Manus illegal
Papua New Guinea supreme court rules the detention centre is illegal and unconstitutional and must be closed.

17 August 2016
Manus to close
Australia confirms Manus detention centre will close but says none of the 854 men still there will be resettled in Australia.

24 December 2016
Faysal Ishak Ahmed dies
Sudanese refugee Faysal Ishak Ahmed dies after six months of suffering numerous blackouts, falls and seizures inside the detention centre.

15 May 2017
Services shut down
PNG immigration officials confirm the centre will close on 31 October, and tell detainees to 'consider their options'. Over the following months basic services are shut down around detainees, to encourage them to leave

14 June 2017
$70m compensation
The Australian government settles a class action, paying $70m compensation to more than 2,000 detainees for illegal detention and mistreatment, but denies any liability.

7 August 2017
Hamed Shamshiripour dies
Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Shamshiripour is found dead, having taken his own life. His friends say they pleaded with the Australian government to provide treatment for his mental health problems.

26 September 2017
First detainees flown to US
Twenty-five men leave Papua New Guinea for the US under a resettlement deal between Australia and the US. The total number to be transferred is still uncertain, with the US under no obligation to take a set amount.

2 October 2017
Sri Lankan refugee dies
A formally recognised refugee dies in Lorengau hospital.

23 October 2017
Detainees refuse to leave
A week before it's due to close, it’s revealed more than 600 detainees are refusing to leave the centre, citing fears for their safety in Lorengau.

 

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/nov/30/australias-offshore-detention-regime-is-a-brutal-and-obscene-piece-of-self-delusion

150 opportunities lost

Dear Prime Minister,

On Monday 4 December you had an opportunity to begin to repair your legacy and Australia's reputation when the Lower House voted in favour of accepting New Zealand's offer to resettle 150 refugees from offshore detention and negotiate for more.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/04/turnbull-government-scrambles-after-losing-vote-on-new-zealand-refugee-offer

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/04/turnbull-government-scrambles-after-losing-vote-on-new-zealand-refugee-offer

You chose to fail, again.

Silence and violence

Dear Prime Minister,

On Friday December 1, one week after the violent clearing of the Manus Island RPC by PNG officials under the instruction of Australian Border Force employees, Behrouz Boochani wrote an account titled 'There was our silence and their violence as Manus camp was evacuated.' His account is substantiated by numerous photos and videos taken by the refugees during their ordeal. 

After the former RPC was destroyed and the men were forced into the already overcrowded East Lorengau Transit Centre, or the muddy building sites of West Haus and Hillside, or left abandoned on a roadside, Behrouz Boochani continued to witness and report on the conditions in these camps:

I visited a man, semi-naked and with bare feet, sitting in the dirt. His face was bloody. I spoke with him, but he was completely silent. Others told me that police had beaten him, he had lost his personal belongings, and they killed his dog that had been living with him. Witnessing this man’s story was too much to bear.
— Behrouz Boochani

Yet your government proclaimed this was a 'voluntary and peaceful transfer.' This violent event will forever be associated with your Prime Ministership. Now is the time to fix your reputation and give an immediate amnesty to all offshore detainees.

Dehumanising

Dear Prime Minister,

Why have the refugees on Manus Island had their previous IDs removed and replaced by a number? How can this be for any purpose except to attempt to further strip them of their humanity?

What is more dehumanising than living as a 6-character boat ID for over 4 years? That ID being replaced with a NEW number!!

What is more dehumanising than living as a 6-character boat ID for over 4 years? That ID being replaced with a NEW number!!

End offshore detention and evacuate all refugees to freedom and safety now.

Lies

Dear Prime Minister,

When will you stop Minister Dutton's lies? He said the 'alternative accommodation' at West Haus and Hillside were complete except for a bit of tiling. Tim Costello, the UN and other eyewitnesses showed two building sites. The refugees have documented the shoddy construction and use of old and broken materials.

Minister Dutton said that all refugees have access to health care. Yet IHMS has refused to provide services and medications and MSF was refused access to the refugees.

On these two points alone, about the accommodation and health care, Minister Dutton is either totally incompetent or he is lying. Sack him. Amnesty now for all refugees in offshore detention.

 

Where is your reply

Dear Prime Minister,

This is the 490th letter I have written to you. Every day, increasing numbers of people read these letters, which I publish on my blog. You will be hearing from some of them too.

Today I am writing about three of the many incidents that have occurred in PNG in the last 24 hours.

  1. Refoulement of two Pakistani refugees.
  2. Blockade of ELTC by locals.
  3. Preventing injured refugees from getting medical care

Evacuate all refugees from Manus and Nauru now and give them their freedom and safety.