Prevention of Torture

Dear Prime Minister,

Now that Australia is about to ratify the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture), are you and Minister Dutton prepared to have Australia's places of detention monitored? The UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has said that where a country detains people outside of its borders (as Australia does in PNG and Nauru) then it must arrange for the detention centres to be inspected. Australian workplace laws for health and safety must apply in its offshore detention centres and these must be monitored. What has been put in place to make sure that the detention centres on Manus and Nauru comply with health and safety laws and satisfy the SPT standards to prevent abuses of human rights? Who documents and verifies Australia's compliance? 

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 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?

Bring all in offshore detention to Australia #302

Dear Prime Minister

I am writing to you on behalf of the 302nd asylum seeker held by Australia on Manus Island. The situation at the Reprocessing Centre (concentration camp) has dramatically worsened this week. Some men have been forced to move out of their accommodation and into one of the other already overcrowded buildings. Demolition of the buildings has started. Is it a coincidence that it is the start of Ramadan? After the well-documented year-long program by ABF, Transfield and Broadspectrum to make conditions for the men more and more draconian this violent disruption to the camp amounts to torture. As Imran Mohammad reported, the detainees have not been properly informed of what is happening, the rules keep changing so even those who try to make decisions are thwarted, and all this after four years of incarceration have damaged their bodies and their minds.

The majority of Australians (72%) support bringing the refugees here. Many of us are in direct contact either with the detainees, or with advocates who are. So we know that the statements made by Minister Dutton and his department are lies. For example, in the letter I received from DIBP yesterday, the first paragraph of page two reads:

People transferred and accommodated at the Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) are treated with respect and dignity and in accord with human rights standards. The Australian Government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that residents’ needs are adequately met, including the provision of health and welfare services.
— https://www.ruthhalbert.com.au/dear-prime-minister/2017/5/27/the-4th-reply-from-dibp

It is astounding how many lies have been crammed into those two sentences. All meaning of the words 'respect', 'dignity', human rights', trained', 'experienced', 'adequately met', 'health', 'welfare', 'services' has been completely degraded.

This is why I write to you, Prime Minister. There is no honesty, morality, or legality in the dealings, writings or announcements of Minister Dutton and DIBP. After 302 letters to you, I expect you to reply. And to act to bring the asylum seekers here now.

The 4th reply from DIBP

This is the fourth letter I have received from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. I have not yet received any reply from the Prime Minister.

This is the text of the letter:

Dear Ms Halbert

Thank you for your correspondence of 10, 11 and 12 April 2017 to the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, concerning the detainee known as ‘Saeed’, as well as the Australian Government’s regional processing and settlement arrangements in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Your correspondence has been referred to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection as the matters raised fall within his portfolio responsibilities. The Minister appreciates the time you have taken to bring these matters to his attention and has asked that I reply on his behalf.

In order to protect privacy, under the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988, it would be inappropriate for me to provide detailed information about the particular circumstances of ‘Saeed’.

While I cannot provide specific details about his case, I can confirm that this individual is receiving appropriate care for his needs, and his immigration detention placement is appropriate to his circumstances.

The  Migration Act 1958 requires applicants to establish a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion in all areas of their home country. People who are found to be refugees must also satisfy health, character and security checks before they can be granted a visa.

People who are found not to be refugees in Australia have been appropriately assessed to determine whether they engage Australia’s protection obligations. Where an asylum seeker is found not to engage Australia’s protection obligations and has exhausted all administrative and judicial avenues for appeal, they have no lawful basis for remaining in Australia and are therefore expected to depart. Those who do not depart voluntarily will be subject to removal from Australia. Removals occur only after all processing has been completed and do not occur where this would place Australia in breach of its international obligations relating to the return of non-citizens.

People transferred and accommodated at the Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) are treated with respect and dignity and in accord with human rights standards. The Australian Government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that residents’ needs are adequately met, including the provision of health and welfare services.

Good quality, nutritious, culturally appropriate food is provided and served three times daily. Beverages and snacks are available at all times. Special meals are prepared for religious festivals and cultural or medical reasons.

Residents at the Manus RPC are supplied with ample clothing for daily needs. Where new or extra clothing is needed, the service provider will purchase and supply these items without charge. Toiletries are supplied as required.

The Government of PNG is responsible for processing the protection claims of people transferred to the Manus RPC. People found to be refugees can settle in PNG and may also be considered for resettlement in the United States.

People found not to be refugees are encouraged to return to their country of origin or to a third country where they have a right to reside. Substantial assistance is available to help people return home voluntarily and re-establish their lives. Non-refugees who do not depart voluntarily are liable to removal by the PNG Government. The Australian Government will support PNG in these arrangements.

The Government of PNG, with Australia’s support, is working towards the closure of the Manus RPC by 31 October 2017. After this date, Australia will cease to have an ongoing role in regional processing arrangements in PNG.

The scheduled closure of the Manus RPC does not change the Australian Government’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of Australia’s borders and combatting maritime people smuggling. The regional processing and settlement arrangements in Nauru will continue and Australia will retain an enduring regional processing capacity in that country. Neither refugees nor non-refugees will be settled in Australia.

The Government remains to regional processing and resettlement and stopping the scourge of people smugglers and deaths at sea.

Thank you for bringing your views to the Government’s attention.

Yours sincerely
— Director ABF Ministerial Correspondence Section Support Group - Australia Border Force 22 May 2017

End offshore detention #253

Dear Prime Minister,

On ABC radio news today you were reported as being "non-committal" when asked about what would happen to the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru. The Financial Review headlines you as "undecided on unwanted asylum seekers." You have had four years to decide. Four years of these detainees lives lost to torture and degradation.

Photo: Hesam Fetrati

Photo: Hesam Fetrati

In Behrouz Boochani and Arash Kamali Sarvestani's movie "Chauka please tell us the time" a Manusian mans says "It's so frustrating to hear that name Chauka being used for the purpose of abusing people, or torturing people, or threatening people. ... We took them here to care for them until they find such place where they can settle."

As Mr Sarvestani says, we Australian have abdicated responsibility for the refugees, and by our racism and your unforgivable indecision, Prime Minister, we victimise both Manusians and refugees.

The third reply from DIBP. No reply yet from Prime Minister Turnbull.

This is the third letter I have received from DIBP. The cursory way in which the case of Mr Faysal Ishak Ahmed is written about is distressing. 

More than half of the content of this letter is identical to parts of the first and second letters I have received. None of the three letters address the questions I have asked the Prime Minister.

This letter, like the previous ones, continues a mixture of 'weasel' words (e.g. 'the Department is not aware of', 'transferees', 'healthcare broadly consistent with Australian public health standards') meaningless generalisations and outright lies. For example, 'Australia assists PNG to provide refugees with settlement support services to assist with integration.' Although PNG has signed the UN Refugee Convention (in 1986) it did so with 7 reservations and has not made changes to its laws to ensure that refugees are treated according to that convention. DIBP knows full well that when it says that refugees are free to settle in PNG it is impossible both for the refugees to do so and be protected by the law, and for the local Papua New Guineans to have the resources and infrastructure to support them to do that. Australia is expecting a small country still in early stages of its own development to do something that we can both afford and have the multicultural history to support.

Another mix of weaselling and lying is in the paragraph about intake of refugees:

Restoration of Australia’s border integrity has enabled the Government to increase the annual refugee intake. As a result the Humanitarian Programme will increase from 13,750 to 18,750 by 2018-19. ... Australia is also welcoming 12,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict zone.

We have only taken 6000 of the Syrian refugees so far, and the word 'welcoming' stretches credulity. Australia took in 15,000 asylum seekers in 2015-16 which in a country of 24,000,000 is only 0.06% of the population. In the same period, Sweden took in 150,000 which is 1.5% of their population. To match that we could take in 360,000 refugees. The DIBP correspondent fails to admit that most refugees are only granted Temporary Protection Visas and are in a jobless, insecure limbo. There are still 25,000 people on Bridging Visas waiting for an outcome of their application process which seems to have stalled.


End offshore detention #226

Dear Prime Minister,

Even if the United States takes 1250 refugees from Australia's offshore detention centres there will be approximately 400 people left behind. The Papua New Guinea government plans to close the detention centre by October. Minister Dutton was recently in PNG but has refused to discuss any changes to Australia's untenable position of leaving the asylum seekers in PNG: the refugees can't settle there and the local people can't support them. We have done untold damage to the detainees and wasted billions of dollars on this inhumane stalemate. Time is running out, Prime Minister. What are you going to do?

For the 120th man on Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister,

Why do you persist with the inhumane and illegal use of prisons on Nauru and Manus Island to punish people who have sought our assistance? Who are you pandering to when you make emotional irrational statements such as "These people smugglers are the worst criminals imaginable."?

Free Mr XXX XXX, the 120th man on Manus Island.

Bring them here

End offshore detention #93. Bring them here.

Dear Prime Minister,

Your announcement today, with Minister Dutton, that the people on Manus Island and Nauru will never be settled in or let into Australia is as mean and obvious as it is pointless.

One Nation's misdirected focus on refugees and migrants as the source of the fear and pain its supporters genuinely feel is a gift for you isn't it? Instead of addressing the real, more difficult issues, such as job security, decline in manufacturing and primary industries, decline of rural areas, lack of services, housing unaffordability, etc, you can punish 1700 voiceless people hidden thousands of kilometres away, and witter on about border security and battles of will.

Why won't you do some real work and devise policies to change Australia's distribution of wealth, to provide proper health and education services and support a wide range of small and medium businesses and government organisations to provide secure, well paid jobs and affordable housing for all Australians?

End offshore detention. Bring them here. #81

ABC Lateline: Amnesty International describes the regime on Nauru (created and paid for by Australia) as torture.

Newsweek: Australia's refugee policies are designed to inflict as much harm as possible.

and even at PopSugar: Sandra Bartlett, a former Connect Settlement Services worker has spoken about the terrible conditions on Nauru.

Meanwhile DIBP departmental secretary Mike Pezullo played word games in Committee when questioned by Senator McKim while coalition Senator McDonald tittered.

And all you can do is feebly repeat the threadbare lie: "offshore detention stops the boats".

Close the camps. Bring them here.

Letters to Tyranny #61

Dear Prime Minister,

Why was the 26-year-old Iranian, alias Spik, removed from Maribyrnong Detention Centre last week in handcuffs during the night and sent to Christmas Island? He is on of the victims of the attack in 2014 when Reza Barati was killed. His refugee status has not been completed and he suffers on going health problems from his injuries. Why has he been locked in with the 200 Australian prisoners who, according to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, include some of  Australia's "most hardened criminals"?

End this cruel and malicious policy towards asylum  seekers and bring them here.

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #57

Dear Prime Minister,

Minister Dutton said in New York "we've been able to bring a record number of refugees in through the right way". A record LOW number. Why is our refugee intake only 13 750 per year when in 2012-13 it was 20 019 and in 1980-81 it was 22 545?

Bring them here.

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #55

Dear Prime Minister,

Thank you for your promise of taking more refugees at the United Nations yesterday. However, as Volker Türk, UNHCR said, making policy on refugees needs to be determined by humanitarian principles, not political expediency. Your speech yesterday was also a missed opportunity for Australia and especially for Mr XX XXX, the 55th asylum seeker on Manus Island, when you failed to announce the end of offshore detention and the immediate release of all detainees.

Bring them here.

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #51

Dear Prime Minister,

It is hard enough to admit to being an Australian when terrible crimes are being done to keep refugees out of Australia but unbearably so to see you boasting that Australia's border protection policy is "the best in the world". To do so at the United Nations when the UNHRC criticises our policy of mandatory detention as "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" and in breach of international law, is incredible. You are a fantasist. And all the while that you are boasting about securing our borders from refugees you open the floodgates of unregulated trade so foreign capital can cherry pick our assets and Australian workers and businesses must compete in the race to the bottom for lowest wages and shoddiest products.

While you parade your self-delusions in New York, Nayser, a Rohingya from Burma waits, trapped on Manus Island, desperate to be reunited with his family in Australia.

Bring them here

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #36

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the 36th asylum seeker on Manus Island, Mr XXX XXX, aged XX from XXX, I urge you to show leadership by changing Australia's policy on refugees to one of proactive compassion. As Ben Doherty concluded in his study of the change in rhetoric about asylum seekers:

The issue of mass irregular migration - of people seeking sanctuary in a country not their own - will be one of the planet's great challenges of the 21st Century. Already, more people are currently displaced from their homes than at almost any time in human history, and continued political instability, widespread poverty and climate disruption insist the issue will grow rather than diminish. Discussion of asylum seekers is discussion of some of the most vulnerable, disenfranchised and voiceless communities on earth. Governments should speak dispassionately when they discuss the policies and politics of asylum seekers. The media should report critically, objectively and factually. Their publics, whom they both exist to serve, will be better served for it.

Please bring the people in off-shore detention to Australia and lead the change in our language and policy from hostility to compassion.

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #35

Dear Prime Minister,

The 35th asylum seeker on Manus Island is Mr XXX XXX, from XXX. We have inflicted a terrible injustice on Mr XXX and the other detainees on Manus Island and Nauru. Can you use your intelligence and creativity to lead a change in the discourse in Australia and connect with the growing support for closing the off shore detention centres?

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert 

Letters to Tyranny #30

Dear Prime Minister,

I could continue going through the letter written to me by 'JC' from the DIBP on Minister Dutton's behalf. But I see that I have made the mistake of falling into an unending 'game' of rhetoric where "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." [George Orwell] The history of the language used around seeking asylum in Australia shows that the mis-labelling and vilifying of asylum seekers has been going on at least since Bob Hawke's time as Prime Minister. Can you return to the language used by Michael MacKellar, minister for Immigration in the late 1970s, and open the possibility for change by changing the rhetoric?

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert