How Mohammad Nasim Najafi died in a detention centre

August 08, 2015 | the saturday paper

Two weeks after being beaten and placed in a solitary cell, asylum seeker Mohammad Nasim Najafi was dead. These were his last days.

Mohammad Nasim Najafi: Supplied

It started with a night attack. Three weeks ago, a group of criminals broke into Mohammad Nasim Najafi’s room in the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre outside Perth, scattering his belongings and beating him.

Overcrowded prisons mean half of the detainees at the centre are convicted criminals rather than asylum seekers. Fearing for his life, Nasim managed to escape the attackers and took shelter in an office with Serco employees, the contractors who run the detention centre.

As yet, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has given no reason for what happened next. After being beaten by the gang – one of a number that jostle for control in Yongah – Nasim was placed in a solitary cell. His room was two metres by two metres and had no toilet. The card that allowed him to enter the main areas of the detention centre, including the gym and recreational facilities, was blocked.

By Friday, July 31, Nasim was dead. As his body was carried from the centre, loaded into an ambulance under a white sheet, fellow detainees chanted in volleys of Arabic and English: “He did not kill himself, the immigration killed him.”

The official response from the department of immigration is brief. It sheds no light on how the healthy 27-year-old might have died: “The department can confirm that a male detainee died at the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre on Friday 31 July 2015. There was no indication of suicide or suspicious circumstances. The WA Police attended the centre and is conducting an investigation as per normal practices in such cases.”

This week, The Saturday Paper spoke to a number of detainees who were close to Nasim, including the last person he spoke to. The picture they paint is of a man denied proper medical care, an epileptic who died in detention because he was not properly monitored, who requested medical attention but was given only Panadol and sleeping tablets.

Nasim’s mother still lives in Hotqool, in Afghanistan. Ten years ago, her husband was killed by the Taliban. Now, her eldest son is dead. She hasn’t slept in the week since he died. She has stopped eating. When The Saturday Paper calls, her words are few and desperate. “Who killed my son? How did he die?” Her voice is pleading and full of sobs. Eventually, she drops the phone and all that can be heard are her cries. “I want my son back.”

Medical care lacking

After being moved into a solitary room, Nasim plunged into despair. He feared being assaulted again, and slept all day so he could remain awake at night. A fellow detainee recalled him saying, “Why was I moved and locked away here and not those that attacked me?”

Shahid, who did not want to use his real name, had known Nasim for almost three years in Yongah detention centre. They were together much of the time, including the night before Nasim died. “We spent time together on Thursday until 11pm,” he says. “I went to sleep and he went to his room.”

The same night, Nasim spoke with his fiancée in India. “He called me on Thursday night, I think. I am confused and mix up the days now,” she says through tears. “We spoke about half an hour. He did not tell me anything about the camp. He thought I might be upset. Just told me that he was tired of being away from each other and tired of the camp. He said that he will get out another month and then see me.”

Earlier, he wrote her a brief post on Facebook: “I should confess that unkind life has created so much distance between us. I have been thrown into a cage that I can’t get out. Tonight, the starless roof of this cage is so low on me. I am left what to write about.”

Detainees at Yongah say medical care inside detention is very poor. About 600 detainees have access to only one doctor. The medical centre is closed after 5pm. If detainees want to see a doctor, they have to fill a request form, and then wait at least four days. “When I go to doctor and tell him that I am sick, they don’t listen to us or believe us,” Shahid says. “Even when they see me vomit as if I’m dying, they say, ‘We can’t cure it. When you get out from detention, you feel better.’ ” Another detainee, from Iraq, said: “I go doctor. Me sick. Panadol. Water.”

The immigration department says asylum seekers in the centre have “access to appropriate healthcare and medical treatment at a standard at least comparable to the healthcare available to the Australian community generally”.

Two weeks ago, Nasim saw the centre’s doctor. “They just gave him Panadol and sleeping pills,” a detainee says. “He was left alone there. If there was another person with him, he would shake him, rub his body to circulate blood.”

The department would not confirm whether or not it was aware of Nasim’s epilepsy, although fellow detainees say Nasim was taking medication for the condition and it had been brought to Serco’s attention many times. Nasim told Shahid he had developed the disease while in detention. His family and fiancée said he had no health problems or heart diseases. Shahid said Nasim had collapsed before, while the pair were in the centre’s computer room. “I leaned on his back to stop him from falling,” says Shahid. “I called Serco. In the meantime, another person came and rubbed his palm and chest. It took about four minutes [for Nasim] to come to consciousness again.”

Detainees say Nasim was not properly checked while in his solitary cell, and that this was not appropriate for a person with a pre-existing medical condition. “If a person is dead in his bed, they would not know because they think he is asleep,” a detainee says. “The only time they would wake up a person would be to get his signature for a doctor’s appointment or if he has not eaten his delivered food. I believe they realised far too late that Nasim was dead.”

Inside Yongah

Yongah Hill detention centre is located about 90 kilometres north-east of Perth and was built to house asylum seekers. The sprawling demountables now house 600 detainees, the majority of whom are convicted criminals and visa overstayers awaiting deportation. Nasim’s roommate, before he was moved to another compound, was an American convicted of attempted murder while in Australia. After serving his jail sentence, he was transferred to Yongah, where for the past five months he has been awaiting deportation.

Asylum seekers detained at the centre report crimes and gang violence, as well as a spate of random beatings. In February this year, the detention centre guards were menaced by gangs and had bottles and other objects thrown at them. A security guard quoted by the ABC said, “We are not trained to be looking after violent offenders … we are supposed to be looking after detainees.”

Five months ago, an asylum seeker was attacked by a gang and hospitalised. “We are really scared of them because they have nothing to lose and get themselves to be deported,” an Afghan asylum seeker tellsThe Saturday Paper. “We escape our country to be safe. They mix us with criminals. These people don’t care about anything because they will be deported anyway.”

Most of the asylum seekers at Yongah detention centre are long-term detainees. Some are held for security reasons, which are not explained to them. Some have broken their bridging visa conditions, by working for instance. Many respond to their long detention by shutting down emotionally and withdrawing, shunning even the most meagre conversation.

An asylum seeker tells The Saturday Paper that many detainees suffer insomnia and are taking sleeping pills. Some have began calling random names or talking to themselves. “If a dog is being put this cage for this long, he or she would go crazy let alone a human being,” the asylum seeker says.

Nasim was an ethnic Hazara, a persecuted minority in Afghanistan. His father, Nadir Najafi, a shopkeeper, was killed by the Taliban in 2004. So was his uncle, Sadiq. Najafi’s home town, Hotqool, borders with the Pashtun and Taliban-dominated area Rasna. The kidnapping and murder of Hazaras – including those returned from Australia, as reported by The Saturday Paper last year – is common.

The security for Hazaras has worsened in recent years, particularly in the area where Nasim lived. Three years ago, he fled Afghanistan and arrived in Australia by boat. He had been locked up at Yongah Hill detention centre since 2012. The department of immigration would not say why Nasim was not offered a bridging visa or community detention, but said “certain aspects of this individual’s case rendered him ineligible” for these programs.

According to a department spokesperson, “The safety and security of the Australian community is of paramount importance to the department. Consequently, individuals with suspected histories of criminal behaviour, serious incidents in detention or who are of interest to security agencies will not be released from detention until such concerns are alleviated.”

The Saturday Paper contacted Nasim’s family, Hazara elders in his home town, his school, and the local district governor. All were shocked by these allegations. Nasim had no criminal record.

Says Jaghori’s district governor, Zafar Sharif: “I know his father and uncle were martyred by the Taliban. We and police do not have a criminal record against [Nasim]. He was a very active person in the area in cultural activities. I felt very sad to hear he died in the camp.”

Mamor Karim, the school principal of the Ustad Lycee Sharifi, says: “I know Nasim, he was my student. He was very intelligent and a well-behaved boy. I haven’t seen or heard any wrongdoings about him. It’s just total disbelief to me.’

Inmates at Yongah detention centre described Nasim as a law-abiding person. His American former roommate said: “He was a very friendly person, he was helping everyone … My mother is very sad too because he spoke to her on the phone and she sent some clothes from America.”

Victoria Martin-Iverson, of Refugee Rights Action Network WA, has demanded a full inquest. “It’s after all a death in custody,” she says. “We don’t know exactly what happened to him. Epilepsy normally doesn’t kill people. There must be another cause and it should be fully investigated.”

As well as his mother and fiancée, Nasim leaves behind two sisters and one brother, all children. He spoke to his mother a week before his death. All he said was, “I miss you.”

Source: https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/law-crime/2015/08/08/how-mohammad-nasim-najafi-died-detention-centre/14389560002226

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Asylum seeker dies in Yongah Hill immigration detention centre in WA

August 01, 2015 | smh

A young asylum seeker has died at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

An Afghan asylum seeker has died at a West Australian detention centre from a suspected heart attack amid claims he had been denied medical treatment for two weeks.
Refugee advocates say that the Yongah Hill Detention Centre, north-east of Perth, is in lockdown and the riot squad has been mobilised after fellow detainees were told about the death of the Afghan man, believed to be Mohammad Nasim Najafi.

But a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Protection said there was no unrest at the centre. The spokesperson confirmed a male detainee had died, saying there was no indication of suicide or suspicious circumstances and an investigation was underway.
“The WA Police attended the centre and will now conduct an investigation as per normal practices,” the spokeswoman said. “The department extends our deepest sympathy to the individual’s family and friends.”

The spokesperson said detainees have access to appropriate health care and medical treatment “at a standard at least comparable to the health care available to the Australian community generally”.
Fellow detainees said the man was sick and had been complaining about a heart condition for the past two weeks. “They did not let him see a doctor … only gave him Panadol,” said a detainee.
“He said he couldn’t breathe … they let him die. Everyone is sad, very sad,” he said.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the circumstances surrounding the death warranted a full investigation. “It is time for a thorough review of the health and welfare services across the detention network.”
It is understood that Mr Najafi, who was in his mid-20s, arrived at Christmas Island four years ago by boat after his family was killed by the Taliban.
A detainee who knew him said he had suffered mental health problems after the death of his father. The detainee said the only treatment offered for mental health at the centre was medication that made them “sleep all the time”.
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said the death has highlighted the neglect and lack of medical care in the detention centre.
“There is no excuse for keeping someone in detention for three years,” Mr Rintoul said. “If he had been in the community, he would more likely still be alive.”

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/asylum-seeker-dies-in-yongah-hill-immigration-detention-centre-in-wa-20150801-gipayi.html#ixzz3hZFX5v3u

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Nauru refugees ‘treated like animals’, subjected to ‘bride shopping’ by guards, social workers say

June 30, 2015 | ABC News

Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru

Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru

Desperate and dispirited asylum seekers at the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru formed “suicide pacts”, identified themselves as numbers instead of by name, and were treated like animals by some guards, according to accounts by two social workers who worked at the centre.

“There was single adult female.. there was a group of teenage girls, there was a group of fathers, there was a group of mothers,” said Natasha Blucher, a case worker who personally signed 10 reports alerting centre management to the pacts.

Ms Blucher and another former social worker, Michelle Groeneveld, were among 10 Save the Children staff ordered to leave Nauru last October when former immigration minister Scott Morrison claimed they encouraged refugees to self-harm.

A Government review dismissed the claims, but none of the workers at the centre of the storm has spoken publicly until now.

Ms Blucher said she often clashed with guards about the practice of identifying inmates as numbers.

“Most of the time it wasn’t toxic but then sometimes … I would challenge them on things that they were doing or ask them to stop treating people with disrespect or ask them to stop referring to people by their boat IDs,” she said.

Ms Blucher said she believes the practice demoralised and degraded people: “So, something that people would constantly say is, ‘they think we’re animals, they’re treating us like animals’.”

Sinister stories have already emerged about the sexual exploitation of inmates by guards.

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AUDIO: Listen to Peter Lloyd’s report. (PM)

Ms Blucher described an atmosphere where local Nauruan staff saw the camp as a showcase for bride shopping.

“They would say things like, ‘hey baby, come and sit on my knee’,” she said.

“They would peer into their tents, they were trying to set it up for when they got outside and they could have a relationship, and the women found that very, very threatening.”

Ms Groeneveld argues the Australian Government was deliberately cruel and did not meet needs on purpose.

“It’s very obvious in that environment that the Government do not want to give any comfort or make anything comfortable at all,” she said.

Social workers were constantly reporting abuse

By late last September, as some asylum seekers on Nauru were planning to kill themselves, the Government decided to sack some Save the Children case workers.

In leaked documents, one official described the public sacking of staff as a “circuit breaker”.

I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence – a boiling pot of despair.

Michelle Groeneveld, Save the Children staff

Ms Blucher has come to see the dismissal as an act of intimidation.

“I was just constantly challenging when I felt that people were not being respected or that where somebody’s safety was at risk,” she said.

Ms Groeneveld had a similar view.

“I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence — a boiling pot of despair,” she said.

“We were constantly reporting inappropriate behaviour of guards towards children.”

The Senate inquiry into allegations over Nauru received a submission from Wilson Security, denying wrongdoing.

Ms Blucher believed Australia’s detention camp on Nauru had become the bitter harvest of successive governments — intentionally cruel to force asylum seekers to give up their claims.

“Even if it works to stop the boats, it’s not worth it,” she said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-29/desperate-nauru-refugees-formed-suicide-pacts-social-worker/6581906

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NSW gives asylum seekers travel concessions ‘to help the vulnerable’

June 26, 2015 | the guardian

Mike Baird announces move at odds with his federal counterparts, saying: ‘We have a responsibility to help those who have nowhere else to turn’

The New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, has outlined the most generous travel concessions to asylum seekers of any state government, declaring there is little point in having a strong economy unless it is used to help the vulnerable.

Baird has described asylum seekers as “one of the most vulnerable in our society, often living below the poverty line” and said it was important to provide travel concessions because services for them are dispersed, which can increase social isolation.

His move, coming two days after the state budget, is a clear contrast to the Coalition’s stance towards asylum seekers at a federal level, which has centred on Tony Abbott’s “stop the boats” campaign to ensure those at sea do not reach Australia.
Baird’s announcement also comes weeks after his friend and fellow Liberal leader, the prime minister Tony Abbott, refused to rule out that Australian officials had paid people smugglers to turn back to Indonesia. He used several interviews to suggest his government would stop asylum seeker boats “by hook or by crook”.

Under the NSW changes, the adults in the 8,000-strong group of eligible asylum seekers will be able to claim a gold pension concession card from 1 January 2016, which means applicants will receive a $2.50 ticket for all-day travel across state transport systems.

“I am of the view that Australia is the lucky country and we have a responsibility to help those who have nowhere else to turn,” Baird said. “NSW is Australia’s economic powerhouse but there is little point in having a strong economy unless we use this strength to help the vulnerable among us.

“NSW has shown we are prepared to help asylum seekers in our community and we want to do even more. This group is one of the most vulnerable in our society, often living below the poverty line. Evidence suggests that lack of access to dispersed services is a key impediment to their health and wellbeing.”

Non-government community agencies have previously been funding transport for asylum seekers in NSW.

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“Being unable to travel creates social isolation which leads to deteriorating mental and physical health,” the premier said. “This change allows those NGOs to be putting more of their limited resources into food, counselling and housing – where it is needed most.”

To be eligible, asylum seekers must holding a bridging visa or be applying for one; be over 17 years of age; and be receiving aid from a designated agency.

At an Australia Day lunch in January, before the state election in March, Baird called on the prime minister to do more to help refugees, saying Australia was a “lucky country” and its people should “open our arms to those around the world who are much less fortunate than us”.

Last month the premier repeated the sentiment when the NSW government became the first state to sign up in principle to the federal safe haven enterprise visa scheme, which gives people assessed to be refugees the opportunity to gain five-year visas if they are prepared to work or study outside cities.

“As Australia’s economic powerhouse, NSW has an obligation to open its arms to those who are genuine refugees,” he said, adding that the state stood ready to “take more than our fair share”.

Baird’s father, Bruce, is a former state minister and federal Liberal MP who opposed the Howard government’s mandatory detention of asylum seekers. He now chairs the refugee resettlement advisory committee under Australia’s social services minister, Scott Morrison.

The NSW concession will allow eligible asylum seekers to travel on the Opal network at a capped price of $2.50 a day, equivalent to the gold Opal card.

In Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, asylum seekers receive concessions of 50% off regular fares. In Victoria the daily fare is capped at $3.76 and in the ACT it is capped at $4.40.

The NSW transport minister, Andrew Constance, said the changes would allow more asylum seekers to “participate more fully in our society”.

“Many of the asylum seekers in NSW are at the very start of the process of applying for a protection visa,” Constance said. “This means that they need access to a wide range of services in order to navigate this process and rebuild their lives.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jun/26/nsw-gives-asylum-seekers-travel-concessions-to-help-the-vulnerable

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More than 200 asylum seekers on Manus Island join legal challenge to contest detention

June 23, 2015 | ABC News

The asylum seekers will argue that their ongoing detention breaches the right to liberty.

The asylum seekers will argue that their ongoing detention breaches the right to liberty.

Almost a third of the asylum seekers at the Australian-run immigration centre on Manus Island are challenging their detention, after 277 of them were added to an ongoing case in Papua New Guinea.

The case will argue the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island has breached at least 8 parts of PNG’s constitution, including the right to liberty, freedom of movement, information about detention and access to a lawyer.

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia approved a move to join 277 new applicants to the original 25 asylum seekers who started the case.

“I will be travelling to Manus [Island] and will spend 21 days to collate the 277 signed affidavits for filing by the first week of August,” Ben Lomai, the lawyer representing the asylum seekers, said.

The legal action began when 25 asylum seekers were jailed without charge during unrest in January and were able to make contact with a lawyer while in a provincial prison.

The case has been filed against PNG’s chief migration officer, immigration minister and the state.

Australia’s role in the case remains unclear.

“We are aware of the case being run by Mr Lomai in PNG on behalf of a number of detainees in Manus … [but] the Commonwealth has not been served documents in relation to this case,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said.

However, Mr Lomai said he has served documents on the Commonwealth of Australia via diplomatic channels that were suggested by the Australian High Commission.

“If the court finds in favour of the applicants there are serious implications for the Commonwealth of Australia, because I will be asking for [the asylum seekers] to be released to the first port of entry, which is Australia,” he said.

The case is one of numerous legal challenges to the Australian-funded processing of asylum seekers on PNG’s remote Manus Island.

Former PNG opposition leader Belden Namah launched a Supreme Court challenge last year, which has since become bogged down in the court system.

Australia has funded PNG’s legal challenge against Mr Namah’s case.

In March, PNG judge David Cannings launched a Human Rights Inquiry into conditions for asylum seekers,allowing rare media access to the detention centre.

The PNG government stayed that case, citing conflict of interest, and Justice Cannings promptly launched a second human rights inquiry into whether asylum seekers’ rights were being denied.

Separately, asylum seekers are undertaking a class action in the Victorian Supreme Court, suing the Commonwealth for negligence relating to the standard of care provided at the detention centre and for psychological injury caused by conditions.

There were 943 asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island — according to Australian immigration figures from May 31 — and approximately 40 refugees at a transit centre awaiting permanent resettlement.

Some of the men have been on the island for almost two years and the PNG government is yet to form a policy on how to resettle them in other parts of the nation.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-22/hundreds-of-manus-island-detainees-join-legal-challenge/6564698

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Australian officials paid people smugglers to turn back to Indonesia, says police chief

June 11, 2015 | smh

Asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar appeal to New Zealand.

Asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar appeal to New Zealand.

Australian officials paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers, who were then returned to Indonesia, according to passengers and an Indonesian police chief.

Sixty-five people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand, had their boat intercepted by Australian navy and Customs officials in late May, and were then returned to the island of Rote.

The Indonesian police chief on Rote, Hidayat, said the six crew members said they had been given $US5000 each by Australian officials. The crew were apprehended when they arrived at Rote and are being processed for people-smuggling offences.
Mr Hidayat said the captain, Yohanes, told him they had been given the money by an Australian customs officer called Agus, who spoke fluent Indonesian. The other crew members had corroborated Yohanes’ story.

“I saw the money, the $5000 was in $100 banknotes,” he said. The crew had $30,000 in total, which was wrapped in six black plastic bags, he said.

When asked on Tuesday whether Australian officials had recently paid the crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers to stay away from Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton simply said, “No.”

He refused to answer follow-up questions, citing the government’s policy of not commenting on “on-water matters”.

A letter to the New Zealand government signed by all 65 asylum seekers on board says Australian officials paid the six crew members at least $A7000 each.

“Then they take away our better boat and give two small boats that had just a little dry foods like biscuits and chocolates, and they also give very little fuel, just 200 litres for four to five hour journey,” the letter says.

Nazmul Hassan, a Bangladeshi on board the boat, said he saw the skipper put money in his pocket.

He said the crew initially told Australian officials they couldn’t go back to Indonesia because they could be jailed for people smuggling.

However, after a meeting the captain reportedly said: “We have to go back. Australia want to pay for us.”

“After they finished the meeting, everyone looked happy and they agreed to the proposal,” Mr Hassan said from Inaboi, a hostel in Kupang, Indonesia, where the asylum seekers are being detained.

“We didn’t say anything because they didn’t give us time to talk.”

The asylum seekers swam ashore after their boat hit rocks near Landuti island in the West Rote district of Indonesia, 500 kilometres north-east of the Australian coast.

Mr Hidayat said it was the first time he had heard of Australian payments to people smugglers and that he was surprised the crew members had that amount of cash.

“Boat crews are usually very poor,” he said. “I even sent the money to their villages upon their request.”

Mr Hidayat said he had not confiscated the money. “What for? It is not crime-related,” he said.

“I still wonder who Agus is and what is his motivation to give money to boat crews. Maybe he wanted them to go out of Australian border so he gave them the money.”

An Immigration Department spokesman said: “The Australian government does not comment on or disclose operational details where this would prejudice the outcome of current or future operations.”

Former Immigration Department executive Peter Hughes, who now works at the Australian National University as an expert on refugee policies and international migration, said if the payment was true, the move would be unprecedented.

“I have never heard of that happening before,” Mr Hughes said.

In the letter to the New Zealand government, the asylum seekers said they had set off for New Zealand on May 5, after living in Indonesia for a few months.

“Then we hope you [New Zealand] can give asylum and you can also give a peaceful life for us,” the letter says.

It says the boat was intercepted and searched by Australian customs officers on May 17, who warned: “You don’t try to come in Australia and don’t try to use Australia water area also.”

The letter says the navy and Customs returned six days later and removed the captain for a secret six-hour interview.

It says the asylum seekers were then removed from their boat and kept in jail-like conditions on a navy ship for several days.

“Then they separate our six sailors and donated them by giving at least $A7200 per person. They never ask to us any opinions and they also never accept our petition,” the letter says.

On about May 31, they were then given two smaller boats and sent back to Indonesia.

Mr Hassan said Australian authorities had burnt their original boat because it had sufficient supplies for them to continue their journey to New Zealand.

Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at the Australian National University, said if money had been handed out, it could be interpreted as a form of people smuggling.

However, he questioned the motive of the officials to do it.

Professor Rothwell said it was unlikely to breach any laws under the Migration Act.

“The great significance is how this decision would be seen in regards of our regional neighbours,” he said. “If Australian officials were to pay crews to take those people to Indonesia, I suspect that Indonesia and some other regional neighbours would take a dim view of that conduct from Australia.

“I cannot recall any situation where Australian officials have paid crew.”

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-officials-paid-people-smugglers-to-turn-back-to-indonesia-says-police-chief-20150609-ghk63g.html

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Australia’s selective mercy

June 06, 2015 | Jema Stellato Pledger

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”. Source: Supplied

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”.

I have pondered the amount of press, time and effort that went into trying to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s lives. It was nothing short of exemplary in terms of who and what Australia can be. For once in a very long time I was proud of Australia; of the Australian people as the country was brought together towards a common goal to save the lives of these young Australian men

I was very interested in the social media outrage with posts stating that ‘Bali will not be my holiday destination’ and ‘we must cut arts collaborations with Indonesia’. The disgust aimed at Indonesia was palpable and from my perspective quite frightening. The anger is understandable but one must remember, if you break the rules of a country you are entering, there is a price to pay and unfortunately two young men paid the ultimate price.

I stand for mercy was an excellent campaign and one which crossed cultures, languages, generations and socio-political beliefs.  But what is Mercy? The dictionary definition is ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’ (Oxford Dictionary).

In respect to Mercy, let’s turn our attention to a 5 year old Iranian child who was on Nauru for more than a year. She came to Darwin’s Wickham Point Immigration Detention centre due to her father’s ill health but the family are to be returned as soon as he is well. The child has been diagnosed with severe PTSD. Her displays of sexualised behaviour are further evidenced by drawings of inappropriate sexual acts, which are indicative of either experience of, or witness to abuse or both (John Lawrence SC, 2015). Mr Lawrence, the family’s lawyer is appealing to keep the child in Australia. Can you imagine how the parents of the child feel? How impotent, helpless and disturbingly desperate because they could not and still cannot protect their child. One needs to put themselves in their shoes for moment and I’m sure there would be a need for retribution in your heart.

In the report the Forgotten Children- The 2015 Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention there was evidence supporting the fact that detaining children causes irreparable harm. “The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations”.

The Immigration minister Morrison and Dutton respectively agreed that keeping children for prolonged periods in remote islands does not in fact deter people seeking refuge nor people smugglers offering their services. In short desperate people will do anything when there is a glimmer of hope, however faint.

On Christmas Island the right of all children to education was denied for over a year. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as the guardian of unaccompanied children, has been derelict in his duties to act responsibly on their behalf. There are numerous issues, but one of the worst, that would appear to affect any action was the finding that incidents of “physical assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment”. The children and their families were not immediately removed. I doubt this would have been so if it happened to an Australian child or family.

So I ask, where does Mercy come into these stories? We all stood for mercy when those poor young men were to be executed… Can one stand for mercy and ignore the plight of children and women being harmed in our name?

There is a story of a 23 year old young woman who was viciously attacked whilst on a day release from Nauru camp. The camp guards and her brother went looking for her when she didn’t arrive back to camp. She was was found in the police station, in severe shock and covered in bruises. She had clearly been sexually assaulted.

These stories are not uncommon. How can a 5 year old be sent back to her abusers or a 23 year old sexual assault victim be thrown in jail?  These are victims of Australia’s harsh and inhumane policy and there are many in this situation. Do we not have a responsibility to bring them to Australia for proper treatment?

How would anyone feel if it were their daughter who was raped and sexually abused? Would you sit silent? I doubt it! Would you want the perpetrators brought to justice? Yes you would. How is this child and young woman any different to one of our own? They are not. Their parents have the same fears and need for justices as any Australian.  As Australians we must ask ourselves “how could we have allowed this to happen, and worse, let it continue?”

Further, the thousands of Rohingya Muslims languishing at sea for months are in dire need of our help. Initially countries in the area pushed them back….but to where? They are escaping ethnic ceasing in Myanmar. They are stateless and no one wants them. Australia has stood firm on its pushing back the boats with Tony Abbott stating that “it would be ‘utterly irresponsible’ for Australia to do anything which may encourage people onto boats” (James Bennett, ABC News 2015).

Were is not for Malaysia and Indonesia who “relented on a hard-line policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies” (Al Jazeera, 22nd May), the boatloads of Rohingya would have faced certain death. Currently the U.S. and Malaysia continue to search for the thousands still stranded at sea.  The Wall Street Journal reported on May 25th that Indonesia has joined the search. Where is Australia?

Australia has been vocal on its stance for Mercy. We stand against the death penalty yet we send children back to horrendous conditions in offshore processing centres. We allow the rape of young asylum seeker woman to go unpunished. We pay billions of tax payer dollars to keep innocent people locked up in camps. We stand by and literally watch children women and men perish at sea and allow poor countries shoulder the burden. Mercy is not selective- only in Australia, it seems.

Jema Stellato Pledger is a Human Rights Advocate and a PhD candidate at ACU Melbourne. She can be reached at kommonground8@internode.on.net

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Filed under Asylum Policy, Human Rights and Refugee Activists, PNG/Pacific Solution, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers