Potential witnesses to the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the Nauru refugee detention centre were warned not to report to the inquiry and if they did so anonymously they would be identified and action taken against them (presumably, they would be blacklisted). This kind of crude threat is of the order one would expect from a totalitarian regime or in the pages of a classic dystopian novel. But it actually came from senior officials working for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (aka Department of Fear), formerly headed by the besieged Scott Morrison and now by the equally besieged Peter Dutton. Despite these thuggish threats to deprive the Australian public of the truth of what is happening at Nauru, witnesses came forward to provide evidence – including evidence of this Departmental intimidation. Meanwhile news has emerged of how the Australian Government has been funding ‘people smugglers’ to divert their refugee cargo to anywhere apart from Australia (and New Zealand). You couldn’t make this up!
“The immigration department and the government clearly fear an Edward Snowden-style leak in Australia’s immigration detention network. The prospect of an immigration officer taking years of incident reports and ministerial briefings and bringing all that has occurred in our detention centres into the public domain terrifies them… From all we have come to understand about the motives of whistleblowers, it appears that there comes a time when the need to speak out outweighs the fear of possible consequences. When overwhelmed by the despair that arises from working in a system that is unaccountable and unable to police itself, the best hope for some is to shine a ray of light on the issue.” Paul Farrell (Guardian Australia)
Former director of mental health for International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) Peter Young was responsible for the mental health of refugees being detained in Australian-run centres, such as Nauru and Manus Island. In a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Nauru detention centre, Dr Young testified that the Immigration and Border Protection department warned IHMS staff not to make submissions to the Human Rights Commission inquiry, headed by Gillian Triggs, into children in detention on Nauru. In a written statement – see full text, below – Dr Young also confirmed cases of child sex abuse at the detention centre.
Young told the Inquiry that “The department I recall saying that people should be warned not to make submissions, and that if they made submissions — even if they made them anonymously — they would find out who they were and take action, these types of things”.
He added, “The Immigration Department told us we needed to warn the staff and that when submissions were received they went through them to look and see who the staff might be.” Also: “When it came to mental health issues we were repeatedly told that when making recommendations about people’s mental health, and the harms that accrued to their mental health while they were in Nauru, that we should not say that in the reports”. And: “[We were told that] it was unacceptable to put in reports to the department that people’s mental health had been harmed by being in detention in Nauru”.
When asked at the Inquiry who had told him not to report on these matters, he replied: “The Department’s Chief Medical Officer.” [see name/photo below]
Young made it clear to the Inquiry that despite these threats he argued against the ‘recommendation’ and did not alter reports. However, he added that his advice and recommendations were routinely not accepted or were subject to delays.
Here is a written statement from Dr Young (downloadable in pdf format) that he provided to the Inquiry. In the statement Dr Young confirms that child sex abuse had taken place at Nauru detention centre and that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection was aware of this but did nothing to alleviate the problem.
UPDATE. The following persons work for the DIBP (names and positions) and are accountable for offshore detention practices (source: DIBP):
- Paul Douglas: Chief Medical Officer/Global Manager Health (from December 2006 onwards)
- Michael Minns: Global Manager Borders
- Kerryn Vine-Camp: Border Security Policy
- Fiona Andrew: Detention Operations
- Agnieszka Holland: Detention and Services Policy
Previous office holders (as of June 2013):
- Paul Windsor: Detention Health Services
- Fatime Shyqyr: Detention Infrastructure
- Simon de Vere: Regional Manager Nauru and Papua New Guinea
- Jule Keenan: Community detention
- Charles Wann: Detention and Services Policy
Australian Government corruption and failure regarding refugees goes far beyond that of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. It has now been revealed that 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. In other words, the Australian Government is now paying ‘people smugglers’ – criminals who make money from the misery of others.
It has been reported that 65 people – including three infants and four women (one pregnant) – from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand, had their boat intercepted by the Australian navy and Customs officials on May 17th and a few days later returned to Indonesia, to the island of Rote. The Indonesian police chief there has stated that the crew members of the boat had been given $US5,000 each by Australian officials to do this. This totals $A30,000 and would be additional to the money they received from the refugees.
According to the police chief the Australian customs officer who handed over the money to the smuggling gang was called ‘Agus’, who spoke fluent Indonesian.
The refugees told the Indonesian police that as part of the deal the Australian navy made arrangements that they would be removed from their boat, put into two smaller boats and given just a small amount of fuel – enough to only get as far as the Indonesian coast (not the Australian or New Zealand coast).
After being taken from their boat the refugees were detained on the Australian navy ship for several days. On May 31st they were placed into the smaller boats. The Australian navy burnt the larger boat. The refugees eventually made it to Indonesia after their boats hit rocks near Landuti island. The refugees are still hoping New Zealand will offer them asylum.
These actions by the Australian navy, on instructions from the Australian Government, are in direct violation of the international Refugee Convention, which recognises the right to flee persecution and apply for asylum without being punished for doing so. Questions also remain about just how many other ‘people smuggling’ operations the Australian Government has been funding as part of its objective to ensure refugees and asylum-seekers are excluded from Australia and the territory of one of it closest allies.