Nauru detainee scarred by his five years in hell

From: Herald Sun
Aug. 20th 2012

THE last asylum seeker to leave Nauru said life in the island detention camp was worse than living in war-torn Iraq.

Mohammed Sagar, 36, whose last five months of a five-year stay on Nauru were spent mostly alone, warned Prime Minister Julia Gillard she would be “stealing people’s lives” after Labor’s “horrible” policy backflip to reopen the detention centre it had campaigned against.

Claiming that he was still suffering from his years in detention, Mr Sagar said: “I remember when we were on Nauru, when there was an election we were hoping for a Labor Party win because they would take over and change things. Labor said there were human rights issues and Australia needed to have sympathy for people in need but this now just looks like political bullshit.”

Mr Sagar, who has lived in Sweden since 2007 after the nation granted him residency, was intercepted on the “children overboard” boat in October, 2001, and was sent to Manus Island before arriving at Nauru in late 2002.
Herald Sun Digital Pass

ASIO then found him to be a security risk.

After he was granted refugee status by Sweden he unsuccessfully fought to find out why Australia deemed him a risk.

Mr Sagar said he fled Iraq fearing persecution, but the conditions and treatment on Nauru were far worse.

He said his accommodation was “worse than tents” in 30C-plus temperatures and he “almost died” on the island as he repeatedly suffered malaria, dengue fever and psychiatric problems.

He was later diagnosed in Sweden as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Inside it feels as terrible as it was five years ago,” Mr Sagar, an IT specialist living in Stockholm, said.

“It is the worst experience. The damage is extremely severe and deep. You are dead. You do not feel alive.

Read the rest here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/nauru-detainee-scarred-by-his-five-years-in-hell/story-fndo317g-1226453666581

Australian Human Rights Commission publishes new Report on Villawood

Read the report here:

http://www.hreoc.gov.au/human_rights/immigration/idc2011_villawood.html

News from the media:

Report raises alarm over detention centres
AAP May 26, 2011

A damning report on immigration detention shows that riots will continue and more lives will be lost unless significant changes are made, refugee advocates say.

The Human Rights Commission said it was “increasingly alarmed” at rising rates of suicide and self-harm among detainees and called for an end to mandatory detention.

Its report, released on Thursday, paints a disturbing picture of life inside Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney.

Members of the commission visited the centre last February, where they were told about self-harm incidents such as voluntary starvation and the ingestion of detergent and chemicals.

People had cut themselves, hit their heads and attempted hangings.

There had been three suicides within three months at Villawood and 18 reported incidents of actual or attempted self-harm over a six-month period.

“What we saw at Villawood was the result of the system of mandatory and indefinite detention, where people can see no end in sight,” said the commission’s president, Catherine Branson.

“We saw people scarred from self-harming. We heard others talk of sleepless nights, days of depression and frequent thoughts of suicide.”

The report notes a “palpable sense of frustration and incomprehension” contributing to anxiety, despair and depression.

This resulted in the use of sedatives and antidepressants, and serious self-harm incidents.

Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) CEO Paul Power said the report drew much-needed attention to the hopelessness and desperation felt by asylum seekers and refugees who were detained indefinitely.

“If significant changes are not made to Australia’s system of indefinite detention, we can expect more lives to be lost, unrest to continue and further damage caused to the mental health of asylum seekers,” he said in a statement.

According to the report, there were 6715 people in immigration detention across Australia as of May 6.

More than half of those people had been in detention for longer than six months.

Sixty per cent of the 400 detainees at Villawood had been held for more than six months while 45 per cent had been there more than a year.

“These long periods of detention are extremely concerning and risk breaching Australia’s human rights obligations,” the report says.

The Brutal Treatment of Asylum Seekers by Serco and the Australian Government at Christmas Island

By Les Blough, Axis of Logic. David Marr, Sydney Morning Herald.
Sydney Morning Herald. Axis of Logic
Saturday, Mar 26, 2011

Editor’s Comment: Axis of Logic began reporting on Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in 2004 when Australian Mary Dagmar Davies contacted us about her sacrificial efforts to build the Jannah the SIEVX Memorial named after the SIEVX, “the Titanic of the Poor”. It was a tiny Australia-bound fishing boat carrying over 400 refugees on October 19, 2001 about one month after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. The asylum seekers were forced onto the boat at gunpoint, according to Davies. Only 45 passengers survived when the boat sank including 146 children, 142 women and 65 men. According to reports, they had fled the Taliban, Al Qaida, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The Australian government closed its borders to the SIEVX refugees just as they reject refugees who seek asylum in their vast continent today.

– Les Blough, Editor

IDW: See for the photos here: http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_62630.shtml

See for the photos: http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_62630.shtml

The Australian Federal Detention Center (i.e. prison) for asylum seekers at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, run by Serco, a private corporation. 6,000 detainees now crammed into Australia’s over-crowded immigrant prisons. Of those, 2,971 are on Christmas Island, including families with young children. In November 2010, 230 asylum seekers in the island prison began a hunger strike. 20 prisoners sewed their lips together and one Iraqi Kurd, a man in his 30s attempted to commit suicide. The protest started in honour of Ahmad al-Akabi, a 41-year-old Iraqi school teacher and father of three, who hung himself in a toilet block in November, 2010 in Sydney’s Villawood prison for asylum seekers. Earlier this month, hundreds of prisoners at Christmas Island rebelled and some escaped the prison on March 11, 2011. On March 13, Australian Federal Police began firing on the refugees with tear gas and live ammunition.

Many seeking asylum in Australia die at sea while those who are captured are imprisoned at Christmas Island by the Australian government.

Serco plc is a private corporation operating an international web of businesses, including prisons, immigration detention centres, nuclear facilities, services to the US National Security Agency, air traffic control systems, railways, hospitals and schools. They are part of the trend to privatize prisons in the U.S. The Australian government contracted them to control their prison for asylum seekers on Christmas Island.

Asylum seekers held by Serco on behalf of the Australian government on Christmas Island.

One Aussie protester against the government’s treatment of asylum seekers dubbed this Christmas Island photo, “People in cages. Helping us maintain the Australian way of life.”

When they rebelled in March, 250 asylum seekers imprisoned on Christmas Island fought police with improvised weapons and threw rocks at police.

They set tents and buildings on fire and some escaped only to be caught later and sent back to prison.

Australian Federal Police were sent to put down the rebellion and capture those who had escaped.

(Photos and related comments added by Axis of Logic)

Violence on island of broken promises

by David Marr
Sydney Morning Herald

March 26, 2011

As the smoke clears after the detention centre riots, the government is still not asking the big questions, writes David Marr.

Now we are shooting them. Tear-gas, batons and water cannon were used years ago when unrest swept detention centres. But a fresh line was crossed on March 13 and crossed again a few nights later when Australian Federal Police at Christmas Island’s North West Point detention centre fired on asylum seekers. Then the place was torched.

The riots mark the failure of another great Kevin Rudd initiative: to process all boat-people on this remote island. Logistical miracles are required to keep it operating. Distance makes everything so difficult. It costs a fortune: five times as much to process refugees out there as on the mainland. The Ombudsman, Allan Asher, declared in February this year: “The current scale of the operation on Christmas Island is not sustainable”.

On North West Point men with nothing to do but wait were sleeping in classrooms, in storerooms, in visiting areas and in big airconditioned tents pitched in low security Aqua and Lilac compounds. Though the government had been warned repeatedly that tents could only be a temporary solution and would exacerbate tensions in the centre, hundreds of men had been living cheek by jowl in them for a year. They stank.

Last November frustrated detainees sewed their lips together, began hunger strikes and demonstrated week after week demanding action on their visa claims. Many had been waiting eight or nine months for their first interview. Hundreds had been given refugee status but were waiting for ASIO security clearances. A handful had been rejected.

Promises were made that new systems would speed outcomes. They didn’t. Separated from their families, increasingly anxious, frequently irrational, the men went on waiting. It rained ceaselessly. Aqua and Lilac turned into a tropical swamp.

The breakout: Friday, March 11.

Serco had a new boss on the island: Wendy Sinclair with a background in prison administration in Britain. Detainees woke to find the centre locked down: the roller doors between the various compounds had been closed. Tempers flared.

A few detainees pushed over the outer fence of Aqua and Lilac and about 70 more – mainly Iraqis and Iranians – followed them out of the camp heading for the only town on the island, 15 kilometres away. Some bananas were stolen from a farm. The escapees went to the beach, prayed at the mosque and hung around the airport.

Next day another 100 men followed them out of the camp as police reinforcements and extra Serco guards arrived on the island. Television crews were also on the way. The islanders were upset about the breakout but it was peaceful: there appear to be no reports of violence or threats of violence towards them. Most of the detainees then drifted back to North West Point.

The first shooting:

Sunday, March 13.

In the afternoon Serco assembled staff – including kitchen hands and office staff – for a show of force at North West Point. Also present were staff from the Immigration Department and more than 80 officers of the AFP’s operational response group. The plan was to seize the ringleaders and hold them in the high security Red compound.

Red had almost never been used in the history of the centre. The provocative decision to bring it into operation was apparently taken in Canberra by the Immigration Department. About a dozen men were seized but the compound was then stormed by hundreds of angry detainees. Serco and Immigration staff tried to shelter inside Red’s “secure nodes” but the electric doors didn’t work. The staff were scared but unhurt.

A decision was taken at this point – apparently by the police alone – to disperse the detainees with tear-gas and beanbag shot. These bundles of shot are designed to stun but the US Department of Justice warns they can also kill. As the shooting began, Serco staff made calls on their mobile phones: “You won’t f—ing believe this. They’re shooting them. There’s tear-gas.”

A young man called Amir was felled by shot and his leg was later broken in a melee that continued for some hours until staff and police withdrew from the compounds.

The AFP knows all about facing hostile crowds in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. The beanbag shot they have had for about a decade has only ever been used out there, never at home. Par for the course in the Pacific, it is something new for crowd control in Australia.

Next day the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, sent his Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution – Paris Aristotle, former Air Marshal Ray Funnell and Professor Nicholas Procter – to the island. They began negotiations with the detainees on Tuesday. It appeared all but a small group were mollified and prepared to accept fresh assurances that reforms to the system already in train would yield faster visa outcomes.

Second tear-gassing:

Wednesday, March 16

Detainees continued to gather and demonstrate, carrying white sheets and strips of toilet paper to signal their peaceful intentions. They asked to be allowed to speak to the media. When police refused, about 150 men made towards the gate. Some detainees threw rocks. Others were trying to stop them. All were dispersed with tear-gas.

More shooting, gas and burning:

Thursday, March 17.

In the afternoon detainees received a letter from the Australian government that began: “Your concerns about delay in finalising cases are understandable”. Promises were made to speed up assessments and move people off the island. “The Australian government will do these things, provided facilities remain calm.”

The letter appeared to do its work. Detainees expressed gratitude. Others were apologetic for the disturbances of the last days. But a hard core, now more and more isolated, were determined to keep causing trouble. People milled about. Fires were lit in wheelie bins. At 8.15pm about 200 men – many wearing towels wrapped round their heads to protect themselves from tear-gas – began advancing on the police.

At this point there were 1800 detainees in North West Point. There were also about 23 men in custody in Red compound. No Tamils were involved in the disturbances. Almost all the Hazaras and the Iraqi Kurds also stayed clear of the trouble from the start. Now about 300 detainees retreated to the gymnasium to separate themselves from the protests. With the police inside the compound were a number of Serco guards.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Lancaster, of the AFP, said protesters were carrying “accelerant-based weapons, poles, bricks, pavers, concrete rocks and also a wheelie bin full of rocks”.

The compound was flooded with tear gas. “None of the workers knew that it was going to be bombarded by tear gas and they were caught in the compound,” Kay Bernard, secretary of the Union of Christmas Island Workers, told New Matilda. “They’d never seen anything like that in their lives. These are level-two security officers, undertaking very difficult work, and suddenly they are in a war zone.”

Shooting started as a small group made to break through the fences. From a nearby hill television cameras filmed a scene of smoke lit by the trace of beanbag bullets. Lancaster spoke of a “higher volume of deployment” of these rounds. Many detainees were felled. The gym was attacked by stone-throwing protesters. Lancaster reported: “Those seeking refuge inside had to be safely removed from the attack.”

Absolutely unmourned by Serco or anyone else, the tents in Aqua and Lilac went up in flames. A couple of “dongas” used as dormitories were also torched. At 10pm the police assumed formal control of North West Point. In the early hours of the morning the camp was again calm.

But for the toxic politics of the boats, the problem of these boats could be solved relatively easily. Bowen has been bringing down the numbers on Christmas Island for months. Now they are being reduced more radically. But Labor remains committed to offshore processing out in the Indian Ocean. The opposition is once again crying “Stop the Boats” but right now the problem is the rock.

Lawyers, churches, charities, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International, Immigration Department advisers and refugee advocates have been calling for years for processing to be abandoned on Christmas Island. In the midst of the recent violence the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson, QC, reminded Canberra: “We have recommended for more than two years now that the government stop holding people in detention on Christmas Island”.

Way out there, police are now holding 150 men for questioning. They face serious charges. Mainland lawyers are going to have to be found for them – somehow, sometime and at some cost. Meanwhile, Bowen has ordered a high-level, independent inquiry into the handling of this crisis by Serco and his own department – but not, for reasons best known to him, into the role of the police.

In Bali this week Bowen will pursue his hoped for ”regional solution” for the problem of the boats. But so far no other country in these parts has volunteered to help Australia share its burden – and there are lots more boats on the way.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald
© Copyright 2011 by AxisofLogic.com

This material is available for republication as long as reprints include verbatim copy of the article in its entirety, respecting its integrity. Reprints must cite the author and Axis of Logic as the original source including a “live link” to the article. Thank you!

Fire at Darwin detention centre

January 31, 2011

AAP

An asylum seeker has been taken to hospital following a fire at a detention centre in Darwin, the Immigration Department says.

Northern Territory police and fire crews were called to the Northern Immigration Detention Centre at Berrimah on the Stuart Highway about 2.30am (CST) on Monday, a spokeswoman for the department said.

The spokeswoman told AAP crews safely evacuated all detainees to the oval and quickly extinguished the fire, which was contained to one bedroom in an accommodation compound.
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She said one of the detainees was taken to Royal Darwin Hospital, but could not say what injuries he had sustained, if any.

“It is too early to speculate on what caused the fire,” she said.

“The Australian Federal Police will conduct an investigation.”

ABC Radio is reporting that a Burmese asylum seeker attempted self-harm by setting himself alight.

Police reportedly told ABC the man, who was conscious and able to walk, was taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Wreck survivors involved in Christmas Island protest

Another terrible tragedy happened last week when a boat full of people who needed to immigrate/flee sank on the coast of Christmas Island, near Australia, a country full of immigrants and refugees from the past years and ages. For these people on the boat however, prison awaited.
A group of detainees on Christmas Island, including some survivors of this week’s boat wreck, have staged a peaceful protest about conditions in detention facilities there.

The Immigration Department says the detainees protested about food and the fact the air conditioning was not working as a result of a power outage.

A group of about 10 detainees from another part of the centre jumped the fence to join the protest, bringing the overall number of those involved to 50.

The protest has now ended.

The search for survivors from Wednesday’s boat wreck continued today, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it is unlikely anyone else will be found alive.

There are 42 survivors from the incident, while at least 30 people have died.

Ms Gillard says it may never be known exactly how many people were on the boat.

She says a memorial service for those killed will be held in the next few days.

Asylum Seekers Imprisoned in Australia

by Lauren Markham, May 30, 2010 10:14 AM (PT)
http://immigration.change.org/blog/view/asylum_seekers_imprisoned_in_australia
On April 9th, in an oh-so-sympathetic response to an influx of “boat people” arriving on its shores, Australia put a moratorium on all new asylum claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The Australian government has even arranged for special accommodations for these people fleeing horrific violence in their home country: in isolated detention centers on Christmas Island and at former air force bases where they receive scant, if any, of the services (medical, psychological) that they need.

Basically, these asylum-seekers are in prison.

Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are both countries plagued by civil wars and, if you look at the map, not exactly neighbors to Australia. The perilous journey across rough waters in a small vessel doesn’t sound like a trip one would take by choice — it sounds like a last ditch effort to find the protection guaranteed by international law.

But apparently the Australian government doesn’t give a flip about international refugee law. As it now stands, asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan can no longer even plead their case before an asylum officer until the government lifts its April 9th suspension. Australia just doesn’t want them. This selective denial of asylum protection is inhumane, bigoted, and down-right criminal.

Australia says that this new policy is an attempt to deter what has become a rising number of asylum-seekers coming to Australia. They’ve used other lovely deterrent tactics, too. As Clara Long reports on Change.org’s Human Rights blog, Australia has even dragged boatloads of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka to dump them off at detention centers in Indonesia. Really, Australia? People are not trash to be offloaded on distant shores or loaded into landfills on Christmas Island.

In its 2010 State of The World’s Human Rights, released this week, Amnesty International chastised Australia for its alarming human rights policies, and rightfully so. If it’s Australia’s duty to protect the victims of abuse in their own countries, it is the duty of every one of us to put the pressure on Australia to get with the program.

Petition: Tell Australia to End Suspension of Sri Lankan and Afghan Asylum Claims