On a recent visit to Sydney I attended a panel discussion on refugees and asylum seekers sponsored by the Pennant Hills AIA group. The first speaker was Graeme McGregor, the refugee campaigner for Amnesty International Australia (AIA).
Graeme visited the Manus Island Detention Centre in late 2013 as part of an AIA delegation. His presentation painted a frightening picture of a place where inmates live in horrific and hopeless conditions. Drinking water is inadequate, there is little shade and people are given no idea of what is going to happen to them.
Graeme says that the only conclusion we can draw is that the aim of this regime is to break the inmates both mentally and physically. The government hopes they will then agree to go back to where they came from.
One group of asylum seekers recently agreed to return to Syria and when the International Office of Migration (IOM) advised it was not safe to go back, the Department of Immigration and Border Control offered to arrange it.
In pursuit of their immoral policy objectives, our government is prepared to send people back to situations where their lives will most definitely be at risk.
Graeme told us that Australia’s detention regime cost $1 billion last year – all taken from the aid budget. He told us that this works out as $500,000 per person and in that time one (yes only one!) refugee was resettled. Graeme’s full report is featured on the AIA website.
In the comments section directly below the report, a worker on Manus Island disputes some of the claims made in the AIA report. In his response Graeme painstakingly addresses every point made in the Manus worker’s letter and details the evidence for making the claims. This evidence-based approach illustrates clearly why Amnesty International is such a well respected human rights organisation.
The AIA delegation met with Scott Morrison after their visit to Manus.
After they told him about what they had witnessed, Scott Morrison’s response was “Where things are presented that can improve, then of course we will do that”.
In the following three months the amount of shade on Manus has actually reduced and the amount of drinking water provided is still inadequate. And many more people have been diagnosed with severe mental illness. So much for the promises of Scott Morrison.
Graeme’s presentation left me feeling very sad and struggling to accept that an Australian government could be capable of acting in such a cruel and heartless manner. And let’s not pretend we can expect any better from the current Opposition.
After all the Manus Island “solution” is an ALP creation. In an earlier entry in this blog, I shared my amazement and despair at hearing Opposition Immigration Spokesman Richard Marles berate the Government for not being committed to the Manus Island solution.
Now as never before, human rights defenders are mobilising to declare their opposition to the policies of the Abbott government. In February, Townsville activists joined thousands of people round Australia in staging a “Light up the dark vigil” in memory of Reza Berati the young man killed in the recent unrest on Manus Island – a victim of Australia’s border protection policies.
In the next few months pro-refugee activists in Townsville are planning a number of actions aimed at changing the hearts and minds of Townsville residents.
The first is that we will participate in the May Day parade this year with the aim of getting at least 200 marchers under our banner “Protect refugees not borders”.
We have also enlisted local artists to assist us with a major art installation for the Eco Fiesta, a celebration of the earth and the environment to be held on the 1st of June
There will also be three public seminars in the lead-up to World Refugee Day on Friday 20 June. The first will be presented by a representative from the Centre for Refugee Research at the University of New South Wales, the second by Graeme McGregor or another representative from AIA, and the third seminar will give participants the opportunity to hear the views of some of our political representatives.
On World Refugee Day pro-asylum activists will gather outside the office of Federal MP Ewen Jones to condemn the barbaric treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by the Australian Government and to proclaim that these actions are “not in our name”.