In the horrendous detention camp of Christmas Island in Australia, in the heart of the Indian Ocean, all you see is water. The waves, in their endless battle with the island’s rocks, break the deadly silence. Lately, humanitarian organizations have not been paying much attention, and the camp smells of death.
Yesterday, November 8, the dead body of a Kurdish Iranian refugee, Fazel Chegini, was found, badly bruised, in the forest nearby the camp. Shortly after his body was found, news of his death emerged across Australian media. It is not yet known who killed Fazel. But the atmosphere is very tense at the detention center, and there have been serious clashes between the camp guards and the refugees.
Fazel is the fourth refugee to have lost his life in an Australian detention camp. Before him, Reza Barati and Hamid Khazaee also died while staying in a detention camp on Manus Island in the Pacific Ocean. Reza was killed when Manus island residents launched an attack on the camp in 2014. Hamid died due to a serious untreated inflammation. The other refugee, Reza Alizadeh, lost his life at Breezen detention center in early November after suffering a stroke, which was caused by extreme tension.
The problem goes back to the infamous law approved on July 19, 2013, just a month before that year’s presidential election in Australia. The new law stated that anybody who arrived in Australia by boat would be required to stay in a camp on the Pacific islands of Manus and Narau permanently. This led to the formation of a death triangle made up of three islands: Manus, Narau, and Christmas.
Twenty-eight months on from the approval of the law, there are now 3,000 people in these camps, most of them unsure of how long they will spend there. Over the last 840 days, each of the islands has been home to a range of incidents and reports of violence.
It is said the government bribed the 9,000 or so inhabitants of the island of Narau to host the camp there. From the start, the island became a potential graveyard, a life-threatening environment for families, which included at least 250 children. Following on from these reports, the government conducted an investigation into what was going on at the camp six months after it was established. Despite the poor conditions in the camp, most of the families refused to leave.
Following the Narou investigations, another round of psychological pressures began, with families who lived there being threatened with eviction, and told that they could be sent to camps in Cambodia. Such threats continue.
With the passage of time, families found it unbearable to watch their children grow up in what amounted to a prison, though they began to accept life there. The doors of the detention camps are now open, and inmates effectively move from a small prison to a larger one, and into an uncertain future.
Over the past 28 months, there have been reports of sexual abuse on the island. The Australian Senate ordered a committee to investigate the claims, resulting in the publication of a shocking report of more than 40 cases of child abuse inside the detention camp, in addition to 50 cases of the rape of young girls and women. The report found that camp guards were responsible for a string of abuse and rapes. Along with results of the investigation, the committee issued a statement urging the government to free all children held there. The report also found that several pregnant women in the camp are not receiving the medical attention they require. So far, there has been no response from the government.
Another tragedy was the case of a young Iranian girl, Sheyda, a refugee who was raped by three locals and then left outside the fence of the detention camp. Sheyda has been hospitalized for a period of five months so far, and her mother and brother still live at the island’s detention center.
Up to 150 refugees at Narou Detention Camp have signed and filed a petition and have presented it to the court in Victoria. The most recent hearing was held on 7 October, but a verdict has not been reached. This could be these refugees last hope to end their immense sufferings.
An IranWire exclusive. Journalist Behrouz Bouchani, himself a refugee in detention center in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea reports on the death of a refugee, rape and molestation of women and children. And Australian government's silence.Posted by Iranwire English on Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Manus, Australia’s Guantanamo?
The Australian media have repeatedly referred to Manus, which sits on the north side of the tropical island of New Guinea, as the Australian Guantanamo. A thousand single male refugees are detained there. Clashes between locals and the camp’s inmates reached their worst point in February 2014, when a group attacked the refugees with sticks, pipes and rifles. Over 100 people were injured and it was during this unrest that Iranian refugee Reza Barati was killed. His case is also before a court, this time in New Guinea. Not long after that incident, 900 detainees went on a hunger strike — later thought to be the biggest hunger strike in the history of Australia.
The Supreme Court of New Guinea is due to rule on incidents that took place on Manus, and to look into the claims set out in a petition signed by 550 people. It was also on this island where 24-year-old Hamid Khazaee lost his life as a result of a serious untreated inflammation. The last hearing in this case is due to take place on 11 November.
The third point of the death triangle, Christmas Island, is located in the Indian Ocean. Here refugees are among the luckiest of those seeking asylum in Australia. After spending 18 months in detention, most of the refugees housed there managed to enter Australia because of a new law ratified concerning the approval of three-year visas.
At the moment, 1,200 people live in detention camps on Christmas Island. Most of them are those who have lost their asylum cases or have been transferred from other detention camps, but there are also a hundred or so New Zealand citizens waiting to be extradited. Many of the New Zealanders have played a direct role in the recent unrest in the camp on Christmas Island, which is why New Zealand’s Labour party responded immediately to news of clashes.
Overall, the implementation of the July 19 law has cost Australia’s liberal government a total of six billion dollars. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, those working to uphold the UN Convention Against Torture, the Australian Senate Investigation Committee and the Human Rights Commission have all condemned Australia for its violation of human rights, and most of them have published detailed reports outlining these violations.
But the Australian government has so far refused to give in to domestic and international pressures. Even with the new prime minister and immigration minister taking office, the government still insists on the implementation of the controversial July 19 law.
But given what happened on November 8, the government appears to have no other choice than to acknowledge its failure and accept that the law is inhuman and unjust. Activists have called for it to put an end to its policy of abuse and neglect of the lives of refugees.
As Australia prepares to take a seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council, it must ask itself how its human rights record has declined so rapidly, and why it has ultimately turned its back on human rights.
from Behrouz Bouchani, Manus detention camp, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean