Detention Centres stink of abuse and torture

Mahendra Sukhdeo – Wellington must stand-Mahendra Sukhdeo Web

This is the second and final part of the author’s take on the Detention Policy of Australia and its impact on people. The first part appeared in our June 1, 2016 issue which can be accessed on our archives at

The two rigid planks of the policy of offshore indefinite detention and intercepting the boats are based on the misconceived assumption that any accommodation of the policy or any softness displayed by the policymakers would open the floodgates of asylum seekers pandering the shores of Australia prompted by a wily group of ‘people smugglers’, particularly the boat owners, transport contractors and money lenders.

Diabolic domino theory

Australia claims that the policy has stopped the boats and avoided hundreds of drownings at sea. The iron-clad policy has now become the ‘automatic’ band aid to maintain the diabolical domino theory that to relax any part of asylum seeker policy would entail the collapse of the whole immigration policy.

It is akin to the American amnesia for the domino theory in 1960s that the fall of South Vietnam would open the floodgates of Communism in South-east Asia.

The Americans used it to wage a gruesome war on Vietnam from 1965-1975. They lost the war at the cost of countless lives.

Policy paralysis

Detention Centres stink-Nauru Refugee Camp WebIn February this year, the Australian High Court over-ruled (5 to 1) a challenge by a Bangladeshi detainee and confirmed that the offshore detention of asylum seekers was lawful. The Malcolm Turnbull government then returned almost 267 asylum seekers to Nauru including 33 babies born in Australia.

The Australian High Court ruling stands in sharp contrast to that of the recent Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court judgement that the Manus Island Detention was unconstitutional. It epitomises that democracy and judicial neutrality so sacrosanct in the West is more strident in PNG.

Absurd policy

The Australian detention policy is replete with several absurdities and is devoid of human values. One, the Australian Government that initially detained the asylum seekers has now legally absolved itself directly from any responsibility for abuse and treatment of the detainees. Two, the detention centres being outside the preview of the Australian courts, the democratic principle of judicial review is denied to the detainees except through the lackadaisical mechanism of the clientele states’ existing laws.

In September, 2015, an Australian Senate committee found the conditions at Nauru unsafe and inappropriate. It is also pertinent that Australia has NOT ratified ‘OPCAT,’ a global convention against torture. This would have placed Australian offshore detention centres under its oversight and preview.

Australia now has the licence to lawfully hire contract ‘killers’ in foreign lands for Australian branded refugees. It’s not humane and it is against international obligations for which it has signed relevant United Nations covenants.

Democracy threatened

Last but not the least element of culpability relates to isolating professional groups from publicly voicing the grievances and ill-treatment of the refugees.

The Border Force Act of 2015 makes it a criminal offence for anyone to divulge information of events at the detention centres. Recent examples are illustrative. Doctors at the Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital mounted a protest against the level of trauma suffered by the children of the refugees. This was recently confirmed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (February, 2016) that found 95% of the Nauru asylum-seeker children were at the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last month, Brisbane medicos refused to discharge a burns victim, baby Asha fearing that she would be deported once again to Nauru’s torture chamber. Airing detainee related problems has been debunked. A call by the Australian Medical Association for an independent statutory body to investigate the plight of detainees has been ignored. A ‘4 Corners’ investigation aired last month placed the onus of responsibility for the murderous death of an Iranian detainee, Hamid Khazaei at Manus Island on the lap of Australian border force bureaucrats. Since then, three more detainees have self-immolated themselves.

Global condemnation

The living conditions at Nauru, Manus and Christmas Islands cannot be independently assessed. They are more likely to be like Port Arthur convict enclave in Tasmania. At least they had an avenue for resettlement in Australia; the detainees have none. Those found to be genuine refugees are destined to be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia!

In the Nauru camp, there are several cases of abuse, including rape. But, abortion is illegal in Nauru, except where mother’s life is in danger and rape is not considered a reasonable ground for abortion.

Late last year, in Geneva, Australia copped a barrage of criticism at a United Nations human rights forum over its treatment of asylum seekers. More than 100 countries sought review of the offshore detention centres. Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, chimed in that Australia had “strayed from our international obligations.”

Australia’s Channel Nine graphically portrayed on June 20, 2016, Nauru’s notorious detention hub. In another country, such a chilling report would have brought a government down to its knees.

Australia shrugged off its ‘White Australia’ policy not too long ago but remains defiant. It is not surprising therefore that not a single Australian could be considered to be included in 2016 Time’s list of 100 most influential people.

Mahendra Sukhdeo is a Fiji born academic. He is the author of the book, Aryan Avatars. The second edition is being printed by the University of the South Pacific. He now lives in Australia. Email:



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