The Guardian 16 February, 2005

Close the refugee detention centres
Have an open, public inquiry


All the refugee detention centres in Australia should be closed down and the detained asylum seekers released into the community with all the necessary support they need. There must then be an open, public inquiry into not only the detention of mentally ill Cornelia Rau in the Baxter detention centre in South Australian for four months, but into the operations of all the secretive, privately run centres around the country.

Instead, the inquiry into the detention of Cornelia Rau, who suffers from schizophrenia and was assumed to be an illegal immigrant, is to be held behind a cloak of secrecy, just like the workings of the centres themselves. The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, claims the secret inquiry is to protect Ms Rau, but her family is calling for a public inquiry.

A motion has been passed in the Federal Senate calling for "a fully transparent and independent public inquiry". The Greens are calling for a Royal Commission. Some Government backbenchers have also joined the fray. Liberal MP Petro Georgiou says it is time to reassess detention policy and to give all 7000 people currently on temporary protection visas permanent residency.

The bottom line is that the Howard government is responsible for the setting up of the centres and the contracting of their management to a private American prison company. The government is also responsible for the mandatory detention laws put in place to have asylum seekers locked in the centres, and for their inhumane treatment which violates international laws on human rights.

"All the adults and most of the children I've seen have been extremely badly damaged more damaged by their detention experience than by their experiences before arriving", said Jon Jureidini, head of the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide.

Dr Jureidini has seen around 40 Baxter asylum seekers over the past two years, where he says a "culture of self-harm is prevalent the only means of protest is largely self-destructive".

It is clear also that the government is prepared to trample on all our human rights whenever accidentally or not people get in the way of the government's policy objectives.

A statement by Baxter detention centre detainees states: "The public inquiry into the happenings of the unlawful detention of Cornelia Rau should not be short-sighted but expanded into an investigation about the inhuman treatment of all those who reside in Baxter detention centre.

"Severely ill detainees are punished as if it were misbehaviour. Baxter detention centre has a specific compound for this where most of Cornelia Rau's time, and that of many others, is spent, isolated, locked in a room for 18 hours a day and/or constantly harassed in ways hard to understand and always denied, like waking people in a disturbing manner and provoking them into self-harm and anger.

"Not understanding why you are in Baxter detention, with no clue of when it will end, together with feeling alone and that no one cares, brings even someone with strong mental health to the brink of insanity.

"We here at Baxter detention plea for the pious and compassionate people of this great nation to not only look at the small picture of one Cornelia Rau, but at the big picture of the humanitarian catastrophe of all those still suffering in this inhumanity.

"Baxter detainees extend our best wishes for the recovery and health of Cornelia Rau."

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