The Guardian December 13, 2000


Refugees: cash offers, condemnations and alternatives

by Andrew Jackson

Nurses formerly employed by ACM (Australian Correctional Management) at the 
Woomera detention centre have rejected a $10,000 offer from Immigration 
Minister Philip Ruddock to participate in what they have called a 
"whitewash" inquiry.

The offer to pay for "legal and travel costs" was made by the Minister to 
entice the nurses to participate in the Federal Government's inquiry into 
child abuse allegations.

However, Marie Quinn, one of the first nurses to speak out against ACM said 
that only a full judicial enquiry would protect them from being sued by the 
company.

Ms Quinn said, "No-one's sucked in by it."

She said she knew "probably 20 nurses that won't come forward".

Allegations made by nurses and Amnesty International during the last week 
include stories of child torture  where a three-year-old was locked in 
leg cuffs, and later kept for 13 days in a windowless cell that had no 
shower or toilet.

Two other cases involved young girls, one four-year-old with broken wrists 
was denied hospital treatment for two weeks, and another nine-year-old girl 
who was kept for nine days in a confined space with 23 men.

Another fierce critic of John Howard's refugee master-plan is former 
Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. He accused ACM of being 
"extraordinary harsh, unthinking and not carrying out their duty of care".

He also lamented the fact that we live in an Australia that uses water-
cannons and tear gas to break up demonstrations.

The Howard Government faces a federal election in 2001, and human rights 
must remain at the top of the agenda.

While the Labor Party loudly condemns Philip Ruddock and his handling of 
the Woomera case, and has backed calls for a full judicial inquiry, they 
have made no commitment to close the camps or provide any alternative to 
the current detention regime.

Indeed, in November last year Labor supported a Liberal Bill which stripped 
the refugees of many of the rights they held previously under the Keating 
administration.

First and foremost, the internment camps must be closed, and the refugees 
transferred to urban centres.

All refugee holding centres should be taken under government control, to 
ensure proper training of staff, and full accountability of management, and 
transparent decision making.

The Department of Immigration must give priority to processing refugee 
applications, so as to minimise the length of time the refugees spend in 
detention.

Access to legal processes must be restored, including complaints 
procedures.

Refugees must be allowed contact with the outside world, including 
interaction with communities of their own ethnic origin, and access to 
newspapers and other media in their own languages.

They must have access to health services, English language classes and 
schooling for children.

Unaccompanied children must not be held in detention at all, but put into 
foster care with members of their own community.

The new legislation allowing refugees only three-year Temporary Protection 
Visas with limited access to government services and leaves them living 
under the threat of deportation, must be scrapped.

Once refugees are accepted as genuine asylum seekers they should be granted 
Permanent Protection Visas as allowed previously, with full access to 
health, education and social security.

While Howard and Ruddock remain firm in defence of their racist terror 
tactics, pressure must now be applied to Kim Beazley and the Shadow 
Minister for Immigration Con Sciacca to commit to bringing this national 
shame to an end.

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