The Guardian November 28, 2001


Refugees brutalised, secretly repatriated

It has been revealed that in a vicious and secretive action the 
management of the Marybinong Detention Centre in Victoria has instituted a 
new regime of restrictions on prisoners' rights. The new set of rules can 
only be meant to further brutalise and degrade asylum seekers, to strip 
them of their fundamental rights as human beings and expose them to racist 
stereotyping and abuse.

After lunch on the Thursday following the federal elections, the camp 
guards locked all the single detainees in the volley ball court. For the 
next five hours the camp guards searched every room and confiscated all 
newspapers, books, clothes and cassettes.

Under the new regime inmates will have to ask permission to retrieve these 
items, which they will only be able to receive one at a time. This includes 
Walkman cassettes, but other recorders have been confiscated indefinitely.

The chairs and small tables have also been removed from their rooms, so 
that now the inmates have only the bunks on which to sit.

The authorities have also decreed that those seeking clean clothes must 
place a hand written "order" in a box before 9.30 am each day.

Although these moves may seem petty, in the confines of a detention centre 
they have the effect of refined and subtle cruelty. Books and music are 
essential to withstand the corrosive boredom and constraints of camp life.

Newspapers, particularly those in the language of the detainee, are 
particularly valued for news of the outside world, and their contents are 
often studied in minute detail.

Those who are deemed by the authorities as not meeting the criteria for 
refugee status are moved in secret from the camp. Their assessment and 
repatriation to their home countries are likewise shrouded in secrecy, and 
there is no monitoring of the fairness or otherwise of their assessment or 
subsequent treatment.

Other aspects of the Government's asylum-seeker policy are also shrouded in 
secrecy. For example, no one outside the top echelons of government appears 
to have information on the budget and expenditure for Australia's Pacific 
islands penal colonies for refugees.

Interest in this aspect of refugee policy was stimulated two weeks ago when 
a ship belonging to a company contracted to deliver food to Nauru refused 
to do so because of a dispute with the Nauruan Government over its unpaid 
debts of $600,000 to the company.

There have been no reports on the impact these events are having on the 
newest and most mistreated of Nauru's occupants, those detained there under 
the Howard Government's callous asylum seeker policy. In this case, as so 
often in the past, no news is probably bad news. Secrecy is clearly now a 
major part of the Government's strategy.

Highlighting the Government's violation of international human rights was 
the arrival last week of the Chilean navy ship the "Esmerelda". Prime 
Minister Howard was on hand to welcome the vessel as it docked in Sydney. 
The "Esmerelda" was used as a floating torture chamber under the fascist 
Pinochet regime.

"Welcoming the "Esmerelda" sends a shameful message internationally", said 
NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon. "The Prime Minister should apologise to the 
victims of the Pinochet regime who fled to Australia as refugees."

Ms Rhiannon noted that while the Prime Minister of Australia was welcoming 
a torture boat he was spending hundreds of millions of dollars shipping 
refugees around the Pacific to avoid them coming ashore here to be 
processed.

"The "Esmerelda" and its crew are unwelcome in any democracy and should 
leave immediately, in shame", said Lee Rhiannon.

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