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Australia's Serco's record of detention shame

Scott Stewart

Documents released to a parliamentary committee into Australia’s policy of mandatory detention have revealed the misery and suffering of asylum seekers in Australia’s Serco-run detention camps.

As of June 30 Australia had 23 detention centres in which 6403 asylum seekers were detained mandatorily and indefinitely. The average period of detention is 299 days. Serco administers these camps with a whopping budget in excess of $650 million.

Since Serco took the reins of Australia’s detention camps in 2009 there have been 7 deaths in custody: 3 suicides in Villawood, 1 suicide in Perth, 1 suicide in Scherger, 1 suicide and one unnecessary death in Curtin. In the first six months of this year 1,507 detainees across Australia were hospitalised, including 72 psychiatric hospital admissions and 213 treated for self-inflicted injuries. There were 723 hunger strikers requiring hospitalisation as asylum seekers defiantly protested the conditions in which they’re held.

As recently as Wednesday Serco guards physically beat an Indian man in an effort to force him onto a plane for deportation, in an ominous sign of things to come with the Malaysian deal. He has suffered extensive bruising and swelling to his face. When the deportation failed, he was returned to Villawood detention centre where he remains in isolation in the high security stage 1 section of the centre. He has been told another attempt to remove him will be made today.

In September 2010 Fijian man Josefa Rauluni, 36, leap to his death from a roof at Villawood after receiving deportation orders. Serco officers put mattresses on the floor and, shamefully, goaded him to jump. Two months later a 41-year-old Iraqi man detained in Villawood, whose bid for asylum had been rejected twice, hanged himself in his cell.

In March 2011 a young asylum seeker at Melbourne’s Broadmeadows detention camp spent the day up a tree in a suicidal state. A refugee advocate reported that a Serco officer taunted him to jump.

A 33-year-old Palestinian man initially injured his leg fleeing authorities in Indonesia. His first six months in detention were spent in Darwin, where he had regular treatment in hospital. In July 2010 he was transferred to the Maribyrnong detention camp in Melbourne away from his specialists. The infection in his leg worsened; he spent much of his time in immense pain and without access to morphine. At one point he was regularly losing chunks of flesh, and his toes turned black. By January 2011, the infection had become so bad doctors were forced to amputate his leg above the knee.

At Scherger detention camp in Far North Queensland Serco staff told those whose asylum claims had been rejected to blow up a balloon until it burst in their faces. They then told them their situation mirrored that of the balloon – it was hopeless and they should return to their home country. Immigration officers along with Serco guards play acted the role of the agitated asylum seeker who was heard shouting “I can’t go back” and “I won’t go back.” During the simulated deportation, two of the men who watched it unfold wept openly. Five days after this incident a young Hazara asylum seeker took his life.

A 28-year-old man died of a heart attack in August 2010 when inadequate medical facilities were provided for his pre-existing condition. A 19-year-old man was found hanged in his room at Curtin Detention Centre in late March 2011. He believed his application for a visa had been rejected. In July 2011 the health care provider responsible for asylum seekers at Curtin ignored advocates’ calls warning that asylum seekers were threatening suicide. The reason given was that Serco insists these calls go through guards and not the health professionals.

Isolation is routinely used to punish asylum seekers who dare protest against their detention. Serco staff use sleep deprivation techniques to torture people while they are protesting on roofs for their human rights. The government is also eager to please: when requested to by Serco, federal police have used tear gas and bean bag bullets to crush refugee resistance.

Refugees need Australians who support human rights to take a stand. When they resist with protests, hunger strikes, escapes, riots and self harm it is a call for freedom. It is a call for solidarity from us. On a daily and hourly basis refugees’ human rights and dignity are abused and denied by Serco. Human rights and human lives should not be for profit.

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