ABC retracts refugee story, but documents show it was right
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) forced the ABC to retract a story about a recently changed “individual allowance program” for detained refugees to buy canteen items and phone cards to call home. But evidence has emerged that the ABC report was correct.
In Darwin, the system has changed from allocating 50 points a week to each detainee, to requiring half those points to be earned by taking part in daily activities, English classes and exercise.
Documents obtained by refugee advocates and seen by Green Left Weekly show detainees in the Darwin Airport Lodge objected to the new system. Minutes from a “client consultative committee” on June 13 quote refugees saying their “mental state is not good” and “we can only concentrate for 15 minutes”. They said they “did not have a say”.
Refugees in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre were told on June 27 that the system would commence in the “very near future”. They would receive 25 points automatically and “a further 25 points accrued through participation in Programs and Activities”.
Darwin-based ABC journalist Jane Bardon reported on July 7 that refugees “don’t like” the system and think it “effectively forces them to participate in activities”.
“If detainees, including children, don’t use them [the facilities, such as the gym], or if they fail to attend English classes and meal times, they lose points,” the story said.
DIAC's media manager Sandi Logan called the story “plain wrong” on Twitter. On July 11, ABC news bulletins ended with an official apology, saying ABC management accepted the rules “are not new and have not been toughened”.
It said the ABC accepted that activities were “not compulsory” and detainees “do not lose points if they do not participate”.
But several documents obtained by refugee advocates indicate the ABC’s story (which appears below) was essentially correct.
The system has been in place at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accomodation (MITA) since at least the start of the year.
A Serco letter to a detained refugee in MITA dated the week of January 30 to February 5 showed that the detainee received no “bonus points” because they did not take part in activities, and only received 25 “standard points”.
At the Darwin Airport Lodge, minutes from a June 20 meeting between Serco and detainees said “clients were informed on the new system”, and that the “new system is in all other centre’s [sic] and we will now be doing the same here”.
The document said: “In this system you receive 25 points per week and depending on your participation in activities and programs you participate in you will receive up to an additional 25 points. Each activity or program you participate in you will equal 2 points.”
Many refugees in detention suffer depression or post-traumatic stress and struggle to concentrate on anything. But Serco said its “clients” would be required to take part in activities for two hours each day, up to seven days a week to earn the previously standard 50 points.