Eyewitness accounts of refugee horror

Issue 

About 50 people attended a forum on the Labor government's oppressive "Pacific solution" refugee policy at the Teachers Federation building in Sydney on July 1.

Organised by the Refugee Action Coalition, the forum condemned "the logic of Labor's race to the bottom on refugee policy with [Liberal leader] Tony Abbott”.

“Under the government's 'no advantage' measures, hundreds of asylum seekers have been sent to Nauru and Manus Island as part of the revamped Pacific Solution," the meeting said.

"Living conditions at Nauru have been described as 'cruel, inhumane and degrading' by Amnesty International. [A recent] ABC Four Corners program exposed the conditions on Manus Island. The centre's former doctor, John Vallentine, labelled the facility, ‘just a disaster, medically.'"

Guest speaker Debbie Whitmont, the Four Corners journalist who travelled to Nauru and Manus Island to report on conditions in the centres, described the difficulties the ABC had in visiting Manus Island. They had to rely on hidden cameras because they were not allowed to film inside the centres.

She also explained the problems faced by the local authorities on Nauru in dealing with Australia's offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Another speaker, a former Manus Island teacher, told the forum about the atrocious conditions faced by the refugees in the detention facility, and the fear experienced by workers in the centre of being sacked for being too sympathetic with the asylum seekers.

Her contract was not renewed for "inappropriate contact" with detainees, in effect for becoming too friendly with the inmates.

"What can we do?" she asked. "Spread the word; get to know refugees; educate the community" on the truth about asylum seekers.