Inside immigration detention — Part 8

Issue 
This floating hotel was used at Manus to house immigration staff.

Carol Hucker worked in Manus Island Detention Centre as a counsellor for International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and as a case worker for the Salvation Army from June 2013 to July last year.

She has allowed Green Left Weekly to publish her account so that people can become more aware of what is happening in Australia's offshore detention centres.

She said: “It is my hope that through this brief account the men on Manus will not be forgotten.”

This is the eight part of a multi-part series and covers her time there in June and July 2014.

* * *

Carol Hucker worked in Manus Island Detention Centre as a counsellor for International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and as a case worker for the Salvation Army from June 2013 to July last year.

She has allowed Green Left Weekly to publish her account so that people can become more aware of what is happening in Australia's offshore detention centres.

She said: “It is my hope that through this brief account the men on Manus will not be forgotten.”

This is the eight part of a multi-part series and covers her time there in June and July 2014.

* * *

Carol Hucker worked in Manus Island Detention Centre as a counsellor for International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and as a case worker for the Salvation Army from June 2013 to July last year.

She has allowed Green Left Weekly to publish her account so that people can become more aware of what is happening in Australia's offshore detention centres.

She said: “It is my hope that through this brief account the men on Manus will not be forgotten.”

This is the eight part of a multi-part series and covers her time there in June and July 2014.

* * *

I returned to Manus for the first time since the [February 2014] riot. I did not know what to expect or what the condition of the men would be. I was apprehensive during my travel to the island and my mind was racing. Driving to the accommodation I noted that the locals seemed less friendly and would not wave to the staff bus.

On Manus, staff accommodation was still on the boat. A new permanent site was being built for staff accommodation. The wharf was still the same and some bloodstains could still be seen.

The only other change of note was that the desalination plants would often break down. On these occasions staff were directed to have one-minute showers. However, the men did not have this luxury. They were given bottled water to “shower” in.

The day after I arrived I started work. There were now two new providers for welfare (Transfield Services) and security (Wilson's). The security company was stricter and more military-like than the previous one.

One of the more interesting changes was that the gates to the compounds were left open, but closed at night. Although the gates were open, the men respected this and did not charge out of them. It was confusing to see at first. To me it seemed like freedom was being offered, but it was a false freedom. The other change I saw was that Delta was given its own mess area attached to their compound.

The other counsellors told me what was new regarding the counselling program. There were two changes. One change was that we took the men on walks (they were known as “Mindfulness walks”). The other change was that counsellors were engaging with the men by having lunch with them.

I often had lunch with the men. I have to say that often the food was really inedible. It was quite disgusting and I knew why the men would often throw it out and opt not to eat that meal.

One time I had lunch with the Sudanese men and they told me that I was now their sister because I had lunch with them. They said that single women would stay in the oldest brother's house and be looked after.

Losing their identity

One of the young men told me that he had been called by his boat ID so often that he had been having dreams of his boat ID being his name and sometimes could not remember his own name. I then went in every day to call him by his name so he did not forget it.

If I went into the compounds with something to give out, such as puzzles, I had to record who took the puzzles and I would always ask the men for their names first. But the men would always give me their boat numbers and I would have to say: “No, what is your name”. I could see that this took most of the men aback.

One day I was giving out some puzzles. As men came up to take puzzles they would always start by giving me their boat IDs. The other men at the table quickly pulled them up and said, “No she wants your name not your boat ID”. I thought, “It's working. They know they have names.”

Being able to take the men out for a walk was a highlight of this rotation. On the walk there was a church and some of the men wanted to pray there, even though they were not Christians. One day I took a group of men to the church. They were respectful as they laid flowers on the altar, bowing and praying.

When I got back to the camp, however, I was told by the welfare services provider that none of the men could go inside the church as approval needed to be gained from the navy commander and the pastor, even though permission had been given when the Salvation Army had been doing welfare services and the men were able to go regularly to the Sunday service.

So I would go for a walk and stop at the side of the church near the trees in the shade. All of the men respected the directive that they could not enter the church. One day on the walk a man who identified as a Christian, went up to the church. The security guards, who were always present on the walks, chased after him saying, “You can't go in.” He knelt outside the church near a cross in the wall and prayed.

Another day, two men had brought some lollies with them on the walk. As we were having a break these two men went up to the security guards and asked if they could give the lollies to the local children who were across the road from us. They were allowed to do this. Sometimes what the men could and could not do depended on who the guards were. The men really missed their children left behind in their countries.

One day I went into Mike compound to speak with a group of men I knew well. They offered me some chocolates they had obtained with their points. I knew that they had next to nothing and I declined their offer. I didn't want to take anything from those who did not have a lot. However, they insisted that they had bought the chocolates for me and I had to take them, for which I thanked them. This happened a lot, the men were always willing to give. It was emotional for me to see this level of generosity and graciousness.

Another example of this occurred one day when I visited Delta compound. A man approached me as I was talking to someone and said to me, “Thank you for being so kind to us”. I was flabbergasted that a man who was living under these kinds of conditions could even muster the energy to say that. I often ask myself: if I were in those conditions, would I be able to say the same thing to a staff member? It was just another example of the graciousness that I saw in the majority of the men who were detained.

Beatings

When I went into Mike compound, I wanted to find out how the men were doing after being in the riot. They told me stories of how locals had come with garbage bags to ransack their belongings. They told me how they had hidden under their beds but had still been beaten.

Some men told me how they tried to negotiate with the guards reminding them that they had behaved favourably for them and that they were their friends. Some told me that they had bribed guards with cigarettes when they were in their rooms so they would not get beaten. However, when the cigarettes ran out other guards came and beat them.

There were injuries other than those reported in the media. I spoke to one man who had a permanent concussion, due to a heavy blow to the head during the riot. He was frustrated, as his mind did not work like it used to. He also struggled with memory and balance issues.

He was sent to Australia for treatment but did not receive any rehabilitation before being sent back to Manus. As I was talking to him he would take lengthy pauses as he tried to remember what he was talking about and what he wanted to say. His eyes looked blank as though he were absent.

When I had left, a colleague gave the following information about the man's health: “Roommates of a man severely bashed on the head during the riots, were constantly seeking assistance from the medical service provider to further assess and assist him. Roommates were constantly reporting the assistance they were required to give to their friend. He needed to hold on to the walls for stability, sit down often because his head was 'spinning and dizzy' and required assistance.”

Another man who had also been hit on the back of the head and whom I had seen on the night with a bloody shirt, talked of his panic about having an inability to learn English and Pidgin, which he said were requirements for resettlement in Papua New Guinea. He put his slowness down to being hit on the head during the riot and sustaining a head injury. He was worried that this would affect his refugee interviews, by limiting his ability to put his case forward.

Although they still had the memories from the night of the riot, most of the men were trying to readjust so they could present for their refugee interviews.

[Carol Hucker's previous accounts of her time on Manus can be found on Green Left Weekly.

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.