Notorious firm G4S to run refugee prison camp on Manus Island

Refugee rights rally, Sydney, October 14. Photo: Vlaudin Vega

The Australian government is set to give notorious private security firm G4S the contract to run the refugee detention camp on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. G4S has been dumped from previous contracts — including running Australia's refugee detention centre network — for medical negligence and incompetence.

Reports from Christmas Island suggest many families, teenagers, women and children will be among the first to be sent to the island in coming weeks, where the army is finishing a “tent city” similar to that built on Nauru.

It is alarming that G4S could run an offshore detention camp, given that when the company — then called GSL — ran detention centres and detainee transport on the mainland it was labelled “fundamentally flawed” by a 2005 inquiry. The company was dumped from the government contract in 2009.

G4S was part of the “administrative bungle” that jailed German-born Australian Cornelia Rau for 10 months. In a statement, another detainee at Baxter described how GSL staff abused Rau, including “one of the officers [who] struck her on the chest and threw her on her back on the floor of her room”.

The company also oversaw the detention of three-year-old Naomi Leong, who had been detained her entire life until her release in 2005. Some Tamil refugee children in detention face a similar situation today.

The 2005 inquiry found GSL failed to provide psychiatric care to mentally ill refugees. The immigration department had to compensate five detainees after they were transported — injured and untreated — from the Baxter detention centre in South Australia to the Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne in “unsafe and inhumane” conditions that included faulty air-conditioning, no food or water and no toilet breaks.

Aboriginal man Mr Ward died in an overheated GSL prison van in Western Australia. A coroner found the company had contributed to Mr Ward's death.

Another man who died in G4S custody was 46-year old Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga in Britain in October 2010. Mubenga died in “unexplained” circumstances when three G4S guards restrained him in his seat at Heathrow airport. The three guards were released on bail but were never charged. The British Independent said in September last year that G4S guards escorting deportees were witnessed using “offensive and sometimes racist language” and were “shamefully unprofessional and derogatory”.

The company gained worldwide notoriety after it failed to fulfill its contract to provide security at this year’s London Olympics.

G4S is also the target of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel for providing security in prisons that jail and torture Palestinian children and adults in the West Bank.

ABC Online said on October 15 that the immigration department had “considered a broader range of companies” before naming G4S as the likely firm to operate on Manus Island. Conditions on the island remain appalling and there is no indication of who will hold a duty of care or be accountable for the wellbeing of refugees at the prison camp.

Immigration secretary Martin Bowles told a Senate estimates hearing on October 15 that G4S would run “catering, cleaning, security and associated type services” and said concerns over its atrocious record would not count it out. “We are not talking about them managing a facility in the same way they may have had a contract with us to manage a detention network a number of years ago,” said Bowles.

Two hundred refugees locked up on Nauru held a peaceful protest in their detention “tent city” on October 14. New Matilda reported that an asylum seeker in Nauru told refugee activists over the phone at a Sydney rally: “We are refugees on Nauru. We are holding a peaceful protest to make our complaints about our situation. We are demanding for our processing to be started.”

About 4600 refugees have arrived by boat since the federal Labor government reintroduced the “Pacific solution” on August 13. None of those transferred to Nauru or held in Australia have been able to make any claim for asylum.

Overcrowded conditions on Christmas Island are causing frustration and unrest across the detention facilities.

Advocacy group Asylum Seekers Christmas Island said on October 13 that the compounds are “like powderkegs”. A number of Serco “tactical response group” guards and federal police are managing the asylum seekers “coupled with intimidation tactics”.