Witnesses to the violence in the Manus Island detention centre spoke at a forum on March 17 organised by the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) in Sydney. The forum was organised after the death of Reza Berati, who died on February 17 after being beaten by Papua New Guinea police and G4S staff during widespread violence that also injured 60 asylum seekers.
The forum heard from the brother of a refugee detained on Manus Island, Samar; translator and former refugee Azita Bokan; and RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul.
Samar told the forum his brother was injured when he was hit on the head by PNG police while he was sleeping. The conditions in the detention centre are hard, he said. Food is not cooked properly and refugees are forced to shower with saltwater with three minute limits. Samar’s brother has not been given any shoes and when he had a major tooth problem he was given only Panadol.
Bokan worked on Nauru and Manus Island as a translator employed by the Salvation Army. Speaking about the detention centres, she said: “Nauru was bad but Manus Island is far worse. Human rights are denied to people — people face unlimited prison time.”
She said it was: “50 degrees in tents; five degrees hotter in tents than outside. Kids as young as four years old wander around with nothing to eat, drink, or things to do.”
Bokan was sacked after protecting a wheelchair-bound detainee from harm by guards. They said she had “too much patriotism for her countrymen.” She said many people who work for the Salvation Army want to speak but are too afraid. All workers have had to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Bokan is being sued by the government for breaking her confidentially agreement. But she said that reporting a crime — such as the violence at Manus Island — takes precedence over confidentiality agreements.
She also said that since Transfield won the contract from G4S to run the detention centres, nothing has changed except the uniforms the workers wear.
Rintoul told the forum: “There was never a riot — first there was a peaceful protest on February 16. That was met with heads split open and hands broke. Then on the 17th there was no protest — just cold blooded retribution. The person who killed Reza is employed by the Salvation Army.”
Rintoul said: “There is growing resentment by locals against the detention centre. The challenge is to convince the locals it’s not the refugees that are the problem, it is the shameful policies of the Australian government.
“The effluent flows untreated to the shore and gets washed back to the beach where locals have to walk through to get to cleaner water. There are mountains of empty water bottles and other rubbish polluting the land area. The mainland police and security also attack locals.
“Locals and detainees have a common interest against the Australian and PNG governments, Transfield, and the PNG Police. No police or guards have been prosecuted for the violent attacks on detainees.”