Refugees allege brutal beatings on Nauru

June 28, 2013
Bob Carr said most refugees arriving by boat to Australia are “economic migrants”.

Nauru camp detainees have made allegations of brutal beatings by security guards, as newly leaked documents from the Salvation Army detailed the early “chaos” of the camp.

A protest of recent arrivals that began on June 25 was met with a violent crackdown by guards that reportedly left six Palestinian men unconscious.

The protesters were mostly Palestinian, Sudanese and Lebanese refugees. They had just learned from Australian officials that assessment of their claims for protection would be delayed.

“We were told that the lawyers will not meet us for at least six months,” asylum seekers told refugee advocates in Australia.

Most refugees that have been forced to the “offshore” camp have been given similar time-spans in their few meetings with Australian immigration staff and have staged similar desperate protests against their arbitrary detention.

However, the Australian public is being told that refugees that arrived by boat after the government introduced its version of the “Pacific solution” last year would have to wait up to five years.

The first group of Palestinian refugees were sent to Nauru on May 25. The mostly Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian and Tamil refugees have now been joined by Vietnamese, Lebanese and Sudanese refugees. The number of refugees from African nations that have sought Australian asylum by boat has risen suddenly this year.

Three boats carrying Congolese, Somalian and Sudanese refugees were intercepted in May alone. This is considered “not overly common” by the immigration department.

The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) said two of the injured men were kept in the medical centre overnight. About 35 men reportedly began a hunger strike in response to the beatings.

The guards in the Nauru detention centre are employed or subcontracted by Wilson Security, which private operator Transfield contracted to oversee the centre for $24.5 million.

RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul said the actions of the guards should be subject to an inquiry. “They must be held accountable for their actions.”

The immigration department has denied the report that six men were beaten unconscious by Australian-contracted guards. A spokesperson told Radio New Zealand there was “no protest or retaliation”, but “six of the new arrived asylum seekers chose to sit in the sun and may have suffered sun stroke”.

But RAC has stood by its reports. Due to the detention camp being run entirely by private contractors under confidential, non-disclosure deals, it is easy for both Wilson Security and the government to deny accountability.

Yet leaked documents obtained by a new investigating group demonstrate much of Wilson's conduct in the centre, including a suggestion that its personnel to carry “weapons” in the presence of detainees. and New Matilda released excerpts from Salvation Army operations meeting minutes from September 12-21 last year, soon after the camp was opened.

The Salvation Army was contracted by the Australian government to oversee the welfare of detainees. The leaked minutes detail Salvation Army staff had significant concerns about how the immigration department began sending refugees before the camp was equipped to house anyone.

New Matilda said key concerns included: “Salvation Army staff were not initially trained to cut-down or hold detainees who are hanging themselves and instead must call for security.

“Poor communication between the immigration department and the Salvation Army, with one detainee left entirely off a flight manifest.

“An outbreak of dysentery led to toilets being quarantined.

“Staff were told to carry sticks to defend themselves against dog attacks.

“Wilson Security Services have broached the idea of introducing 'weapons' to the facility.”

Rintoul said the new groups of refugees being sent to Nauru, especially Palestinian and Sudanese refugees, was a “particularly bloody-minded move by the Labor government to deliberately disadvantage individuals they know Australia will be obligated to protect”.

Comments made by foreign affairs minister Bob Carr that labelled most refugees arriving by boat as “economic migrants” have alarmed refugee campaigners. His comments mimic the rhetoric of opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison and Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop, who have both called for the mass deportation of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.

Some of Carr's comments were made during an interview with Lateline on the same evening Kevin Rudd was re-elected leader of the Labor Party and prime minister of Australia, and sparked speculation that Rudd may harden Labor's refugee policy further in the lead up to the federal election.

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