Navy personnel resent refugee border patrols

July 28, 2007

Personnel in the Australian navy have broken down and cried while carrying out duties that include repelling refugees from Australian waters, according to documents released under Freedom of Information laws and reported on by the July 22 Sun-Herald.

Some of the released documents relate to an operation which took place on October 28, 2001, when the navy's Arunta stopped a boat carrying 215 people, mainly Iraqis. Women and children were let onto the military ship while the boat's engine was fixed. After the repairs, the women and children were returned to the boat in order to be pushed back to Indonesian waters.

Capsicum spray and batons were used against the refugees after they resisted. An observer from US group Human Rights Watch saw two Australian military personnel crying. "I asked them why they were crying, and they said 'We are also human, but we cant do anything because there are orders from our superiors. If it were possible, I would take you back to my own home ...'"

The inhuman way in which asylum seekers have been treated has led to navy personnel undertaking "border protection" operations against asylum seekers suffering low morale, low motivation, resentment at having to do the task and increased family and relationship problems, and wanting to leave the service.

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