The Australian’s smear campaign against refugee advocates not based on facts

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A front page article in the Australian on July 11 reported claims that “asylum-seekers are coached and encouraged to attempt self-harm by refugee advocates who then use the incidents as political capital”.

The allegations were made by former director of offshore processing Greg Lake, who said when he worked at what is now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, “some refugee advocates were clearly urging asylum-seekers to self-harm as a form of protest so they could put out a press release about it”.

The article was responding to reports by the Refugee Action Coalition that up to 10 women on Christmas Island had self-harmed. The women drank concoctions of liquids such as detergent and shampoo. One woman was sent to the medical centre with at least one deep cut requiring 16 stitches after throwing herself from a container.

RAC said the women were harming themselves because they had spent a year on Christmas Island and were desperate about the health of their young children.

RAC reported the comments of a refugee on Christmas Island who said in a phone call: “They [the children] have fevers and coughs that do not get better. The phosphate is making them sick and they cough. They cannot get better while we are in this camp. There is no proper medical. The babies are given just ice and water.”

The mothers want to be transferred to Nauru, but have been told they must remain on Christmas Island until the outcome of a court case in October.

It is the horrendous conditions asylum seekers are forced to endure in offshore detention centres that are causing asylum seekers to harm themselves. The Australian is trying to smear the thousands of people who are part of the refugee movement because they are disgusted by the federal government’s cruel policies and want to end them.

That the Australian chose to report these baseless claims on the front page shows the government is under pressure for its policies, which are becoming more and more extreme.

Spokesperson for RAC, Ian Rintoul, denied encouraging the women to hurt themselves or of having any prior knowledge that they would.

Rintoul told Green Left Weekly: “Greg Lake’s assertions are completely outrageous and unsubstantiated. These kinds of comments are only made by apologists for a detention regime that creates the very conditions that drive people to harm themselves.

“The government’s popularity is declining and its attempts to play the refugee card have failed. There is growing public awareness about its abuse of refugees that even the secrecy surrounding its operations cannot hide.”

[The Refugee Action Coalition is holding a rally on July 19 at 1pm at Sydney Town Hall to call for the 153 asylum seekers being held on an Australian Customs ship to be brought to Australia.]

From GLW issue 1016