Government secrecy, lies on refugees exposed

January 21, 2016
Melbourne rally for Abyan in 2015.

An immigration department review into the forcible removal of Save the Children Fund workers from the Nauru immigration detention centre, released on January 15, recommended that they be paid compensation.

The nine charity workers were ordered to leave Nauru by the Australian government in October 2014 after they claimed that women and children at the detention centre were being sexually abused.

At the time, then-immigration minister Scott Morrison said of the charity workers: “If people want to be political activists, that's their choice but they don't get to do it on the taxpayers' dollar and working in a sensitive place like Nauru.” He accused them of encouraging asylum seekers to self-harm and to fabricate stories of abuse.

The latest review into the matter is the second to be released and the second to find that there is no evidence to support the government's allegations.

Save the Children Fund also had its Nauru offices raided by Nauruan police in October 2015 as Australian Border Force in their black shirt uniforms looked on. Staff was told to step away from their desks while computers, mobile phones and flash drives were confiscated.

Last year, the government, with Labor's support, made it an offence punishable by up to two years in prison for anyone employed directly or indirectly by the immigration department to reveal information about Australia's detention centres.

The removal of the charity workers is one of the many instances that typify the government's approach to information about its treatment of asylum seekers: prevent information reaching the public; persecute those who reveal information to the public; and fill the information vacuum with its own fabrications.

Morrison became notorious for his almost comical press conferences, fronting the press on the issue of asylum seekers only to tell journalists that the government would not discuss “operational” or “on water” matters.

The government has effectively banned journalists from its offshore detention centres. The cost for journalists to apply for a visa to Nauru was raised in January 2014 from $200 to $8000. The amount is not refundable if the visa application is rejected. Journalists have reported being told they should not even bother trying to apply.

The first journalist in 18 months to visit Nauru was Chris Kenny of The Australian in October last year. Immigration minister Peter Dutton dodged questions as to whether the government had a hand in securing a visa for Kenny, a supporter of the government's refugee policy, when other journalists could not get in.

The government was caught out in another fabrication about its treatment of refugees on December 30 when lawyer Kellie Tranter revealed documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws relating to the case of the 23-year-old Somalian refugee known as Abyan.

Abyan was pregnant after reporting being raped on Nauru. After considerable public pressure, the government agreed to fly her to Australia for a termination of pregnancy — a procedure that is illegal on Nauru. But after several days in Australia she was returned to Nauru still pregnant.

Dutton issued a media release that claimed she had decided not to proceed with the termination and that “comments from some advocates to the contrary are a fabrication, while others appear to be using this woman's circumstance for their own political agenda. They should be ashamed of their lies.”

The documents released by Tranter show that Abyan had not changed her mind about the termination and that the lies were coming from Dutton.

When asylum seeker Reza Berati was murdered in the Manus Island detention centre on February 16, 2014, Morrison claimed that he had been killed outside of the detention centre, implying it was his own fault for attempting to escape from the centre.

Refugee advocates, however, obtained first hand reports from refugees that they were attacked by G4S guards and locals inside the centre and Berati died as a result of the attack.

Morrison was subsequently forced to admit that his original story was false and the real facts were along the lines of those outlined by the refugee advocates.

Green Left Weekly has refused to take the government — with its history of cover ups and dishonesty — at face value. Instead, it has chosen to highlight the information released by reliable and honest sources such as refugee advocates.

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