Our policy of off-shore detention has sunk to a new level with the death of 27 year old Sudanese detainee Faysal Ishak Ahmed on Christmas eve, the fourth death in detention.
Faysal Ishak Ahmed had “fled Sudan in 2013, having refused to be recruited by the same militias that had tortured him, killed several members of his family, and raped his sister.” The Age, page 1, 31/12/16
The brief history of our off-shore detention policy started with the Liberal/National coalition (PM Howard) Government in 2001. Previously, we didn’t have a problem with people arriving by boat, because they were refugees, but somewhere along the way we lost our conscience.
The first step on to the slippery slope was former Prime Minister John Howard, as part of the Pacific Solution, declaring Christmas Island no longer Australian territory only for the purpose of unauthorised boat arrivals. This meant any arrivals were not on Australian soil, therefore unable to apply for refugee status.
Australia is populated by 24 million people, in a country the size of the USA (324 m). We rank second in global per capita wealth. In the year of highest boat arrivals the numbers reached 20,517 in 2013. Our highest number of illegal immigration is from people coming by airplane and over-staying their visa (62,000 in 2014)
“When it comes to the total number of refugees recognised and resettled by a country, Australia ranks 25th (and 32nd on a per capita basis).” abc.net.au Since 2014 there has been no official boat arrivals as the Coalition policy of “stopping the boats” is in reality, turning them around so they are made to return to whatever they are fleeing.
Yet we still keep the off-shore detention centres open to house refugee arrivals from 2013. These people have been in off-shore detention for four years and counting.
Off-shore detention is an outsourced operation funded by our Federal Government. In that way, if anything goes wrong, they can blame either the company operating the centre, or the country where it is housed. The Australian Government refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the people it pays to house at a rate of $400,000 per single asylum seeker per year. Off-shore detention cost the taxpayers over $1 billion in 2014 – 2015.
Since people have been arriving by boat, the majority have been found to be genuine refugees. As signatories to the Refugee Convention, the responsibility of care of these people begins and ends with us. “Countries who have signed the Refugee Convention also cannot send a refugee overseas (or ‘expel’ them) except if they pose a risk to national security or public order.”
The Coalition Government has a history of silence, cover ups, gagging welfare workers, aid workers and doctors, and refusing journalists entry to the detention centres. We find out what is happening when a whistle blower doctor or aid worker breaks ranks and risks their livelihood. Or a former guard or teacher speaks out. Occasionally the detainees themselves are able to get their voice heard, as in the case of a fellow inmate of the Manus detention facility, who said Faysal Ishak Ahmed had been sick for some months and had previously repeatedly sought medical attention.
This recent opinion piece by New York Times writer, Roger Cohen, says it all: Australia’s Death by Numbers
Next: Happy Christmas Island Detention Centre II