Offshore detention sites – more common than we think?

The islands of Manus and Nauru are home to detention facilities operated by Australia to house asylum seekers. The alleged purpose of these sites is to deter future asylum seekers from trying to enter Australia via boat, a journey that poses risks to life. Another alleged purpose is to protect the country from national security threats, by categorizing some individuals as “dangerous offenders,” and preventing them from entering the country and obtaining medical care (now authorized under amendments made to the Migration Act 1958).

Former detainees and stories of those who died in custody have exposed the conditions of these facilities. Reportedly, there have been twelve deaths. These deaths include suicide while in detention; aggravation of treatable health issues, as was the case for Mr. Hamid Kehazaei; and intense, untreated seizures of Mr. Faysal Ishak Ahmed. Many detainees, including children have attempted suicide.

Detainees have been held in these facilities for several years at a time. Award winning author and former detainee Abdul Aziz Muhamat spent six years in a facility. Said Imasi spent nine years in detention; he was not charged or nor put on trial. Others face the potential of indefinite detention, as is the case of William Yekrop (a former child soldier), whose visa has been cancelled multiple times, preventing him from leaving the facility and returning home.

There have been instances where detainees did not have access to water, food, or electricity. Detainees have been restrained from accessing necessary health care in Australia, under pretence of protecting and maintaining national security. Mental health issues permeated the minds of detainees, as anxiety, depression, and paranoia settled into their minds. Detainees were reportedly verbally assaulted, stopped from using bathrooms, given poor meals, and unsure of what their future would look like if they were ever let go.

It is surprising to note that a lot of media attention has not been given to these circumstances and experiences. Determined research leads readers to numerous articles detailing what occurs behind closed doors, yet mainstream media did not cover this phenomenon as extensively as it should be.

As a democratic country, Australia would not be a person’s first guess when thinking about the existence of detention sites and arbitrary detention.

While these camps have been closed, detainees have been transferred, and access to health care is improving, the experiences of detainees should not be dismissed or forgotten. Human rights violations should never be glossed over. National security concerns must be balanced with humanity to prevent egregious breaches of societal values. Asylum seekers deserve humane treatment.

This blog post was written by a CCLA Volunteer. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA.