Culture

Hospital Staff In Melbourne Refuse To Send Children Back To Detention, As Whistleblowers Speak Out About Abuse Inside Detention Camps

Defiance of Australia's immigration department continued this weekend with a series of powerful protests around the country.

Domestic and international outrage over Australia’s asylum seeker policy, under the militaristic banner of Operation Sovereign Borders, has been building for some time now. It’s been criticised by the United Nations and the New York Times; it’s been widely derided for being illegal, ineffective and severely in breach of human rights; and a disturbing senate inquiry in March found evidence of rape and sexual assault of minors and women inside the Nauru detention centre. One 23-year-old Somali woman who was raped on the island after she was resettled there has recently begged the Immigration Department to send her to Australia for an abortion, prompting an online petition that has been signed by over 60,000 people so far. 

A bunch of Australians, as well as detainees, have gone on hunger strike in protest, and rallies demanding the closure of offshore detention centres have been springing up around Australia all year, including various rallies today. Critics of our treatment of asylum seekers have varied backgrounds and political views, but the loudest supporters have been hard-right extremist nationalists like the Reclaim Australia movement and United Patriots Front clan (as well as notoriously racist and xenophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who likes our policy so much he copied the Immigration Department’s 2014 ‘No Way: You Will Not Make Australia Home’ video verbatim).

After both the Coalition and the Labor Party voted for the controversial Border Force Act in July this year, it is now a crime for detention centre staff or “entrusted persons“, including humanitarian workers, doctors, nurses and teachers, to publicly disclose protected information pertaining to the conditions in Australia’s detention centres — a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

But on the day the legislation came into force, more than 40 current and former workers from the camps — including doctors, teachers, childcare and humanitarian workers — signed an open letter challenging Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to prosecute them for speaking out over human rights abuse at Australia’s detention centres.

And today, the minister has been challenged again — this time by hundreds of people.

The Royal Children’s Hospital Is Refusing To Return Refugee Children To Detention

This morning, News Corp reported that more than 400 doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne are defying the Immigration Department by refusing to return asylum seeker children to detention centres, over concerns of the unsafe conditions there. The move by the doctors, who have also demanded that all children be released from detention, was reportedly sparked by two significant issues: a month-long stand-off between them and immigration authorities over the discharge of a child who still exhibited a range of health issues; and outrage at immigration guards being placed at the doorways of patients’ rooms for 24 hours a day.

One paediatrician told News Corp: “We see a whole range of physical, mental, emotional and social disturbances that are really severe and we have no hope of improving these things when we have to discharge our patients back into detention.”

Minister Dutton has responded to the protest, saying that he stands behind the government’s asylum seeker policy. “I understand the concern of doctors, but the Defence and Border Force staff on our vessels who were pulling dead kids out of the water don’t want the boats to restart,” he said.

Nauru Whistleblowers Spoke Out About Abuse Inside The Camp In Canberra Today

Coinciding with the hospital’s demonstration (and consequent breach of federal laws), a Nauru detention centre whistleblower spoke at a rally in Canberra today about the abuse of children that he’s witnessed first hand. Former Save the Children worker Tobias Gunn claims he and a co-worker saw a guard chase after and beat a toddler.

“He caught up with her and, with his left hand, hit her in the back of the head with enough force to lift her off her feet and she smacked into the ground,” Gunn told Fairfax. “She was so terrified she immediately crawled into the fetal position and wouldn’t stop screaming.”

“The guard was extremely abuseful towards me and my co-worker and told us to fuck off.”

Despite this being reported to authorities, Gunn said no charges were ever laid against the perpetrator because of what they called “insufficient information”.

“But there were two witnesses, we had his name and there was a security response to the incident which involved the second in command,” he countered. “My statement was cross-examined with the abuser’s course of events, so Wilson security had interviewed him, they also had his name on the roster sheet for the security station outside the recreation tent.”

“It is horrific how the system did not deal with these people.”

The rally also heard an audio recording from another former worker named ‘Jane’, who spoke about the alleged poor conditions and cases of sexual abuse inside the facility. She said detainees have to walk up to 100 metres for water, and are given inferior food to that of the staff. “Sometimes the catering staff can’t identify what meat is being served to asylum seekers,” she said.

Jane also told of a pre-teen girl who claimed she had been sexually abused, and was put in a holding area that was nearby to the alleged perpetrator. “One manager said to myself and another staff member he had no understanding of child protection.”

Rallies were also held in Melbourne and Sydney today, with crowds and speakers turning up to demand the government shut down offshore processing. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has yet to respond to these recent appeals — including the call for the pregnant Somali refugee to be brought to Australia — and amidst these nation-wide public demonstrations, combined with the myriad online petitions and social media campaigns, his silence is not going unheard.

Feature image taken at September protest in Melbourne, via Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.