Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Fresh disturbance at Christmas Island detention centre due to ‘inhumane’ conditions, advocates say | Christmas Island


Further unrest among detainees on Christmas Island is due to the Australian government holding people in “inhumane” conditions, refugee advocates have said.

There were riots on Tuesday night that resulted in two compounds being set alight and advocates and detainees claim a further disturbance on Saturday evening involved fires, rubber bullets and the use of tear gas at the detention centre.

The Australian Border Force confirmed an “operation” took place to “restore order” on the island after Tuesday’s riot but has not yet commented on the reports of another incident.

In a post late on Saturday evening, one man detained on Christmas Island said the centre was “on fire again because the authorities don’t want to give those who are sick, those who have mental problem, those who have heart failure, their medication for days”.

“I can’t breath, the rooftop is burning and the smoke is coming in here,” he said, claiming police had firearms and teargas. “This place is not a good place, we’re traumatised here.” The man said medication had not been provided for “five days”.

According to Filipa Payne, a campaigner for New Zealanders in Australian detention, medicine was dispersed once on Saturday in a bid to end the latest protest but has not been provided since and the ABF and detention centre operator Serco reneged on a commitment to restore internet.

Payne told Guardian Australia the dispute was “not about access to internet, it’s about people in a powerless situation being repetitively treated with disrespect and in an inhumane manner”.

Payne has spoken to six detainees, including at the time of the Saturday incident, and said she could hear what sounded like rubber bullets being fired and use of gas canisters. “The only way I can describe it is like a war-zone,” she said.

Payne said ABF and Serco still didn’t have control of the facility and no food has been provided to detainees since Saturday.

Fires are out, but the situation was still “desperate” with many detainees mentally unwell, and two men conducting a hunger strike on the roof of the one undamaged accommodation unit, she said.

In a video message released on Friday, refugees are pictured gathered, at a location which a man detained said was “the only spot the boys can get a network to contact their loved ones, families and the lawyers”.

“All the compounds over there, they shut it all down,” he said.

George Newhouse, the principal solicitor of the National Justice Project, said the latest incident was “the result of isolation and up to 22 hours of being locked inside compounds with no access to green space and miserable conditions of detention”.

“The federal government has a policy of keeping detainees in harsh and inhumane conditions to force them to leave Australia – this disturbance should not be a surprise to our leaders,” he said.

“These individuals have been taken away from their families, friends and advocates and they have essentially been disconnected from the mobile phone system. [Because of poor reception] the processing of their applications is delayed.”

Newhouse said the “harsh and solitary conditions” were having an effect on the mental health and welfare of detainees.

Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said it was “inhumane to cut these people off from contact with family and legal support”.

In August, the federal government announced it was reopening the detention centre on Christmas Island, saying its ability to remove unlawful non-citizens from Australia had been curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 225 people, mostly those who have had their visas cancelled on character grounds, were detained in the centre at the end of November, government figures show. Advocates say the group includes at least 60 people assessed as refugees.

Guardian Australia has contacted border force, Serco and the Australian Federal Police for comment.

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