Protests around Australia against the attacks on asylum seekers on Manus island have been well attended, horrified and angry. However, we are far off breaking the “off-shore processing” policy, shared by the conservative Abbot government and the ALP.
You might think that refugees being murdered and severely bashed by security guards would cause a rethink. However, in the Orwellian world of Australian politics around refugees, there is no end to the lows that can be plumbed.
Asylum seekers have been “transferred” to makeshift detention centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea since 2013, when the ALP government negotiated a deal with the PNG government. In the lead up to the federal election won by Tony Abbot’s conservative Coalition, ALP PM Rudd (having just replaced Julia Gillard) warned that he was ready to create an island from hell in PNG. So now, when that hell results in one murder and many serious injuries to asylum seekers, the ALP can only complain about a lack of transparency and poor management. They continue to stress the importance of Manus and off-shore processing as a deterrent to refugees getting on boats instead of languishing in camps in Indonesia for years, with little hope of ever getting to Australia.
Details are hazy about what happened at Manus Island – and the government hopes to keep it that way by covering its tracks and keeping inquiries secret. However, Immigration minister Morrison was forced into an embarrassing back down – admitting that he was “misinformed” when he said inmates were attacked outside the centre, having escaped. Instead, he now says most were hurt inside the centre, but due to their violent protests. Their supposed violence does not seem to have been well directed: 0 security staff injured versus 1 dead and over 70 injured asylum seekers.
The stories from many inmates and employees is quite different – that local employees of G4S security firm and PNG police riot squads rampaged through the compound, pulling people from their rooms and beating them, using rocks and machetes. A number of shots were fired, and one asylum seeker was shot in the buttocks – while fleeing.
An Iranian asylum seeker poke to people treating his injuries on the wharf of the Australian accommodation centre boat the Bibby:
"I did nothing, I wasn't involved in the protests, I was in my room, being good, trying to sleep. They came in my room, six local G4S, they dragged me out of my bed and beat me, they had huge rocks in their hands and they hit my head and my body with them. I was in the first room, why was I in the first room, they got me because I was in the first room, I had no chance".
The Iranian Kurdish refugee Reza Barati was killed - detention centre employees say he had a head wound and cuts to his neck and that he was not involved in the protests at all and must have been dragged from his room. A strong theme of the recent protests has been to mourn his death – for example there were candle light vigils at 700 places around the country on Sunday 23 February – and to organise to bring down those responsible, including the direct perpetrators, Immigration Minister Morrison and this government that is set on its path of brutalising and demonising asylum seekers. To achieve those goals, there will need to be an unprecedented wave of organising and support from within the labour movement.
Video of Melbourne rally here.