Free Speech Victoria

It’s consistent with my luck, that I’m speaking to you through teeth that have just suffered a dental trauma. SPEECH, free or otherwise is a little awkward for me, I might be slow, I hope you can bear it.

Now, to account for myself. In 2001, I set up “Spare Rooms for Refugees” I also smuggled letters into Nauru and established contact with many of the detainees there. Through them we got a near complete list of names which we distributed in groups of five to concerned Australians and the letter writing began.

In those early days I lobbied Canberra bureaucrats and the press daily as I learned the conditions, mistreatments and mistranslations the detainees were suffering.

My distress rose as it dawned on me that our press was not as interested in reporting or getting to Nauru as I was. I’d discovered a long but legal way of getting there. It required flights from New Zealand to Fiji, then Kiribas, and allowed a three day layover in Nauru.

At last, Four Corners producers asked me to assist a bright British journalist. She would make a one hour documentary called “The Pacific Solution” for a world audience, and Four Corners were to air it here on the ABC.

In June 2002, armed with secret contacts and cameras, and the story that we were half-cocked housewives on a charity mission, we set off to Nauru. At first, we were believed. We got into both of the monstrous camps and were escorted on a very grim tour. The misery of that place haunts me still. Imagine a building project and a makeshift army camp, streets of it set out on a white hot baking tray. Men crisping as they lay on stretcher beds all day, like the injured they were. Tiny pale wrapped women confined to even smaller quarters, the nauseating toilets and the obscenity of a giant generator that made this madness a possibility. Hell should be chaos, not organized like this one. Cruelty like this really costs.

At the time I was there it was admitted that $400 per day per detainee was the tariff, or “units” if you prefer Mr Ruddock’s terminology. “Unit costs” rise, he informed us, when numbers dwindle, as they indeed did over four years. In Nauru I was eventually arrested, I was even briefly assaulted.

Free SPEECH was forbidden when I returned, as the air date for the BBC was held over until September. Both networks lectured me long and hard that if I spoke I might even jeopardize the film’s viability on air. The film received glowing reviews in Britain especially from John Pilger but it wasn’t until December that Four Corners rather shamefacedly said they would not air it. The ABC also made their footage used in the film too expensive for SBS and the commercials to buy it. Effectively, I’d had my tongue lasered.

However, I still had about 70 letters I’d gathered from nervous hands in Nauru. These weren’t the sort of letters the prisoners felt were secure enough to send by post, and they were always reluctant to complain about their hosts. But I implored them. The letters detailed their mistreatment at the hands of our navy and military in their removal from boats and from our all important Australian waters.

I had all the letters translated, and with some lawyers we made a report called “Soldiers, Sailors and Asylum Seekers”. Our findings and their speech. It was launched by Carmen Lawrence and was universally ignored except by SBS. Since then I’ve helped journalists with countless stories that were cut short or washed away. Free Speech isn’t all that useful or interesting when no-one wants to hear.

I will never forget those discarded young Hazara men in Nauru. I can’t forget their dignity and subtlety, and I am still burdened with the stories they’ve entrusted me with. They’re still locked up.

There is no shortage of Free Speech in Australia. If you’re with the Government, you’re rolling in it, you can lie, distort, make ads, spin and rant as unaccountably as any bigot could wish. We, who shyly regard ourselves as humanitarians have been abandoned by the Labor Party, and possibly the High Court. I think we’re at sea. We are marooned on another pitiless, crude and poorly managed island – AUSTRALIA. I am comforted by you to celebrate and drink to an older notion of free speech, especially at a time when our legislators are gorging themselves on laws that won’t tolerate it.

Another intolerable and dying Australian tradition of rewarding failure or the underdog has been resuscitated here tonight. You’re honouring my aim and not my success as there has been so little. I very humbly accept your kindness.

Under One Roof

Under One Roof as a title has for me a wistful, retrospective air about it. It evokes nostalgia for a time when “Universal Human Rights” was a theme we all felt we were working towards, not backing away from.

Times change, and we seem to have descended to a place where even the word “human” has a suspicious ring to it. Where expressions like “Reale Politikue” and in the “Real world” and “bottom line” are the expressions we use to show how pragmatic, hard-line and contemptuous we’ve become.

The title Under One Roof implies an agreed need to share and a sense of obligation to protect and shelter others.

Spare Rooms for Refugees expressed a similarly quaint and buoyant attitude. And I’m sure that’s why I’ve been asked to open this exhibition in this room, under this roof. But as you know, we don’t really belong in Australia. We belong in “La La Land” (another expression used by John Howard) to ridicule our illusions about the foundations of this Australian household. All the familiar clutter of notions and beliefs we’ve nurtured about ourselves.

The people in power today, must have their revenge on people like the ones in this room and their assault on asylum seekers is a way of cutting us down to size, of undermining what I thought were the underpinnings and the satisfactions of living here.

The misanthropy this government has promoted has adhered rather well to Australians, and our new acquisition indifference is proof that this government has changed us. Australia has by no means had a blameless history but it has probably through luck had a relatively innocent life to date.

And innocence is what I really want to talk about. Innocence can’t be recreated, like virginity once lost it’s forever. I resent the needless abandonment of innocence. I wish I hadn’t been an angry lobbyist for four years. I wish I’d been more effective and I felt powerless.

Which brought me back to art. I am an artist too and I spent a large part of last year painting my heart out over asylum seekers, their fate in the SEIV X and in this country.

Like humanitarians, artists don’t get the welcome mat around here much anymore. They’re not really constructive people, they’re mostly carping in gutters or performing pretentious stunts at some government funded swill that no-one cares about.

But look around you, look at the art these artists have produced, it’s heart-breaking and it’s intelligent. They are guiding you back to your sensitivities, your empathies and your desire to protect and care for what is after all our own species. Us.

This government has tried to persuade us that we don’t share and that we’re not obliged by our own nature to be concerned for these people. But maybe art is pragmatic and constructive after all, perhaps it can repair some of the damage, it won’t return us to innocence, but it might do better. It might reveal and renew our right to care, to shelter and nourish our sense of belonging to human kind.

The New – In Sad Conclusion

So now we are at war. Well, some people enjoy that sort of thing.

I will never recover the love that I had for my country. My Government dumped the rescued asylum seekers of Tampa in a human warehouse in a 3rd World Desert Island. They highjacked nearly 440 drowned human beings. They squeezed them into the Naval Ship Manoora and lied to them about their fates. They enclosed them in wire and filed them away. Away from us, away from loved ones, lawyers or journalists.

Our Government’s dull genius was to invent a lucrative growth industry for security guards, clerks and professional caretakers. When I was in Nauru they seemed more numerous than the detainees.

Mr Ruddock’s lengthy processing gave the department time to concoct spurious justifications for rejecting the asylum claims of almost every Afghan, with only a few non Pashtun exceptions.

Right now, they are threatened with another ominous “removal” within 28 days. “Where are we going?” the detainees ask. They believe it to be Afghanistan. I hope it’s Christmas Island.

They have written, humbly requesting tents and perhaps some tradesman’s tools, because they don’t have homes to go to. Or they’re too ashamed to seek out family who’d borrowed money on their behalves. Some detainees think that with a few tools they might be able to return to Iran, for paid work or slavery on Iranian building sites, where they’d been bullied and robbed before. Their letters say quietly what Mr Ruddock knows – “We will starve.”

DIMIA has sent these poor Hazara back to Afghanistan, where whole villages have new occupiers and houses new occupants, and forgotten warlords have resurfaced, and nothing and everything is changed. Afghanistan is laced with mines and cluster bombs. Our military has blown it up like biscuits.

What possible damage can the shipwrecked, worn, sad, war ravaged souls on Nauru, do to our country? There are now less than 450 detainees on Nauru and almost as many Australian Detention Centre staff. There is a similar story in Manus where there are only seven detainees.

I still see the beautiful pale flock of Afghan women in Nauru. Our Government will herd them to Kabul, while their husbands sob their hearts out on our heartless temporary protection visas in Australia? Those women’s deaths are imminent. Their children’s are a certainty.

Mohammed, Ali and my other friends have told me they would rather die than return, because they would have to murder, loot and rob, to survive.

They write that they are sorry to waste my time, and they are sorry to trouble me.

I will never forget those young Hazara men. I think of them and I think of their dignity, their subtlety. I will never forgive those who sacrificed them. These men are the YOUNG DEAD and who can claim that we haven’t killed them?

If you find my language emotive or unfounded, think of Payadar – a man with five children, returned to Afghanistan still writing to my mother, living out of doors in Kabul, despairing of any place to spend the rest of his life.

Or Mohammed Mehdi, ID No. 105, now in Kabul, he knows I’m trying to send him money and references for a job, and yet I haven’t heard from him since his last email on 27th January. In Nauru he took enormous personal risks for me and later for Sarah. Daily, he taught English, prepared letters and translations, he poured over rejection letters, critiquing their inconsistencies, errors and malign findings. It was all to cost him dearly. But if anyone was going to survive it would be him, I told myself, he was sensitive, highly intelligent, skilled and a diplomat, and yet where is he?

Here is his letter from Kabul of 27 January 2003 – Mohammed Mehdi. He says:

“The police stopped our bus in a remote desert and got us out of the bus. Checking our pockets and luggage they took all of our money. As I resisted they started beating, slapping and kicking me. Then they forced me to back into the bus and went away.

Anyhow I have go through all these hardships and difficulties here in Kabul. And at the moment I am teaching English Language at this private Educational Center which can hardly allow living from hand to mouth. I can have lesser time to study and fewer facilities to work. Kabul is very much overpopulated and everything is very much expensive making many basic things inaccessible for most of its populations. It is very much insecure as well. No one feels secure at nights at the homes and days in the streets and roads. Here is always a fear existing in every one’s life fear of rocket attacks from the mountains surrounding Kabul and fears of lootings and robberies at nights and on the days. A large number of Kabulis spend their whole nights guarding their streets and their houses.

There are gangs of armed thieves who enter the houses in groups and take away everything.

This is the situation in Kabul. The security situation in the other provinces is much worse. Not only lootings and robberies are something usual everywhere but armed groups are competing with each other to gain more controls of the cities, villages and towns. So far three representatives of the transitional administration have been refused entry in my hometown Jaghoori. It is ruled by the armed groups controlling different parts of it.”


I am proud that I assisted the documentary, I am as in awe of the BBC as I am ashamed of the ABC, this government, this opposition and this Australian media.

I knew many of the detainees on Nauru by letter and fax. My attempted sponsorship of Mohammed Mehdi enabled that and I was able to collect names, stories and news via fax and letters from Nauru.

Most of my efforts to share the information I was getting were gracelessly ignored by Australian media. These were claims of hunger, thirst, inadequate accommodation, jailings, riot, missing people and drownings.

The eloquence and pain of their letters was always commented on, but never put into print. I had received some of John Pace’s documents for Amnesty that alleged brutality, mistreatment, deprivation or the deliberate spiking of food for children with chilli or salt, humiliation, beatings and abuse, designed to get the people to leave the boats of rescue like the Tampa and to comply with their aggressive captors, our SAS, and our defence forces and submit their freedom and their fates to cruel detention in the care of the carrion feeders, the IOM and the Nauru government, intent on turning these detainees into dollars; the new Pacific Perversion. Amnesty, for their own reasons, did not release the documents they had collected, translated and studied in London. I needed to get the accounts myself, they wouldn’t be mailed to me, I had to go to Nauru myself.

Carmen Lawrence helped Spare Rooms for Refugees by launching our report “Soldiers, Sailors and Asylum Seekers”, and still it sank without trace. The media were inert yet again to scandal or conscience. “Soldiers, Sailors and Asylum Seekers” is based on the 60 handwritten accounts in English and Dari that I collected personally with Sarah Macdonald. They dovetail with the Amnesty accounts, the stories fit.

For over a month in the case of the Tampa group the detainees were subjected to the violence and coercive behaviour of our SAS and the Navy. When our Prime Minister praises our precious SAS and Navy, I see bullies, not heroes.

Nauru’s own people suffer from violence, alcoholism and obesity, they seemed sullen and depressed but never stupid, they know they’ve been insulted and they know there’s worse to come.

Living, whether you’re a Nauruan or an Australian requires you to have the possibility of attaining self-respect. Refugees and Asylum Seekers are being deprived of theirs, but then so are we, the quality of any life depends on our qualities of humanness and respect for others. Fragile, sad asylum seekers need more than sustenance, and so do we.

In the BBC’s documentary “The Pacific Solution” Sarah Macdonald reads from those handwritten documents, boldly stating the brutalities Nauru’s detainees claimed to have experienced. No Australian journalist would quote them, the defence forces are very popular since East Timor and the ABC told me these were mere “allegations” against the SAS, the Navy and Army. She was quite relaxed about accusing our Government’s military of the use of electric truncheons, brutality and even torture.

Back in June, Sarah Macdonald of the BBC introduced herself to me and spoke of her wish to get to Nauru, and to use my help.

While I was thinking about it, she said dryly “Your government is so corrupt it reminds me of the last days of the John Major government – the BBC is fascinated by your appalling politics.”

I liked her immediately and as I’d found out about a lengthy pacific air ticket that allowed three days transit visit to Nauru without a visa, I said “let’s go!” I had been unable to persuade any Australian journalist to get there with that ticket, when they whined about Australia’s visa restrictions.

We don’t live under an extreme conservative government, we live under an authoritarian, corrupt and ruthless government, and John Pilger, who reviewed and recommended Sarah’s BBC production, called our government extremist, and it is. Four Corners did not screen “The Pacific Solution”. They said they’d done their three asylum seeker stories.


Nauru

Nauru is a sick little country, it’s an exemplary model of unsustainability and the Pacific Perversion known as a policy is it’s perfect accompaniment. If turning detainees into dollars is going to be the new industry to emerge in this already ominous century then living well or in good conscience as Australians is an unsustainable wish. Australian kindness and fairness is eroded and vanishing like so many dusty memories. We’ve also depleted other resources, the respect of other countries, even tiny Pacific ones like Nauru that we’ve bribed and humiliated, and who now hate us for it.

The Pacific Solution is about degrading the resources of people, as much as it’s about waste, and we are wasting far more than the $500 million the Pacific Perversion is priced at over $400 per day per detainee, most of them have had two Christmases there, cruelty like this really costs.

Sick countries are always prey to parasites and we’ve supplied an army of unwitting carrion feeders, builders, security guards, APS officers, DIMIA officers, the International Organization for Migration (the IOM), electricians, telephone engineers, mechanical engineers, plumbers, psychologists, translators, doctors, DIMIA staff. These happy bottom feeders are trying to turn what should not be into a reality. And they are. They’ve constructed a Hell in a white hot baking tray. Hell should be chaos, not organised like this one. And no matter how unsustainable, the ugly project grinds on.

The Pacific Solution is terminal, but when it dies, we’ll have to keep repairing Nauru’s only source of water, a broken-down desalination plant and its electricity supply, because Nauruans share a single fate they will become environmental refugees. And they’ll be ours. Wages, even public service wages are mostly unpaid in Nauru, banks are mostly closed, Kiribatis (the workers of Nauru) are returning home after careers of 20 years in Nauru. The local Chinese are also departing, their shops are raised and they feel unsafe, and threatened.

There is no natural port or harbour to bring in goods. After four months, the Australian Government realised it must fly in supplies from Brisbane each fortnight if it wanted to keep order or staff. Petrol is siphoned from any parked cars, water is stolen, plants won’t grow, phosphate dust coats everything, telephones don’t work, electricity is rationed, sewerage seeps into the coral and flows back in from the sea.

Our money is keeping the airline in the black, it services the whole of the Pacific, when our solution vanishes, so will the airline that brings supplies, aid and the outside world.

For the moment we pay Nauru’s shipping and phone bills, its medical supplies and the many hospital bills of some of its corrupt ministers who choose our private hospitals for their superior care, and their secrecy.

The film the Pacific Solution was made by the BBC and has been screened on all of its networks, it’s been seen by millions, lauded by journalists like John Pilger, and produced a very split but interesting viewer reaction. I assisted this film because Four Corners asked me to. I believed them when they said they’d buy it from the BBC. The ABC declined the program. The nervous producers told me they’d done “three asylum seeker stories”.

So, now, at last we are at war. Mr Howard has become remarkably sanguine, and is newly prepared to accept the Iraqi refugees this new and improved Gulf War will generate. And what sort of refugees will these be? They’ll be Saddam’s unemployed secret police or members of his republican guard. We’ll welcome them and toss them into the midst of the already wrecked temporarily protected Iraqis they used to enjoy persecuting. It’s grotesque.

Last night we sat with Iraqis who’d spent seven years in Saudi Arabian refugee camps – abandoned there because they’d had the blind faith to believe the blandishments of George Bush Senior. They’d taken part in the uprising against Saddam that America said would be in their interests to provoke.

In their company, we met a more recent refugee, his temporary protection visa has nearly expired, but his wife and children languish in Nauru. He hasn’t seen them in seven years.

We helped Bronwyn Adcock get into Nauru in January for SBS. She’s still in shock from what she learned there. She feels she failed because her story didn’t unsettle anyone. She used the same trick of travelling as a transit passenger to get into Nauru, legally but briefly. Since our visits, that loophole has been closed, as we learned to our cost last week when a group of lawyers, translators and doctors were turned back from Nauru, unable to use the only useful but valid parts of their tickets to enter Nauru. We’d subsidised this further failure. I feel as crumpled as the hundreds of Nauru letters that I’ve received and filed over 18 months. I feel that I’ve never worked so hard for so little success.

Many of the sufferers of Nauru’s camps were the best and brightest of their former homes. Like all refugees they could have revivified and enriched our country and sent direct aid, hope and aspiration to their loved ones left behind. Those same loved ones who sacrificed all to get their young out of perpetual trouble. Out into a fair and democratic world, the “free world” as George Bush calls it or “Tomorrowland” as Walt Disney did before him, only to find that freedom and tomorrow belong only to those who already have possession of them.

Nauru’s own people suffer from violence, alcoholism and obesity, they seemed sullen and depressed but never stupid, they know they’ve been insulted and they know there’s worse to come.

Living, whether you’re a Nauruan or an Australian requires you to have the possibility of attaining self-respect. Refugees and Asylum Seekers are being deprived of theirs, but then so are we, the quality of any life depends on our qualities of humanness and respect for others.

Fragile, sad asylum seekers, need more than sustenance, and so do we.

Speech For The Southern Women’s Association

So now we are at war. Well, some people enjoy that sort of thing.

I will never recover the love that I had for my country. My Government dumped the rescued asylum seekers of Tampa in a human warehouse in a 3rd World Desert Island. They highjacked nearly 440 drowned human beings. They squeezed them into the Naval Ship Manoora and lied to them about their fates. They enclosed them in wire and filed them away. Away from us, away from loved ones, lawyers or journalists.

Our Government’s dull genius was to invent a lucrative growth industry for security guards, clerks and professional caretakers. When I was in Nauru they seemed more numerous than the detainees.

Mr Ruddock’s lengthy processing gave the department time to concoct spurious justifications for rejecting the asylum claims of almost every Afghan, with only a few non Pashtun exceptions.

Right now, they are threatened with non-voluntary “removal”.

They have written, humbly requesting tents and perhaps some tradesman’s tools, because they don’t have homes to go to. Or they’re too ashamed to seek out family who’d borrowed money on their behalves. Some detainees think that with a few tools they might be able to return to Iran, for paid work or slavery on Iranian building sites, where they’d been bullied and robbed before. Their letters say quietly what Mr Ruddock knows – “We will starve.”

DIMIA has sent these poor Hazara back to Afghanistan, where whole villages have new occupiers and houses new occupants, and forgotten warlords have resurfaced, and nothing and everything is changed. Afghanistan is laced with mines and cluster bombs. Our military has blown it up like biscuits.

What possible damage can the shipwrecked, worn, sad, war ravaged souls on Nauru, do to our country? There are now less than 450 detainees on Nauru and almost as many Australian Detention Centre staff. There is a similar story in Manus where there are only seven detainees.

I still see the beautiful pale flock of Afghan women in Nauru. Our Government will herd them to Kabul, while their husbands sob their hearts out on our heartless temporary protection visas in Australia? Those women’s deaths are imminent. Their children’s are a certainty.

Mohammed, Ali and my other friends have told me they would rather die than return, because they would have to murder, loot and rob, to survive.

They write that they are sorry to waste my time, and they are sorry to trouble me.

I will never forget those young Hazara men. I think of them and I think of their dignity, their subtlety. I will never forgive those who sacrificed them. These men are the YOUNG DEAD and who can claim that we haven’t killed them?

If you find my language emotive or unfounded, think of Payadar – a man with five children, returned to Afghanistan still writing to my mother, living out of doors in Kabul, despairing of any place to spend the rest of his life.

Or Mohammed Mehdi, ID No. 105, now in Kabul, he knows I’m trying to send him money and references for a job, and yet I haven’t heard from him since his last email on 27th January. In Nauru he took enormous personal risks for me and later for Sarah. Daily, he taught English, prepared letters and translations, he poured over rejection letters, critiquing their inconsistencies, errors and malign findings. It was all to cost him dearly. But if anyone was going to survive it would be him, I told myself, he was sensitive, highly intelligent, skilled and a diplomat, and yet where is he?

Here is his letter from Kabul of 27 January 2003 – Mohammed Mehdi. He says:

“The police stopped our bus in a remote desert and got us out of the bus. Checking our pockets and luggage they took all of our money. As I resisted they started beating, slapping and kicking me. Then they forced me to back into the bus and went away.

Anyhow I have go through all these hardships and difficulties here in Kabul. And at the moment I am teaching English Language at this private Educational Center which can hardly allow living from hand to mouth. I can have lesser time to study and fewer facilities to work. Kabul is very much overpopulated and everything is very much expensive making many basic things inaccessible for most of its populations. It is very much insecure as well. No one feels secure at nights at the homes and days in the streets and roads. Here is always a fear existing in every one’s life fear of rocket attacks from the mountains surrounding Kabul and fears of lootings and robberies at nights and on the days. A large number of Kabulis spend their whole nights guarding their streets and their houses.

There are gangs of armed thieves who enter the houses in groups and take away everything.

This is the situation in Kabul. The security situation in the other provinces is much worse. Not only lootings and robberies are something usual everywhere but armed groups are competing with each other to gain more controls of the cities, villages and towns. So far three representatives of the transitional administration have been refused entry in my hometown Jaghoori. It is ruled by the armed groups controlling different parts of it.”


I am proud that I assisted the documentary, I am as in awe of the BBC as I am ashamed of the ABC, this government, this opposition and this Australian media.

I knew many of the detainees on Nauru by letter and fax. My attempted sponsorship of Mohammed Mehdi enabled that and I was able to collect names, stories and news via fax and letters from Nauru.

Most of my efforts to share the information I was getting were gracelessly ignored by Australian media. These were claims of hunger, thirst, inadequate accommodation, jailings, riot, missing people and drownings.

The eloquence and pain of their letters was always commented on, but never put into print. I had received some of John Pace’s documents for Amnesty that alleged brutality, mistreatment, deprivation or the deliberate spiking of food for children with chilli or salt, humiliation, beatings and abuse, designed to get the people to leave the boats of rescue like the Tampa and to comply with their aggressive captors, our SAS, and our defence forces and submit their freedom and their fates to cruel detention in the care of the carrion feeders, the IOM and the Nauru government, intent on turning these detainees into dollars; the new Pacific Perversion. Amnesty, for their own reasons, did not release the documents they had collected, translated and studied in London. I needed to get the accounts myself, they wouldn’t be mailed to me, I had to go to Nauru myself.

Carmen Lawrence helped Spare Rooms for Refugees by launching our report “Soldiers, Sailors and Asylum Seekers”, and still it sank without trace. The media were inert yet again to scandal or conscience. “Soldiers, Sailors and Asylum Seekers” is based on the 60 handwritten accounts in English and Dari that I collected personally with Sarah Macdonald. They dovetail with the Amnesty accounts, the stories fit.

For over a month in the case of the Tampa group the detainees were subjected to the violence and coercive behaviour of our SAS and the Navy. When our Prime Minister praises our precious SAS and Navy, I see bullies, not heroes.

Nauru’s own people suffer from violence, alcoholism and obesity, they seemed sullen and depressed but never stupid, they know they’ve been insulted and they know there’s worse to come.

Living, whether you’re a Nauruan or an Australian requires you to have the possibility of attaining self-respect. Refugees and Asylum Seekers are being deprived of theirs, but then so are we, the quality of any life depends on our qualities of humanness and respect for others. Fragile, sad asylum seekers need more than sustenance, and so do we.

In the BBC’s documentary “The Pacific Solution” Sarah Macdonald reads from those handwritten documents, boldly stating the brutalities Nauru’s detainees claimed to have experienced. No Australian journalist would quote them, the defence forces are very popular since East Timor and the ABC told me these were mere “allegations” against the SAS, the Navy and Army. She was quite relaxed about accusing our Government’s military of the use of electric truncheons, brutality and even torture.

Back in June, Sarah Macdonald of the BBC introduced herself to me and spoke of her wish to get to Nauru, and to use my help.

While I was thinking about it, she said dryly “Your government is so corrupt it reminds me of the last days of the John Major government – the BBC is fascinated by your appalling politics.”

I liked her immediately and as I’d found out about a lengthy pacific air ticket that allowed three days transit visit to Nauru without a visa, I said “let’s go!” I had been unable to persuade any Australian journalist to get there with that ticket, when they whined about Australia’s visa restrictions.

We don’t live under an extreme conservative government, we live under an authoritarian, corrupt and ruthless government, and John Pilger, who reviewed and recommended Sarah’s BBC production, called our government extremist, and it is. Four Corners did not screen “The Pacific Solution”. They said they’d done their three asylum seeker stories.


Nauru

Nauru is a sick little country, it’s an exemplary model of unsustainability and the Pacific Perversion known as a policy is it’s perfect accompaniment. If turning detainees into dollars is going to be the new industry to emerge in this already ominous century then living well or in good conscience as Australians is an unsustainable wish. Australian kindness and fairness is eroded and vanishing like so many dusty memories. We’ve also depleted other resources, the respect of other countries, even tiny Pacific ones like Nauru that we’ve bribed and humiliated, and who now hate us for it.

The Pacific Solution is about degrading the resources of people, as much as it’s about waste, and we are wasting far more than the $500 million the Pacific Perversion is priced at over $400 per day per detainee, most of them have had two Christmases there, cruelty like this really costs.

Sick countries are always prey to parasites and we’ve supplied an army of unwitting carrion feeders, builders, security guards, APS officers, DIMIA officers, the International Organization for Migration (the IOM), electricians, telephone engineers, mechanical engineers, plumbers, psychologists, translators, doctors, DIMIA staff. These happy bottom feeders are trying to turn what should not be into a reality. And they are. They’ve constructed a Hell in a white hot baking tray. Hell should be chaos, not organised like this one. And no matter how unsustainable, the ugly project grinds on.

The Pacific Solution is terminal, but when it dies, we’ll have to keep repairing Nauru’s only source of water, a broken-down desalination plant and its electricity supply, because Nauruans share a single fate they will become environmental refugees. And they’ll be ours. Wages, even public service wages are mostly unpaid in Nauru, banks are mostly closed, Kiribatis (the workers of Nauru) are returning home after careers of 20 years in Nauru. The local Chinese are also departing, their shops are raised and they feel unsafe, and threatened.

There is no natural port or harbour to bring in goods. After four months, the Australian Government realised it must fly in supplies from Brisbane each fortnight if it wanted to keep order or staff. Petrol is siphoned from any parked cars, water is stolen, plants won’t grow, phosphate dust coats everything, telephones don’t work, electricity is rationed, sewerage seeps into the coral and flows back in from the sea.

Our money is keeping the airline in the black, it services the whole of the Pacific, when our solution vanishes, so will the airline that brings supplies, aid and the outside world.

For the moment we pay Nauru’s shipping and phone bills, its medical supplies and the many hospital bills of some of its corrupt ministers who choose our private hospitals for their superior care, and their secrecy.

The film the Pacific Solution was made by the BBC and has been screened on all of its networks, it’s been seen by millions, lauded by journalists like John Pilger, and produced a very split but interesting viewer reaction. I assisted this film because Four Corners asked me to. I believed them when they said they’d buy it from the BBC. The ABC declined the program. The nervous producers told me they’d done “three asylum seeker stories”.

So, now, at last we are at war. Mr Howard has become remarkably sanguine, and is newly prepared to accept the Iraqi refugees this new and improved Gulf War will generate. And what sort of refugees will these be? They’ll be Saddam’s unemployed secret police or members of his republican guard. We’ll welcome them and toss them into the midst of the already wrecked temporarily protected Iraqis they used to enjoy persecuting. It’s grotesque.

Last night we sat with Iraqis who’d spent seven years in Saudi Arabian refugee camps – abandoned there because they’d had the blind faith to believe the blandishments of George Bush Senior. They’d taken part in the uprising against Saddam that America said would be in their interests to provoke.

In their company, we met a more recent refugee, his temporary protection visa has nearly expired, but his wife and children languish in Nauru. He hasn’t seen them in seven years.

We helped Bronwyn Adcock get into Nauru in January for SBS. She’s still in shock from what she learned there. She feels she failed because her story didn’t unsettle anyone. She used the same trick of travelling as a transit passenger to get into Nauru, legally but briefly. Since our visits, that loophole has been closed, as we learned to our cost last week when a group of lawyers, translators and doctors were turned back from Nauru, unable to use the only useful but valid parts of their tickets to enter Nauru. We’d subsidised this further failure. I feel as crumpled as the hundreds of Nauru letters that I’ve received and filed over 18 months. I feel that I’ve never worked so hard for so little success.

Many of the sufferers of Nauru’s camps were the best and brightest of their former homes. Like all refugees they could have revivified and enriched our country and sent direct aid, hope and aspiration to their loved ones left behind. Those same loved ones who sacrificed all to get their young out of perpetual trouble. Out into a fair and democratic world, the “free world” as George Bush calls it or “Tomorrowland” as Walt Disney did before him, only to find that freedom and tomorrow belong only to those who already have possession of them.

Nauru’s own people suffer from violence, alcoholism and obesity, they seemed sullen and depressed but never stupid, they know they’ve been insulted and they know there’s worse to come.

Living, whether you’re a Nauruan or an Australian requires you to have the possibility of attaining self-respect. Refugees and Asylum Seekers are being deprived of theirs, but then so are we, the quality of any life depends on our qualities of humanness and respect for others.

Fragile, sad asylum seekers, need more than sustenance, and so do we.

Shepparton Art Gallery – April 2006

I gave up my art practice, for four years, I decided my activism on behalf of refugees was the only pursuit of any value to me. It was an uncharacteristic choice as I’ve always been an obsessive maker of objects and images. Oddly, the subject of refugees brought me back to visual art but in an utterly altered way.

It started with an exhibition at Gabrielle Pizzi’s. I decided to paint 353 faces in the water, each representing one of the drowned asylum seekers of the SIEV-X disaster of 2001. Since then so many other paintings and sculptures about asylum seekers and their travails have followed. I have no other subject. Their narratives and to some extent their lives have transformed mine. I am attempting to both fictionalize and document at the same time, some of the stories of their lives and culture for their sakes and for mine.

Many of the families in Shepparton are people from the Hazara ethnic group, that my mother and I wrote to for sometimes up to 3½ years. I met some of them when I was researcher for a BBC production on the “Pacific Solution”. We spent three days there. I haven’t shed any of the connections I made with those detainees, and to see some of them settling happily, at last, into life in Shepparton still feels like a miracle.

Whilst they were in Nauru, I encouraged their needlework and doll-making, I was always moved and fascinated by the results. Hazara women sew in tiny geometric designs. Their skills are very impressive, and their mud houses were covered in the items of their handiwork and their weaving.

I’d like to embolden them a little, to alter the scale of it, and to change its context somewhat, will, I know help them to express their culture and art, and to feel valued, stimulated and extended. The exchange of ideas and techniques between sewers will be of an enormous benefit to the Hazara women who have so little status here.

I know that this project will allow us to make something very hybrid, something that is inventive and at the same time traditional. We’ll make the cushions and floor cloths of a typical Afghani meal but we’ll transform it, enlarge it, and make it about its new location – Shepparton.

Schizophrenic Saturday

Friday had been a brilliant day for our purposes, we were reeling. The place was so porous, people told us so much both wittingly and unwittingly. We’d had a few hours at the Topside Camp. I had met Mohammed. It was our first face to face meeting.

We’d been told the stories of the maltreatment of each boatload at the hands of the Australian Defence Forces. The stories were abundant. I said please write tonight. I’ll never get to speak to you all. These were the stories at last – that Amnesty had – but had remained silent about. The stories that I had hints of through eight months of writing letters in Australia, bits of the stories, they were impossible to piece together but they were what drove me to come here. I knew that there was absolutely no trust from these people with any of the staff, Australian, Afghan, American – none.

With Chubb Security only a few metres away we filmed and I gave them my camera for overnight photo taking. All was well! They said they’d never loaded a film, I had to teach them. They were quick learners.

Until – The following day. Instead of being met by a couple of the staff we were met by Australia’s Consul-General and Cy Winter, the head of the IOM operation there (the camp manager). He must have baulked when Sarah had asked to take a few photos, and my list of names had people who’d lost family members. His suspicions were aroused. Wham! We were hit with every threat they could invent.

Cy said he wasn’t going to have me come here and stir things up. He was attempting to start excursions for detainees around Nauru, and things were sensitive. I said “How could I spoil that?” He threatened me with nonsense about Nauru people objecting to my interference. I said they have not objected to my visit. They are objecting to you obstructing my visit nor the detainees.

Then all of a sudden, my visa became the issue, I’d misused my visa. I had another “purpose”. Sarah said we don’t have visas, we’re here in transit. They couldn’t be told that. I said I’m here to visit, which is what I said on my immigration card – what else am I doing? I’m visiting friends actually, not you. My friends in detention. He, Cy would personally call the Nauruan Police, because they’d be very angry with me and they’d put me in jail and Nauruan jail was unpredictable, scary, and who knows when I’d get out, so there. It was childish.

“Well, I said, to the Consul-General you’d help me wouldn’t you?” “Oh yes” he was having a hard time. He didn’t enjoy threatening us. But Cy Winter did. He said “You don’t know what you’re getting into.” That I’d come along on my “stupid” own, I was an “amateur, an absolute amateur”, “no-one from nowhere”, not from an NGO or any organisation, hoist up on my “stupid little white horse” that I knew absolutely nothing – and so it went on. He was like a bent head-prefect.

I argued. I said I wanted to take photos of family members whose husbands hadn’t seen wives or kids for 2 ½ years, they’d been separated, the husbands are wrecks, the wives are wrecks. “There is a husband with a son who is so sick, with heart problems, leg problems. No wife, no brothers and sisters, that all of their lives are almost unendurable. For them, what they craved was a photo of them.”

I wanted photos too. Faces, to show Australians, these are the people we’re tormenting. I began to cry. Cy Winter continued that he’d be delighted to jail me, if I took one photo. I asked “Why does this worry you, when you’ve invited journalists here?” He roared at me. “That’s a lie, who told you that?” “Russell Skelton, at the Age newspaper.” He expostulated, he blew up, he blazed red, all for the benefit of the Consul-General, I suspected. “I have never invited journalists here, I’m doing serious work here and I’m not having it disrupted by etc. etc.” Later, I checked, “yes he invited me”, said Russell Skelton – “I’ve got him on tape – twice.”

Cy and the Consul-General continued to tell me that I could be breaching my visa, that Nauru would take a dim view of me, I could get “stuck” in jail, so I said to the Consul-General “But, you’d get me out, wouldn’t you?” “Yes, yes, but it can be difficult, THEY can be unpredictable you know ….” They’d seen it happen, people had been held etc. I said I want to visit again today. I have money, goods, clothes, letters and toys to give to people there and they have a right to see me, they’ve written me letters. I wanted the letters and I expected that I be allowed to pick them up.

“Okay, you can have one hour in each camp, you’re going to be escorted by these guys, you are taking up their unpaid time off, and then that’s it.” I said “No, the Afghan ladies want to talk to me, so do the Iraqis” etc. “You’re not here to have meetings” he sneered, and the diatribe recommenced.

I was actually too bored to be distracted into launching into a real debate. I was by now scared too, they’d been successful there. “Okay”, I said. We went to Statehouse, the Iraqi camp, and were assailed by fretful Iraqis at the gates. “Help us, they tried to kill us” etc. “You mean the ADF?” I asked. “They hurt us they beat us.” “But”, I said, you told Amnesty to keep the stories quiet.” “No” they remonstrated. “Well, I was told otherwise. Please write it down, give it to me and I’ll come back tomorrow and get your letters, they won’t let me stay.” They wanted to tell me about the SAS and the Manoora the Australian Navy ship and the degradations they had had meted out on those 23 days on board.

The Iraqi men at the gate had the wild look of people who were experiencing shock. They were restless, moving, ceaselessly talking. I was prevented from talking to them. I was led into a room, Sarah stayed in the other, about five women and one man from my list were produced. I spoke to them through the translator, I gave them their husband’s money, letters, news. Each woman cried, asked me when this would end.

They were young, pretty, polite and defenceless. I should have asked what they wanted me to tell people in Australia? But I didn’t dare. The translators were kind but the hour was over …

On to Topside Camp. We were now greeted by Cy Winter himself. IOM Chief, this time with a smile I didn’t trust. “You want to see what we do here? You want a tour of the camp?” I didn’t want to sacrifice my hour with Mohammed and the others for his tour, which would be managed, that was clear. I didn’t want to be forced to like him, that’s what he did to everyone else. He was issuing new edicts, “C’mon you want your visit. I’m giving it to you!” Was this generous? It was delivered in a truculent, challenging way. “But you have to bring your money with you, you’re going to buy some art. We’ve got an art show, the asylum seekers do a lot of craft and art here, we help them etc.” The PR was flowing now, no threats at all, just honey.

Cy Winter, the ruler of this camp, the Ruler of the Menen Hotel/Palace, where all the workers in this asylum seeker industry worked and hid out, detached from the pain of the place. It was a thriving business, there were more workers, administrators, translators, Chubb Security, psychiatrists, builders, carpenters, technicians, electricians, UNHCR, psychologists, doctors, teachers, cooks, DIMIA staff, APS staff and more, enough to run a country. I could not help but see them as carrion feeders, they were numerous, like parasites in spite of any good intentions they had or told themselves they had.

The camps are a country within a country. Nauru itself did not count to anybody. This new white population were defensive about their work. It was lucrative, builders and other staff told us they earned in excess of $5,000 a week, with perks. The staff is rotated, they are liberal with trips back home to Australia or other countries of origin. There must in excess of 1500 workers to 1500 detainees. They had strict contracts that forbade discussion of Nauru to anyone, and yet they were telling us appalling stories.

These people, well intentioned as they might have set out to be, were now the colonisers of Nauru. The IOM who had run refugee camps of 50,000 and more, were now running prisons on a desert island. And the last thing they wanted to do was recognise that.

Cy Winter lives high above everyone else. He’s American, his living quarters are high up in the hotel. He’s high anyway: about seven feet tall, lean, tanned, almost good-looking with clear, cold eyes. With long hair he would look Christ-like. The thought must have occurred to him. His behaviour to his staff appeared beneficent, but it wasn’t hard to find the condescension and the arrogance at the base of it. His height and his nationality could perhaps be blamed for that. He was a benevolent dictator, spreading largesse that cost him nothing. It was Australia’s.

So here I was in Topside Camp, getting an invitation through bared teeth to view exactly what I wanted to see. I said “No” at least three times. I said I’d seen camps before, which was a lie. I visit Maribyrnong detention centre regularly but only the visitors’ area. But as before, he wouldn’t hear anyone else’s view and he was ordering Mohammed to lead us around. He might as well have had a leash. “Not in there, Mohammed” he’d bark. But we saw, we certainly saw.

The long houses, plastic-sided, closely bedded dormitories that were just structures with roofs, every third bed had a wasted man lying in it, they had no air-conditioning and looked like Changi in plastic. The steel dormitories looked like converted containers, and were very cramped. Three to a cell, I don’t know how they breathed in there. Nowhere at all to be private, except perhaps the toilet block, but the indescribable smell would prevent any lingering there. I couldn’t make myself look in there. Cy’s face was truculent and wary: this was clearly a part he was not happy to show off or discuss. I’d seen photos anyway.

The toilets are off the scale for filthiness, because there is so little water to clean them with, let alone flush, waste is hard to remove. They were advised to install ground toilets, but useless Western flush toilets instead were ordered, a mistake that is, I am told, made in every Australian aid project.

In one sense it was quite a comical visit. Seven foot, Messiah-like Cy Winter followed by Mohammed, followed by me in a sober grey gauzy outfit with pretty blonde Sarah and trails of Afghans of all ages thrusting letters in our hands and bags.

The entire camp is barren with no trees, hotter than is imaginable. It’s a soupy Bain Marie kind of heat. It’s no wonder that the children avoid the newly installed play area. I didn’t see it in use once in my three visits: a child would simply cook. Children were hard to see, although there are some hundreds here, but it could not be safe to let them out of the family quarters.

All babies born in the camp will be stateless, not Nauruan, yet another problem those babies will have to contend with the rest of their lives. Five babies have been born since Tampa. I didn’t see them either, although I saw a baby clinic and a medical clinic. I saw a building site sized generator, without which the camp managed for about six months, which is also unimaginable. The dark, the heat, nearly 1600 people were housed in a hot, dark, unhealthy cage.

Now they have some amenities, a grotesque generator the size of a house, and the place is functional. There was building going on everywhere, more rudimentary structures were being installed but they had the eerie look of permanency. I wondered, as we were marched about, how much happier I might have been if this awful place had looked a bit more provisional, more temporary. This was becoming an efficient warehouse for people, a factory site that produced nothing at all but unhappiness in bulk, an emerging and lucrative industry nonetheless. A business with no product; and profit for some, yet loss and more loss for many.

We were hustled through the kitchen which made reasonable food, but all starchy, sweet and oily. Fruit and fresh vegetables would simply wilt there. I wondered how they had fed anyone, when they’d had four months without power, and how they cope with the still constant power outages.

We saw laundry troughs, only about eight of them. How the detainees washed their sheets, towels and long dresses was hard to say when water is scarce and soap rationed. It’s all much better than it was, I kept being told, and told. Water is rationed, I believe now they are allowed only salty brackish water for two hours daily.

We saw a sad little vegetable or herb garden. Not a tree anywhere; plants don’t really make the attempt. There isn’t really any soil in Nauru, just “pinnacles” and weedlike foliage growing around them like cobwebs. It’s growth, but not serious growth. There is also the problem of the heat. The ground all over the island is so exposed that a perpetual updraft of heated air carries away any moisture and intensifies the already burning heat; it drives off the rain-clouds, we were told.

We were stopped at a building said to be the Afghan Women’s Centre. I was a little dazzled as I entered: here to my left were the first refugee women we had seen. They were in timid little rows, staring at us, as if in fright. Their shawls and head coverings were pale, and so were their faces: such unusual faces, they took my breath away. They looked like medieval Flemish paintings of saints or nuns, oval smooth faces, almond eyes, and pale, tiny delicate features like rows of pretty white mice; and so young.

The translators – UNHCR IOM, I wasn’t sure which – hovered annoyingly in this very crowded hot, hot space. Here was an exhibition of art and craft the detainees had produced. I was astonished by the sewing these women had done, it was beautiful, and in glorious colours. I passed biro drawings of Tampa, decorative calligraphy of poems that pleaded for freedom, for wings, for rescue. Craftwork of great skill and odd aesthetics; paintings mostly done by Iraqis, primitive in style, but each was a protest, a reliving and retelling of boats on fire, of Australian soldiers, of prison. These paintings were neither attractive nor picturesque.

Some Iraqi men collared me, pleading with me to help them. “How long” would they be there? They seemed to look right through me. They knew I had no answer.

I wanted the paintings, I said changing the subject. “Which” they asked? All of them. I’d like to exhibit them all in Sydney and Melbourne. May be auction them. I didn’t know, I wanted to sort it out later. I lost my nerve. I knew that my husband, Burnside, would say “Yes, I’ll have all of them.” I would have loved the effect of that, but I wasn’t here for effects, I was really anxious that I had very little time left, and whilst everyone was slipping me letters, I’d spoken so little to Mohammed who looked resigned as if his life’s work was standing out of people’s way, if he wasn’t assisting them. It hurt me to see this.

I had to get out. I’d bought a few little wonderful things but I again was face to face with the ubiquitous Cy Winter. He was now offering us luxurious bottled water (detainees do not get this, unless there is a shortage) but the food I was given was authentically theirs, detention food. I wouldn’t have been proud of it – sweet, grease with salt.

We found a spot in the shade of some buildings, they gave me my camera back with films. They said with great gravity “You told us you don’t have time, that we should not be polite. We have taken some impolite photos” – their eyes were downcast. I guessed these were of the fetid toilets “better to look after them than smell them I thought” but their delicacy struck me. Even this foul place had not made crude or harsh. I explained that we may not see them again, that the IOM was not happy with us. They knew … There was little point talking, nothing surprised or angered them it seemed, they had no expectations. It was all over, these were young men, dying. Dying of hope and hope disappointed. They were truly gentlemen.

Back at our hotel whilst considering seriously the selection of clothes for the two “parties” we’d been invited to, I was disturbed by Warwick, one of the many $5000 a week Australian tradesmen in our hotel. Warwick was chasing his mates around the hotel with plastic replica guns. As a pretext to get into conversation, I told him that he’d scared me. He was ex-army, he hated asylum seekers. He was prime Aussie bigot, the job suited him perfectly but he was also a boasting fool, so he told me far more than he should have. Even he had guilt and misgivings about what was happening at the camp, and what it all cost Australia, which he said had a “great lifestyle”.

We met another camp employee who wanted a lift to the party, when we got downstairs. On the way there he told us how much he regretted his job. He was nice, this place troubled him. He was attached to a little Iraqi boy, about his son’s age. He told us lots and he was smart, he said he was convinced we were journalists, which I at least could deny. He didn’t care anymore. This would be his last stint in Nauru, he’d seen too much. He was probably the nicest Aussie we met on Nauru.

We entered the party area – outdoor patio, with barbeque and a groaning board of countless salads, a giant blue birthday cake, crates of booze. It felt like an average sized wedding – about 150 people. The catering was for twice that.

We were seeing firsthand how the IOM kept itself: in conspicuous style. So conspicuous that the Nauruans also noticed and resented it. The island has anti-IOM graffiti dotted around. They maintained that they were excluded from the parties and from employment. The only Nauruans at the party were pre-pubescent and teenage dancers, shyly displaying island dancing techniques to over-amplified music. Security men, in stubbies and leis and flower wreaths, watched without appreciation. It was repeated every fortnight: the same party, the same dancing girls, the same Fosters hangovers.

Sarah was taping away with her secret camera. We worked separately, talking to as many people as we could.

Cy Winter, the king himself, was now my host. Why? Why doesn’t he ask us to leave? In contrast to the afternoon just ended, he condescended to talk to us without insults or threats. What he told me was interesting to me: it betrayed his perfect ignorance of Australia, his lack of curiosity. He made platitudes about Nauruans, not one of whom was invited to his dreary bacchanal – I noticed. He was just dull after all.

I moved away from him, leaving him to Sarah. He and the head of Chubb Security were wearing large black earpieces that connected them to the camps. It looked freakish: it was as if they were connected electronically to some organism; it meant that they did their “management” at all hours, and it underscored the Orwellian madness of that.

The party was excellent for information gathering, the “guests” were getting drunker. Anyone seemed to be there, as long as they were white.

The Australian Consul-General chatted with me as if to atone for that morning’s threats. He was kind; he’d been a refugee himself, much earlier in life. He was clearly uncomfortable in this outpost of incivility. Like everyone else Sarah and I were bored.

We had another party to go to. Nauruans had invited us to the “Bondi Club”, their local loud Saturday night venue. It was an enormous dance bar in a rundown tin shed. It wasn’t long before we danced badly with the locals.

But later I was standing in the car-park talking (away from the noise) when a group of Australian builders and “tradies” drove up. They, like everyone, had tough land-rover type vehicles. A drunken Nauruan stepped towards one of the vehicles and punched his fist through the windscreen of the car. The Aussie driver blinked, shattered glass all over him. He looked startled for a moment, but not surprised. The Nauruan shouted “I hate all whites!” Some of the locals tried to talk him away from the scene … he wasn’t finished, he’d just started. By now, the Australians who’d just arrived were saying “It happens every Saturday night. It’s home time”. They advised us to leave. As an imperialist Australian, I knew I wasn’t wanted. Being ashamed of my nationality was a new experience.

Richmond Kindergarten

Denise Rundle deserves this award from Neita because her philosophy and her practice are so clear, compassionate and closely judged. Denise acknowledges and understands how uncertain of your abilities you can become when touching on and affecting the lives of refugees. We can all lose our moorings. It’s too often effective teaching is more about learning and listening than instructing.

But Denise has had to persuade nervous parents from tough cultures, that finger painting and playing in school is not a waste of time. Denise has obviously agonized about our Western “researched” improved approach to child-rearing and all of its assumptions. She’s aware of how the methods have in some cases fallen very short of the wishes and expectations of the parents who have come here in order to spare their children the harshness of the lives they’ve left. Confusions must occur, but Denise has found the bridge.

When any parent brings their child to kindergarten they’re saying good-bye permanently to something in that child. It’s already a mixed and emotional experience.

Then we look at the isolated refugee parents, who have in large part sacrificed all of their material and physical comfort, for the sake of what – their children. Can you blame them for finding this new form of relinquishment difficult. They must abandon their kids to a system and a culture they don’t yet know and they don’t yet trust.

Teachers dealing with parents like these must be as kind to them as they are to their little off-springs. The parents must endure the bitter-sweet experience of watching their children flourish and grow whilst the authority and influence of the former culture begins to become a memory.

Denise has sensitively assisted those parents by valorizing their stories and experience of helping the whole family to recognize the amazing uniqueness and adventure that they have survived.

Unless schools do this, they won’t inspire confidence and trust in this country which through its policies has done so little to deserve it. The State Government has quietly helped this. Teachers also need a little validation thoughtfulness with which they do such challenging and creative work.

Report Of Trade – Topside

At the beginning we would like to thank Amnesty International for taking the lead in allowing us, and freely, to express our main sorrow and pain. This pain which rendered us to leave our homeland to cross thousands of metres and into paying thousands of dollars.

Following, all what had happened with us, in such report of which you will read:

First: General remarks about the Indonesian boat Achina.
Second: Headlines about what had happened in the Manoora.
Third: Remarks about our current condition in the camp.

First: General Remarks about the Achina

  1. In seeking better future and in saving our families from the pain and getting them into the freedom with no differences in wherever, we went on the boat Achina which took off in the sunrise of Friday, 31st of August 2001, 5.00 am. The Achina is a small ship for 50 passengers; we were 230 persons on board.
  2. There was food, water and fuel supply enough for 10 days as the trip was supposed to take duration of five days.
  3. The boat entered in to the Australian territorial water on September 7th
  4. Some military men on a boat which belongs to the Manoora stopped us, prevented the Achina to further on its way, they used a whistle. We stopped from the noon and waited until the next day in the mid of the high storms which were hitting our boat. The people in the military boat promised to provide us with food supply and then to load us to one of the Australian areas. They gave us some medicine, water and sheets and 25KOM uncooked rice.

Second: what happened in the Manoora

On the sunrise of Saturday September 10th 2001, the ship Manoora came by and many Australian military people went into our boat. They arranged for us to move to the Manoora through slightly using the force. They had two of us and got us transferred after being searched. They searched all men and women on board and even children, searched the bags. Then they gave us numbers 500 and we did not know on what basis we were given these numbers. 20 days later, we saw the Australian flag on the boat, and knew that asylums from Afghanistan are present on board, we were followed then. The Australian at the beginning told us that the boat is heading to Darwin, then a small interrogation will take place on board. Furthermore, the Australian headed by their boss asked us consistently to that we were treated in a very kind way when we were taken from Achina to the Manoora. We slept in more like corridors, 15-16 metres length, and 6-7 metres width. There were 250 tiny beds, four floors, 14 persons had to sleep on the floor.

Food: food supply was not enough at all, bad quality, some of the food supplies were. They way they used to distribute food for us was very humiliating. Whenever someone mentions that he dropped his food and needs more, they never trust him.

They’re no care in the quality of food supplied and especially for those who are sick and need special food. They did not pay attention to the Manoora doctor advises to pay attention for the special, sick people.

Reduction of the fruits and bed, there was not enough of them originally.

Hot pepper was added to the food that nobody could tolerate it. Some people got infections and allergy in their lips because of that. Despite our begging for the Australian to lesson the amount of the pepper, none paid attention to that.

We were supplied by mineral water and as the amount decreased, they started to provide us with filtered water and it had a very strange color.

Health: almost everybody’s health conditions deteriorated and especially people with sickness as blood pressure and diabetic. No medicines were provided these people and especially when we had serious sick cases as heart and likewise. There were no regular follow-ups on health cases.

Some dangerous diseases started to spread as the Malaria, hepatitis and skin diseases. The skin diseases were spreading a lot that there used to be on day special for treating such cases.

Children got diarrhoa, which would, treating through drinking water, as the doctor mentioned.

When somebody has a health problem, the doctor would take very long time to show up and the security guards used to remain silent watching the person suffering of pain.

Children: we had on board around 10 kids under 2 years old, 35 kids between 2-10 years old and around 40 kids between 10-15 years old. They were not given the minimum of what they should have had very few got games which raised problems on boat and jealousy between kid.

Baby diapers: at the beginning, we were supplied by a sufficient number of baby diapers but as day passed the amount reduced as each baby had one only unless the mother of the baby goes to the person in charge, take out her baby old diaper, to show it is very dirty so she can get a second one.

Milk: babies and kids were not given milk unless parents beg them for some. Only three times the kid was allowed to have milk, not more than that. Having in mind that mothers were not able to feed their children at all.

We used to see the always on board but never given some for our kids.

We did not take notice that our clothes were taken to the island, we had no clothes and some of us used to remain with no cloth when he washes his own ones until they are dry.

The psychological aspect: we had lots of lies and fake promises and manipulation until the last minute when we were forced to come out through brutal and inhumane way. IOM and the Nauruan government had full notice that we were manipulated as well as they used to come to the ship from time to time. We were isolated from the world for the period of one month, we asked for a lawyer or a journalist in defend our rights but it was in vain. We had none to listen to us, just one phrase which we used to hear “you will find everything in Nauru”. They tried to ruin our image, to look like a, how would we be pirates if we were prisoners in this ship. How would we be pirates and we do not have weapons even, we have children, we wonder who are pirates when we were on board of a military boat “Manoora”.

Furthermore, they used with us inhumane means such as:

Disconnection of the air-condition and as such the down desk of the boat will turn in short time to be very hot to the extent that some people would faint. When we ask the people in charge, they would mention that the engine does not work … then the engine works suddenly.

There used to be a very bad smell coming through the air-condition.

There used to be flood of water in the rest rooms.

They used to take photos for negative situations only, an example when they used to have photos for the rest room while it was not clean. They used to take photos for people while they were sleeping, those who were covered, they used to take the cover and photocopy them. Page 6 missing.

In one of these days, and before having our breakfast, and following our consistent refusal to be disembarked from the Manoora, some Australians approached us and said that a film on Nauru island will be now demonstrated before you and that the captain will have a word with you all. Then, a film about the camp was shown to us and for the period of 50 seconds only and when the movie finished the captain told us “It is my boat and I decide who stays and who gets out”.

Disembarkation from the Manoora

  • There was a big desire of the IOM (somebody called Mark), crew and the captain to get us out of the boat. They asked us several times, using good words to get us out of the boat, they mentioned many times that they would never use force and that the government of Nauru would never allow anybody to be on her land by force. We did not want to get in to the Nauru for more than one reason.
  • We were caught in the Australian territorial water.
  • We got on top of the Manoora on 8th of October 2001.
  • We have never heard through any means (TV, Media … etc) that Australia would ban illegal immigrants to its land and would send them to Nauru.
  • We were told by the Australians that we are on board of an Australian ship and that we were heading to Darwin.
  • Lots of pressure was practiced against us, asking us to get in and mostly that “we would not stay in Nauru more than week-10days including the appeal stage.” We were told this way on daily basis.
  • Then, a person from the IOM came and his name is RONY, most of us knew him from Indonesia, and following few trials, 13 people agreed to be disembarked and then more pressure was practiced.
  • Then they asked us to choose six people as a delegation and they had theirs from the Australian government and we chose six including one woman. During the first session, the six people heard nothing but one phrase “get down to Nauru”. When our people ask questions no answers at all.
  • It went out this way, then the Australian asked the asylums to divide them into groups, each of 25 persons thinking that the six people influenced the others to remain in the boat. When the first 25 persons declared their wish not to get down, the Australian were convinced that it is indeed the wish to the whole group and that the six people did not influence them at all.
  • Following that, the six people went for the second session of discussion, this time they were taken to a different place than they used to meet usually. This time, the captain came with an Arabic Interpreter (a spy) and read the following paper for the six people: “you should understand what I say: you should leave the boat quickly”. And then suddenly, 30 soldiers walked in and each of the six persons were held by two soldiers and were taken by force to a small boat and then to the island. When these people reached to the island, they were not allowed to see the media, the people started to yell, to resist, no answers at all, such attitude by the government was not expected at all.
  • Then they were taken by bus to the camp, they did a strike until the evening with no response, and Nauruans noticed this and even the media. This time a person from the UNHCR interfered in a brave way.
  • Then the same Arabic interpreter came in and said that the captain needs another six people for delegation and the same thing happened in a more brutal way. The soldiers were ruthless and the following happened:
  • Breaking of somebody right hand.
  • Another person was beaten strongly at his breast, he was already sick.
  • Another person was beaten and got very sick and had to be transferred to the hospital.
  • There are certified medical reports for the a/m three cases.
  • None of the others knew about this issue and about what happened with the two six groups in whatsoever. Then the captain came in, the interpreter and another 20-armed persons, three photographers and the captain read for us the following “your friends are safely in Nauru”. Then suddenly some of the asylums got very mad and screamed, then the place was locked on us, and three of us asked the captain to further on and he said “your family, friends are safe in Nauru, they walked down with their own will, do not worry about them and they ask you to do the same”. We knew then that something wrong had happened with our people.
  • In the next day, two people came in from the Australian and Nauruan Governments; they tried to tell us that Nauru does not get people in by force. Then they interviewed some people, among them women quickly but then they were taken the same way, among them was a kid of 4 years old and another 14 years old girl who were in the rest room.
  • Following the third kidnapping they read the following paper on us: “that 10 people got in to the island and that was not kidnapping”. The next day, 20-armed soldiers walked in with pipelines and sticks and force others to walk down. The following day, delegates from the Nauruan government came up top the boat and mentioned that they want to talk, suddenly another 20 soldiers walked us to get down and to remain calm.

Remarks about the topside camp:

  • IOM, Australian government and UNHCR work together here, they are serious, they provide us with food and water and medication. However, certain issues are missing:
  • IOM, works hard to keep us smiling however there is injustice in distributing items.
  • They prefer the Afghan on Iraqis.
  • Lack of all needed items.
  • We are not provided by clothes.
  • Lack of doctors, no accurate medication, which led a woman to lose her sight due to this.
  • Lack of medicine.

UNHCR:

While we were on Manoora, we were informed that UNHCR will make interviews with us and that the maximum it would take was 10-12 weeks including appeal stage. They told us that sufficient stuff from UNHCR will be present there, all that was in vain, there are no enough officers for interviews.

By the name of god,

All respect for you’re esteemed organization,

We present this report on behalf of 13 persons whom were the first to be disembarked from the boat. We went out of Indonesia on 31st of August 2001, in a small woody fishing boat and not valid for sailing and we had to be in a very bad condition for the period of 10 days until we got into the Australian water and we saw a plane around, we felt happened then an Australian boat came in and picked us up and they told us that we have to go back to Indonesia, we did not know what to do. We were detained in this heat until we were informed that we would be transferred to the Manoora and then when we arrived to Nauru, we were told to get down and apply for the UNHCR, we were the first to get down and with no problems because we trust the international opinion.

We hereby plea for your help.

Thank you.

Haider Taleb
Mustafa Hussain
Mya Sabeih
Nibras Saleem
UM Yasser and Family
um Ammer and Family.

Translation From Statement

Dari into English

State House Nauru

In the name of God

“Human beings are like organs of one body,

In creation they have generated from one precious man

If one organ in body develop pain

The rest of organs suffer from that pain

You who are free from pain whiles others suffer

You should call yourself from mankind family”

To the respected authorities of Amnesty International organization.

First of all we greet you and wish you success in reviving the rights of human being and asylum seekers of Afghanistan.

We are 132 individuals. There are 22 children, 18 women, and 92 men among us. We have come to Australia as a result of 23 years of bloody fighting for the following reasons:

  1. Hazaras were in danger on grounds of race and ethnic group in Afghanistan
  2. Hazaras were in danger on grounds of sect, being Shia, in Afghanistan.
  3. Hazaras, Tajeks and Usbeks suffered on basis of being minority group in Afghanistan
  4. Hazaras were suffering from lack of human rights in Afghanistan
  5. Hazaras were suffering on grounds of language, regional, race and religion discrimination.

So, we have come via a treacherous journey and left all our belongings behind in Afghanistan. There are people among us who made several failed attempts to come. Because their boats broke or drowned, however with the mercy of Allah they were saved.

We 132 people, including women, maimed and disabled of war and children as small as 4 months escaped by a small boat. We travelled 10 days in dangerous sea. We encountered very dangerous storms. Ultimately, our boat at around 400 am stuck in Ashmore Rive waters and landed on one side. Many of the people stepped out of the boat. The captain indicated that we were in Ashmore and we should get off the boat. It was dangerous to be in the boat. Men walked through water up to their waist. It was around 0700 am that we saw Australian soldiers approaching us. The women and children were crying for help. The Australian army said that they would help us and take us to Australia.

They placed us on another wooden boat. The boat was small and unsuitable. For about 14 days we were wondering on the Ashmore Rive waters. There was limited food and medication. During this 14 days we were running out of food. And one apple would be divided in 8 pieces for 8 people. We were eating expired date food. We were having raw rice. Some of women and children and men got ill. Some people fainted. We were suffering from burning sun during the day and from freezing cold in the nighttime. We could not sleep at night because of cold. There was not enough room. After 14 days, we got on another boat called L50. The boat was taking as to a never-ending journey toward the east and west for 13 or 14 days without a specific destination. There were women, men and children placed in a small salon. There we were treated like a criminal or prisoner.

There we were suffering from luck of fresh air. In 24 hours we were not allowed to go outside and take at least a few hours of fresh air. They told us to clean the ship’s toilet and general cleaning. They ordered us to sweep and clean the ship.

The soldiers in the ship were insulting us dirty words such as “You donkey” “You Monkey” “Fuck you”.

There was not sufficient food. We were begging for bread. Our begging was rejected. Majority of women, pregnant women and children got sick. The doctor kept saying, “have more water”. They were offering the yellow, smelly water. There was some good water but we were not allowed to have access to. We were suffering from luck of shower and bath. Every one was allowed to have only 4 minutes to wash his body. People would come out of bath dirty because of this.

After 14 days they told us they would take us to a country called Nauru. We did not know where that was. We felt we lost everything. We protested. We went on hunger strike peacefully. Some of us were trying to kill themselves because of psychological problems but were rescued. The soldiers were mistreating us and insulting us. After 23 days in the sea we were brought up to Nauru Camp.

We found out that they had made false promises about Nauru. They had said Nauru was a good tourism country with all the resources.

We are in Nauru like prisoners. We can not go out of the camp. We suffer from hot climate and mosquitoes. We can not telephone to know about our relatives and friends.

We all are suffering from psychological, physical, skin, and infectious diseases.

Now that America and other countries are destroying Afghanistan by rockets and bombs. We are concerned about our women, parents, brothers, sisters and children life. We are living under appalling condition. We have developed skin diseases. There are lots of dust and dirt in the camp. We don’t have water to wash or clean ourselves. There are limited resources to keep us occupies such as sport, children education and younger. The Television in the camp does not show the news of Afghanistan and mainly Japanese and Chinese programs.

Like a slave we don’t know what is happening to our future. Everyone we ask about our position we reply is that he/she does not know. We are being given the old clothing of Nauru people.

When we were in Ashmore the Australian authorities of ship L50 told us that they would take us to Darwin or Sydney. They stated that they picked us from International waters not from Australian waters. They were lying and now we know they were deceitful.

Respected Human and mankind loving body. Don’t you agree with us that what they have done to us is against the norms and policies of refugees and convention? Which country does treat the refugees like this?

As far as we know the High Commission of Human Rights in Geneva and the protectors of human rights and civilized countries do not allow countries to treat refugees like this.

We had heard that the government and nation of Australia is a civilized, humanitarian and mankind loving country. That was the main reason that we through a trescherous journey.

We request from the Australian government to treat us like asylum seekers. It means to safe us from Nauru prison. As a result of this action millions of hearts of human loving peoples around the world become happy.

We our suffering and problems in Nauru camp can only be tolerated for a short time. However, if we were not considered for settlement to Australia or we would remain in a state of uncertainty. This would cause us psychological and physical illnesses. The consequences of incidents causing as a result of these sickness will fall on the shoulders of who play in the life hundreds of innocent women, men and children.

It is important to note that here are many war maimed and disabled people. These people who lost parts of their body and became useless.

We request from you Amnesty International delegate, to release us from these torturing and dangerous conditions. We urge you to convey our load cry our oppressed voice to humanitarian individuals and human rights loving governments.

Further, one of the asylum seeker among us became physically disabled in the L50 ship and the doctor has not given him a suitable answer.

We all thank you from the bottom of our heart for your efforts for us and we thank the Australian government to take positive steps concerning our further. We congratulate the Australian government for their new election success.

We hope the Australian government safe us from Nauru hell.

With many thanks

From 132, men, women, and children

The signatories

Translation by M. Sharif Amin, NAATI accredited interpreter and Translator

Ph: 61+2 97499078, fax: 61+ 96431199, email: sharifamin@mail.com

Profit And Loss In The Pacific

Profit And Loss In The Pacific – A Speech At the Steps Of The Library

A Statement by Kate Durham

Detention letters from Nauru surround me like piles of crumpled leaves, I preserve them as if they’re already the last remains or relics of the mostly Hazara faces I met in Nauru, a place I’ll never forget. The new letters tell me of their bewilderment at the deceits and distortions played upon them in their interviews, in the last rounds, of the last appeals they may ever make.

They speak of intolerance and incompetence of their interpreters. If a case was complex and they all are, an interpreter might shut them up or advise them to pretend they were Tajik. These Hazara have been told to prepare their returns to Afghanistan. They’ve been told they have 28 days from the last day of notice of rejection. They will be returned, willing or not. In strangely quiet tones, they tell me they will starve. Some will be killed in Kabul, others won’t dare to venture further. Outlying areas are it’s said, even more unstable than in the era of the Taliban.

Many sold all they had, and borrowed more, in order to get here. They have nothing. They cannot now repay their loans. Shame alone would prevent them from returning to their districts. Why return anyway their lands are sold or occupied by their enemies? Their families are scattered like poppy seeds. Some Hazara on Nauru are well known and wanted by warlords who have authority in the current government.   Their dismay at not being permitted to present these stories underlines the slow reluctant extinguishment of trust and belief in us, a civilized country.

Some letters have modest, embarrassed requests. Can Australia give us some tents? Some of us had trades, would tailors’ or bricklayers’ tools be too much to ask for? Many have worked in Iran, often for months without pay on building sites. Perhaps, as slaves, they’ve been slaves before, they might survive. Warlords and Pashtoons are still making gifts of the Hazara women though. Young mothers with children, illiterate innumerate and frightened. There are no exceptions, no one will be saved.

I get Nauru postmarked letters every week from the damned [people]. They are damned by their neediness and by our government’s termination of what few legal remedies they had left. Their loss is this government’s gain.

Some of Nauru’s inmates have already lost their minds, some still hallucinate that they are still on the sea, the sea in some cases is the cemetery of their loved ones. Return means nothing to them. Return, even to sanity would be unwise.

My bitterness increases as I read doctor’s orders given to a young Iraqi mother, requesting laser surgery [by a date] no later than December 2001 for her eyes. She is now blind. I read doctor’s orders for heart surgery for a little boy with a terminal condition, untreated, all untreated.

I believe the damned and the rejected will be sent to Christmas Island. I don’t believe the government will send them to Iraq or Afghanistan, not for some time, at least, which makes their threats an even more cruel disgrace.

Pacific Perversion and Turning Detainees into Dollars

Landing in Nauru with a secret camera and a suitcase

My recent adventure to Nauru would not have been possible if I was a journalist. It wasn’t even allowed to me as a citizen. I had tried many times, then I found a way that didn’t require a visa. By travelling to a number of Pacific countries from New Zealand I was able to visit Nauru for three days as a transit or layover visitor.

I’d been refused a visa several times but I was determined to get there and when BBC journalist Sarah Macdonald said she was trying to get in, I told her of a route, I knew of, that whilst prolonged and expensive, would enable us to visit Nauru for three days as transit or layover visitors. We started in New Zealand, and travelled the sad Pacific but we got there.

Mr Ruddock admitted to my BBC companion that Australia now runs Nauru’s Immigration Policy. Apparently we protect our sovereignty by disregarding theirs.

So it came as quite a shock for Mr Ruddock to find that a busybody Australian like me and an undercover BBC journalist got into Nauru, legally through a loophole his department had failed to seal.

I wanted to speak directly to the detainees who’d been writing to me. And I wanted to discuss and collect letters from them, which they believed were too sensitive to send in the mail. Amnesty International had a number of sensational documents and I had access to only a few of them. They claim mistreatment by our defence forces, they hinted at darker stories including deaths at sea. If there was any truth in them, I felt I should collect them in the hope that I could get their stories investigated.

I took detainees’ letters, mailed to me in Australia, inviting me to visit them in Nauru and a file of letters especially from Mohammed I had been writing to, for whom I have made an application to sponsor. I took cash from husbands lost in limbo in Australia and I took gifts, dictionaries, toys and clothes, letters from lawyers in search of survivors of sea tragedies, in which their family members had drowned.

In theory, Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians held in the Nauruan camps are legally entitled to visits. That should mean they are welcome to invite friends, lawyers or journalists. In practice, they are not, as I was about to find out.

Under sufferance I was allowed to visit a selected number of people, but not all of the people on the list I’d prepared. Nor were the various individuals and groups within the camps allowed a visit from me, even when they requested it. There were limits even to the veneer of fairness that management allowed. The management had the running of the camps finely balanced between hysteria and calm.

The running of the camps is done by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Its headquarters are in Geneva. The IOM offers deportation services to about 79 countries. It’s like a mercenary army and seems to be able to do work for governments that these governments find inconvenient or too tricky to perform legally or morally. The detainees told me they became afraid for their futures when the IOM embarked the Manoora, some of them had experienced them in Pakistan and Indonesia.

The name IOM is well-known by refugees and yet the word ‘refugee’ was not used by the IOM staff in Nauru. I was corrected if I did; I was told “they are asylum seekers”. The word ‘detention’ was also unknown there, they don’t detain. The IOM in Nauru talked like Pangloss. “It was the best of all possible worlds.”

The IOM made us a show of the kind of sinister hospitality it offers through its manager, a tall, patrician American named Cy Winter, some said he was 7 feet.

This American managed in the course of three days to schmooze us and then to threaten us with arrest and jail. He gave us a guided tour of the camp, was our host at an extravagant party complete with native dancing girls, and finally, on the last day, made good his promise of arrest, but instead of jail, he assaulted me, physically grasping my neck! His behaviour was a physical illustration of the nature of his organisation. It demonstrated the arrogance, ruthlessness and defensiveness of the IOM. He was in a sense its embodiment.

But before the “incident”, as it’s now known there, he invited Sarah and me on a guided tour of the camp, as he’d given us a good threatening a full ½ hour earlier. He’d become suspicious of us but he did not dream that Sarah was with the BBC making a documentary about the Pacific Solution, for “Correspondent”, a current affairs program.

The tour was supposed to be unrestricted, with my friend, a young Hazara man, Mohammed, leading the way. It was quite comical because it had two guides, Mohammed and the American giant leading him. It was stage managed, but it didn’t matter how Cy Winter tried to present this hell as a five star facility; it was a five star hell. Nothing prepared me for the size of the monstrous construction known as Topside Camp. It houses 775 people. At its peak, it has held over 1200. It was a town, an artificial town, as if they had work there, a purpose, something to do.

Try to imagine a temporary town compressed into what felt like an oven tray. Nauru is mostly blinding white rock, which intensifies the heat, creating more heat which repels rain clouds. Its climate is unique even at the equator. The heat of Topside Camp was magnified by the position of this site. Well away from any passing acquaintance with a sea breeze, high on “rubbish dump” road. What other name could you give the means of entry to HELL? As if art directed, the road was lined with a series of massive dumps of litter. Every third pile was alight. Nauruans just burn their rubbish, as if to add to the blight of their devastated air and environment.

The IOM runs two camps, Topside and Statehouse. Statehouse is also unfortunately sited but does appear to have a couple of trees. Statehouse has mostly Iraqis and some Iranians in it, about 350 of them. And Topside, the unfortunate Hazaras and other Afghans. Topside had no trees, no shade except for what the buildings offered. The best shade was under the few old buildings on the site. There are six babies, about 200 children, about 100 under the age of 5.

I met families who had slept and lived every day in the rough one metre space between house floor timbers and ground, for the first five months of their incarceration. I tried to imagine life there when, as well as this indignity, 1200 people had to manage without power. How did they cook, clean, find their way around? I couldn’t, what I was witnessing was bad enough. The most permanent structures seemed to be the rows of interview rooms, I shuddered to think of what tears had been shed there.

As I was escorted around the vast camp, each long house (plastic-sided dormitories), had a man lying on every third bed, collapsed from depression, boredom and heat. Men pace and walk at night, afraid to sleep, some are so delusional they think they are still at sea.

The toilet facility advertised itself by its stench long before I got to it. I wasn’t guided through the loo block – something I was grateful for – but I do have photos to attest to their abysmal standard. Water is found to clear them about once a week. Flush toilets should never have been installed. As a result, there is a catastrophe of health and hygiene problems that the WHO say may never resolve. The toilets are coated or speckled with dead and breeding insects, if you want to know, something the IOM would rather you didn’t.

It would prefer that you learned that a play area has been constructed.

On each of my three visits I looked to see if any child used it. They couldn’t, of course. In any exercise a child would turn to crisp in the open heat. Nonetheless, play equipment was installed. It stood as a testament to the IOM’s obsession with appearances and its proclivities to spending other people’s money and making mistakes, like the toilets. They are known as the “International Organisation for …-ups on Nauru.” No doubt the IOM did its ruthless best. But its best would have been to refuse to run the camp in these impossible and unlawful conditions.

As I walked the mini streets of shanty camp dwellings and ghastly crowded longhouses, I could see what the letters had been unable to describe, the boredom, the waiting and the crowding. The scarcity of food for 4 months has turned into too much starch and fat. Nauru is an island without fresh water. When working, its desalination plant can barely meet the needs of the Nauruan population of 11,000, many of whom have defected to Australia already as economic migrants, and more will follow. Australia is currently meeting the water needs of the Nauruans by constantly repairing the desalination plant, and water is rationed. The population is growing. Will Australia accept Nauru’s economic refugees fleeing water shortages? The answer is we already are.

For the detainees, the IOM ships in water from the Solomons. It’s foul tasting, I understand, but wasn’t game to sample. I didn’t want to share the chronic stomach problems of the detainees.

The IOM flies in food every 2 weeks from Brisbane. No food is produced in Nauru. The soils won’t support much more than weedy growth, and leaves get coated with the dust of the phosphate plant still lazily grinding what’s left for a disappearing world market.

Australian technicians are flown in regularly to repair Nauru’s communication systems – to make a phone call is really hard.

Could any location in the world be as unsuited to housing a temporary settlement? It requires 2 sets of guards; one inside the camp and one outside; doubling the payroll. It’s done because of tricky legal requirements that don’t apply in Australia. Nauru’s constitution is like most new ones and won’t allow imprisonment without trial. The IOM accepts security inside the camps but wants guards to be kept at the perimeter to do the occasional bits of rough stuff. Nauru’s prison constantly imprisons detainees, they are held naked (to prevent suicides) for period of up to three weeks.

Australia and the camps require the maintenance of an entire airline that services the Pacific as well as Nauru. CASSA runs Air Nauru and is at last raking in funds from its only real client, Australia.

At present, staff and skilled tradespeople must be flown in and out. They’re on high wages, tradesmen I met claimed they earned over $5,000 a week. There was no shortage of work for them. The entire infrastructure, communications, water desalination and power of the country are being constantly repaired by Australia. Petrol is being syphoned from UNHCR and IOM vehicles when they are parked, by petrol starved Nauruans. Petrol is rationed or impossible to come by. Banks are mostly not open. Nauru’s wages are not paid.

Nauru is a sick little country, and they can blame us in part for their poor health. I am speaking quite literally. Nauru’s hospital is clogged with detention centre patients. Nauruans must bring a mattress and hope the drugs they need haven’t been used on detainees from Statehouse or Topside. Exactly what was promised wouldn’t happen, does. According to Nauru’s Opposition party leaders, Nauru’s public service is working solely on detention centre matters. None of its own problems get any attention, and to question is enough to warrant dismissal.

Nauru’s law has been distorted and possibly broken by the Australian Government in an effort to evade the laws of our own country. Nauru has a modern constitution which outlaws detention without trial. But in an effort to avoid the contamination of having to host poor persecuted Muslims or Middle Easterners we have built a barricade of laws within our country and a Pacific Solution to surround it.

Mr Ruddock offers Guantanamo Bay as his favourite example of offshore detention by the U.S. By doing so he slyly ties “terrorism” to seeking asylum. Because the detainees in Guantanamo Bay are held on suspicion of terrorism, they are effectively in remand, pre trial. What suspicion can Mr Ruddock lay at the feet of the few hundred suffering in his camps on Nauru? If there was justification for the often used illegal tag, Mr Ruddock would not hesitate to use it. He’d jump at the chance to arrest “unauthorised arrivals” if he could.

We have to listen to Mr Ruddock’s boring false pieties and cautions about our sovereign rights. Mr Ruddock has effectively admitted to my BBC companion that Australia is running the Migration Policy of Nauru. He said that was to protect it from journalists. Recently the lawyers who were working on getting into Nauru have given up. They would win a case in the courts if they were permitted to go, but the result would set the detainees free in Nauru which would only hasten their deportation.

Mr Ruddock could deport them while blaming lawyers. The legal status of the Nauru asylum seekers is even more impossible than those onshore in Australia.

I have seen the refusal letters they receive. They are a few lines, ticks and crosses. For 10 months they have waited for documents which look as though they’ve been composed by kindergarten students. They are insulting.

The detainees were tricked. They were told to only speak about their objections to the Taliban, not to confuse matters or talk ancient history and rejection is their reward. They were told not to speak to anyone about the cruel treatment they received from our defence forces in their rescues and transportation to Nauru. But I have their letters now, and I’ll use them in a report to be sent to various senators and a standing committee on migration and other bodies that could possibly protest the plight of the refugees on Nauru.

The UNHCR refused to write a letter recommending my visit to Nauru. They used Mr Ruddock’s language when they told me it would be “inappropriate”.

They have hurt the refugees on Nauru, and set the cause back six months in Australia by declaring the majority Hazara group not to be refugees. The UNHCR like the IOM do their humanitarian work until the money runs out. To me they began to seem like carrion feeders, they were so numerous, so cheerful, so detached. They lived and worked in Hotel Menen, rarely, it seemed, visiting the camps. There were careers to be made and more jobs to anticipate, it all looked so promising.

Australia is providing the model, assisting a gruesome 21st century form of commerce, mandatory detention. A business that can flourish out of misery, a business that can produce no solution and no product, only more of what it started with; concentrated misery.

If I am not allowed to say that Nauru’s camps are concentration camps, I will say that they concentrate depression, they concentrate despair, they concentrate the incredible shrinking loss of power that an asylum seeker experiences.

The people I know in Nauru are in grief. They are beyond rage. Rage implodes inside them and continues to hurt them every day after every day.

In sad conclusion

All the administrators on Nauru had an excuse, or a story they told themselves, for their presence there. Some like the IOM said they wished they weren’t. So did many of the staff we met, even the toughest. But to me the point was that they were there. These people were making an unconscionable project a reality. They made a living of it. They made it possible for the government to organise this hell on earth.

Hell ought to be chaos. Countless administrators had made this hell worse through nurture. It is now orderly and well organised.

The expert professionals, the IOM, have assisted the government to make a human warehouse on a third world desert island, like a peculiar social experiment. They enclosed and filed these the most defeated and defenceless people and their stories, and calmly went about the process of destroying them bureaucratically, while preparing the excuses that would allow them to return these victims to their former horror on Afghanistan with less than they had in the first place.

DIMIA will send these poor Hazara back to a country where most of them no longer have land or ties or villages where they may be safe, or may visit. What land there is outside Kabul is laced with mines and cluster bombs. Our own military is assisting the destruction of what is left. What possible damage could these worn and sad souls do to our country? What potential in these people have we crushed? What can those beautiful Afghani white mice girls, with their babies, do in Kabul or elsewhere, while their husbands are on temporary protection visas in Australia?

Their deaths are imminent. The children’s are a certainty. Mohammed and Ali and my other friends have told me they would rather die, because to survive in Afghanistan they will have to loot, murder and rob. That is why they left. They couldn’t live with the fact that criminality was the only career they had to look forward to in Afghanistan.

Pashtuns are still killing Hazara. The Mullahs told them they could to go Paradise. The vehicle was Hazara blood. It still is.

I will never recover the love that I had for my country. I will never forget those young Hazara men. I think of them, and I think of their dignity, their subtlety. I will never forgive those who sacrificed them. These men are the YOUNG DEAD and who can claim that we haven’t killed them?

On Burning Out – House Rules & Human Rights

Melb Uni Speech 13 JULY 2003

Let’s start with a lie and a little wishful thinking. My lie takes us back to August 2001. The very, very deservedly right honourable Mr Ruddock is on the deck of the MV Tampa, clasping hands with Arne Rinnan and brimming with one of those beatific smiles we’ve come to love, while he waves his magic wand of welcome and condolence over the hundreds of hurt and broken families that have appealed to Australia in the most desperate circumstances.

Mr Ruddock is world renowned as the Minister for joy and justice, and his department is his message stick extolling the benefits that refugees bring with them as they revivify the diminishing pool of youth and skills in the countryside. “Refugees are often the best and brightest, bring them on”, he says.


Now, I’ll switch to the truth and how I got here. Almost two years ago the tiny Indonesian tub the Palappa began taking on water. It’s distraught cargo of 438 mostly Afghan families and teenage boys were making their last prayers when the Norwegian ship, the noble MV Tampa came into view and proceeded to rescue every last one of them. The sailors could not believe how many there were. My friend Mohammed Mahdi had 435 written in felt pen on his hand as they assembled on deck, three more followed, while the Pilappa broke up and sank before their very eyes.

Captain Arne Rinnan having expected only about 80 asylum seekers on such a small vessel, despaired of the condition of the people on his deck, they all got food-poisoning and defecated wherever they could, they fell in and out of consciousness, pregnant women especially. Still Mr Howard refused to send a doctor. He sent the SAS who prevented the Captain speaking to journalists or even Justice North in the court in which my husband fought the Government in the Tampa case. He won (the first round).

Our Government rewarded the Tampa Captain with the threat of charges of “people smuggling” and after about 10 burning days the worn out rescuees were disgorged with the aid of lies and threats into the lowest and most frightening equipment holds in the bowels of the vast troop ship, the Manoora. They spent another tortuous 23 days there, while the accommodation facilities of the ship went unoccupied.

The lawyer’s win in court was appealed by the Government and the grotesque new “Pacific solution” was spawned. Australia’s reputation as an honest broker of the refugees’ convention was now dismembered.

I decided on two projects to set up Spare Rooms for Refugees; a web based register of people so concerned that they would offer their spare rooms temporarily to refugees who were being unceremoniously dumped from our camps. (It works.) And that while the wire fences were being erected on Nauru, I would try to contact the detainee in an effort to sponsor refugees. I did manage to get letters in, and I contacted a migration agent and lawyer. Letters and faxes went back and forth. Mohammed Mahdi was my invaluable source. I learned of the conditions there, we gathered the names and needs of detainees, and I would bully people in Canberra on their behalves. I was now receiving bundles of letters.

The Four Corners program asked me to help the BBC’s Sarah Macdonald who was making an hour-long piece on the “Pacific Solution”. It was dismaying to hear that they regarded me as knowledgeable, the only thing I knew was about a long but legal way into Nauru.

Sarah impressed me within 15 minutes by saying dryly “the BBC is fascinated by your country’s appalling politics, it’s so corrupt, it reminds us of the last days of the John Major Government in Britain” – I liked her, immediately. We made plans and set off within two weeks, disguised as “housewives”.

I had never imagined that in June 2002 I would circumvent Nauru’s visa bans, and fly from New Zealand to Fiji, Kiribas, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Kiribas, Fiji, New Zealand and back home again, just to get three days on the ground in Nauru as a transit passenger. My adventure with this undercover BBC journalist meant that we wore secret cameras. I was to get her into the camps. I had letters, contacts, gifts, toys and confidence in Mohammed. Nothing prepared me for the size of the monstrous construction known as “Topside Camp”. Try to imagine a makeshift town compressed into what felt like a baking tray. It was still in construction, Australian workers on $5,000 a week were all over it, the generator alone was bigger than a house, and was only installed after five months. Try to imagine the dark, the lack of water and food. Stumbling to find the toilet block and finding it through smell – the humiliating unflushable toilets were disgrace enough, without the sickness they caused. At the peak of its operation 1200 people lived in that one camp, the rest, the Iraqis lived in Statehouse, about 350 of them. Nauru is mostly blinding white rock, which intensifies the heat and repels rain clouds, its climate is unique, even at the equator. In Topside a child’s playground was installed for the 200 children there, no child used it, they would be turned into crisps. But that wouldn’t interest the I.O.M., the International Organization for Migration, who ran the camp. As its manager said to a psychiatrist who was urging various reforms there “the IOM is just a whorehouse”.

Indeed, their business was how to turn detainees into dollars. The IOM live luxuriously at the Hotel Menen, rarely visiting the camps, they had two sets of security guards, Chubb inside the camps, APS outside them. They entertained themselves lavishly. We went to their weekly party complete with dancing girls, groaning smorgasbord and open bar tab. Mr Ruddock must hate their endless invoices. The Nauruans hated their princely presence.

On the Saturday night I saw a windscreen smashed with fists and cans, the drivers who were sitting there were not unsurprised (every windscreen there is smashed) and simply drove off. The Nauruan chant in the background was “I hate Australians and all whites”. Why not?

The so-called Nauruan public service works only on detention centre business.

Detainees are piled into their gaol without charge. The IOM and the Consul-General of Australia threatened us with that gaol, too, if they suspected we were violating our visa restrictions. They told us that detainees are held naked in Nauru’s prison (to prevent suicides) which was a nice touch. They did arrest me eventually, but I was unarrested when I became very irritating saying rather grandly that I was the wife of a QC, and were they aware of Article 5 of the Nauru Constitution? I was wearing a white Armani georgette dress, deliberately, I didn’t think they’d dare mess it up – and they didn’t. I was too blonde, too white and too loaded with goodie two shoe toys.

The seven foot manager of the IOM, Cy Winter, assaulted me, actually when he realised that in spite of his orders I was not gaoled. I wasn’t hurt seriously and it’s only interesting in that it indicates, what licence the IOM gives itself. It is the law in Nauru.

Nauru

Nauru is a sick little country, it’s an exemplary model of unsustainability and the Pacific Perversion known as a policy is it’s perfect accompaniment. If turning detainees into dollars is going to be the new industry to emerge in this already ominous century then living well or in good conscience as Australians is an unsustainable wish. Australian kindness and fairness is eroded and vanishing like so much phosphate money.

The Pacific Solution is about degrading the resources of people, as much as it’s about waste, and we are wasting far more than the $500 million the Pacific Perversion is priced at over $400 per day per detainee there, cruelty like this really costs. They’ve all spent two Christmases there.

Sick countries are always prey to parasites and we’ve supplied an army of them. The IOM builders, security guards, APS officers, DIMIA officers, technicians, electricians, telephone engineers, mechanical engineers, plumbers, psychologists, translators, doctors etc. These carrion feeders have turned to a reality; something that should not be. They’ve constructed a Hell in a white-hot cooker. Hell should be chaos, not organised like this one. And no matter how unsustainable, the ugly project grinds on, closing in on the recalcitrants who remain.

The Pacific Solution is terminal, but when it dies, we’ll have to keep repairing Nauru’s only source of water, a broken-down desalination plant and its electricity supply, because Nauruans share a single fate they will become environmental refugees. And they’ll be ours. Wages, even public service wages are mostly unpaid in Nauru, banks are closed, Kiribatis (the workers of Nauru) are returning home after careers of 20 years in Nauru. The local Chinese are also departing, their shops are raised and they feel unsafe, and threatened. Nauruans are sullen, sick and drunk. I would be too.

There is no natural port or harbour to bring in goods. After four months, the Australian Government realised it must fly in supplies from Brisbane each fortnight if it wanted to keep order or staff. Petrol is siphoned from any parked cars, water is shipped in from the Solomons for the detainees, if it doesn’t arrive the IOM claims that it is stolen.

Nowadays, they are granted water for only one hour per day, imagine the competition for it.

Plants won’t grow, phosphate dust coats everything, telephones don’t work, electricity is rationed, sewerage seeps into the coral and flows back in from the sea. There is only one place you can swim.

Our money is keeping the airline in the black, it services the whole of the Pacific, when our solution vanishes, so will the airline that brings supplies, aid and the outside world, to the whole region.

For the moment we pay Nauru’s shipping and phone bills, its medical supplies and the many hospital bills of some of its corrupt ministers who choose our private hospitals for their superior care, and their secrecy.

Our Government’s dull genius was to invent a lucrative 21st Century Industry: Detention Camps. It wants to franchise the idea in Europe. If I’m not allowed to call them concentration camps, I will say that they concentrate depression, grief and despair, their only achievement or product.

Nauru is so unendurable that only about 450 detainees remain. Eighty of those were awarded full refugee status over eight months ago, but languish there they must.

Some have protested and moved out of the camp to live in a disused shipping container, I think I know which one, it’s high on “rubbish dump road” the island’s informal dump, the locals burn their rubbish there as if to add to the discomfort of the already bad air.

Kabul has claimed them back, but the ex-detainees are not free to go home; the roads are dangerous again, especially for Hazara, the mountains around Kabul rain down gun-smoke and rocket fire, and rocks which are still being crushed like biscuits by Americans or warlords or returning Taliban. Who knows who or why .…?

Gangs roam Kabul streets, so gangs and night-watchers band together to protect the Kabulis from warlords and thieves, no-one sleeps.

Mohammed Mahdi, ID No. 105, has left Nauru, as has Payadar, ID No. 320 and Ali Shahedi, ID No. 166, for Kabul. “Why?” I pleaded to know. It wasn’t the lavish $2,000 gift (that was stolen from them on arrival by the police, as they knew it would be). For some it was the fact that families who’d gambled everything to save their sons were now destitute or at increased risk. Or, as it was gently explained to me, they had only one precious thing left to lose and it was their sanity.

I will never forget those young Hazara men, I think of them and I think of their dignity, their subtlety. I will never forgive those who have sacrificed them. Those men are the young dead and who can claim that we haven’t killed them? What damage could those fragile, worn, shipwrecked, war ravaged souls do to us?

I will never recover the love that I had for my country. My Government dumped people it regarded as rubbish on another country’s dump, turning it into a human warehouse on a Third World desert island. They hijacked nearly 440 near-drowned human beings and lied to them for almost two years. What burns in me still, is that Australia remains my home; my house. This Government has torched the valuables, the familiar furniture of our shared understanding of human rights and house rules, and has left us in a veneer of lies and self-deception.

Whilst I managed to help one young woman asylum seeker (she lived with us for eight months) I resent bitterly that I was prevented from helping an honest man, Mohammed Mahdi, ID No. 105.


For details about the Manoora, the Tobruk and other Australian vessels consult Spare Rooms for Refugees website, to find our report “Soldiers, Sailors and Asylum Seekers” for the real horror of it or David Marr’s Dark Victory. Not a word of either has been refuted by this Government.