By Gerry Georgatos
(I have not had the chance to proof this article, it has been written on a laptop powered by a generator with a limited power supply, from nearby the Curtin Detention Centre as we are in grip of divisiveness between peoples.... please read and circulate widely. Please.)
60 human rights advocates and social justice activists made up of doctors, lawyers, mental health workers, nurses, teachers, social workers, tradespeople, academics, students and others, from various social justice organisations and campaign groups, and others not affiliated to anyone, have arrived this day, Easter Saturday, April 23rd, to Curtin Detention Centre.
We journeyed under the banner of the Refugees Rights Action Network from Perth in a hired bus and with a support vehicle with a trailer of food and camping equipment. The bus was driven by three of the advocates who recently acquired the licence, at their own cost, so as to ensure this journey. We left on Thursday, 7pm from East Perth, with fifty on board the bus and after 24 hours of driving camped at Eightly Mile Beach, arriving near midnight on Easter Friday.
We arrived at Curtin Detention Centre at 3pm on the Saturday. During the last month forty of us had submitted to the Serco managed Curtin Detention Centre therebouts 100 visitor applications. We have been in contact with hundreds of our Asylum Seekers for many months. They are despairing, many are at the brink of mental and physical despair. Their maltreatment in these illegal facilities which incarcerate them have reached a critical mass of rising self harm, depression, acute and chronic trauma, suicide and multiple suicide attempts, and suicide. There have been six Detention Centre deaths (in custody) during the last eight months and undisclosed numerous suicide attempts. Reports to us clearly describe self harm and suicide attempts as a daily occurrence.
Curtin Detention Centre today is on the brink of a pending crisis brought on as per usual by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and Serco management. They are literally driving people into mental illness and literally killing people. Australian of the Year, in 2010, psychiatrist Patrick McGorrie described these Detention Centres as "mental illness factories". Australia has 23 Detention Centres and is now building another three Detention Centres. The budget for Detention and processing blows out every year, and is now up to 1.5 billion dollars per annum. How better could we spend this?
Our bus travelled down the beginning of the seven kilometre road leading to the Curtin Detention Centre where we were met by a gated blockade. Behind this gate stood Serco guards, federal police and an Australian Defence Force official. We were instructed that visits may not be possible, then we were told that some visits would be scheduled. We were then told that eight visits would be allowed and that we had to wait. We were lectured by the ADF and the AFP that we would be arrested if we proceeded unauthorised through the gates.
As the afternoon wore on it became evident visits would not be enabled and that we were being lied to. We soon learned from an Asylum Seeker who we made contact with by phone that the detainees had been told by Serco management that we were 'not coming'. They did not believe this and despaired. Some fifty of the advocates civilly approached the fence and we spoke with the Serco frontline employees. Conflicting explanations and depictions were deployed on behalf of Serco management. I phone the Centre manager on his mobile from outside the gate however on this occasion someone else answered. I asked that Michael Puglisi, the Serco employed Centre manager come to the fence to discuss the situation rather than exploit his personnel whose job it was not to defend Serco management decisions. Prosocially I argued this case with the Serco staff at the gates who most appeared to be in a drone like state bar one individual who expressed his ethos of care for the detainees and who appeared to well with tears.
Eventually Michael Puglisi, Curtin Detention Centre manager drove to the fence to meet us however remained on the other side of the barricade, and did not unlock the gate. Throughout the discussions with many of us he often contradicted himself and clearly demonstrated an agenda to inhibit the visits. At times Serco officers had explained to us that they had not received our visitor application forms however Michael could not speak in this light as I had scanned and emailed forms to him and had spoken to him over the phone and had his acknowledgment of the forms in writing. However he disgraced himself by declaring that it was not possible for any visits to occur on the Saturday. This outrage incurred the frustration and disappointment of the civil advocates. Unperturbed Michael used a number of excuses, that appeared concocted, to describe why this could not happen, this including that new constructions were underway and one on one meeting rooms were not available and that evening visits were not possible because of the onset of poor lighting issues. However these were disproved as we learned visits by others who they did not know knew us and were part of us, however they had joined us from the eastern states, arriving earlier, were occurring and continued into the evening.
I explained to Michael that they were only exacerbating tensions in the Detention Centre and that these lies would backfire however at the price of human life. Ultimately he insisted that some visits would be scheduled for Sunday and Monday however he would make us aware of them on the Sunday morning and not before.
I asked Michael if he had been instructed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to inhibit our right to visit our Asylum Seekers and therefore their right to be met by us. His body language indicated this was the case however he remained silent on the question insisting that he would organise some visits. He then changed his language to as many visits as possible. I asked him if it was true that Serco management, of which he is the Manager, told the detainees that we were 'not coming'. He seemed startled by this revelation however he firmly denied any knowledge of this. However we have it evidently that this is the case.
The detainees urged Serco officers and management for the visits to be upheld. They even organised today (Saturday) for a petition for them to proceed signed by 700 Asylum Seekers trapped, incarcerated in the Curtin Detention Centre. There are now 300 Asylum Seekers protesting at Serco's and DIAC's actions with a Hunger Strike. Serco's and DIAC's deliberate mismanagement has created an unwarranted and unnecessary situation and has directly led to a Hunger Strike and the potential for protests.
Some of 50 of us have camped nearby, and will arrive at Curtin Detention first thing in the morning, 7am for the visits. The visits must occur so we can continue to shine the light on the plight of those wrongly, immorally and cruelly incarcerated in these concentration like camps. The world must know what we witnessed and endured today and what our Asylum Seekers are enduring in these facilities, which are wrapped in cultures of secrecy and silence. You had to be here to see it to believe it. We do not know what Easter Sunday holds however we hope that a significant number of visits eventuate. We will not go away, and we will come again and again.
We have arrived at Curtin Detention, a place that wrongfully incarcerates 1500 souls, armed only with 1500 Easter eggs, bi-lingual dictionaries, books and gifts. We have been treated by Serco, DIAC, the AFP and ADF with a disregard for humanity. Their conduct is a threat to a civil and just society.
Australians are a caring people and we need to unveil our racial layers, end our racism, refuse to be hostile to those seeking Asylum and allow the caring that is in Australians to not be hindered by ignorances, prejudices, biases and other evil. We are better than this.
Our journey of 2,500 kilometres pales to a mere raindrop when compared to the Homeric Odyssies of our Asylum Seekers.
Refugees Rights Action Network