Mandatory detention is claiming more victims than most Australians realise, it is not just the six and half thousand folk seeking Asylum, having fled war and devastation and the direst of circumstances and are now incarcerated in Australia's mandatory detention network - 24 concentration-like facilities on our soil - we are also incarcerating the poorest of folk and youth from Indonesia in our gaols.
Mandatory Detention in Australia is victimising in indefinite and indiscriminate incarceration over 1,000 children, as the Commonwealth's promises of their release into 'community detention' meander almost to a near grinding halt. Once again we have more children suffering as the Commonwealth, and our bastions of 'democracy and justice', disregard the fact that Australia is a party to the Convention of the Rights of the Child. We have children in Australian Adult prisons in the form of poor Indonesian village children who have crewed ships carrying asylum seekers to Australia. As young as 14, and this has been ascertained, and maybe even 13, however there are scores 14, 15, 16, 17 in our jails, languishing.
Related:Human Rights Alliance article on Indymedia -- Interview with journalist Lindsay Murdoch on Perth Radio -- Australia imprisons Indonesian boys: The Age -- Gerry Geratos speaking on the ABC The Drum (26 minutes into program)
The plight of these children, and the extensiveness of this unbelievable problem in Australia, a country that chooses to publically assess and harshly judge the perceived human rights abuses of other countries, are duly highlighted, and graphically so, by the three Indonesian children who are currently being held in Brisbane’s Arthur Gorrie jail while another teenager is being held in Perth’s Hakea jail. There are at least 60 Indonesians who claim to be minors now being held in Australian jails. This statistic has been affirmed by the Australian Federal Police to Australian journalists who are now investigatively reporting a problem that has stained the Australian landscape for several years, however now it is coming to the light of day, and with the pressure from mainstream press investigative journalists who have built a case of the facts from human rights advocates and activists supported by the freedom of various Independent Press, including Indymedia, the wheels of justice, though they often appear to grind to a halt, seem to be moving again, if ever so slowly. All these children face a mandatory five year jail sentence under Federal “people smuggling” laws if found guilty. So far there are over 150 of the poorest of Indonesia's youth convicted by our criminal justice system as 'people smugglers' for perceived crimes such as 'cooking' on board a boat, or for assisting as 'deckhand' while our Asylum Seekers sought safe passage to our shores. The moral and legal question is whether in the first place these poorest of Indonesian folk should have been charged and hence mandatorily lumped with a five year sentence. In terms of the fact that Australia is party to various Conventions such as the Conventions recognising the Status of Refugees and Displaced Peoples, and Conventions recognising International Maritime Laws, and Civil and Political Rights well hence the seeking of Asylum is a law and hence anyone assisting them from a humanitarian perspective and in line with the various United Nations Conventions, and in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is aiding our Asylum Seekers, not per se 'smuggling' them. Why would anyone 'charge' people nourishing and ensuring the safe passage of Asylum Seekers with a 'criminal act'. Why would we have three Indonesian children languishing in custody in a Brisbane prison?
The three children in Brisbane have now been in custody for over 14 months. The Australian Federal Police stands condemned for its cruel role in this scandal for relying on dodgy x-ray tests, for ignoring the advice from the Immigration Department that they were holding minors and perhaps most cruelly, making no attempt to contact the children’s families in Indonesia who thought they were dead. These children are not criminals but merely crew on ships. In addition, logically, and legally, people assisting Asylum Seekers who are granted refugee visas, and once again, as it can never be reiterated enough, therefore recognised as fleeing UN Convention prescribed persecution and insecurities, are providing humanitarian aide and service and have broken no law. There shall come a time when the legal fraternity shall rise in greater numbers to argue the impropriety of charging these youth, whether on either side of 18 years of age, for a crime that may have no just legal standing, that is not a crime in the for instance. Our social commentators are slowly beginning to question the propriety of such charges and whether they are appropriate, and they too are almost snail like and piecemeal in their rise, however in time the majority of legal practitioners and social and political commentators will revisit this scandal and condemn it.
The three boys in Brisbane’s Arthur Gorrie jail
The three children being held in Brisbane are 15-year-old Ose Lani and 16-year-olds John Ndollu and Ako Lani. The three have been in custody for the past fourteen months detained since their landing on Ashmore reef. The boys are from a poor fishing village in West Timor on Roti Island. They were held in a detention centre in Darwin until January of this year when they were taken while in manacles to a Brisbane jail. Earlier this month a judge dismissed an application against their rights ruling that it is is acceptable for the Federal Government to hold people for as long as necessary before deciding whether to charge them. This is unbelievable and hence why Australia should be calling loud and clear for a Human Rights Act or Charter with well defined articles on the rights of its citizens and of all people who are presented before our Courts. We must never believe, as clearly the evidences mounts and demonstrates, that people should be at the sheer discretion and judgment of others no matter how learned those with the power to judge and deem.
The boys were allegedly tricked into crewing the ships, being offered up to $500 to be a member of the crew. They allege they are yet to receive such payments nor were these payments directed to their impoverished families in lieu of their allegedly unexpected arrests and in lieu of the fact, that like 150 impoverished Indonesian youth before them, they will do five year mandatorily. When on the ships they acted as cooks and deck hands and they were unaware of the full nature of the voyage. The following quote about the state of the Ako is from WA Today
Shivering with cold, Ako Lani, a 16-year-old orphan, convulsed in tears and could not speak when his lawyers asked him in Brisbane's high security Arthur Gorrie jail on May 30 whether he was being mistreated by prisoners.
The Australian Federal Police in all of this time has made no attempt to contact the boys families who believed that had all drowned. The AFP justified this appalling act of inhumanity when asked by the Human Right’s Alliance’s Gerry Georgatos that they did not need to as Australia does not have treaty obligations to do so with Indonesia. Apparently, Indonesian Consular officials are not notified by the AFP or Australian authorities when their nationals appear on our shores, or at least they have not been notified in terms of the 150 plus Indonesian youth who have landed at Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef and who languish in Immigration Detention and in our Adult prisons, and despite that more than sixty of them, to our knowledge, have disputed their age, that is that they under 18 years of age. Despite this, the Indonesian Government is apparently unhappy at the treatment of its citizens and the lack of communication from Australia. Indonesian Consular Officials have told Gerry Georgatos that they were frustrated with the fact that they were not being informed of the presence of their nationals and on one occasion when speaking to an Australian Official they described to him that this discourtesy could lead to a Diplomatic Incident between the neighbouring countries. However at this time the Indonesian Consular Officials have forged a path towards discussions with Australian officials, which include the AFP, the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions, the Immigration Department in remedying this ridiculous and outrageous situation.
The Australian Federal Police has also ignored advice given to it as far back as October from the Immigration Department that the three were in fact children, instead choosing to rely on unreliable wrist x-ray technology. Radiologists have confirmed that this method of testing is not failsafe and clearly so as children have been discovered in our prisons, aged through these tests and who the Courts have had it proven to them that they were children. In one case a 14 year old spent 12 months incarcerated in an Australian Adult prison till his birth certificate was provided and hence the Magistrate accepted his age, ordered his release and had him deported home to Indonesia. The technology dates back to the 1930’s and the technology is not seen as reliable by either the Australian Immigration Department or the UNHCR. It has now be slammed by a world expert as innacurate and potentially unlawful. The AFP has also ignored the fact that birth certificates extracts have now been obtained by the children’s lawyers confirming that Ose Lani is 15 and John Ndollu is 16. A birth certificate showing Ako Lani is 16 is being sent from Indonesia. This is not rocket science, so why, why indeed, are our AFP ignoring the realities? Why indeed is the Commonwealth not intervening to remedy the madness?
The AFP has taken on a pivotal role in the implementation of the oppressive regime of mandatory detention which has also seen it violently suppressing asylum seeker protests on Christmas Island with synthetic bullets and chemical weapons such as tear gas and concussion grenades. Gerry Georgatos, a PhD researcher in Australian Deaths in Custody, has described that the Australian Federal Police are victims of their own self destructive zero tolerance policies and protocols and it is this heavy handedness that exacerbates and in fact creates and perpetuates situations such as the perceived riots and protests in Australia's many various detention centres. These protocols are pervasive and if one layer of the management systems of detention centres have them then like a metastasis all management layers have to undertake them such as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and most certainly such as SERCO, the private company operator of the 24 detention centres in Australia. Let us remember those who have died in Australian Immigration Detention, those who have committed suicide, for they are Deaths in Custody - and for every death in custody, there are scores who suffer, who are breaking, broken, one clinical disorder after another. Let us remind ourselves that over 1,000 children still remain in Mandatory Detention. And now we have children in Australian Adult Prisons - Australia is in a dark period of its unfolding history, a very shameful period of human rights abuses and the outright discrimination of people.
Update On June 16th the three boys have been released on bail pending an age hearing
16 year old held in Perth
Human Rights Alliance spokesperson Gerry Georgatos has also brought to light the plight of a 16 year old now being held in Perth’s Hakea Correctional Prison and this youth is working alongside convicted sex offenders in the Laundry. Those working in the Laundry are under paid, exploited - a practice that was raised in Parliament through State Labor MP John Hyde who tabled a report by the Inspector of WA Custodial Services Neil Morgan, and assurances were returned that this practice of exploitation would cease. Well it has not and this youth is earning $30 a week, which to him may seem an incredible amount considering the improverished background he comes from.
'When I visited him in jail, the boy's last words to me were 'I'm scared in here','' Mr Georgatos said. Mr Georgatos said the boy in Hakea Prison wants to go home to his mother who is looking after her family after the death of her husband died when the boy was young.
"The fact I have contacted every authority from the prison itself, the Department of Corrective Services, the Attorney-General, the relevant Ministers, DIAC, the AFP, the Commonwealth, the Indonesian Consulate, the media, everyone you can imagine, the Inspector of Custodial Services and that fact that after three months of efforts and dissemination that he continues to languish in an Adult Prison as the wheels of justice appear at times to have come to a grind is sickly disgusting, and indicative of gutless passing the buck, discrimination, racism and the demonstration of a lack of an ethos of caring." said Gerry Georgatos
More information on the boy in Perth:
Boy in adult jail says he's scared
Jailing of boys an abuse of rights:WA Today
a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/06/20/3248804.htm">Gerry Geratos speaking on the ABC The Drum (26 minutes into program)
Family insists that 'people smuggler' in jail is a boy
Unfortunately these boys are victims of the hysterical racist campaign waged against asylum seekers in this country by both the ALP and the Liberal/National Party for the last twenty years. Since the ALP's implementing of mandatory detention in 1992 a premise has been created to divide, vilify and brutalise people and for Australians to accept this layer of racism as part and parcel of everyday living. A sad example of how the hearts of many Australians have been hardened during these times is an online poll on the issue of these boys currently running in the Fairfax press. The poll asked “Should Indonesians who manned asylum boats, who claim to be under 18, be freed immediately?” Sadly only a bare minority of 57% voted yes to this question with over 5000 votes counted. Presumably the other 43% are happy to see poor Indonesian children rot in Australian adult jails to keep our borders “safe”! However if the question was inverted to "Should Australian children who were on boats to Indonesia, who claim to be under 18, be freed immediately?" The response would be closer to 100% and we'd have a diplomatic incident while our mainstream media would be having a field day with this!
Let us respect our obligations in terms of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Let us rise in calls for justice, for freedom, for commonsense, and let us realise that we are all people and that we should care about one another.
Free the Indonesian children!
End Mandatory Detention and Close the camps!
Refugees and those who help them are not criminals!
Human Rights Alliance article on Indymedia
Background articles from Mainstream press
Australia imprisons Indonesian boys: The Age
Jailing of boys an abuse of rights: The Age
Tricked boys languish in adult prison: WA Today
Interview with journalist Lindsay Murdoch on Perth Radio
Ross Taylor opinion piece from Easter
Response of Indonesian Government
Australia violates convention detaining children:Jakarta Post
Government probes Australia’s jailing of teens