Brutal Silence – What I Know …



As you know there is a code and policy of secretiveness and silence around what is happening to people seeking asylum in Australia at the moment.

I would like to share with you some of what I know.

Today, the 18th of October 2013, fifteen pregnant women are to be sent to Nauru. Some are 5 and 6 months pregnant and one woman, who is very unwell, is a young woman who lost her twin babies recently.

All the women are Vietnamese.

People in the detention centre from other nationalities have told us that the Vietnamese people in Darwin are treated worse than anyone else. One woman said- “They (SERCO) are rude and mean to all of us but worst of all to the Vietnamese women. They are not allowed to do anything” RACS/ ASRC. 

The accommodation on Nauru is still very primitive – tents, no running water, toilets a long walk in the night  (Pamela Curr). In the men’s section I know that there are only 8 toilets for 600 men.  Families live in vinyl communal and crowded tents with the temperature around 50 degrees celcius – and for those many unaccompanied minors (as far as I know ranging in age from 5 – 17) … I do not know where they are housed – or rather tented!

The Victorian Childs Commissioner has been banned by the government from visiting the Victorian Detention Centre’s – I am quite sure that the federal Childs Commissioner has not visited the Detention Centres of Manus Island and Nauru.

Health care is very limited.  There are already women on Nauru who are pregnant – some with complications such as diabetes – all traumatized and with inadequate access to health care. Each time health concerns have been brought up with Scott Morrison his reply is that there will be no concessions made for any ‘illegal arrival’ as he calls people.  This sees people with diagnosed mental illnesses, physical illnesses, children and pregnant women all sent – irrespective of their situation – to ManusIsland detention or Nauru detention – indefinitely.

I know that in many Detention Centres – on-shore – all people: women (pregnant or not), children, men (of whatever age or health); are made to stand in line for hours for food; are made to stand again at least twice a day for ‘muster’; are not called by name but each person there is referred to by number (some of the children know themselves better by number than by name).

At the moment there are 2000+ children being held in detention centres.  In the next 12 weeks it is expected that at least 45 babies will be born in detention.  Some communities are gathering basic material resources for these pregnant women and getting them into Detention Centres as basic needs are not supplied to them.

Assessment of people’s health on Christmas Island is (under the new regime) expected to be completed within 48 hours which of course means that the health assessments of many people are totally insufficient and that many health issues will not be taken care of – they are then flown to be imprisoned on Manus Island or Nauru.

I know that children as young as 7 are trying to kill themselves and that adults too are attempting suicide on a daily basis.  Many children are of course so traumatized they have retreated into silence. Self harm is rife.  Rape and sexual assault are common –the perpetrators are enabled to continue raping others in the camps by the Immigration department and the private companies running the Detention Centre’s.   Those who are raped are denied any protection – but forced back into the same tent and the same situation with the perpetrators.

There are also the people who are being held indefinitely – for ever perhaps – as ASIO has defined them as a potential risk to ‘a state’.  Even though they have been found to be refugees by the High Court they are incarcerated in detention perhaps forever.  Some have been in detention for 4 years already.  One man (who is Tamil) of 30 years old, a father and husband – tried to hang himself this past week – having lost all hope of freedom.  He has been in detention in Australia and is held in Broadmeadows Melbourne Immigration Transit Accomodation Centre.  The state that he ‘may be a risk to’ is Sri Lanka – the state that has tortured him and from which he is seeking refuge.  Australia has made an agreement with the Sri Lankan government that all asylum seekers from Sri Lanka who arrive by boat – after a certain date nominated a few months back – will be deported back to Sri Lanka.  Most of these people are Tamil – a group of people targeted viciously by the current and past Sri Lankan government/s.

Vietnamese Special Police have been allowed into detention centres in Australia to question ‘detainees’. Soon after people have been separated out and forcibly deported back to Vietnam.  Of course people deported are arrested and – who knows what horrors followed – once landing back in Vietnam.

And of course there is the difficulty of living in the community for many on Bridging Visas – unable to work and living in poverty with no idea of when or if they will be given the right to safety here in Australia, the right to work, to live – and with the prospect of being re-detained in a centre at the arbitrary whim of the Immigration Department.  No hope of family re-union.  And then there is the further criminalization of people seeking safety with the announcement last week by Scott Morrison that the addresses of all refugees in the community will be given to police and that these people will have to adhere to a particular (though as far as I am aware the particulars are not publically available) code of conduct.

Breaking News today is that Scott Morrison has ordered all staff working in Department of Immigration & Detention Centres to refer to all people:

– in onshore detention as “detainees” & not “clients”
– in offshore detention as “transferees” not “clients”

– all people arriving by boat as “illegal maritime arrivals”.
– all people in community detention as “community detainees not clients”
– all people who arrived by boat and are now on Bridging Visa’s as “IMAs on BV” not “clients”.

AND Temporary Protection Visas are back ! This means all people seeking asylum who have arrived by boat & as of yesterday had not been granted a Protection Visa can now only get a 3 year TPV. We have become the only developed country in the world to deny permament protection forever to refugees coming by boat. Hundreds of unaccompanied children already here in Australia will never see their families again, ever. (ASRC)

I am sharing with you just some of what I know because I feel the brutality of the policy of secretiveness and silencing needs to be understood by as many of us as possible so that it does not create further long-lasting harm than it already is – it harms all of us  – imprisoned or not.

I realise that a lot of people feel overwhelmed – but to act, to inform
yourself, and do something – whatever it is – actually helps to ease the burden of overwhelm.

*Things you can do: You can write and email your local member- tell them what you think about pregnant women being subjected to camp conditions which compete with third world camps – amongst other concerns for children and traumatized peoples – the secrecy, silencing and dehumanization.

* Scott Morrison’s email address: Here is his phone number: (02) 6277 7860. Here is his fax number: (02) 6273 4144

*Rural Australians for Refugees – Bendigo has a facebook page; the Castlemaine Vigil information can be found on wordpress at; RISE – an organisation in Melbourne set up and run by Refugees and ex-detainees can be found on the internet or facebook; as can the Asylum Seekers Resouce Centre, CARAD, RACS and many more.

*New Matilda, The Stringer,  The Guardian are also good online resources.

*There is a group of health practitioners called Doctors4Refugees  who welcome all health practitioners to join them; For more information contact: Dr Barri Phatarfod, 0412 090 304;

*RISE, ASRC and other groups are asking for material aid as well as monetary donations.  You can collect material aid (speak to those in the know as to what is needed before you do this so that you actually get what is needed).


Janet Galbraith

Castlemaine Vigil In Recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and in Solidarity with Refugees.

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