When a British multinational is being paid hundreds of millions by the Australian government to imprison asylum seekers, some kind of responsibility should be expected. Alas, these two examples below show that the company is either outsourcing key tasks to a volunteer company or involved in abuses in remote detention centres.
When it was announced in June last year that asylum seekers from Christmas Island would be transferred to a disused miners’ facility in the remote WA goldfield town of Leonora, many people rightly wondered: what does the government have to hide?
Located about 900km northeast of Perth and 300km north of Kalgoorlie, the town is about as remote a place as you can find. Conditions at the centre are basic, there are very few essential services, and the weather is scorching hot.
The facility — known officially as an Alternative Place of Detention, but in plain English “a place where low-risk families are held” — is run by Serco, the company with the contract to manage detention centres across the country on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).
Serco has come under fire over the management of centres before — both here and overseas — most notably after a mass breakout at the Darwin detention facility last year. At the time, a spokesman for DIAC said “contractual obligations” prevented the government from inquiring into the incident, and that Serco would conduct its own internal report.
Now, allegations have emerged that a guard at the Leonora facility has been verbally abusing and intimidating detainees. Advocates from the Refugee Rights Action Network say they have spoken to disgruntled Serco staff about the incidents and that management at the facility know about the problem, but that no action has been taken.
For a volunteer group and charity, suspected Scientology influences never play well. Neither do revelations of lax paperwork. But when both of those details combine — and you work in immigration detention — well, you’d better hold the front page.
And so it was for the Australian League of Immigration Volunteers (ALIV), a group recruited by Serco to help run English classes, recreational activities and special needs programs in detention centres.
ALIV founder Gary Taylor says that his group provides about 140,000 volunteer hours per year for programs in detention centres. The group’s programs on Christmas Island and in Darwin detention centre include yoga, games and English classes — activities designed to stave off detention depression.
Last month ALIV was the subject of a front page exposé in The Sydney Morning Herald, revealing that the group had was on the brink of being deregistered by Fair Trading after they failed to provide financial statements.
To add salt to the wound, Taylor’s past dabblings in Scientology were dragged up and provided as a possible motive behind the group’s methods. The group was subsequently dumped by Serco as a provider of supplementary activities in detention centres.