Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Christchurch massacre highlights dark ties between Australia and white supremacy

My article in US magazine The Nation:

It was an article with no subtlety, only bile. Australian columnist Andrew Bolt, one of the country’s most prominent right-wing voices and a key employee in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, published a column last August with the headline “The Foreign Invasion.” In it, he argued that “immigration is becoming colonisation, turning this country from a home into a hotel.” Bolt’s column was syndicated in many newspapers throughout Australia; accompanying it was a cartoon with racist caricatures of Asians, Muslims, and other new arrivals.

The racism was blunt, and Bolt’s facts were wildly incorrect—yet it was just one of many examples of the mainstreaming of hate that has become routine in Australia. In the wake of the recent horrific massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, where an Australian man killed at least 50 worshippers at two mosques and live-streamed his violence for the world to see, the increased tolerance for and encouragement of bigotry in the Australian media and in Parliament is finally receiving scrutiny. Examples of such bigotry abound: Prominent TV personalities call for an end to Muslim immigration; a political cartoonist at a Murdoch-owned paper draws tennis star Serena Williams with ape-like features; and the nation has become a regular haunt for some of the United States’ most notorious alt-right figures, who tour and spew bile at the indigenous population. But while white supremacy has been a major strain in Australia’s long history (as well as anti-Muslim hate in more recent years), US-style far-right violent extremism is still relatively rare.

A lack of racial diversity in the media and among political elites goes a long way toward explaining the blinding whiteness of supposedly acceptable commentary on public affairs in Australia. One 2017 study found that “racist reporting is a weekly phenomenon in Australia’s mainstream media,” with hatred commonly directed at immigrants, Muslims, refugees, indigenous Australians, and other minorities.

It’s a model that has been perfected by Murdoch’s Fox News, although other media companies take part too, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the public broadcaster that is the country’s equivalent of the BBC. The racial divide is also reflected in public opinion; in a documentary on free speech that he’s currently putting together, the Pakistani-Australian comedian Sami Shah tweets, almost “every white person interviewed…said their biggest fears were Political Correctness or identity politics. Every poc [person of color] said it was rise of Nazis and hate speech leading to attacks.”

The poison is not just in the media; the far right has also infiltrated one of the country’s major political parties. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has long believed in capitalizing on the electorate’s growing unease over Muslim immigration, and the Senate narrowly voted down a motion last year that said it was “OK to be white” (a meme popularized on 4chan and embraced by the white-nationalist movement). Australian Senator Fraser Anning, who once called for a “final solution” to immigration, said after the attack in Christchurch that “the real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.” According to reporter Paul Sakkal of The Age, Anning, who is close to forming a new political party, says, “We can win seats on social media.”

Yet despite the daily media drumbeat that blames immigrants for crime, the facts prove otherwise: Australian-born citizens are by far the highest number of offenders.

The strain of white supremacy that made the Christchurch attack possible has very deep roots. Australia is a settler-colonial state, and, like other cases of settler colonialism, from Israel-Palestine to the United States, its past is bloody. The vast bulk of the country’s indigenous population was murdered by the invading British after they arrived in the late 1700s. It’s an ugly reality that to this day is still denied by many and defended by others.

Indeed, just recently, a small but vocal political party in the Australian state of New South Wales proposed requiring DNA testing for Aboriginal people who want to claim welfare payments. Much of the media lapped it up, willfully ignoring the scientific challenges of such a test, let alone its racist underpinnings. Indigenous incarceration in some Australian states is higher per capita than it was in apartheid South Africa.

But while the prevalence of racism in Australia unquestionably influenced Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch killer, his ideology was largely borrowed from white-nationalist websites, theorists, and politicians around the world. Tarrant name-checked Donald Trump as an inspiration, as well as Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 people in 2011. Tarrant’s manifesto was titled “The Great Replacement,” most likely a reference to a 2012 book of the same name by French extremist Renaud Camus, who claims that Europe’s white population is being replaced by African and Muslim immigrants.

Revulsion over the Christchurch massacre was widespread in Australia, but I remain unconvinced that the country’s major media companies have any real interest in taking responsibility for their platforming of hate. It will be much easier to shed faux tears and then quickly get back to demanding that Australian Muslims show loyalty to their country (after the Christchurch killings, Murdoch tabloids found a way to try to humanize the murderer). Conservative media and their political mates have fanned the flames of racism for years, so don’t expect them to become self-reflective now. Eradicating this poison will require a sustained grassroots effort.

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Israeli leader Netanyahu isn’t the main problem

My article in US outlet Forward:

On Wednesday, it was reported that in the midst of a tense election cycle, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the right-wing Jewish Home Party to join with the Jewish Power Party, which is populated by followers of the racist, banned leader Meir Kahane.

So important was this merger to Netanyahu that he cancelled a planned visit to Moscow this week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu leads the most extreme, right-wing coalition in the country’s history. The Jewish state’s occupation over the West Bank and Gaza is now permanent, imprisoning millions of Palestinians under military rule.

But despite all this — even despite inviting avowed racists into the governing coalition — Netanyahu isn’t really the main problem. Nor will removing him from office, through indictment over multiple corruption cases or a loss at the polls in April, do much to alter the political alignment of Israel’s power elite.

For the truth is, all the major candidates for Israeli Prime Minister support an indefinite continuation of the occupation. That’s the greater scandal that barely receives any press in the West or Israel.

Netanyahu is a symptom of Israel’s right-wing drift, not its primary cause.

Netanyahu’s loudest critics seem to believe that the crimes he’s accused of, like the relatively minor corruption of receiving gifts from millionaires, are the worst sins a leader can commit. They go on at length about how serious his alleged crimes are, and the consequences they’d like to see.

To be sure, it’s hard to ignore the reality that Israel remains one of the more corrupt nations in the developed world. But these are not Netanyahu’s greatest crimes by a long shot.

Netanyahu’s greatest hits include entrenching the occupation around Palestinian villages, building a new “apartheid road” in the West Bank, killing unarmed Palestinian protestors in Gaza and demonizing African refugees. These have all been far more damaging than the bottles of Champagne he’s accused of accepting. And yet, corruption is the issue that may bring Netanyahu down.

Netanyahu has other flaws, too. He’s perfected the art of selling Israeli military expertise, turning over fifty years of occupation into a lucrative, global business of intelligence and surveillance equipment.

The walls and fences he’s built around unwanted populations has been warmly received by US President Donald Trump, the European far-right and white nationalists who admire the Jewish state’s creation of an ethno-state.

Even worse, Netanyahu doesn’t mind anti-Semitism if it’s expressed by his allies; opposing Islam and Muslim refugees but supporting the Israeli occupation are enough to get him on board, a short-term kind of thinking that endangers Jews everywhere.

Still, despite all these flaws, American Jews, who are increasingly disillusioned with Israel and its leadership, should look closely at who may replace Netanyahu.

What they’ll find is tribalism and anti-Palestinian racism has become extraordinarily mainstream in the Jewish state.

A 2016 poll in Israel found that nearly half of Jewish citizens wouldn’t live in the same apartment block as Arabs. A 2018 study found that many Israelis Jews didn’t want to hear Arabic spoken in public spaces and a majority didn’t want their children becoming friends with Palestinians of the opposite sex.

Now look at Israel’s political options. Yair Lapid is head of the Yesh Atid party, a man with a long history of anti-Arab outbursts. From refusing to serve in a government alongside Palestinians to expressing opposition to inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews to urging the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza, Lapid is a more telegenic version of Netanyahu.

Then there’s labour leader Avi Gabbay, whose party is likely in its death throes, who urges more violence against Palestinians and refuses to serve in a government with them.

Then there’s newcomer and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who has formed a new party and is polling well. But he’s said little about his policies. He recently backed the idea of Israel keeping some illegal, West Bank settlements in any peace treaty. And a two state solution seems unlikely on his watch.

One of Gantz’s campaign ads even brags about the number of Palestinians killed during the 2014 Gaza war. And a Palestinian-Dutch citizen is suing Gantz for bombing his family home in Gaza during the 2014 war with Israel.

And those are just the so-called centrists. Pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett doesn’t believe that Palestinians are even under Israeli occupation (and he refuses to accept that all Palestinians in the West Bank be given full, civilian rights under the law), to say nothing of what Jewish Power is likely to come up with.

The state of Israeli democracy is parlous. At the April election, only one in four of the 6.5 million Palestinians living under various forms of Israeli rule in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, or around 24%, have the legal right to vote.

This leaves American and Diaspora Jews with a dilemma. When will the love affair with the Jewish state end, or at least, become so strained that automatic support isn’t guaranteed?

That moment has arrived with some Democrats in the US increasingly critical of Israeli policies (though the party leadership remains a close friend of the Jewish state). And young Jews in Europe and the US are vocal about their disgust with more than 50 years of Israeli occupation (notwithstanding the surging support for nationalist and pro-Israel policies in many European nations).

Older Jews are following — as they should be.

It’s foolish to believe that the removal of any leader, even a leader like Netanyahu, will radically change the political direction Israel has taken, descending ever rightward. There is no leader in Israeli politics today capable — or willing — to guide Israel into the warm embrace of the liberal, Zionist dream of a two-state solution.

This is not to defend or justify Netanyahu. He’s a corrupt menace to minorities and human rights and must be vigorously opposed and defeated. But the reason behind his rise to power and retention of huge amounts of support is the more uncomfortable question that must be answered.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent, investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, Guardian and many others, author of “My Israel Question” and “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe”, amongst others, writer of the documentary “Disaster Capitalism” and will be releasing a book on the global “war on drugs” in 2019. He’s been reporting on Israel/Palestine since 2003.

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Pakistani TV interview on global refugee crisis

Yesterday I was interviewed by Pakistani TV network Indus News about the global refugee crisis. My segment starts at 13:55:

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How Washington has created chaos in Honduras

Honduras is a key nation in the US-backed “war on drugs”. I visited there to report on what this meant for civilians, many of whom flee in fear to the US.

Here’s my story in the new US outlet, Filter, covering drugs domestically and globally, on the grin reality in Honduras and why so many of its citizens are leaving in despair:

Trump Should Know How US Drug Policy Drives Migration From Honduras

 

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The Nation interview on Afghan resources and peace prospects

US magazine The Nation recently published my investigation into the Afghan mining industry. I was interviewed about the story, and the ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban, on the popular Nation podcast, Start Making Sense:

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What will happen to the vast resources in Afghanistan?

My 4000-word investigation in US magazine The Nation is on Afghanistan and the rush to exploit its natural resources. Based on explosive, leaked documents, the story uncovers how the Trump administration is pressuring the Kabul government to issue contracts to the highest bidder. Increased violence against civilians is assured. Foreign companies, Blackwater founder Erik Prince and others are all in the mix. Within hours of this report being published, I was reliably told that it was being read at the highest levels of the US embassy in Kabul and Afghanistan’s National Security Council.

This story is part of my ongoing series on Afghanistan and its minerals (more background here). In late 2018, I revealed details about Erik Prince and his plans to target Afghan resources.

Here’s my latest story in PDF form: Peace in Afghanistan? Maybe—but a Minerals Rush Is Already Underway | The Nation

 

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Blackwater founder Erik Prince making moves to exploit minerals in conflict zones

My story in US publication Foreign Policy:

The founder of the military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, has a new project. He’s aiming to raise $500 million to invest in the discovery, exploitation, and delivery of resources required to produce electric car batteries. Minerals such as cobalt, lithium, and copper are mostly found in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan.

Speaking recently to CNBC, Prince said that he aimed to end cobalt’s status as a “conflict mineral” in Congo, and his plans included regular jobs and incomes for artisanal miners who toil in in horrific conditions, in “loincloth,” according to Prince. The Congolese Chamber of Mines estimated in 2015 that there may be 2 million artisanal miners in the country digging for gold, diamonds, and minerals such as cobalt. Prince told CNBC that he wanted to create an “ethical mine” so businesses invested in his project could trace the source of the cobalt and know that it was coming from a location without any abuses. Approximately 67 percent of global mined cobalt in 2017 came from Congo.

Corporations such as Apple, the electric car company Tesla, Volkswagen, Samsung, General Motors, and Renault have all pledged to source cobalt from mines in Congo and elsewhere that don’t use child labor, but human rights groups have challenged the feasibility of this project.

It’s an ambitious goal, because Congo has a long history of atrocious mining conditions, including for children as young as 6. In 2018, CNN found that it was still common in Congo to find minors toiling in cobalt mines. Despite companies such as Glencore claiming that it doesn’t use materials from informal cobalt mines, the broadcaster discovered that, “dealers at markets in the DRC were filmed buying cobalt without verifying its source and mining method. They then send it for processing where it is mixed with cobalt from other mines before ending up in batteries that power devices [such as cell phones and car batteries] around the world.”

This is the industry that Prince is now entering, and his controversial history makes many critics cast a skeptical eye on his real agenda.

Some employees of the Prince-founded private military contractor Blackwater committed war crimes against civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Prince has helped provide foreign troops for the army of the United Arab Emirates (whose military is today committing some of the worst abuses in Yemen) and attempted to create a private air force for the repressive government of South Sudan.

The Trump administration reportedly considered establishing a private spy network, designed by Prince and convicted Iran-Contra scandal participant Oliver North, to circumvent the so-called deep state that U.S. President Donald Trump fears is out to get him. Prince is a staunch Republican Party supporter, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s education secretary. He’s facing scrutiny by Robert Mueller’s investigative team into questionable meetings in the Seychelles in January 2017, just before Trump’s inauguration, with the Russians and the UAE to reportedly discuss a back channel between Moscow and Washington.

Prince claims his trip to the Seychelles was for business purposes, that it had no connection to Trump, and that his meeting with the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin was “incidental.”

Prince is currently the head of a Hong Kong-based company, Frontier Services Group, a logistics, aviation, and security company whose primary investors include the Chinese government-owned Citic Group. Frontier focuses on protecting Chinese enterprises in Africa and Asia when working in the most inhospitable places on earth. It has invested in a copper mine in Congo, won a security contract in war-torn southern Somalia, and invested in a bauxite mine in Guinea.

Prince told Foreign Policy in an email that his plans to source cobalt will involve using “geo science expertise and certainly look to other regions of Africa, south America and East Asia to diversify the supply base of key minerals.” He said that 15 percent of cobalt in the Congo is extracted by artisanal miners and his “strategy includes professionalizing and enhancing those assets and making them compliant. We would also apply new technology to the millions of tons of tailings already existing to further extract copper and cobalt in an efficient and environmentally acceptable manner.” Prince said that he has not discussed his plans with the Trump administration.

China is a key transit point for cobalt, because Chinese companies dominate the supply chain, placing Prince in prime position to capitalize, given his deep ties to Beijing. Many Chinese firms have also been found to buy cobalt mined by children in Congo. Prince told FP that although China already produces around 50 percent of the world’s electric cars, Frontier is not expected to participate in this initiative and instead remains focused on logistics and transportation support, not resource and mining development. Prince said that he anticipates a “geographically diverse set of investors joining us.”

It will be difficult for any company to ethically mine cobalt, copper, and other resources in a nation such as Congo that has a history of mass violence, corruption, and inequality fueled by its rich minerals. Indeed, the Trump administration already sanctioned a wealthy Israeli businessman, Dan Gertler, in 2017 for allegedly corrupt behavior around the sale of Congolese oil and mineral rights. Lobbyists in Washington have been busy over the last few years persuading politicians to ease sanctions against Congo for its flagrant corruption and human rights abuses. The recent election there may only worsen the instability, with massive fraud credibly alleged against the declared winner.

But these resources also exist in Afghanistan, where Washington already has a large and longstanding military footprint. Prince is never hesitant to advocate what most observers regard as mercenaries. Indeed, he recently suggested that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria should be replaced by private contractors and has stated publicly that he believes in privatizing the entire conflict in Afghanistan. He argues that he can engineer victory against the Taliban with a relatively small number of contractors. He toldCNBC earlier this month that China was worried the United States would “abandon” Afghanistan and terrorism would increase as a result.

This is the stated reason given by hawks in Washington and Europe to support an indefinite occupation of the country regardless of the civilian toll. Trump has pledged to withdraw around half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in the country. He eventually wants to remove all of them.

The Blackwater founder is also determined to exploit the country’s largely untapped resources. Prince has met with senior Afghan officials and ministers, opened a Kabul office for Frontier Services Group, and is aiming to build alliances with tribal elders in areas where minerals have been found. (Prince said that his plans to extract resources in Afghanistan have no connection to establishing an electric car battery fund.)

Electric cars or not, the last thing a nation wracked by surging violence and corruption needs is a nascent mining industry without proper safeguards.

Prince’s record in conflict zones provides little reason to believe he has either the inclination or ability to mitigate violence in Congo or Afghanistan.

Electric cars may well help the world lessen its carbon footprint, but this benefit seems negligible if thousands of the world’s poorest people will suffer to soothe the consciences of Westerners who want to go green.

Prince is just one player in the global rush to secure valuable minerals in the production of cell phones, electric car batteries, tablets, laptops, and other modern inventions, but he has the potential to deepen the instability that’s an inevitable part of the resource curse in distressed nations.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times andThe Guardian. He is the author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and a forthcoming book on the global war on drugs. @antloewenstein

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The forgotten Iranian refugees trapped on Nauru

Investigation in the Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age co-written with Saba Vasefi (with more details, photos and letters):

On the first day of the year in Nauru, Iranian refugee Bita* sent a damning letter to the Australian Border Force (ABF) accusing it of “barbarism”. She had been refused resettlement in the United States and demanded an end to being held indefinitely on the Pacific island.

“I’m fed up and I’m not going to beg for settlement in Australia or reunion with my brother [in Australia] any more,” she wrote to the ABF. “Please let me know when would you let me seek asylum in another country which cares about humanitarian [sic].”

The ABF is the government agency responsible for onshore and offshore border control.

Bita, a 30-year-old woman from an Arab minority in Iran, asked the agency why it refused to treat her depression, anxiety attacks, hand pains and sciatica. Was this a way of abusing her, she wondered? “If so, please let me know when you are planning to stop harming and punishing me,” she wrote.

Bita has sent a stream of increasingly anguished correspondence to the ABF for years, pleading for intervention. Medical specialists on Nauru have acknowledged her long mental decline. “There is very little life in her,” one International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) counsellor reported.

Bita was transferred to Nauru in 2014 after fleeing Iran due to state and family violence and travelling by boat from Indonesia to Australia. After more than five years in detention she lives without hope of immediate resettlement.

Testimonies of refugee women on Nauru show an acute situation of untreated illnesses, sexual abuse and degradation.

“To what scripture have you taken oath, that I was bleeding from a dog attack, yet like a bloodthirsty monster you were smelling my blood?” wrote Iranian refugee Sahar* to IHMS this year. “You kept telling me my wounds were not serious … Your oath is to the devil, not to God.”

In 2017 Sahar was attacked by a dog in a Nauruan detention camp. After being bitten, her anxiety worsened. When a recent discussion with IHMS on not being given necessary treatment became heated, she threw a cup of boiling water onto her face and banged her head into a wall. After the incident, doctors decided to give her medication every third day.

“I don’t forgive nor forget,” she wrote to IHMS in early 2019. “I instead will speak up for justice.”

The Morrison government warns resettling refugees from Nauru to New Zealand would risk restarting the people-smuggling trade to Australia. Labor remains committed to offshore processing.

Medecins Sans Frontieres’ clinical psychologist Dr Christine Rufener, who worked with MSF on Nauru until it was expelled last October, says75 per cent of patients had experienced trauma before arriving on Nauru, “so they were already vulnerable. Essentially, a life under indefinite detention almost inherently includes exposure to multiple risk factors for severe, chronic mental illnesses.”

More than 3000 asylum seekers have been sent to Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea since 2012, in the latest iteration of Australia’s offshore processing policy. Long before September 11, 2001, the government used privatised detention facilities to house asylum seekers.

Today about 480 asylum seekers are left on Nauru, including seven children, and roughly 624 refugees are on Manus Island.

Setareh*, Sahar’s sister, is also on Nauru and suffers abdominal pain. “Stomach-related problems started in early 2017 after she took four to five spoons of chilli in reported suicidal attempt,” IHMS psychiatrist Lina Klansek found in December 2018. Setareh “has a history of previous self-harm behaviour such as banging the wall with the head, stabbing with the needle and admits to self-immolate [sic] a day before assessment with a burning spoon”. Setareh says she experienced sexual harassment on Nauru in 2014 and 2017.

In a letter this year to the ABF, Setareh wrote that “through your tax payers money you kept us here for almost 6 years now”. She accused the ABF of deliberately hiding parts of her medical records. “All the wounds I have endured for the last 6 years never would heal even [with] settlement in Australia. Cannot be a compensation for all the hardship I have gone through.”

“Many women have urinated in a bottle or bucket rather than risk the sexual advances and attacks from men by going to the toilet during the night,” Dr Barri Phatarfod, founder and president of Doctors for Refugees, said. “Many children consequently still wet the bed at night well into their teens.”

In response to a series of questions regarding the women in this story, a spokesman for the ABF refused to provide any answers and directed The Age and Sydney Morning Herald to the ABF website.

In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, 56-year-old, Iranian asylum seeker Malikeh, who self-harmed before Christmas, wrote: “I understand that the Christian calendar sees Christmas as a time of joy, love and celebration but this has nothing to do with the punishment of refugees like myself.”

She concluded her letter with an anguished question directed to the Prime Minister. “I would like to know what my continued imprisonment has to do with values and spirit of Christianity?”

Bita, Sahar, Setareh and Malikeh are still on a waiting list for a caseworker and legal help with Australian-based advocacy organisations.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Saba Vasefi is a Sydney-based, award-winning artist, journalist, filmmaker and poet. 

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent, investigative journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.

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Australian corporate complicity globally

This week the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia released a stunning report on Australian companies behaving badly around the world.

One focus is in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, where my book and film on disaster capitalism examines Rio Tinto’s destructive mining practices, and I’m honoured to have some contributed some photos to the report.

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Talking to Poland on aid, disaster capitalism and giving with purpose

I was recently interviewed by Poland’s biggest media organisation about my work around disaster capitalism (both the book and film). The conversation covered Afghanistan, Haiti, aid, US foreign policy, Trump and what journalism should be (hint: challenging those in power).

It was great to engage with an audience that in the West is increasingly viewed as conservative and intolerant. The Polish journalist told me that this view is inaccurate and public opinion is far more diverse on matters of immigration and refugees.

Here’s the story (readers will have to use Google Translate): polishinterviewdisastercapitalism

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Strong review of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism

My film Disaster Capitalism, with director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, has screened around the world this year (with more to come including an invitation to a major human rights film festival in the US in early 2019). 

After one of the recent screenings in Sydney, this review by Jim Mcllroy appeared in Green Left Weekly:

Disaster Capitalism is a groundbreaking documentary film about Bougainville, Haiti and Afghanistan, revealing the dark underbelly of the global aid and investment industry. The film offers important insights into a secret multi-billion dollar world by investigating how aid money is actually spent — or misspent.

Prominent journalist and author Antony Loewenstein joins award-winning filmmaker Thor Neureiter on a four-year journey through the world of shady mining companies, corrupt and failing governments and resilient local communities.

Narrated by Loewenstein, the film takes us to war-torn Afghanistan to interview leading community figures struggling to defend local village residents against the depredations of overseas mining companies. He reveals the startling fact that the US has spent more on so-called “development aid” in Afghanistan over the past 15 years than it did on the entire post-World War II Marshall Plan to reconstruct a devastated Europe.

Despite this huge sum, Afghanistan remains a failed, corrupt state, riven by an endless war with the reactionary Taliban. The great majority of its people live in dire poverty and insecurity.

Speaking at a showing of the film at the Edmund Rice Centre on November 14, refugee rights activist Phil Glendenning noted the Afghan government still spends half of its national budget on defence and security. Yet the ongoing violence still leaves people desperate for peace.

In Haiti, the film shows the terrible aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and the failure of UN and other foreign aid to significantly improve the conditions for the poor majority. Thousands died because of dysentery introduced to the country by UN personnel.

Instead of using aid to re-develop destroyed public infrastructure, the US and other rich countries focused on setting up free-trade zones to further exploit local workers with encouragement from corrupt Haitian politicians.

Loewenstein also visits Bougainville, currently a province of Papua New Guinea, which was ravaged by a long civil war in which a reported 20,000 people were killed. The war was launched by the PNG government, with the full backing of Australia, when local people rose up against the destruction of their island by mining giant Rio Tinto in the 1980s.

We hear the voices of independence leaders and local women villagers, who express a desire to control their own affairs as a precondition to any new resource projects being initiated.

The film is partly based on Loewenstein’s 2015 book Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. For the book, Loewenstein travels across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the US, Britain, Greece and Australia to witness the reality of rampant capitalism. He discovers how companies cash in on organised misery in the hidden world of privatised detention centres, militarised private security, aid profiteering and destructive mining.

Loewenstein concludes the film by stating: “In the end, the solution lies with the people and communities.”

Disaster Capitalism starkly exposes the reality of big business and its agents in utilising natural and human-made calamities for greed and profit. It ends on a hopeful note that communities which suffer this exploitation are beginning to rise up and demand their right to democracy and real development in the future.

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Interview on US radio station Loud and Clear on climate change

I was interviewed late last week by the US radio program, Loud and Clear, from Washington DC:

In today’s episode of Loud & Clear, Brian Becker and John Kiriakou are joined by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist and author of “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.”

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, the White House did everything it could to bury its own report on climate change, which Donald Trump says he doesn’t believe. But the science is in andclimate change is here and is already affecting our health, with extreme heat having an effect on productivity, the food supply, and disease transmission. And the last four years have been the hottest in recorded history.

My segment starts at 16:30:

Listen to “Climate Change: The Fight of Our Lives” on Spreaker.

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