Don’t trust Serco and friends to manage asylum seekers in Australia

Under-trained. Under-staffed. Traumatised. And that’s just the employees of disaster capitalist companies, loved by governments, to add “efficiency” to a straining refugee system.

Paige Taylor reports in today’s Australian:

An English backpacker on a tourist visa, Australians straight from high school and overseas students are among hundreds of casual workers earning up to $450 a day as “officers” in immigration detention centres.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has used his special powers under the Migration Act to turn the casual workers into guards authorised to deal with asylum-seekers and respond to incidents such as riots and suicide attempts, The Australian has confirmed.

They are allowed to perform almost all of the same duties as guards from contractor Serco, who are required, under the strict terms of a contract with the Immigration Department, to complete training that covers cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication, suicide awareness and the government’s detention values.

Mr Bowen used his “instrument of authorisation” to empower workers from subcontractor MSS in May last year and from Wilson Security in October last year. Each holds a Certificate II in Security Operations, according to Serco. Industry-wide, the course can take five to 10 days to complete.

“Some of them are just hopeless,” one MSS worker said yesterday.

“You get ones who aren’t fit for work or who are too young to handle what you see in there . . . that includes Serco people.”

There are 62 MSS workers on Christmas Island and a similar number of Serco guards.

The debate about the qualifications and training of all guards began in March during mass walkouts, scuffles with detainees and rioting. This month an inquest into the suicide at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre of Fijian asylum-seeker Josefa Rauluni was told that two officers who dealt with him before his death were trained in the use of force, but not in Australia, nor to the specifications in Serco’s contract.

Serco has rigorously defended its training regime. Its own employees complete a four-week induction that begins off site and finishes in the workplace, a Serco spokesman said.

Serco began using subcontractors to supply guards last year when the number of people in detention rocketed as a result of the government’s decision to suspend processing asylum claims for boatpeople from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Serco maintains that its subcontractors are suitably trained. “(They) hold licences to act as security officers including a level II in Security Operations. Regular checks are undertaken to verify this is the case,” a Serco spokesman said.

An MSS worker who lasted less than a week on Christmas Island is among at least three flown home for medical reasons this year. He had severe and long-term health problems associated with obesity and diabetes.

One 18-year-old woman said she had no idea what to do when she was placed inside the Christmas Island detention centre as a “rover” among more than 2400 men.

“I was shitting myself the whole time,” she said.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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