This is the state of human rights against faceless asylum seekers in Australia. Justified frustration, after months and years of waiting for decisions, is met with violence. And under-staffed Serco are the battering rams of the failed policy?
From yesterday’s ABC’s The World Today:
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Refugee advocates and the Greens say they’re horrified that Australian Federal Police officers used so called “bean-bag” bullets to quell a demonstration at the Christmas Island immigration detention centre.
The rounds are supposed to stun someone without killing them.
The bean-bag bullets were used along with tear gas to break up a protest by around 300 people on Saturday night at the North West detention centre.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the AFP officers were acting within their use of force guidelines and he respects their decision.
From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Immigration Minister revealed on Monday that officers from the Australian Federal Police Organisational Response Group used tear gas to break up a protest by around three hundred asylum seekers at the Christmas Island detention centre on Saturday night.
The AFP has now revealed that officers also used synthetic bullets known as “bean bag” bullets – fired out of a 12 gauge shotgun.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen.
CHRIS BOWEN: They have confirmed that they used what is known as a bean bag bullet and like you I needed some education as to what a bean bag bullet is. But as it has been explained to me, it is a bullet which the worse damage that can be done is bruising. It is like a little mini beanbag which comes out of a gun-like weapon.
NAOMI WOODLEY: He says the police were responding to a genuine fear about a protest which he’s described as violent.
Chris Bowen says it left immigration officers and staff from the centre’s operators, Serco, in need of help.
CHRIS BOWEN: Certainly there was a fear and an indication that there was a violent protest on that particular night, that it was necessary to do that and that (inaudible) and Serco officials needed the assistance of AFP because there was a very volatile situation on the evening.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Chris Bowen says around 70 detainees escaped from the centre on Friday night, and 100 on Saturday. He’s confident they’ve all been returned.
CHRIS BOWEN: My advice is that the vast majority are in. Of course, there are ongoing headcounts just to confirm that everybody is in. But certainly my advice is that all, almost all detainees are inside the centre.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Minister says there was another protest overnight, but it was peaceful. He acknowledges the situation there is tense, and frustration levels among detainees are high.
The executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, says long wait times in detention are causing asylum seekers enormous stress.
DAVID MANNE: Why is processing taking so long? What are so many people being held for so long when the policy that the Government announced promised that people would be released from detention for the duration of processing after initial checks for health, security and identity?
The second question is, why is it necessary to keep so many people under these sorts of conditions in remote incarceration?
NAOMI WOODLEY: The AFP says the use of the bean bag bullets will be subject to a routine investigation, and the Minister Chris Bowen has already announced an “arms length” inquiry into the way the weekend’s events were handled by Serco and the department.
David Manne says he doesn’t know of the bullets being used before in immigration detention centres before, and an independent inquiry is urgently needed.
DAVID MANNE: It is critical that there be a full independent enquiry with terms of reference which are broad enough to look at the context which has created this situation and as part of that, to look at how it is that the use of force came into play and why.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Minister, Chris Bowen, says he respects the decision of the officers on the ground, and the AFP says it’s acting within its guidelines for the appropriate use of force.
But the Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Government has some obvious questions to answer.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Who indeed authorised this type of force to be used? When was the minister made aware of- that people were planning on using this type of action – and of course, what on earth could be used to justify this type of action and justification for this type of action on vulnerable asylum seekers?