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Asylum seeker: 'An Australian detention centre took my baby away'.

A drawing by child refugees at Manus.

 

Last night, ABC’s Four Corners exposed the reality of what life is like for the thousands of asylum seekers who are housed in Australia’s offshore processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island.

After being closed when the Labor Government came into power in 2007, the centres were reopened last year when two boats sunk off the north coast of Australia. The plan was to deter any other boats from entering Australian waters.

Through speaking to staff at the centres and sending in hidden cameras, reporter Debbie Whitmont outlined the harsh conditions these people are living in. One doctor who has worked at the Manus Island centre described the facilities as a “disaster, medically,”

“Almost from the day I arrived it was obvious to me that it was not a clinic that would work in its current state,” he said.  “From early on I was sending lists both through my health services manager up there and directly to the medical staff of IHMS in Sydney saying, ‘look, we desperately need this stuff’.

“Stuff being oxygen, antibiotics, bladder catheters, suckers, tracheotomy equipment, anaesthetic agents, sedatives, morphine, ketamine, and these things didn’t arrive… for the first time in my life I felt ashamed to be an Australian up there seeing this squandering of money and this treatment of these poor, without exception, lovely people that I met.”

There were also reports of daily protests on the islands and of some detainees sewing their mouths, leaving only enough space to drink water through a straw.

Writer, Leila Druery visited a family who were living at Manus Island and were later moved to a facility onshore.

She wrote this post for Mamamia about what she found.

By LEILA DRUERY

I’ve recently befriended a young couple that were seeking safety and security on Australia’s shores.

They are both beautiful people, watching them even from afar I could see the care and love they had for each other. It was in their voice as they spoke to one another, the look on their faces when they are together and the effortless way their hands would intertwine as one as they embraced the young woman’s pregnant belly.

This young couple, seemingly with the world at their feet, were being indefinitely detained on Manus Island. They were living in the stifling heat day in day out, sleeping in temporary accommodation with little privacy, swallowing down malaria medication to stop them from contracting the disease and all the while watching the outside world pass by through the jagged confines of a barbed wire fence.

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This all changed the day they were told that because of their pregnancy, they were to be transferred to the Inverbrackie detention facility in Adelaide. Sitting at the edge of the compound on Manus Island, staring through the gaps of the fence at the peaceful ocean behind it, the man embraced his girlfriend. He picked her up and held her in his lap, kissing her on the cheek and bending down to kiss his unborn child. With her face gently cradled in his palm, he said with pride and joy ‘I told you I would take care of our family, I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.’

Soon after they were transferred to Inverbrackie and for the first time in a long time they began to feel something they had cast away deep within themselves for many months before. They began to feel hope.

Inverbrackie is still detention – they are not allowed to come and go as they please and they continue to exist within a constant state of limbo in not knowing when or even if they will be released into the community.

Yet there is a lot to be said for the standard of care provided within Inverbrackie and why it should be viewed as a benchmark that other detention facilities around the country should be meeting. The greatest, and perhaps most unique, aspect is the sense of community it instills and the presence of the family unit, which has not been destroyed but instead encouraged.

Parents are able to shop from a small supermarket within the facility. This gives the family an opportunity to bond by carrying out regular domestic tasks in a safe environment. The parents are then able to go back to their ‘homes’ and cook for their children.

What’s more, the supermarket is stocked by local farmers meaning that the facility is able to support the local economy in a very simple and effective way. By retaining control of at least parts of their family’s welfare, parents are better equipped to make a smooth transition into the community when the time comes.

Children are also treated with greater care and dignity in Inverbrackie. While guards continue to escort them outside the centre, they are able to attend a normal school, play sports with local clubs, attend school concerts and other extracurricular activities. As much as possible, the set up at Inverbrackie tries to ensure these children have a normal childhood – I wish I could say the same about all detention facilities in Australia.

Of course no matter how good Inverbrackie is, it should still only be viewed as a temporary solution – ultimately these families need freedom. However, the existence of Inverbrackie is clear evidence that our government is capable of establishing and managing this standard of facility. A facility that is sensible, humane, economically viable and heralds innumerable short and long terms benefits for both detainees and the wider community.

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So why are we locking hundreds of children up in places that are so much worse? Many are deprived of appropriate schooling, socialisation and support networks and the negative physical and mental side effects that result are devastating. It is no longer a question of if children are adversely affected by their time in detention, but instead to what degree? This is simply not good enough.

Offshore processing – particularly in the case of Manus Island – has in turn been observed as the worst possible reality of this. I was told by children in Inverbrackie of nights when they wake up in a cold sweat frightened by their memories from Manus Island and terrified that they may be forced to return there. They worry themselves sick for their friends that have been left behind. Cases of attempted suicide and severe depression are just some of heartbreaking normalcies now present on Manus.

Children should therefore be removed from Manus Island at the earliest possible time and Inverbrackie’s facility should be adopted as a model on which to base nationwide centres in the future.

The young couple I met are further proof of the life changing impact indefinite detention has on people. Sitting outside her accommodation in Inverbrackie, the young woman told me she had just come from her first doctor’s appointment. With a heart-wrenching look on her face she looked up at me and said ‘I’ve had a miscarriage – the doctors said that my body couldn’t handle the stress I was under and I could no longer carry my baby.’

She went on to tell me that she now felt like an inadequate woman to her partner and that she’s failed her child. The father felt as though he had broken his promise and had failed the entire family. She didn’t know how to heal the pain and disappointment they were feeling but she did know one thing. ‘Manus took my baby away,’ she said.

Despite the trauma of this experience this woman wants me to share her story with you, in the desperate hope that it will help those who are still trapped on Manus and give her renewed hope for the family she has always dreamt of. This couple have not forgotten the people they left behind and neither should we.

What can you do?

As Australians we have the power to bring these stories to light and pressure our politicians to do the right thing.

Visit Out of Sight, In Our Minds  a campaign developed to raise awareness and give a voice to children detained on Manus Island. Here you can write letters to the Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor and Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison demanding a fairer, more humane asylum seeker policy for Australia.

Leila Druery is a refugee advocate focusing on the rights of refugee and asylum seeker children. She has recently worked as Campaign Director for advocacy organisation Chilout (Children Out of Immigration Detention) and continues to dedicate her time to ensuring that children are not detained in Australian run facilities either in Australia or in the Pacific. Leila was part of a recent Amnesty International visit to Inverbrackie detention facility.

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