LIFE FOR DETAINEES at the Manus detention centre is humiliating and excessively cruel, says Graeme McGregor, refugee campaign coordinator for Amnesty International Australia, who has just returned from a week on Manus.
What he found inside the centre was bleak and far worse than he had anticipated. The entire system has apparently been designed to mentally break asylum seekers and force them to return from where they've fled. In one compound, he found 112 asylum seekers crammed into a sweltering, windowless shed.
Asylum seekers are routinely humiliated from the moment they arrive in Manus. They're referred to by their boat numbers instead of their names. They're denied enough water, medical help and contact with their families. They lack basic necessities like clothing, soap and shelter from the extreme heat. Some said they have contemplated suicide because of the harsh conditions.
Medical professionals told Amnesty that they are unable to treat serious illnesses, and that the inhuman conditions are contributing to depression, anxiety and trauma. They were frustrated with the lack of mental health services and basic sanitation - and the complete lack of response from Australian authorities to any requests.
At Friday’s most recent and typically farcical "stop the boats" press conference in Canberra, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejected Amnesty's claims and chillingly warned non-government organisations to be careful about what they say after visiting asylum-seeker detention camps.
It seems to be a case of out of sight, out of mind as far as Australia's treatment of refugees is concerned. We don't even know exactly how many people are arriving (although more informed reports are available in the Jakarta Post).
In the latest twist in the Manus saga, the Salvation Army and security outfit G4S have been told their contracts will not be renewed. It seems that the Salvos were being too nice, and G4S too nasty.
The Salvos provide humanitarian aid, medical help, counselling and social events for the detainees. But some Salvation Army employees have incurred the wrath of the Australian government for leaking reports about the true state of conditions there.
G4S have been accused of cruelty, abuse of detainees and harassment of journalists and NGO's. It is worth noting that G4S have been in serious trouble in the UK recently, where they are contracted to run prisons and criminal tagging systems.
They were caught with another security firm, Serco, seriously overcharging the government, even sending bills in for prisoners who had escaped or died. They have both lost their contracts in the UK.
The situation at Manus and Nauru detention centres is a disgrace and I will be complaining to my local member about this blight on Australia's reputation. I'm not holding my breath for any positive action though.
It is a sad day indeed when Australia - once welcoming to thousands of refugees from war-torn Europe and south-east Asia - now seems to be in a race to the bottom of persecuting and vilifying these desperate people.