Papua New Guinea residents have told guards at Manus Island they will kill every last refugee that their government tries to settle in the country.
Steve Kilburn told a packed Kurilpa Hall today that he had every reason to believe they would carry out the threat. “This was just after I saw the police and army line up pointing guns at each other metres outside the detention centre.” Kilburn had called the police after interrupting an attempted rape by an Army officer.
“This solution cannot work, is not designed to work and the only logical explanation for it is that we are just trying to break the spirit of these people,” he told the packed meeting organised by the Refugee Action Collective.
Kilburn nursed forty wounded inmates lying on bloody mattresses for two days, with only Panadol to relieve the pain of broken limbs, ribs and in one case a completely smashed eye socket. His stories were corroborated by speakers from Amnesty International as well as guards who wished to remain anonymous because they want to return to work and one ex-guard who broke his silence for the first time at Kurilpa Hall.
Prisoners are kept without shade in tropical sunshine and refused hats. They queue for hours in the hots sun for meals because the inadequate kitchen facilities run out of food part way through meals. Guards offered to build shade structures out of spare materials already on site but were disallowed. When Amnesty visited the shade structures were erected, only to be removed after the Amnesty visit.
Shoes provided by humanitarian aid groups in Australia to protect inmates feet against the harsh rocks and jagged coral that makes up the floor of the compound sit under lock and key in a container next to the compound. Shoes are offered as rewards to prisoners who comply with the guards.
Prisoners in ‘naughty corner’ do not have toilets. They shit in a hole in the ground and the stench makes the guards physically ill when they walk past. Prisoners are allowed 4 minutes of shower a day in one or two sessions. They have to shower facing a guard who times them to ensure they do not use more than their share of water. Water is one of the resources that causes bitter resentment with the local people. The mountains of rubbish and the drain on medical resources are others.
Every speaker described the unholy heat and the overcrowding with people sleeping centimetres apart and one narrow walkway through 160 beds crowded into a space designed as living quarters for twenty people.
Because of the highly insanitary conditions all inmates and guards are “fogged” sprayed with a chemical to reduce infections and infestations. One 72 year old asthmatic, collapsed every day during the fogging. Guards offered to walk him out of the compound during the fogging, but were refused. He now huddles in a shelter with a wet towel over his head and hopes not to die. Every day.
Mr Kilburn believes that most Australians simply do not believe how bad things are. “They turn a blind eye because they think these people have come here illegally and deserve to be discouraged. They do not believe that our government could be doing things this bad. We are deliberately torturing these people.”
A number of asylum speakers spoke about their experience in refugee camps and detention centres across the world. “These detention camps are the worst ever. They are worse than the prisons I fled in my home country,” one speaker said.
Mr Kilburn believes that the government feels that the program is a success. They are prepared to sacrifice these humans as a deterrent to other refugees. He believes the deliberate cruelty is specifically designed to make refugees give up and return home even if they face certain death.
Other speakers supported this, quoting people saying they would rather die at home with family than in a prison camp between the tropical sun and jagged coral gravel.
Mr Kilburn spent three days trying to get a Syrian man to eat bread because he had stopped eating after finally giving up his attempts to seek asylum in Australia only to be told that he could not go home either because the Australian government could not guarantee his safety.
He feels that he is a failure because he dragged his family from their homeland in the hope of a better life only to see them trapped in this tropical hell from which they are told every day there is no escape.
All the speakers talked of the threats they face by speaking out. They are in breach of confidentiality agreements so broad and so draconian they cannot even mention that they are under a confidentiality agreement. They know they will never work in the security industry again or work for a government agency. They are told they will be refused loans or credit and so may never buy a house or a new car. These are serious threats in Australia.
Steve Kilburn told a shocked audience that he has had to decide that nothing the Australian government can do to him is worse than it is doing to the asylum seekers.
“They can come and get me”, he said, “because when they do, I will have my day in court and I will subpoena everyone who has ever worked for these agencies in my defence and the whole story will come out into the harsh light of day. They do not want that.”
While most people attending the meeting were already opposed to offshore processing the overwhelming majority are shocked at the atrocities being carried out on the orders of our elected government. The overwhelming mood of the meeting was that we must collectively get out there and talk to people who are opposed to cruelty but might have supported offshore processing because of fear of refugees.
Understanding and truthful information are the best tools to overcome fear.
Information is available from the following sources