“I’ve never been hit so many times on my head for nothing.” That’s what one detainee in the Christmas Island detention centre told Solidarity after guards went on a violent rampage last week.
Terence Michael Terekia said detainees were upset at being denied food and clothing and began a protest.
Serco management deployed its riot squad, the Emergency Response Team (ERT).
“We all got forced together and sprayed with gas and most of us hadn’t done anything,” Terence said.
“The ERT were using their riot shields like weapons.
“Once people had surrendered the ERT still came and slammed the shields down on our guys.
“They kicked me in the head three or four times and hogtied my arms and legs. Then they stood me up and beat me up again.
“I’ve got a split lip, a split head and bruises.”
Terence said he and others were put in a van to be driven to the Red One compound, a drive that would normally take four or five minutes.
“But it took 20 minutes. There were three ERT in the van and they stopped four times along the way and all of them bashed me on the head, even though my hands were tied.”
Terence said life in the detention centre was harsh, with detainees including refugees sometimes being caged for weeks.
He is a 501 detainee, meaning that the Australian government is in the process of deporting him to New Zealand for failing the “character test” because of a criminal record.
Yet Terence has lived in Australia for 20 years and has an Australian wife and son, as well as two step-daughters.
“I’ve been in detention for about one and a half years, including five months on Christmas Island, waiting for an outcome from my appeal to the Federal Court,” he said.
“They treat you like animals in this place.”
Justice advocate Filipa Payne told New Zealand website TeAoMāori.news that the bashings were criminal. “It’s total brutality and I challenge why is this legally accepted when, if a person in society inflicted this, they would be arrested and charged.”
She said the majority of detainees on Christmas Island were New Zealanders or Pacific Islanders.
“Men in the facility are frustrated, some are suicidal and virtually all are struggling with mental health issues,” she said.
“They have all reached a point where they were protesting, which is the only sort of empowerment they have.
“Christmas Island particularly, the mental health decline and the brutality from guards has been escalating in the last year.
“No one visits the islands, no one makes contact with the guys,” Payne said.
As of last November, 77 per cent of detainees on Christmas Island were 501s.
The Coalition government has stepped up its deportation drive—a move former Immigration Minister Peter Dutton shamefully called “taking out the trash”.
After the Migration Act was amended in 2014 with a stronger “character test”, the number of people being deported shot up from about 200 a year to 1000 or more. Many of those facing deportation are held in detention for years.
The character test is a racist concept that suggests that “foreigners” are responsible for crime. It allows the Liberals to parade as “strong on borders”.
Yet many people facing deportation have lived here most of their lives. Some have not even committed crimes.
Unlike citizens who are jailed for crimes and then released, people being deported under sections 501 or 116 of the Migration Act face the additional punishment of detention and deportation, in many cases to countries where they have no connections.
Refugees on temporary visas who get caught up in this system of horror may be detained indefinitely if it is dangerous for them to return to the country from which they fled.
In one piece of good news, the Coalition on Wednesday abandoned a Bill that would have made the Migration Act even harsher and allowed it to deport more people, following protests by refugee supporters and pushback by the Law Council of Australia.
By David Glanz