In 2012, Australia’s Human Rights Commission concluded that the country’s “system of mandatory detention breaches fundamental human rights.” Christmas Island, which the commission found “is not an appropriate place in which to hold people in immigration detention“, is at the centre of that system.
While little is known about what actually happened during the November 2015 riots, and after them, what preceded them is revealing. Fazel Chegeni, an Iranian Kurd who’d been tortured in Iran and granted refugee status in Australia, still found himself in the immigration detention system. Over four years, in which, as Fairfax Media discovered, five immigration ministers “defied repeated advice that this was the last place he should be”, the damaged and vulnerable asylum-seeker was incarcerated beyond hope and understanding. Fazel Chegeni escaped the centre. But escaping here is not really escaping. There’s nowhere to go, and no way to get there.
His body was found two days later. How did he die? No one has said. But his death appears to have triggered a furious reaction from some of the men he was incarcerated with. Riots. $10 million worth of damage. Seven detainees, including New Zealanders, handcuffed and flown out to a maximum security prison in Perth. And then the clean-up, and the consequences, including reports of men who hadn’t rioted, but couldn’t escape the riots, being held in cages…,,
Back in New Zealand, United Future leader Peter Dunne wrote: “The modern concentration camp approach Australia has taken is simply wrong. It was wrong when the British tried it in Northern Ireland in the 1970s; it is wrong in Guantanamo Bay, or in Israel today. Australia is no different.”
His words have had widespread coverage in Australia, with a surprising amount of agreement. But, Gordon Thomson (head of the local government at Christmas island) who wants the centre gone from his beloved island, said: “That’s the whole purpose of it. The remote location is ideal for the government’s purposes – that’s to have a secret, the most secretive regime that they can possibly achieve within our legal system, and Christmas Island is the place they can do that best.”
Excerpts from John Campbell, Unlocking Christmas Island’s secrets, Radio New Zealand News, Nov. 16, 2015