Monday, September 12, 2016

Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru, by Madeline Gleeson

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Author and lawyer Madeline Gleeson has written a detailed history of Australia’s second offshore processing regime, from 2012 to the present day. Accessible and superbly researched, it deserves to be widely read.

Madeline Gleeson is a lawyer specialising in refugee law and international human rights. Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru is a detailed history of Australia’s return to offshore processing. Reintroduced in 2012 by the Gillard Labor government, much secrecy has surrounded offshore processing. Despite government attempts to draw a veil around Manus and Nauru, there is a wealth of reports, investigations and first person accounts, allowing a shocking picture to emerge.

The four hundred pages of Offshore catalogues an astonishing amount of reported abuse: rape, child sexual abuse, beatings, physical and verbal abuse. Page after page. If that isn’t bad enough, there is the poor state of the facilities: asylum seekers forced to sleep in humid, mouldy tents with inadequate protection from the rain, unsanitary showers and nowhere decent to go to for purposes of recreation. The whole idea of offshore processing, of course, is to make the lives of asylum seekers as bad as possible. Despite this, the level of cruelty is extraordinary. Even items basic to human dignity are made difficult to obtain: women are not supplied with enough sanitary napkins and underwear for men, women and children are always in extremely short supply. One boy is reported to have had his genitals exposed because he only had one pair of shorts that were ripped - and no underpants.

To make things even more hopeless for the asylum seekers, Manus and Nauru operate in legal limbo. If guards abuse detainees, who is responsible? Australia continually shifts blame back onto the host countries, while the host countries point the finger at Australia. For example, three Australian guards were flown out of Manus when they were accused of raping a local woman, rather than face court. Basic healthcare is also dreadful. Twentyfour-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei almost certainly died due to neglect: a cut on his leg developed into septicaemia. Timely medical care would have saved his life. In a terrible irony, Hamid’s organs were donated to Australians.

Madeline Gleeson lays out the facts of what we know in calm, dispassionate language. As she says in her conclusion, we can’t say we didn’t know what was going on.

Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru, by Madeline Gleeson. Published by New South Books. ISBN: 9781742234717 RRP: $29.99

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