‘This country failed them’: calls for detention inquiry

Farid Farid and Dominic Giannini |

Asylum seekers and advocates are calling for a royal commission into immigration detention.
Asylum seekers and advocates are calling for a royal commission into immigration detention.

Former immigration detainees have described harrowing experiences and the death of their friends as they call for a royal commission into the detention scheme.

Refugee rights campaigner Zaki Haidari recalled his friend taking his own life after suffering in immigration detention when he sought asylum, saying he didn’t feel he was respected as a human.

He also pointed to the experience of a man who set himself on fire after saying he abandoned hopes of humanity in Australia.

“They survived the horrific boat journey seeking freedom, human rights and justice, but this country failed them to a point they took their lives,” he told an event in Canberra on Tuesday.

“As a Hazara man, I know how it feels to lose your family member, I know how it feels to keep running away from genocide and persecution in Afghanistan.

“But what pains me more is that continues here in Australia.”

Former detainee and human rights activist Behrouz Boochani said the powers of a royal commission were needed to expose the system and the impact it had on refugees and asylum seekers.

Behrouz Boochani
Behrouz Boochani is among former detainees calling for a royal commission. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

The system was only compounding the tragedies they were facing and a royal commission would challenge the pattern of inhumane immigration policies by both major parties, he said.

Kurdish artist and musician Farhad Bandesh, who came to Australia by boat after fleeing political persecution in Iran, was held for six years on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

He recounted being beaten, denied basic necessities and, for two years, bleeding continuously as detention centre staff refused him medical attention.

“This whole system is cruel and wants everybody to be silent – they tried to bury us alive,” he told AAP.

Mr Bandesh, 41, witnessed the murder of Kurdish asylum-seeker Reza Barati at the hands of security guards after a riot in 2014.

Fourteen asylum seekers have died in offshore detention centres over the last decade, including several deaths from self harm.

“This came from the top starting with the Australian government to doctors, nurses and security staff to put pressure on us, to make us crazy and drive us mad,” Mr Bandesh said.

He was later detained in a Melbourne hotel for 16 months after coming to the mainland for medical treatment.

Mr Bandesh was eventually freed on his birthday in December 2020.

Reza Berati vigil
Reza Berati was killed by security guards after a riot on Manus Island in 2014. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)

Independent MP Kylea Tink is helping spearhead the effort in parliament, telling the event that only a royal commission would tell the whole story. 

“It’s past time we held ourselves to account,” she said. 

“Only in telling the whole story will we be able to move forward. Australia’s immigration regime is unique … it’s uniquely cruel and it’s a unique denial of basic human rights.”

Julie Macken from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Justice and Peace Office is helping co-ordinate the campaign, saying politicians were seizing on fear to brand hundreds of asylum seekers as a threat to national security.

Dr Macken said a royal commission was needed in order to compel private security firms tasked with running offshore detention centres to produce documents outlining their lucrative government contracts.

She said the commission would also allow former detainees and centre staff to give evidence without fear.

“We can stop the hysteria in a cool, calm courtroom where all Australians get to hear what was done in our name,” she said 

“We all have trust in royal commissions and it removes this very toxic political football.”

Opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan said he didn’t support the push for a royal commission and the government needed to be focused on keeping Australians safe.

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