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May 18, 2017

Scale of Surveillance in Manus Island Detention Centre Laid Bare | Australia News : The Guardian | Australian Immigration and Asylum - May 18, 2017



theguardian.com
 
Ben Doherty

Within the Manus Island detention centre, everything is watched.

Guards stand over public and private spaces, CCTV monitors corridors and staircases, while roving patrols detail in incident reports where refugees are gathered and who is talking with whom.

Despite the move to an ostensibly “open” centre, the level of surveillance inside the detention centre remains, according to those held within it, oppressively high.

“Everywhere we can go they are watching,” said one refugee, who declined to give his name because he feared it could jeopardise his application to be resettled in the US. “Even outside the camp, they are following, monitoring us.

“We have no freedom, no peace. We have no life.”

Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal how in detention, refugees and asylum seekers are forensically monitored by staff, who report back to central databases on issues such as their appearance (“Well-groomed/dishevelled”); their manner (“Engaged with a warm manner”, “Unstable and incoherent”); and associations (“Seen talking to X and Y”).

All refugees and asylum seekers are given “risk ratings” based on their past behaviour, risk of suicide or self-harm, behaviour towards others, and history of refusing to eat or drink. Any change in demeanour, even in something as simple as failing to say hello to a caseworker or guard, is noted and categorised.

Daily the camp “mood” is rated, and a “threat level” assessed, considering the likelihood of disturbance, violence or mass protest.

Despite the move to an “open” centre on Manus, and permission being given for refugees to have mobile phones, camp managers maintain a close watch on communications.
Computer use is comprehensively monitored and landline phone calls inside the detention centre are all listened in on.
But while everything inside detention is scrutinised, of perhaps even greater concern is an all-pervasive fear over outside eyes looking in.

Prime among the Australian camp manager’s concerns about the Manus immigration detention centre is the risk of “reputational damage”.

Its planning documents reveal repeated concern about “adverse media” and the release of information “causing reputational damage to PNG/Australian governments”.
Several refugee advocates seeking to visit Manus have been turned around at Papua New Guinean immigration in recent weeks, while others have been arrested, removed from Manus Island, and deported from the country. Journalists have had their pictures plastered on posters around the camp with warnings – Toksave – that they should not be spoken to.
Free reportage has been the bete noire of the detention regime on Manus. The “media handling” directions for the centre tell staff “the department has an interest in the management of publicity and media”.
“No member of staff employed by any service provider in any capacity will make unauthorised statements or comments to the media at any time.”
Under the Border Force Act, detention centre workers who speak publicly about conditions inside or treatment of refugees face up to two years’ jail.
A media inquiry at the detention centre, or “anything likely to cause major media interest”, is ranked as a “critical incident”, the same rank as somebody murdering someone or killing themselves, an escape, a fire in the detention centre or large-scale protests.
Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Hotlines in other countries can be found here