Failed push for media access to detention centres

The UNHCR has slammed the federal government's immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Greens say the Federal Government is guilty of a cover-up by refusing to allow media access to the immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young moved a motion in the Senate calling for media access but the Federal Government voted against it.

Sarah Hanson-Young says it's obvious the government wants to avoid any close scrutiny.

The Department of Immigration says media access can't be granted because it's still in negotiations with the governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

But whether that's the only reason is open to question given that the Federal Government has just voted against Sarah Hanson-Young's motion calling for full media access.

The Senator says journalists should be allowed in, the current ban on photographs and footage of detention facilities needs to be lifted and asylum seekers and refugees who consent to being interviewed should be allowed to speak freely to the media.

Sarah Hanson-Young recently visited the detention camp at Manus Island and says her visit was tightly controlled.

"One of the most disappointing things about the trip was that I was banned from using my camera, banned from using my telephone and I had all those items confiscated from me. I said that I was happy not to take photos of people, just photos of the facilities and of course the conditions are so bad that the government did not want that photographic evidence to be shown."

She says the conditions on Manus are deplorable.

"The conditions themselves are so bad that even refugees don't have access to privacy in their bathrooms. In the single male adult camp, there's five men sleeping in one small tent, crammed in together, no air conditioning, it's pretty stifling, I sat in one of the tents with them for quite sometime and it was a relatively cool day and yet it was over 35 degrees in the tent but the worse thing is, is that these men can't even go to the toilet in private, the government is refusing to put doors on the toilets in the men's bathrooms and it just adds to the entire de-humanisation of them as human beings as vulnerable refugees in the way this camp is being run."

Non-government organisations such as Amnesty International have been allowed access but their visits are tightly controlled too.

Alex Pagliaro is Amnesty's Refugee Co-ordinator and says its delegation was barred from taking pictures on Nauru.

She says Amnesty would have liked to have taken a number of photographs had permission been granted.

"We would have been able to photograph the flooding in the centre, we would have been able to photograph the very sort of harsh nation of the compound they're kept in where the ground is made up of crushed rock, there's no greenery, we would have been able to show the state of the toilets and the showers and it's disappointing because, you know, when we returned it was implied by politicians and people in the media that we had exaggerated or that we were biased in some ways and that was colouring what we were saying about the conditions there. However, we really could have proved that what we were saying was merely the truth had we been able to take photos."

Amnesty International and the United Nations Refugee Agency have both issued reports highlighting their concerns about the conditions inside the detention centres and reports of self-harm and attempted suicides are common.

A nurse who spent three weeks at Nauru last November likened the centre to a concentration camp and says she witnessed four hangings.

While the Department of Immigration has offered assurances that the detainees are offered what it calls a good quality of care, Sarah Hanson-Young says the media should be allowed inside to see for itself.

She says despite journalists agreeing not to identify people within the camps, the federal government's determination not to grant them access indicates it wants to avoid close scrutiny.

Journalists and camera crews can get access to detention centres on the Australian mainland but the visits are subject to a legally enforceable contract called a Deed of Agreement which includes numerous restrictions, including allowing the Immigration department the power to review all footage.

It can then request the footage be edited or deleted depending on its contents.

Source SBS

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