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We Don't Have The Power To Defend Ourselves Against The Government's Misinformation

Why have refugees been forced out of sight and, seemingly, out of any legal system where we could seek redress?

27/04/2017 3:50 PM AEST | Updated 27/04/2017 4:01 PM AEST

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has falsely claimed that the shooting at the Manus Island detention centre on April 14 was linked to refugees taking a five-year-old boy to the centre.

In fact, the incident started when drunk soldiers had a serious argument with refugees who had been using the soccer field. During the incident that followed, the drunk soldiers shot about 100 times. Bullets hit the refugees' rooms and tents, and some refugees were injured by rocks that were thrown at them by local people.

The incident also seriously traumatised many Australian staff at the centre. Dutton's claim has been strongly rejected by refugees and by the police commander in Manus. It has insulted both the refugees and local Manusians.

But on 'Insiders' on Sunday, in his most substantial media appearance on the subject, instead of apologising for making a false statement, Dutton again insisted it was true, apparently dismissing the statements made by the Manus police commander as part of a "Twitter version" of the events.

I am not going to make a case here about Dutton being a liar. He continues to talk about an event that did not happen and he and his department have dodged calls to release the footage.

I want to focus here instead on the evidence that Australia's policy of offshore detention of people seeking asylum is fundamentally established on the basis of lies and concealment, and that the Australian government has benefited from conflict and division.

The Minister's comments can be understood in this light. First of all, Australians have been lied to by the government's fiction that seeking asylum by boat is illegal. They have been turned against their fellow humans and can only tolerate the abuses on Manus and Nauru by thinking wrongly that we are the ones who have committed a crime. But the government's lies only started there.

After each devastating event during the past four years, like the deaths of fellow refugees, the Immigration Minister or spokesperson has never considered our side of the story. They have felt safe in the knowledge that this system is built on concealment and deceit.

Journalists are denied access to the centre and most staff still risk prison sentences if they speak out. We on this remote island do not have enough power to defend ourselves against the Australian government's misinformation because most of the media listen to what the officials say, and not to the refugees who have been forced both out of sight and, seemingly, outside of any legal system where we could seek redress.

The history of lies from the Australian Department of Immigration is the history of this remote prison. After the detention centre was attacked in 2014, former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the media that "transferees pushed down fences and moved outside the detention centre" and that local people killed Reza Barati outside the fences. The refugees, who had witnessed Reza's murder inside the detention centre in front of their eyes, had to endure this lie until it was subsequently proved wrong.

We on this remote island do not have enough power to defend ourselves against the Australian government's misinformation because most of the media listen to what the officials say, and not to the refugees who have been forced both out of sight and, seemingly, out of any legal system where we could seek redress.

The government has continued the deceit. International human rights organisations have described Australia's treatment of people in offshore detention as torture. We experience this torture. However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected these claims as "absolutely false". Hamid Khazaie and Faysal Ishak Ahmed failed to receive adequate medical care, yet Peter Dutton still insists that medical care in offshore detention is better than in some regional areas of Australia.

I would like to stress that both the Manusian people and the refugees are the victims of this system of lies and deception. The Australian and PNG governments never asked the Manusian people if they wanted to take 1000 strange men into their island. To have this forced upon them is completely disrespectful of the people, their culture, their land and their wishes for their own future. On the other side, the refugees have been exiled to this island and kept here by force against their will.

Peter Dutton's comments about the incident on April 14 will make more trouble between refugees and Manusians, and make the situation more unsafe for the Australian staff who are working here. If trouble comes from it, it will be Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian government who are responsible.


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