7 Mar 2013

The World's 'Third Worst' Firm Runs Manus

By Wendy Bacon

Last week detainees on Manus Island reported acute water shortages. Who is responsible for sanitation? Wendy Bacon investigates G4S, the notorious company contracted to operate the facility

Asylum seekers on Manus Island say their hopes were crushed by visits from the Minister for Immigration Brendan O'Connor and his shadow, Scott Morrison last week.

The visits took place during six days of water shortages which left toilets overflowing. Some 274 detainees, including 34 children and six pregnant women, were unable to shower or wash in the hot humid conditions.

Neither politician took time to carefully investigate the conditions in the camp, in which the detainees have been imprisoned for months.

Minister O'Connor told AAP after his visit that he disagreed with the United Nation Refugee Agency's recent report that conditions are"harsh or oppressive" and described them as "adequate" for a "temporary facility". Detainees told the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) this week that "we told him everything about the facilities here and the lack of water". A spokesperson for the minister said that he did have some concerns about lack of books for children and the crowded sleeping arrangements.

Detainees told the RAC that Morrison spent 15 minutes inspecting the compound and five minutes talking to them. They say they told him about lack of water, electricity, air-conditioning, proper medical facilities including any access to emergency treatment and the problems being experienced by pregnant women. "We told him that we sleep in wet beds and about the mice and snakes," the RAC was told. They did not see him visit the toilets.

The despair and conditions on Manus were less dramatic than the desperate scenes that would have greeted O'Connor and Morrison had they visited Nauru, where there are daily chanting protests. Between 20 and 30 asylum seekers are on a hunger strike and some have been so for up to 17 days. Of these, eight have sewn their lips together, four have been hospitalised on Nauru and one evacuated to Australia.

Following the politicians' visit to Manus, a 17-year-old Tamil girl attacked her body with a plastic knife after hearing news that a fellow asylum seeker friend on the mainland is going to school. While she suffered no serious physical injury, it was a sign of severe mental distress. Even those detainees who have been motivated to write stories say their hopes for freedom and an education are subsiding into a deep depression for which there is no treatment apart from counselling which they do not find helpful.

Their depression, which psychiatrists have repeatedly warned is produced by indefinite detention, is exacerbated when toilets overflow and there is no water for showers and washing in the stifling humid conditions that have left beds and tents sodden. This was the situation when the politicians visited.

O'Connor visited the camp on 25 February. On Sunday 24 February, there was no water for washing purposes between 10pm and 7am. On Wednesday 27 February, water ran out twice for hours at a time and on Thursday there was no water for six hours. This is not the first time water and power have been cut off during the long hot wet season on Manus Island. Even when the water flows, asylum seekers have only limited access to showers and must wash at scheduled times.

New Matilda does not know if O'Connor saw the toilets but a spokesperson for the minister who accompanied him said that she did not inspect them and used toilets elsewhere. No media were allowed to accompany the politicians.

In such a hot wet climate, one would expect that plenty of fresh water supplied by tanks on Manus Island. But there are no tanks at the camp.

When the decision was made to reopen Manus, the Australian Government knew that there was no fresh water. This had been one of many serious problems with the camp when it operated for two years under the Howard government. So it is not surprising that there have been continual complaints about the supply and quality of water since the camp reopened.

New Matilda asked DIAC for information about how the water is supplied and what is causing the breakdowns.

A spokesperson for DIAC told New Matilda:

"The department has ensured appropriate water supply solutions for the Manus regional processing centres, including harvesting of seawater through three Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs). The garrison service provider provides several trained ROWPU operators dedicated to the management and maintenance of the ROWPUs."

The "garrison" sounds like a military term but is in fact a reference to G4S, the world's biggest security firm that operates the camp. G4S is being paid $80 million by the Australian Government to operate the detention centre until October. Part of that contract includes the provision of water, which in Australia would be supplied by a public utility. As DIAC explained: "The contracted garrison service provider is responsible for managing water production vs consumption and applying appropriate water restriction measures if and when applicable."

What this means is that DIAC has left it up to G4S, a profit-making company, to decide how much water the detainees get each day and to apply restrictions if and when it wants.

DIAC also said, "the standards of water facilities and amenities in the Manus regional processing centre are in line with the living standards and amenities for local PNG residents on Manus Island." According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, only 10 per cent of Manus's 50,000 residents have access to safe water and adequate sanitation which why there are outbreaks of diarrhea, cholera and typhoid on the island.

G4S received worldwide publicity last year when it failed to deliver on its contract to supply sufficient security guards for the London Olympics. Recently, it was voted the third worst company in the world in awards presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Public Eye, a project run by Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland. After the announcement, G4S rejected the claims made by its critics but the accusations continue.

Only last week, G4S's heavy involvement in Israeli prisons led to a protest outside its headquarters in London after Palestinian Arafat Jaradat died after allegedly being tortured in a prison where the company provides security services. G4S is also involved in other Israeli prisons including al Jalame interrogation centre where children have been locked in solitary confinement for as long as 65 days.

G4S security guards were also detaining Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga when he died during a forced deportation flight from the UK in 2010. The Home Office and G4S initially said Mubenga had been taken ill on the flight. However, a Guardian investigation found witnesses who said Mubenga complained of difficulty breathing while being restrained by G4S guards, shouting "they are going to kill me".

Speaking during a House of Lords debate in which he criticised the decision not to charge the guards, an ex-Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbothom spoke of an earlier case: "There had been stringent criticisms by the coroner in the case of Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old who died in Rainsbrook secure training centre following the use of similar procedures for restraint by G4S guards," he said. "He, too, had called out that he could not breathe before he died."

According to a report in the Daily Mail in 2012, G4S paid no tax last year on its $279 million UK earnings.

G4S's current job on Manus Island is similar to its other thousands of contracts around the world. It aims to deliver on its contract, including the production of water, while minimising costs and making a profit. Its chosen ROPWU units are designed for military or disaster purposes for temporary use when there is no clean water available. The units are powered by diesel which has to be imported. When they break down, as they periodically do, there is no water until they are fixed. All drinking water is supplied by plastic bottle, the current brand being Kakadu Kanteen.

New Matilda asked G4S's Australian branch a number of questions about the water on Manus Island on Tuesday to which it said it would respond shortly. Answers had not been received at time of publication. Answers will be posted after they are received.

New Matilda asked DIAC if G4S could penalised for breaching its contract for failing to supply adequate water. DIAC said that it does not answer questions about potential breaches of contract.

In January, Humanitarian Research Partners (HRP), an NGO that specialises in human rights research, sent a detailed report to the Minister for Immigration, then Chris Bowen, the Minister for the Environment and Sustainability, the National Water Board and the Water Ombudsman detailing its concerns that the failure to provide safe and adequate supply of water was a breach of human rights, including several United Nations Human Rights conventions.

HRP Director Ben Pynt told New Matilda that he received letters from the Board and the Ombudsman telling "us that were concerned at the issues but it would be more appropriate to go the directly to Minister". He has received no reply at all from the ministers so he sent the report to O'Connor again last week, specifically asking for an explanation of why no back-up water systems has been provided for the ROWPUs which can breakdown.

Pynt argues that temporary large tanks for fresh water are often used in refugee camps when no permanent tanks are available. They are easy to transport and not expensive. The reason why no one can given him an explanation could be because the government has outsourced its decision-making power over the water supply to G4S.

Pynt said:

"It's really quite negligent on the government's behalf not to put any back-up systems that are cheap and really simple in place. It's a clear violation of the right to water and right to health of these vulnerable people who are in detention ... we are of opinion that it is cruel and inhuman punishment as covered by the Anti-Torture Convention.Within a month people can go from fairly stable state of mind to uncontrollable anguish and a lot of that has to do with indefinite detention and a lot of that is to do with the physical conditions in which they are being processed."

HRP are currently trying to find ways of holding the Government responsible and making "sure they understand what they are doing and what effect it can have on people". During the Rudd Labor government, Australia said it would sign the option protocol of the Torture Convention which would allow individual complaints to be made, but this has not occured.

After his visit, Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison expressed some "reservations'' about the state of the detention centre, raising the possibility a Coalition government could seek to shut the facility down or construct a permanent one. DIAC told New Matilda that it had no specific knowledge of plans for the permanent facility. A spokesperson for the Minister Brendan O'Connor said that he had inspected a possible site on the island when he was on Manus Island last week.

So the asylum seekers are left with no idea of what is going to happen to them other than that they will continue to live in these conditions. It must be scarce comfort to know that although O'Connor found the conditions to be adequate, Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the UN, the Refugee Council, HRP, Amnesty and many other human rights organisation consider the Government's treatment of them to be harsh and mentally and physically punishing.

The latest person to want to investigate complaints for herself is Australia's Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs. But the Government has advised her that she cannot go to the island to verify complaints although she does have the power to investigate them from Australia. This is despite the centres being set up for Australia, operated by private providers according to contracts negotiated in Australia and paid for with Australian taxpayers' money.

Part of the aim of having the detention centres offshore is to avoid Australia's responsibilities under its own human rights bodies and international conventions. It may be, however, that Triggs will not need to visit Manus to establish that failure to provide adequate water is a denial of human rights.

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that DIAC had no knowledge of a permanent facility and that the shadow minister had inspected the site.

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Posted Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 17:08

Why, why, why? Why is nobody being held accountable? Why are senior politicians telling barefaced lies? Why is the Human Rights Commissioner being prevented from doing her job, under what Federal Law? My brain is constantly in a spindry mode, and I am sick of the continuing sense of shame that I cannot do anything.

Frederika Steen
Posted Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 17:59

The Manus Island camp is but another refugee holding centre without hope. The shame is that it's occupants are Australia's responsibility to protect and treat with respect. Outsourcing services or location does not cancel bottom line moral or legal responsibility. That processing is not happening is predictable, given PNG's known un preparedness and known struggle to process claims from asylum seekers in the past. UNHCR has informed views, having been assisting for years. It is plainly an unacceptable abbrogation of Australian responsibility.

Denying adequate access to water for personal hygiene is an ancient form of humiliation and mental torture.It destroys self esteem. If this is not the intention, even if it is an unintended consequence, the only decent course of action is for Gillard to break the contracts and bring these asylum seekers here for priority initial processing of their claims and release into the community. They are damaged and punished enough.

K Brown
Posted Friday, March 8, 2013 - 01:32

New Matilda’s Chardonnay Socialists who comfortably reside in their city urban environments will be and are predictably outraged by Wendy Bacon’s report and asylum seekers’ carefully crafted complaints about their conditions on Manus Island. It is of course outrageous that Australian taxpayer’s like myself who live in un-airconconditioned homes in similar climates Queensland don’t provide them with air-conditioned accommodation. After all they are accustomed to this level of comfort in their homeland, countries of first asylum and the months/years we are told they have spent waiting in Indonesia for a boat to Christmas Island. It is only reasonable Australian taxpayers should provide air-conditioned accommodation. No doubt indigenous communities in remote locations around Australia will empathise with the lack of utilities that these people endure.

It is outrageous that water should not be available between 10.00pm and 7.00am. G4S’s Reverse Osmosis plant should run 24/7. Bugger the noise, environment and greenhouse gas emissions – it is quite reasonable that these people should be provided with Australian Standard utilities 24/7. The fact that 30,000 PNG citizens and Western expats on Manus Is put up with the vagaries of utilities supply in a developing country is no excuse for these asylum seekers not being provided with Australian standard services. After all this is what they paid the people smugglers for!

Posted Friday, March 8, 2013 - 07:12

K Brown, there is no reason why innocent people have to be tortured at vast expense just because they dared to pay their own way to get here.

?There is something completely twisted in your brain.

Posted Friday, March 8, 2013 - 18:13

And K, how do you know what conditions they lived in before being forced out?

You make a number of nasty, racist assumptions.

Posted Saturday, March 9, 2013 - 12:14

The reason why we, Australians, can force this suffering on fellow human beings, is because unfortunately, there are millions of people just like K.Brown, who have a very warped sense of morals and ethics, possibly because of total ignorance, lack of intelligence, lack of education, but more likely because that is just the way some ( a lot of) people are.
Our dreadful politicians, Labor and Lib, can see that there are votes in catering to this mindless lot of morons, and cater to them with policies that Herr Hitler, Ghengis Khan, Pol Pot, the Burmese Generals, the Zionist israelis would possibly consider note-worthy.
Our pollies have taken a page out of the notebooks of these monsters, but also the Administrations of the Greatest Hegemon on Earth, the United States of America, which has shown through several administrations that it has lost all moral compass, and has treated all 'others' (xenophobia) as non-human.
As long as WE allow OUR politicians to hide these refugees away from OUR sight, OUT OF MIND, and curtail any access to them by Human Rights organisations to hide their (Government) (what should be) shame, this will continue, as the Opposition now will only make things worse then they come to power, as seems only too likely.
No rational and thinking human being could possibly vote for either Party, which means Greens (reviled and feared by all Parties and by the Filthy Rich/Raving Right Wing Shock Jocks/MSM/ABC) and Independents are the ONLY available option.
Would it not be lovely if some sort of dread disease which only Right Wing pollies could go down with were to strike, and create all those vacancies. A second chance. Wonder if WE would take it, and actually elect decent human beings. All those mindless moronic millions of the 'KBrown' variety would also have to go down with some dread disease, and not be able to vote. Dream on!

Bill Laing
Posted Sunday, March 10, 2013 - 14:49

I have always wondered how Hitler got his way past the civilised German peoples, who had just produced Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. K. Brown shows us all how. Supposedly rational caring citizens J. Schmidt 1935 and K. Brown 2013, fall for the demonising trick: for refugees, Afghans and Sri Lankans 2013, read Jews, Gypsies and Poles 1935. For Hitler 1935 read Howard/Rudd/Gillard 2013. Australians all let us rejoice - let's all race back to the future!

Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 00:13

The idea that Australia’s most senior Human Rights official (Gillian Triggs) will be prevented from visiting Nauru and Manus is an absolute disgrace.

The ALP has adopted Howard's refugee policy and is now acting like Howard when it comes to scrutiny of its policy.

Does the ALP left still exist? Hello Tanya Plibersek? Hello Doug Cameron? Is anyone there?

Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 12:36

Tanya Pilbersek is keeping her head down, hoping not to get it shot off by the Right, and hang on to her Ministry. Being on the Ministry makes her unable to object to anything anyway.
Doug Cameron is the best of the remaining, but he knows that his chances of getting preselected next time are about zero. He may already have put in his notice.
The Labor Left (what goes for Left in the new Labor Party) is now just about non-existent. The so-called Socialist Left in Vict. is actually as Right Wing as any of the Tories. No, the Right is totally ascendant in the Australian Labor Party, even though it is getting a hiding in NSW, it's main base.
Factional deals make sure that only Right people are pre-selected in every State, and certainly now in Federal. Obeid and his followers have made sure that NO 'lefties' now exist in the NSW Party, with the possible exception of a few such as Faulkner, who have handed in notice anyway. Given up in disgust.
The ALP is now nothing more than a shadow of the Liberal Party, trying to attract the same voters, having the same policies in the main. The old plodder in the street would be hard placed to decipher a difference in their policies these days, and generally just give up in confusion. Neither Party even tries to explain their policies, because they know they would just confuse the voters further. After all, common Joe Blow out there is not Einstein, a long way from it. Maybe even Einstein would have a very hard time trying to find the essence of either Labor or Liberal Policies these days.
Does anyone really understand Gonski in Education. Sure as Hell, I was not any the wiser after Garrett and Pyne rambled on on Q & A last night. Half way though I gave up and went to bed. I doubt that anyone could ever get a straight answer to anything from either of them. Talk about dissemblers.
And the Tweeters wanted to know when the Government and Opposition (now) would cease Taxpayers money going to Rich Private Religious Schools, Catholic Schools, and to Religious Chaplains in State Schools. I despaired of an answer, did they ever give one???? And when are these Church schools going to be subject to discrimination laws?
Pollies do not listen to the voters. They have proved that loudly and clearly over the past 15 years. They Rule, we be subjects. Huh!