Rape and torture at the Manus Island detention centre have been ignored and potentially covered up by the Department of Immigration, according to a former manager for contractor G4S.
In an exclusive interview with the SBS Dateline program's Mark Davis on Tuesday night, Rod St George said that detainees who were the victims of rape would “be returned to the compound [where]they’d be assaulted or raped again”.
“There was nothing that could be done for these young men who were considered vulnerable, which in many cases is just a euphemism for men who are being raped,” St George told Dateline. There was no facility to separate victims of violence and rape from their attackers, he said.
Dateline spoke to new Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who asked to be provided with the specifics of St George's allegations, and said he would soon visit Manus Island.
“You have on camera the vision of the first time I was told of this particular allegation,” Burke said. “And you have on camera my precise responses to how I intend to deal with it – and that’s what I intend to do.”
St George believes that Immigration Department staff had not fully informed the minister about the serious allegations. “I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the Immigration Minister does not know just how bad it is,” he said.
“The briefings that we had, especially those about victims of sexual assault and rape and so on and so forth, the responses that we saw from some members of the department, and one person in particular, led us to believe that this was not a matter that needed to go any further … any report would be watered down after that."
Burke spoke to Rod St George last night after the Dateline story was broadcast. He told the ABC's Fran Kelly this morning that he first heard the allegations around two weeks ago, and received the specifics directly from St George at 8pm last night.
“There's no doubt that what's been described involves situations and crimes which must not be allowed to occur,” he said.
St George told Dateline that rates of self harm are vastly higher at Manus than at centres in Australia and that detainees are often “assaulted in their tent at night or in the ablution blocks in broad daylight”.
“In Australia the facility couldn’t even serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be jailed,” he said.
Read the Government's contract with Manus operator G4S — published exclusively by New Matilda.
The former G4S risk assessor and OH&S officer decided to blow the whistle after two men were “coerced to sew their lips together” by fellow detainees. Lip sewing has been a controversial means of protest by detainees across the detention system, but St George says at Manus it was torture — a “standover tactic” used by some detainees against others:
“There was a man who was a heavy I suppose, by prison terms, and he had a few men around him. They were the tough guys of the compound and they wanted to make a statement, and so forced a couple of guys to sew their lips together. They weren’t going to do it themselves – a statement had to be made – so they basically stood over a couple of guys and made sure they did it.”
One of the detainees whose lips were sewed had previously had his eardrum perforated when detainees poured solvents in his ear.
“It is insane,” St George said. “[A]bout three or four days later they were permitted to have the material cut [by the heavies].” Again, the victims were put back in the tents with their attackers.
“Look, it was obvious that … [detention centre and Immigration Department staff]were way in over their head,” he said.
St George said Manus detainees are also well armed with “manufactured weapons that have been purchased for them”, mostly knives.
The detainees and guards both predict that a major outbreak of violence is inevitable. “The detainees are quite open that, there will come a time when they will break out and that people will be killed. They are quite open about that,” he said.
G4S requires staff to sign confidentiality agreements under threat of imprisonment, but St George believes others will speak out if the threat of punishment is removed.
“There was no doubt among the senior members of some of the NGOs that if this was not dealt with that there would be a Royal Commission,” he said.
The ABC's 7:30 program last night broadcast interviews with whistleblowers from the Nauru detention centre, who said the riot at the detention centre over the weekend was the predictable culmination of years of violence at the centre.
Mark Isaacs, a former worker with the Salvation Army, said he was present during “two riots or two uprisings” over the last 10 months.
“I've witnessed a man suffer a psychotic episode within the camp and not be treated for three days,” Isaacs told 7:30. “This deterioration of mental health plays a large part in the incidents that have occurred. There's been a building tension within the camp, building frustration ever since we first arrived.”
AFP officer Sergeant Brendan Thomson told 7:30 he had been stood down after writing to the Home Affairs Minister ahead of the 2011 Christmas Island riots, urging the government to address systemic issues of violence and abuse. His letter received a “received a brief, dismissive reply”.
Like the staff at Manus, the Nauru centre operator Transfield has been anticipating violence. After a clash at the centre in October last year 40 sets of riot gear were ordered.
Tony Burke will be responding to specific suggestions put to him by St George, including things “as simple as … physically making sure people the more vulnerable people were kept separate,” he told Fran Kelly this morning.
Because of the “significant expansion” of Manus Island, Burke told Kelly, he would be able to address “[spatial]configuration problems,” “issues of training and staffing,” and “some specific issues that went to where levels of authority in staffing arrangements didn't match some of the 'cultural expectations' of authority”.
Burke was less forthcoming on allegations of Immigration Department complicity. “There are more formal arrangements to deal with allegations of that kind,” he said.
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