27 Jul 2023

Refugee advocate calls for inquiry into Australia's offshore detention regime

7:53 am on 27 July 2023
Australian detention centre on Manus Island, PNG

Australian detention centre on Manus Island. Photo: REFUGEE ACTION COALITION / AFP

A former refugee wants Canberra to support a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Australia's handling of offshore processing practices.

"A Royal Commission is the only way to move forward," Asylum Seeker Resource Centre advocacy manager and former refugee, Ogy Simic, said.

The call follows what he's labelled explosive allegations of systemic misuse of taxpayer funds in offshore detention, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

This comes off the back of revelations the Scott Morrison government struck a secret deal with the Papua New Guinea government to hold about 75 refugees and asylum seekers in Port Moresby.

"It's been an absolute scandal," Simic said.

"Last week marked 10 years since politicians in Australia sent over 3000 women, men and children to brutal offshore processing detention centres."

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's advocacy manager Ogy Simic (left) at rally in July 2023.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's advocacy manager Ogy Simic (left) at rally in July 2023. Photo: Supplied/ Ogy Simic

In December 2021, Australia announced it had ended offshore processing in PNG and washed its hands of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers.

However, Simic said the prospect of a commission happening is unlikely.

He said a big campaign would be needed and a result could still be some years away.

'Our requests were blocked'

Before now, there had been suspicions a deal with the PNG government had been struck but Simic said attempts at securing evidence failed.

"We put in a Freedom of Information request. At every turn, our requests were blocked," he said.

"We were not given the information that we were looking for."

But last week, the information finally came out in Parliament.

Simic said it confirmed what refugee advocates had already believed was happening.

"We've always known that there's something going on," he said.

He said the allegations were "really scandalous" nevertheless, and it was something that needs to be addressed.

"What we know is that there's been a lot of money pouring into offshore processing; we believe over $14 billion [AUD] over the last 10 years.

"But those held in offshore processing are still reporting that their financial allowances are insufficient to buy enough food or for essentials."

System for suffering

An artist and musician who was previously detained on Manus Island, Farhad Bandesh, said the system was designed for suffering.

"We saw everyday acts of corruption, exploitation and censorship that were designed to keep us detained and keep the detention camp operating," he said.

"Now we hear that this kind of corruption was likely widespread, and could have involved senior politicians and officials on both sides."

Bandesh said this is what happens when a government creates opportunities for people to profit from the torture of other people.

The remaining Manus Island refugees have been moved to Port Moresby.

Many have serious health conditions that need urgent treatment.

Farhad Bandesh (right) protests in MITA.

Farhad Bandesh (right) protests in MITA. Photo: Farhad Bandesh

'Nothing less will do'

The Human Rights Law Centre said change should start with the immediate evacuation of the 75 remaining refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea.

A spokesperson for the Centre said "nothing less will do" after ten years of "travesty".

The Human Rights Law Centre wants to see accountability for the payments and the remaining refugees.

Questions remain

The secret deal with Papua New Guinea came after PNG's Supreme Court shut down formal regional processing arrangements, and the Australian government claimed to have no ongoing involvement.

"We really want to get to the bottom of what the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is," Simic said.

"We want to understand what's happening."

He said ultimately his team, like the Human Rights Law Centre, just wants to ensure people were evacuated to safety.

After ten years of what the refugees have described as mental and physical torture, advocates are pushing for change within the Australian government.

Simic firmly believes one day a future government will apologise for the travesties they have been shining a light on, and until then, he will keep on fighting for justice.

In a statement issued to RNZ Pacific in June, Australia's Home Affairs Department said, "the Australian Government remains committed to an enduring regional processing capability in Nauru as a key pillar of Operation Sovereign Borders".

RNZ Pacific has requested interviews with the PNG and Nauru governments.

Mostafa Azimitabar, Craig Foster and Farhad Bandesh.

Mostafa Azimitabar, Craig Foster and Farhad Bandesh. Photo: Craig Foster

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