Australia's Blackwater Update: Christmas Island Detainees Sew Lips Together

11/19/2010 09:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I recently wrote a column for Truthout about the refugee prisons in Australia detailing one of the facilities (Villawood) where a 36-year-old Fijian national named Josefa Rauluni committed suicide by leaping from a roof. (I nearly got tossed from the place because one of Serco's employees saw I had scribbled "Fiji suicide" in my notes.)

Daniel, my guide for the Villawood tour, wrote this week to inform me that there's been another suicide at Villawood. Here's the email he sent:

From: "****************" <******************> Date: 16 November 2010 3:05:10 AEDT To: *********** Subject: [*************] Another Villawood suicide Reply-To: ****************



An Iraqi asylum seeker, Ahmad, is believed to have committed suicide at
Villawood detention centre around midnight Monday night.

Detainees found the man hanging in a bathroom and took him down and
eye-witnesses are sure he was dead. Some people are very angry that it took
45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Initial reports indicate the man, 41 years old, had a wife and four
children. He had been in detention, on Christmas Island and in Villawood,
for over one year.

He had been rejected twice under the off-shore processing arrangements that
were found to be invalid in the recent High Court decision.

All other detainees in stage 3 have now been mustered on the soccer field.
There are a large number of police in the detention centre and the
atmosphere is anxious and tense, according to asylum seekers inside the
detention centre.

"We are shocked and very upset," said one detainee, "People are crying. He
knew about the High Court [decision] but there is no new policy. Everyone
very tired. We wait day after day."

"The factories of mental illness have claimed yet another victim," said Ian
Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

"We are devastated by this news. A number of us visited asylum seekers in
Villawood on Sunday to let them know about the High Court case. The High
Court decsion seemed to provide a small window of hope, but for some the
wait is too long and they have given up hope already.

"Incidents of self harm are becoming daily occurrences at detention centres
across the country. There needs to be a full inquiry into Ahmad's death and
into mandatory detention itself. The mandatory detention system is
literally killing people.

"In 2008, Labor declared that detention was a last resort but it the first
and only resort for asylum seekers arriving by boat. There are other asylum
seekers in Villawood who have been found to be refugees but are still
waiting after 18 months. This is the second suicide in Villawood in just
over two months."

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

As the email details, Ahmad had been held previously on Christmas Island. Between his time on Christmas Island, and in Villawood, Ahmad had been in detention facilities for over a year.

Yesterday, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed that ten detainees have sewn their lips shut at Christmas Island detention centre to protest their conditions. Additionally, detainees immediately declared a hunger strike after they heard of Ahmad's death.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for all refugees and asylum seekers who arrive by boat. There are five domestic centers in Australia located near Sydney (Villawood,) Melbourne (Maribyrnong,) Perth (Curtain,) Christmas Island (offshore) and Darwin (Air Force base,) but the government has also sub-contracted with other nations in the past to detain immigrants offshore, including Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Indonesia.

A private security company named Serco manages and operates the centers in Christmas Island, Perth, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney. But this massive company doesn't limit itself to making a profit ($136.6 million in the first half of 2009) from incarcerating human beings. As I wrote for Truthout:

The company is at the forefront of privatized public infrastructure, operating numerous facets of London transport (and the IT infrastructure of the London Borough of Southwark,) the Great Southern Railways in Australia and the Dubai Metro. It also supplies air traffic control services to international airports in Bahrain, Dubai and smaller airports  in the United States, and since 2004, Serco has had a $7.9 million annual contract from the US government to manage airports in Iraq.

Serco's privatized tentacles even ensnare health and education, including management services at several British hospitals. Currently, Serco holds a ten-year contract with Bradford City Council, Walsal and Stoke-on-Trent to manage and operate the local education authority, which entails providing education support services such as the dispensing of a student information system called "Facility" to schools and colleges around the world.

The company even has a $114 million contract with Ontario to operate the province's Drive Test driver examination centers.

Quite literally, you could experience a Serco-provided life from morning until night and never realize it.

And the Australian version of Blackwater's tentacles are creeping further into the state to ensnare more public services. Serco just announced that it has signed a new contract valued at £650m over 25 years with the UK's Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (Sandwell) to deliver its new Waste Improvement Plan (WIP). Overall, the company expects revenues to increase to about $8 billion by the end of 2012.

Unlike Blackwater, it seems as though Serco has been allowed to operate with a fair degree of anonymity. Hopefully, following these detainee suicides, and an increased intentional awareness of the refugees' plight, that will begin to change.