Image for Releasing vulnerable people from the oppression of our own government ...

*Pic: Adam Richards passes by a police 4WD ...

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Adam Richards nears the end of the trek ...

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The trek is ended ... Adam Richards and Adam Thorn

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Rod Bower, with Adam Thorn

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Rod Bower and Adam Thorn

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The “boat regatta” ...

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Adam and Ned have chosen not to be neutral, they have chosen to side with the oppressed, and so must we.

Adam and Ned have walked almost 1200km, but they have not done this alone. People are walking… all over this planet people are walking… walking to escape oppression, violence and abuse… walking hopefully toward a better, safer, more animated life. We must walk with them, if not physically, then in spirit.

We must not… we cannot walk away from them. Only toward them… only with them.

There are those in our own country, and in many developed nations throughout the world, who refuse to walk with the oppressed, the asylum seeker and the refugee. Not only do they refuse to walk with them, they feel the need to run from them. What makes them feel the need to run? Fear! Fear of the other… yes… bet even more so, fear of the fragility of their own life situation.

Of course in the developed world life is never as tenuous as marketing machines would have us believe, and certainly never as frightening as populist politicians and megalomaniac manipulators need us to believe.

If we want to release some of the world’s most vulnerable people from the oppression of our own government, if we want to close the camps, if we want to liberate those who seek nothing more than freedom to live in peace, then we must first free the Australian people from the grip of the populism, nationalism and fear that crushes their humanity, and denies the humanity of the vulnerable.

For this to be achieved we need three basic things.

In this post truth world where alternative facts seem to win the day, we must have an absolute commitment to not only truth and fact, but also the conscious integration of the two.

Secondly, we must have an absolute commitment to non-violence in thought, word and deed. As Dr. King said “ I will not only refuse to kill my enemy I will refuse to hate him.” We must oppose the rise of this new form of nationalism with every fibre of our being, but the moment one violent act is committed for the cause is the moment the cause is lost.

Thirdly we must appreciate the incredible value of personal experience and relationship in changing people’s minds, in enabling them to move from the house of fear to the house of love.  This will neither be an easy road to walk… nor will it be a short journey. Sadly I think I have come to see that we are a very long way from once again becoming a Nation that we can be utterly proud to identify with, and to call our own. But if we do not continue the journey… we will never get there.And so we remain people of hope… giving hope to the hopeless. 

We will not give up.  We will not only tell the truth, we will live the truth that every human being is of equal value and dignity. We will not only talk about peace, we will live peace by intentionally choosing peaceful hearts and peaceful minds.  We will not only talk about generosity, we will live generosity and welcome people of other faiths and cultures into our country and into our lives.  Further, we will help our brothers and sisters build friendships with those who live in the house of fear until the foundations of that house crumble. And then together, we can build the house of love.

Adam and Ned, we congratulate you both. In a nation that appears to be losing it’s national soul, the impacts of your generous and selfless act of walking for those who have no voice, who are unable to continue their own life’s journey, can never be taken away… or negated… or forgotten. You two incredible human beings have walked us down the street in which the house of love can be built… it us now up to us to take this journey with others. For the sake of our nation and all humanity… we must do this… we will do this… we cannot fail.

And so may your god bless you and if you don’t have one may you bless one another.

*Fr Rod Bower is a priest in Gosford Anglican Diocese

A symbolic “boat regatta” on Lake Burley Griffin also coincided with the completion of Adam and Ned’s long and arduous walk. Ned Thorn and supporters intend to remain for the opening of Federal Parliament on Tuesday 7 February 2017.  Adam is due back at work in Adelaide. However, young Ned and fellow activists will present the petition to the Australian Federal Parliament, with the names that have been collected during his walk, and by other activists on the car convoy and elsewhere. A rally was also be held in Sydney today at 2pm, near St James Station, Hyde Park North, corner Elizabeth & Market Streets, City.

Close the camps now and #bringthemhere. #canberrawalk.

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• Music teacher Anthea Falkenberg, above, a refugee advocate from Adelaide, has visited detainees on Manus twice in recent months. This is the speech she gave at the #WalkforFreedom Refugee Rally in Canberra on Saturday ...

Systematic Deprivation and Torture, in Australia’s Offshore Processing Centres

I thank you all for being present today in support of the people - men, women & children -continuing at this time to be held hostage on Manus Island and Nauru, Australia’s notorious Offshore Processing Centres. I also thank you on their behalf, and would like you to be clear that they do feel your support when they are aware of an action such as a rally on their behalf.

Do not underestimate the power of any action you can take to do this. Facebook shares, posts & interaction; speaking to friends, family and workmates; writing letters, emails and making calls to politicians. It is all valuable, and we need the active support of you all.

I can tell you morale is generally very low on those islands. Many people are in despair, depression and illhealth caused by their continuing imprisonment. Many, many are suicidal.

What I would like to bring to your attention today, is the systematic nature of the abuse being meted out in the Processing Centres. People are indeed being slowly “processed to death”, an apt quote from the Nauru protests.

An accepted psychology premise is that the most fundamental Biological and Physiological needs are: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.

Read that list again: Air, Food, Drink, Shelter, Warmth, Sex, Sleep.

Think of what you know about conditions in Australia’s offshore immigration pressure-cookers. Especially Manus.

WARMTH is the only one of these essential conditions met in a reliable manner. And it is cruelly oversupplied.

The others are subject to varying degrees of deprivation.

The AIR is fetid, carrying unpleasant through to toxic particles, due to unhygenic conditions, diesel generators, inadequate air conditioning, poor ventilation and overcrowding.

FOOD. Well, plenty has been said about the Manus food. It is consistently inadequate in both quantity and quality. And it is nasty, sometimes rotten, mouldy or bad-smelling. Malnutrition is a problem that we will not be able to assess until these men are released, but I’m sure it is common.

DRINK. Bottled water. Sometimes tea or coffee. I cannot believe in that climate that iced water is not considered a basic. I’m sure it is available for employees. At times water has been in short supply. (Also at times the toilets cannot be flushed due to inadequate plumbing arrangements)

Water is more of a problem on Nauru. On Nauru some of the refugee housing is in areas that periodically experience a complete lack of water. Refugees – on very limited means -  must buy bottled water for all food preparation and drinking. They are told to wait until the water is restored to wash or shower and to do laundry. Some of these families have babies and young children. In which case of course bottled water must be used for the inevitable cleaning.

SHELTER. Hovels and mouldy tents. We spend billions of dollars to house people in structures that were either never meant to be more than short-term, or were never meant to contain human beings (shipping containers, for example). And we leave them there, packed in like sardines, for over three years.

SEX. Not so much a fundamental human right, as a human need which we all have a right to seek. An essential part of our self-expression and also related to our innate biological drive to reproduce.

In the crowded living quarters of the Manus compounds, where privacy is close to nonexistent and conflicting cultural attitudes must create some uncomfortable situations, boys who were 15 years old when first incarcerated here, have grown up interacting with their only female peers online. Those boys are now young men, just eighteen.
They continue to form relationships online, have their hearts broken online, etc…

At least one of those very young men maintained a relationship for three years with the girlfriend he had left back home. Around the three-year mark her parents, perhaps understandably worried by her waiting for someone who was still indefinitely detained, persuaded her to marry another man. It broke my heart to witness the pain of that. Imagine what it did to the young man with no means left to persuade his love or her parents that he was worth waiting for. No date to give them for when this would end.
And that story can be applied - with variations of age, culture and parents swapped for wives and dependant children - to so many of the Manus hostages. So many personal tragedies caused by our punitive immigration policy.

There are also remarkable stories of married couples keeping faith with each other, in relationships of such beauty and respect that I am humbled to witness them.
At the same time there are reports of sexual harassment and assault within the Centre.

And of course we have heard that on Nauru, rape is a constant threat to the single women living outside the Processing Centre. One woman in an interview was heard to specifically say that she chose to marry another refugee there for protection against rape. One young woman has been raped three times by Nauruan locals. There has not been one arrest or prosecution, for all the known rape cases. Not one. And even within the Processing Centre, sexual harassment is commonplace and well-documented.
I am sure that on both islands, there are also refugees who have found love and comfort in relationships with each other, but unsurprisingly I only know of specific cases of this on Nauru.

SLEEP. A big issue. Difficulty sleeping plagues almost everyone. Sleeping tablets are readily available, and addiction to them is common. With the aid of sleeping tablets, some men manage to sleep away their boredom for the greater part of each day. At the same time many men barely keep going on a few hours or less daily sleep.
To recap, here is that list again: AIR. FOOD. DRINK. SHELTER. WARMTH. SEX. SLEEP.

The most fundamental Biological and Physiological needs. And they are ALL, all being compromised or denied, to the greatest extent in Manus, but also quite considerably on Nauru.

And on Nauru, this denial, this deliberate stunting of the human psyche, is being imprinted on the babies born there, from the very start of their life. It is all they have known to date.

If DIBF had deliberately strategised to remove the most basic and fundamental freedoms of the offshore hostages, the result would be scarcely distinguishable!
They were already deprived of family and friends, homeland, work and education, before they had the misfortune to fall into the clutches of Border Force. All those, so ordinary, good things that we take for granted day after day.

And over the past three years the most fundamental of human needs have been largely made unreliable or unavailable to them, to a point where life feels scarcely worth living.

It seems almost scientifically honed to a point of unbearable anguish. Anguish to take once strong survivors to the brink of suicidal despair, or to drive them back to the place they fled for their life.

Coupled with the known psychological effects of indefinite detention, this constitutes systematic torture indeed.

The “Freedom” that has been added to the mix on both islands, a mockery of freedom, given the limitations and dangers both inherent in the local environment & those created on the fly – jerry-built as it were, by the architects of these gulags, as an attempt to wriggle out of legal situations posed by two court cases… this “Freedom” has only added to the danger, fear and confusion in the minds of many of the prisoners. It exposes all who choose to accept it on Manus to increased risk of attack and injury. On Nauru there is no choice; refugees must live outside the Processing Centre, and theft, violent muggings, stonethrowing and rapes by Nauruan locals are a daily fact of life for them.

All this is then compounded by the added insults and abusive treatment from some of the paid – very well-paid - staff in the Processing Centres.

At sensitive times, when the men are feeling particularly troubled, on Manus Island, the guards – Wilson ERT, Emergency Response Team –are seen to conduct daily training sessions in view on the open area used as a sports oval, rigged out in body armour, marching up and down and, in the words of one of the men,” practising their attacks”. This instils fear into the minds of many of the men, as this drill has been seen before, a number of times, and several of those occasions have resulted in attacks on the detainess, injuries and a death, that of Reza Barati, in February 2014.

The insults, abuses and physical threats are a daily fact of life for the detainees.

As is the well documented and continuing inadequate – to the point of being abusive – to the point of being described in itself as a form of torture – inadequate & abusive treatment from ihms. International Health & Medical Service.

A few months ago, in the Manus RPC, a man who I believe had his collarbone dislocated or broken from a beating by two guards, was being denied even seeing a doctor, after an initial check where his ribs were xrayed and found not to be broken. He was in much pain from it, and had been for months since he was beaten. He was beaten immediately following a failed attempt to hang himself. this attempt failed because “the ceiling broke”. This was his third attempt to commit suicide in the last 2 months. And the reason for the suicide attempts??? The unbearable and constant pain he has been suffering for years from conditions that ihms have failed to treat.

And very recently, another man was denied treatment for malaria, by IHMS, until he threw a rock through their window, which then led to them calling the local PNG police to arrest him. However, the police instead listened to his side of the story and took him to the local hospital for treatment, where he was given a course of antibiotics, which not surprisingly proved ineffective. They also allowed him to sleep on the floor of their office that night, instead of in the filthy local jail. The next day after a further check at the hospital he was returned to the camp, where he continued to become more ill. Some days later, ihms retested for malaria and at last began treatment for it. Three weeks after they could have done so. He is now recovering. BUT, I know of other men who have had similar delays and lack of treatment for malaria, who have subsequently had heart attacks. In fact, at least one of those is now in Australia due to the severity of his heart condition. And this is SHAMEFUL.

As are the repeated horror stories of pregnant women and their treatment, or lack of it, several in this situation currently. And the ugliness and health risk of small children growing up in mouldy tents set in a landscape coated in phosphate dust.

So we must ask, why is our government doing this?

Why is it so locked in that they will not relinquish it, no matter how much proof comes to light , slowly and painfully and by the sacrifices of whistleblowers and refugees,the continuing efforts of lawyers and refugee support groups and thousands of volunteers?

Two things are behind this…

One is money. Very large corporations, working hand in hand with a government department which has become militarised. With offshore operations on islands where there is known corruption and where the local people are disempowered. There is money to be made in this.

It is yet to be known exactly where that money has been directed, but it is perfectly obvious at every turn that it is not into the care of the people being warehoused on Manus and Nauru.

it will be a story for a future day.

Secondly, the mechanism for making this an effective deterrent, and effective means of breaking people, is that the deprivation, the inability for the companies: Transfield, Broadspectrum, Ferrovial, Wilson, Serco, IHMS, and even The Salvation Army, Save the Children and Connect – those hired to deliver the offshore regime – the inability to deliver in a humane and supportive manner, is designed into the limits placed on their operations, and where the emphasis lies in how they communicate and what they are required to report. In the whole structure of how those operations are carried out. It lies in the physical, social and psychological environments in which the island camps are placed, most carefully set down exactly where they will be hardest to see clearly. Where voices will be muffled. Where there will be misinderstanding and miscommunication between the local people, the staff and the refugees.

The end result is that the systematic deprivation and torture must make you so TIRED that you cannot think straight, any more. So tired that you long for real rest, not the endless boredom of no work, no education and you begin to believe, no future.

All this vast effort, this massive, cobbled-together detention machinery, this enormous, money-sucking monstrosity, is ultimately focussed down to just two things:

making every refugee and asylum seeker so miserable and tired they just want to go home, or they choose to go the easy way, to find freedom – like Omid, like Fayzal – to go home in a box.

And money. Don’t forget, someone is making money out of this.

This is deliberate, perverse destruction of lives. These people have been repeatedly denied the basic ingredients of a good life, when we could with the greatest of ease, have granted that.

However,  it is the denial of true freedom, that most haunts the thoughts of those continuing to be Processed to death.

Here are the words of one young Manus man, a 22 year old former bio-med student:

• I am both terrified and saddened by the reality that my life has become continued in a cage, I often look out at the ocean from the land where I am forced to live. Do you know what it is like to have to look out the ocean through a fence? Do you know how it feels like when you have no control over your life? What is bothering all of us here is not having the freedom and being in limbo.

Please fight for these people. They need you to join their resistance to the inhumanity of our government’s policies and actions.

Make no mistake about this. We in Australia need to end this, and to end it now.

The shadow of it will haunt us, it will not and should not be erased.

But we are not free until we end this abuse, and the abuse within our onshore immigration detention centres, as well. Until we end the genocide of our First Nations people and can stand together with them AND those who’ve come across the seas, our boundless plains to share… we will not be free.

So – fight for their freedom. Protest. Rally. Investigate and hold to account. Write. Speak out. Donate.

Do not forget.

Because they cannot.

We stand #WithRefugees. Stand with us