The whole process of detaining and interviewing people was nothing short of mockery. I have to stay anonymous as I am still scared of possible repercussions. I was present at the so-called “interviews” in some detention centres such as Curtin Base in Western Australia and Woomera in South Australia.
Interviews were conducted in a small barrack room; there was an applicant, immigration officer, an interpreter and so-called “legal representative” who had no access to his client and could not contact him even in the presence of the immigration officer.
In Curtin Base it was easy; most of the “illegal entrants” were Hazaras. Every single one of them repeated exactly the same memorised short statement: “I am Hazara, I am Shia and I am clean shaven.”
There was no individual assessment of the cases. It was described as a “joint application” and as far as I know all Hazaras got their visa after a very short interview (and the Howard propaganda was blabbering about strict health and security checks). During one of those interviews, an immigration officer from Perth went to the toilet. During this very short time an Urdu interpreter asked a legal rep whether he could help him to find out about the interpreter’s brother’s whereabouts.
“I know that he arrived in Australia”, the interpreter said, “but I cannot locate him — the lists of detainees are very confidential and I do not want to lose my job.”
I did not want to lose my job, either.
In Woomera, an Iraqi doctor asked (whispered to) the legal rep if he could get him any newspaper as he was going mad doing nothing all day with no contact with the outside world. The lawyer brought a Time Magazine in the next day and was sacked.
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Regardless of this, the money was absolutely great. Qantas tickets from any part of Australia to the destination were paid for, the best hotels were paid for, full accommodation with free telephone calls, and a rent-a-car which required (only) my physical presence at the interviews (and only three interviews per lawyer daily were allowed) — for which I received about $3,000 per week. The rest of the day one could spend in the hotel swimming pool, restaurants, get a free car and do a bit of sightseeing, etc.
It was in public knowledge that Ruddock’s friendly Migration Agencies were “contracted” for “legal” decorum and that they in turn “subcontracted” lawyers and in some cases — the entire family. Those family members stayed in the job for months. They were getting mega bucks and made themselves known ie. at the pearl market in Broome.
Lawyers were sworn to secrecy and the Immigration Department personnel (officers, interpreters, compliance, interpreters, maintenance, etc) flew daily from Perth to Port Hedland or Broome (Derby), or stayed in hotels. They also had free accommodation in the local hotels, and the local businesses were booming: taxis, restaurants, hotels, pearl market, Japanese restaurant in Broome, rent-a-car, local airlines, etc.
I had never seen such a public money extravaganza in my life. Although I know that Labor introduced detention centres, and I am not a Labor voter, there was a huge difference between DIMA running the infamous centres and the private agency ACM.
ACM should be charged for incredible abuses of the detainees, most of them totally innocent. Instead, Ruddock would extend their contract. It’s a big mystery to me and some nasty comparisons come to my mind.