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Crikey has obtained graphic photos of a beaten asylum seeker sent from within an Indonesian detention centre. The photos, which were taken by a fellow detainee inside Kupang detention centre, have been passed on to the UNHCR and immigration officials in Canberra and Jakarta but so far there has been no official response.

The badly bruised man is an Iraqi asylum seeker, who was apparently bashed for trying to escape from Kupang. A fellow detainee, who has since been released, took the photos and passed them on to refugee advocates. He told advocates that the bashing was not an unusual occurrance.

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Pamela Curr, a refugee advocate from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, says that staff at the detention centre have not been disciplined for the beating, despite Indonesian officials being aware of the photos.

“Australians keep saying over and over ‘why don’t asylum seekers stay in Indonesia?’, well the fact is the conditions there are worse than they used to be,” Curr told Crikey.

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Curr said that, in the past, it was not unusual for detainees to bribe guards at detention centres, who would then “leave the door unlocked”. Guards were still accepting the bribes, she said, but instead were now chasing down the detainees when they tried to escape to prove they were not corrupt.

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The tough stance from Indonesian officials was a result of political pressure from the Australian government, said Curr. Last year, the Rudd government brokered a deal with the Indonesian government to accept 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who refused to disembark from an Australian customs vessel.

The deal, which was backed by millions of dollars in Australian aid, was part of a wide-ranging agreement between the two governments to work in tandem in order seek to discourage people smugglers and detaining asylum seekers.

“Under pressure from this government and the Howard government, the Indonesian government are continuing to detain people to stop the boats,” Curr said. “They keep them locked up even when the UNHCR have recognised people as refugees.”

In an open letter to both federal political parties, Human Rights Watch recently criticised Indonesia for its poor human rights records with respect to their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. It also held concerns for the apparent use of tasers on detainees in the Australian-built Tanjung Pinang detention centre:

With respect to Indonesia, an independent researcher who visited Australia-funded Indonesian migrant detention facilities reported in November 2009 that “detainees suffer malnutrition, depression, anxiety, skin diseases, vomiting and diarrhoea, and have been subject to violent beatings by Indonesian authorities.” Media reports this June described how Indonesian detention center staff use stun guns on detainees. No apparent effort was made in Indonesia to investigate these reports of ill-treatment or bring the perpetrators to justice. Media accounts have also cited a detainee stating that Indonesian authorities prevented them from meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees officials and doctors.

At the recent East Asia Summit, Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about establishing a new regional processing centre for asylum seekers, despite the fact that Indonesia are not a signatory to the UN refugee convention. Crikey understands that there has been no official response from Jakarta over the photos.

Peter Fray

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