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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Stanford Prison experiment & Australia's brutal immigration detention regime

The Stanford Prison experiment & Australia's brutal immigration detention regime

State-sanctioned human rights abuses in Australia

The Australian government's long-running off-shore program for detaining asylum seekers was plunged into chaos when the Papua New Guinea High Court ruled that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal because it violated the PNG Constitution. The PNG government subsequently announced that the Manus Island detention centre was to be closed, leaving the fate of the 900 or so men housed there undecided as the Australian government tried to shirk its responsibilities and refused to allow the men into the Australia.

PNG also stated that approximately half of the men held on Manus Island had been found to be genuine refugees and that they would be offered the opportunity to resettle in the country. However, they wouldn't be forced to stay. To date, only seven of the refugees have chosen PNG to settle in(1).

For a number of years, Australia has been using neighbouring countries, namely Papua New Guinea and Nauru, as its dumping ground for asylum seekers who arrived by boat in Australian waters. It arranged these through Memoranda of Understanding and 'aid' grants to the less developed nations.

Australia justifies its brutal off-shore program in the following ways:
  • labelling asylum seekers arriving by boat as 'illegal' or 'queue jumpers'
  • claiming that asylum seekers are being saved from drowning by deterring them coming to Australia by boat
  • that there is a flood of asylum seekers invading Australia
  • breaking the 'people smuggling' model
  • border protection
  • security from terrorism
None of these excuses are truthful nor do they excuse the brutality of Australia's actions.

First and foremost it must be remembered that asylum seekers are people who have fled persecution and war. Very few of these people are 'economic' refugees as some in the government try to portray. Most come from countries such as Burma, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Somalia. All countries with well documented histories of persecution or war.

Source: NT News

The asylum seekers are not illegal. If they were, why haven't they been charged with a crime? Not one has been charged for unlawfully entering Australia. Why? Because they have committed no crime. The terminology becomes confusing because the government updated Australian law to declare that asylum seekers arriving by boat without a valid visa are 'unlawful non-citizens'. However, this doesn't mean those arriving by boat have committed an offence. The government itself admits that boat arrivals have broken no law and states that 'although those who come to Australia by boat seeking Australia's protection are classified as 'unlawful non-citizens', they have a right to seek asylum under international law and not be penalised for their mode of entry'(2). This is because international law, i.e. Article 31(1) of the UN Refugee Convention(3) to which Australia is a signatory, states:

'The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence'.

The government's indefinite detention and refusal to accept genuine refugees is punitive and breaches international law. It specifically singles them out for arriving by boat and is aimed at punishing them accordingly.

As for them being queue jumpers? There is no queue. There is only an artificially created quota that the Australian government has mandated in order to suit its political agenda of harvesting votes from those who fear the foreigner. Again, even the government itself acknowledges there is no queue(2).

We are not saving asylum seekers from drowning by discouraging them coming to Australia by boat. Rather, they are trying dangerous crossings elsewhere in the world. There has been a significant increase in the number of refugees taking boats across the Mediterranean Sea with a subsequent increase in drownings there. It can be safely assumed that people who would have chosen Australia are now attempting the Mediterranean crossing at great risk to their lives. Typical of the conservative government, rather than solving the problem, they have merely shifted it elsewhere.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's puerile dog-whistling slogan, 'Stop the Boats', was about policy not people. The government's concern is not for the people presenting themselves on our shores requesting our help, it is for shoring up votes.

The idea of border security and presenting asylum seekers as illegal or a security issue, resonates with many in the community who are happy to live under the pretence of a security blanket that a fascist state provides. And Australia's treatment and demonisation of asylum seekers is fascist. It imprisons indefinitely and without charge, it removes people from their homes and detains them, it sends people back to their countries of origin regardless of Australia's refoulement obligations. 

Border protection? Security? No self-respecting terrorist would attempt the dangerous journey by sea. Terrorists are usually either recruited from within a country or arrive through other migration or travel channels, as the 9/11 bombers did.

Following PNG's High Court decision on 26 April 2016, Australia's Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton stuck his head firmly in the sand and stated that the decision didn't bind the Australian government. What he didn't seem to understand was that the asylum seekers were Australia's problem as they had been sent there by Australia with the agreement that it was a temporary solution until Australia sourced other countries for them to go to. Gillian Triggs, Australia's Human Rights Commissioner, took to the media to explain why the detainees were clearly Australia's problem(4).

The issue was escalated the following day when Prime Minister Peter O'Neill declared that Manus Island detention centre was to be closed(5). Despicably, Australia then tried to persuade PNG to change its Constitution to accommodate the unlawful detention of asylum seekers. It also tried to bribe PNG with the promise of more money. The government has sold its soul. Nothing illustrates this better, than Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull callously stating 'let's not get misty eyed over this', in relation to Australia's barbaric immigration policy(6).

The Australian Labor Party is no better. Its leader, Bill Shorten, reiterated that the ALP was on a 'unity ticket' with the Liberal and National Party government in not allowing any genuine refugees to settle in Australia. Four Labor politicians have opposed their own party's policy, with former UN lawyer, Melissa Parke MP admirably stating 'We have caused them enough suffering already. This is a sick game and it needs to end'(7). Parke went on to state that 'these people have suffered enough under a system that was designed to brutalise them in the name of deterrence'(8).

Brutalising people, including children, in the name of deterrence. Let that sink in.

Photo: Drawing by child asylum seeker on Manus Island: 'My mum is crying and I am sad'.

The government's platitudes about the off-shore detention policy being for the benefit of saving the asylum seekers lives is a load of Orwellian garbage. If Australia was so concerned for the lives of asylum seekers, then why is it refusing an offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 of them(9)? Because New Zealand is too safe and is not a 'deterrence'. Australia would rather see refugees settled in a less developed country such as PNG or Cambodia; countries with their own poor human rights records. PNG is home to a number of Australian ex-patriots, yet how many of those live in the general community? Few, if any. Instead, they live in high-security compounds because of the violence in the community, yet Australia expects refugees, people who've already been persecuted and abused, who've been brutalised by their own country and by Australia, to live within the violence that permeates Papua New Guinean society.

The Australian government wants asylum seekers to suffer. It wants its treatment to be a deterrence, to be a punishment.

The Australian government is persecuting and abusing innocent people, people who've been charged with no crime but who are being imprisoned indefinitely. What sort of government jails babies, children and innocent people? This is what the Australian government is doing.

Following the PNG decision, Australia considered a number of options, including transferring the detainees to Christmas Island, Nauru or even making the Manus Island detention centre an 'open' facility similar to Nauru. Given the animosity of some of the Manus Island locals and the murder of Reza Barati there in 2014, this would surely have been a deadly option to pursue.

Australia's abuse of asylum seekers has drawn world-wide condemnation. The New York Times published a scathing article of Australia's brutal treatment of refugees(10). The lies and brutality of the off-shore program has gone beyond just mere populist politics to become a horrendous indictment of Australia's inhumanity toward its fellow humans.

Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei died when he developed septicaemia after cutting his foot on Manus Island. It was medical neglect that his injury was left untreated for an unacceptable period of time, becoming septic before he was finally airlifted to Australia where he died from the infection(11). The Australian government is responsible for the treatment of asylum seekers and responsible the neglect and abuse of them, responsible for their maltreatment and deaths.

Detainees on Nauru are treated no better. The Australian government ignored the pleas of medical experts to bring a rape victim to Australia for treatment and an abortion(12). What callous mind does this? The same sick and perverted mind who then falsely accuses the victim of refusing to accept an abortion. Documents released under a Freedom of Information request revealed that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton lied about the reasons the woman wasn't granted an abortion(13).

On Nauru, an Iranian refugee known as Omid was so desperate and despondent, that he set fire to himself. He died in Brisbane on 29 April 2016 from his injuries. He isn't the only asylum seeker to suicide or self-harm. Meanwhile, Nauru charges asylum seekers if they attempt suicide(14), making no allowance for the horrors and loss they've experienced or the empty future they face at the hands of a barbaric Australian government that is more interested in votes that compassion.

These are just some of the victims of Australian brutality. There are many other examples of abuse, including violent sexual assaults(15), that highlight the culture of systemic violence in detention centres, and the government's negligence and atrocities.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott even gave ex-Navy vessels to Sri Lanka so they could round up Tamils fleeing the savagery of the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka's human rights record is atrocious and the UN has accused it of significant war crimes(16). Yet Abbott was more than happy to facilitate these crimes and human rights abuses.

Each of these actions clearly demonstrates the turpitude of a morally bankrupt government.

Manus Island and Nauru have been described as Australia's Guantanamo Bay(17).

If Australia genuinely wants to save lives and break the people smuggling model, it would be working with countries in the region, such as Malaysia and Indonesia and encouraging them to become signatories to the Refugee Convention as well as looking at safer ways to bring asylum seekers into the country.

Australia used to be the first safe haven east of Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan. Now, Australia is as bad as the nations that asylum seekers are fleeing. This is nothing to be proud of.

An Amnesty International reported identified that Australian officials had apparently paid people smugglers to return asylum seekers to Indonesia(18). On one hand, Australia wants to break the 'people smuggler' model, but with the other pays $31,000 USD to people smugglers - a strange way to break a business model(19).

The UN warned Australia that boat push-backs breached the Refugee Convention(20). It also found that Australia is breaching international laws on torture(21) and is in violation of international laws on the rights of the child(22). Furthermore, Australia has been returning asylum seekers to their countries of origin when they have a well-founded fear of persecution. This is called refoulement and it also violates international law(23). Only Australia and the United States have challenged this and continue to refoule refugees to situations where they face arrest, persecution, death(24).

Article 33(1) of the UN Refugee Convention(3) states:

'No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion'.

Despicably, the Abbott government introduced the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014 in order to grant themselves the power to refoule by including the following clause:

197C Australia's non-refoulement obligations irrelevant to removal of unlawful non-citizens under Section 198(25).

It's not asylum seekers who are illegal, but the Australian Government.

Most Australians support the government's position on asylum seekers(26). Most believe that asylum seekers are 'illegal' and that there is a flood, even though both claims are manipulations and falshehoods promoted by the government. By end of 2013 (a period when boat arrivals were near their highest), asylum seeker boat arrivals accounted for 6% of Australia's population growth, compared to other migrant arrivals which accounted for 56% of Australia's population growth, while 38% was from Australian births(27).

Source: Costa A, New Matilda
If Australians are so concerned about the rule of law and the legality of seeking asylum then they should be concerned about their own government's illegal actions(28). Asylum seekers aren't abusing anyone's human rights, they aren't torturing people. They are the victims of persecution from their own country and Australia.

There needs to be a Royal Commission into Australia's brutal, inhumane and illegal treatment of refugees. These policies are not about keeping Australia safe but purely about abusing people for votes. Politicians such as former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who established the Manus Island detention centre, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who was the architect of the PNG Solution (where no refugee would resettle in Australia but would remain in PNG), former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, Prime Minister Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton should all face charges under Australian and international law for gross and deliberate human rights violations, for abuse and torture.

In 1971, the Stanford Prison experiment was conducted by Professor Philip Zimbardo in which he studied the psychological effects of prison life in a simulated prison(29). People were profiled to rule out anyone who had psychological issues. The remaining volunteers were assigned to be either guards or prisoners. Not long into the experiment, the guards made up their own rules and committed vile abuses against the prisoners, who either rebelled or degenerated physically and psychologically.

Australia's gulags are our own Stanford Prison. Our politicians are the prison guards and the asylum seekers are the prisoners. The government has made up its own rules, referred to prisoners (including children) by number rather than name, shaming and blaming the victims, used harassment, retribution and dehumanisation. The abuse and brutality being committed by the government is no different to the abuse and brutality that occurred in the Stanford Prison experiment and the effects on the prisoners mental and physical health is also comparable. The off-shore detention program is based on dehumanisation, fear and an insatiable lust for power and votes.

While the government has now released most children from detention, hundreds were detained for years. The terribly detrimental effects of this on children and their parents were well detailed in a 2014 review into children in detention(30).

Source: Getup
The Stanford Prison experiment recommended that prisons 'promote human values rather than destroy them'(29). Some 45 years later, Australia's politicians have learned nothing and are proudly destroying human values and lives for the sake of populist politics.

The government is doing this for one reason: votes. It is a sad truth that the policies behind the 'Stop the boats' mantra is popular with the Australian electorate. In fact, there is a tangible anger, even hatred, from many Australians towards those who they believe are queue-jumpers or not genuine refugees. Of course, Australia's concern for 'genuine' refugees is laregly non-existent given that half population of the Manus Island detention centre have already been assessed as being genuine refugees, yet most Australians don't want them in our country.

The reaction and behaviour of Australians towards the world's most persecuted people demonstrates the veracity of The Stanford Prison experiment and shows that many Australians would gladly fulfil the role of torturer as they fail to stand up against their own government's crimes against humanity.

Inimitable American author and social critic, Gore Vidal once observed, 'It is true, as Sartre once wrote, referring to French Army atrocities in Algeria, that the real tragedy in our time is that any of us can be, interchangeably, victim or torturer'.

How true this is for Australia.

History will eventually show this to be one of Australia's most disgraceful periods and its perpetrators, the politicians who've implemented and sanctioned it, will be viewed as despotic criminals. And the people who demanded and supported these policies? Will be seen as sheep, blindly manipulated by fear to support gross human rights abuses.

Related article

Australia's Lord of the Flies: fear, mob-rule and the killing of asylum seekers


1. ABC News, Francis Keany and Louise Yaxley, 'Manus Island detention: PNG responsible for asylum seekers, Peter Dutton says', 29 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

2. Parliament of Australia, Janet Phillips, 'Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?', 2 March 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

3. United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol adopted 28 July 1951 entered into force 22 April 1954, Accessed 30 April 2016.

4. ABC News, Fact Check, 'Is Australia responsible for asylum seekers detained on Manus Island?'28 February 2014, Accessed 30 April 2016.

5. BBC News, 'Papua New Guinea to shut Australia's Manus Island migrant camp', 27 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

6. ABC News, Anna Henderson and Stephanie Anderson, 'Manus Island detention: Malcolm Turnbull warns Australians against being 'misty-eyed' on immigration policy', 28 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

7. Sydney Morning Herald, James Massola, 'This is a sick game and it needs to end': Labor splits over asylum seekers', 28 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

8. Melissa Parke MP, Latest News, 'Asylum seekers should not be political pawns', 28 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

9. The Guardian, Helen Davidson, 'Turnbull rejects New Zealand offer to take 150 refugees from detention', 29 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

10. New York Times, The Editorial Board, 'Australia's Brutal Treatment of Migrants', 3 September 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

11. ABC News, Emma Pollard, 'Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei brain dead in Brisbane hospital: Refugee Action Coalition', 5 September 2014, Accessed 30 April 2016.

12. Sydney Morning Herald, Bianca Hall, 'Australia ignored its own medical experts' pleas to bring Nauru rape victim here', 28 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

13. SBS, Robert Burton-Bradley, 'Department's claim that raped refugee rejected abortion wrong, FOI reveals', 2 January 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

14. The Huffington Post, Josh Butler, 'Nauru refugee Omid Dies From Burns, As Two Reportedly Arrested For Suicide Attempts', 29 April 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

15. The Guardian, Paul Farrell, 'Not Seen, not heard, often not reported - the harrowing stories of Australia's detainees', 10 June 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

16. Sydney Morning Herald, Ben Doherty, 'Tony Abbott's gift to Sri Lanka comes under fire', 18 November 2013, Accessed 30 April 2016.

17. Sydney Morning Herald, David Isaacs, 'Nauru and Manus Island are Australia's Guantanamo Bay', 29 February 2016, Accessed 30 April 2016.

18. Amnesty International, 'Australia: Damning evidence of officials' involvement in transnational crime', 29 October 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

19. The Guardian, Claire Phipps, 'Did Australia pay people-smugglers to turn back asylum seekers?', 17 June 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

20. UN News Centre, 'Australia: UN agency concerned by reports that asylum-seeker boats forced back to Indonesia', 10 January 2014, Accessed 30 April 2016.

21. Human Rights Law Centre, 'UN finds Australia's treatment of asylum seekers violates the Convention Against Torture', 9 March 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

22. ABC News, Fact Check, 'Children in detention: Is Australia breaching international law?', 8 April 2014, Accessed 30 April 2016.

23. The Guardian, Richard Ackland, 'Handing back asylum seekers is called refoulement. And it's illegal', 7 July 2014, Accessed 30 April 2016.

24. Sydney Morning Herald, Jane McAdam, 'Our obligations still apply despite High Court win', 30 January 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

25. Australian Government, Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014, Accessed 30 April 2016.

26. ABC, The Drum, Peter Lewis, 'Voters say: punish asylum seekers, just don't give them our cash', 23 June 2015, Accessed 30 April 2016.

27. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Detention and Refugee Statistics - as of 29 February 2016 Accessed 1 May 2016.

28. SBS, Kerri Worthington, 'Does Australian asylum policy break international law?', Accessed 30 April 2016.

29. Stanford Prison Experiment, Accessed 1 May 2016.

30. Australian Human Rights Commission, 'The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014)', Accessed 1 May 2016.

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