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An advocate for New Zealanders in Australia’s offshore corrections facilities says a video showing bloodied prisoners after an altercation with guards where they were apparently beaten with steel pipes is emblematic of the "total brutality" prisoners face in custody there.
The video released to TeAoMāori.news from the Christmas Island detention centre northwest of Australia’s mainland shows several men bleeding heavily, with lacerations to their legs and bodies and zip-tied to furniture in a dining area.
Justice advocate Filipa Payne says the men were protesting treatment and conditions at the facility and the wounds were inflicted by its Emergency Response Team (ERT), which was called in to end the protest. Payne says officers in riot gear used batons and steel pipes to subdue detainees, despite their compliance, laying down with their hands in full view.
"The men were completely compliant, they did everything that was asked of them," she says.
"It’s total brutality and I challenge why is this legally accepted when, if a person in society inflicted this, they would be arrested and charged."
A Christmas island detainee sustained a head wound during the operation to clamp down on a protest against perceived human rights abuses. / Supplied
Payne says the majority of those who were subdued were Kiwis "if they weren't New Zealanders, they were Pacific Islanders".
Men in the facility are frustrated, some are suicidal and virtually all are struggling with mental health issues, she says.
"They have all reached a point where they were protesting, which is the only sort of empowerment they have," Payne says.
"Christmas Island particularly, the mental health decline and the brutality from guards has been escalating in the last year."
"No one visits the islands, no one makes contact with the guys," Payne says.
The entrance to the Christmas Island detention facility north-west of Australia / DIAC
Protest against living conditions and brutality within Australia's offshore detention facilities has continued for decades. In 2014 Christmas Island detainees of whom Payne says Kiwis make up approximately half, went on a hunger strike.
Some of the prisoners have been there for eight years as they await appeal or deportation. It’s worse for some Pasifika peoples, she argues, because those nations are not always obligated to take their people back.
"For Samoa and Tonga, those countries are not compelled to take their people back, so the Tongan nationality is the second-highest indigenous detained group and that is where the majority of those people are held."
A Christmas island detainee sustained a leg wound during the operation to clamp down on a protest against perceived human rights abuses. / Supplied
Detainees are being deported under the Australian government’s 501 scheme, which allows non-citizens to be returned to their country of origin for crimes, or perceived bad character.
Aotearoa has consistently opposed the action on the grounds of New Zealanders' reciprocal right to work and live indefinitely in each other's country.
In 2020 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hit out at her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a much-trumpeted public bilateral meeting next to the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, saying the Aussie government was "testing" the trans-Tasman relationship; the Aussies, however, haven’t budged.
While Payne accepts the New Zealand government is limited as to what it can do, she claims it's not doing what is within its powers. She’s calling on the government to provide legal aid for those Kiwis wishing to fight extradition to New Zealand.
Payne says many have no connection to Aotearoa, given they, or their parents, may have migrated to Australia as children; the detainees had their own lives, children and jobs in Australia, Payne says.
"Allow these people the empowerment to have the financial resources to do their appeal to the best of their abilities."
A bloodied 501 detainee at Australia's Christmas Island detention centre / Supplied
Beyond legal aid, the New Zealand government should lean on Australia to release pensions to detainees, so they can fight their own battle, and should that fail, get a fresh start when they arrive in New Zealand, instead of ending up on social welfare.
“There are approximately 3000 deportees in New Zealand now. What are you going to do when there are 10,000?"
"That is the reality regardless of whether you're empathetic, sympathetic, or have no understanding of the impact this has on deportees. New Zealand has to stand up, work with them now and address it.”
Payne says the men in the video, rather than being given an opportunity to complain about the treatment they received by officers, have been told to expect charges for the protest.
"That’s the outcome. Many are needing medical care but instead have been placed in isolation. No support, no care, no interaction. Isolated, shut away after a beating."
The border force which runs the Aussie facility, and Aotearoa’s foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta, have been asked for comment.