A- A A+

Say no to increasing force against detainees

Pamela Curr |  29 November 2015

One of the most disturbing aspects of Border Force's takeover of detention camps has been the militarisation and increased use of force against people seeking asylum. Women have been especially targeted by SERCO and Border Force.

Australian Border Force uniformNext week in the Senate, the Government is seeking even more powers to use against women, children and men in detention.


Examples of existing measures include the use of electronic scanners plus physical pat-downs on women before they come and go to medical or counselling appointments outside the camp. The pat-downs involve female guards running their hands over breasts, bottoms and legs.

The women find it very intrusive, and some have had panic attacks as it has brought flashbacks of sexual abuse and rape attacks in Nauru. It is excessive and unnecessary and was not done until Border Force took over.

The women are escorted to the vans, with two guards holding their upper arms from reception to the van. The only point of this is to demonstrate physical force. As the women say, Where would I go?

Another current practice is the use of male guards inside the women's rooms at night. This is called 'high watch' or 'PSP' (Psychological Support Program). If a person expresses suicidal thoughts or is seen to be missing meals etc., surveillance is increased. It is not therapeutic or recommended by doctors; it is a security measure to ensure that SERCO is not fined.

The rooms at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) are 3 x 2.5 metres with a double bunk bed and small cupboard, so a guard sitting on a chair all night in the room is literally at arm's length. The women cannot sleep in this situation. Some guards will not allow toilet doors to be closed, which is really distressing for the women.

Sudden room searches are a further cause of great anxiety. Once the women were given a few minutes warning, but now there is no warning as guards enter the rooms. The children are distressed by seeing their parents with no ability to defend them or their possessions.

Now sewing machines are banned. Donated machines remain in the property office for months. We have tried to negotiate with Border Force to no avail. One woman who has had a machine for a year has now had it taken away. Life in detention is boring and these women wanted something constructive to do — to make things for their children. This is the brutality of the new regime.

Children are escorted into schools by guards in uniform. The days of plain clothes for this are over. Other children tease them about having no families, only guards.


Security protocols in hospitals have had the objective in the past of ensuring no media access to a person from detention. This is why six guards over a 24 hour shift would sit outside the rooms of patients who could not walk or who were unconscious or of women who had just given birth.

However today's surveillance has reached a new level of cruelty. Some hospitals allow male and female guards to sit beside the bed of the patient. Other hospitals insist that guards sit outside the door of the room, or even at the entrance out of sight of the patient. These conditions depend on the assertiveness of the hospital staff.

We must all be concerned and vigilant when we see hospitals placing ridiculous security protocols above the welfare and care of the patient.

Some women and most men are now taken to hospital in handcuffs. There are reports of women being in hospital for days with their hands cuffed to the bed except when they go to the toilet. This is an infringement of human rights which should not be tolerated at all. Those hospitals which are allowing Border Force and SERCO to dictate protocols of force and control within the hospital need to rethink their compliance with human rights standards.

Recently a man with only one damaged kidney was taken to a specialist outpatient clinic. He was asked to provide a urine sample but was unable to do so because he was handcuffed and guards refused to undo these. On another occasion a man had his hand x-rayed while he was in handcuffs.

These are not dangerous or deranged people — just ordinary people needing medical care. They already have two or three or four guards standing over them. To add restraints is an insult.

These people are seeking asylum and have never been charged with any crime. Treating them as if they were dangerous criminals is cruel and denying them dignity and respect. The use of excessive force is recent and directly linked to the Border Force takeover. Now they are asking for even more powers.

Next week in the Senate, we need to ask Senators to vote no to more force.


Pamela CurrPamela Curr is a refugee and detention rights advocate. She has supported people seeking asylum since 2000 and worked with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre since 2004.


Pamela Curr


Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

these border forcers would be screened for stupidity and sadism. Make it sound like we're trying to prove to the 'free world''s bosses that we can be as tough as Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio. of course they'd proudly know their nastiness will be advertised to the world these days. So I'm just wondering whether giving them the oxygen of publicity is helpful to their victims, who one day could be any of us, or our grandchildren? But of course this must (?) be balanced by us the people's "right to know" and be kept awake with impotent fear and horror? Its a fine mess you've got us into whatever your name is.

Jillian 27 November 2015

Why not, instead of pleading with a gang of criminal human rights abusers (aka Australian government) not to be so brutal, that you don't vote for them (don't pass your preference on to them if you want to be pedantic about Australia's voting laws). Boycott the federal elections rather than give support for their crimes against humanity. You are not going to change them by supporting their election.

Mark Holsworth 28 November 2015

Please, decent Australians- be strong enough to speak up against excessive measures against innocent, helpless people. What if these were your children, your wives and families?

Elizabeth 28 November 2015

Thank you very much Pamela for collecting and writing about these clear human rights abuses

Stephen Leahy 28 November 2015

I read Pamela's words under the heading "Detention" with some alarm. Women and children are being demeaned for what reason? So they will be compliant, so they will not complain, so they realise they are not in charge of their own bodies, their own minds - that is, they have no autonomy. You betcha Senators need to say "no" not only to more force, but to any force. Treating people with respect is not optional.

Pam 29 November 2015

The department strikes again, with the full support of the major political Laberal Tea party and the media who sleep through everything.

Marilyn 29 November 2015

This sounds like excessive "force" if true but who knows if this is another beat up by an activist.

Ian 29 November 2015

I thought I had heard the worst about these detention centres and the security measures, but this is beyond cruel. And our smooth-faced leaders tell us it is all for our good and theirs! Pamela thank you for speaking up.

Janet 30 November 2015

Thankyou, Pamela and Eureka Street, for bringing the appalling treatment of such vulnerable people to public attention. It is quite literally sickening to see the damage we are doing to those who have already suffered through so much. The mainstream media needs to offer far more courageous and decisive leadership and inform the Australian public of what is happening behind these steel fences. There are people like Pamela prepared to speak out, but where is the public forum? Eureka Street leading the pack.

Lisa 30 November 2015

I'm reminded of the fact that some fires are lit by pyromaniacs who actually join their local bush firefighting units in order to gain gratification from being up close to fires. I wonder if such an analogy might be applied to some people who work for Border Force and Serco?

Paddy Byers 30 November 2015

Who would have thought that Australia was capable of such cruelty. We are punishing and humiliating people who are not guilty of any crime.

charlie 30 November 2015

"Say no to increasing force against detainees."...... How?? It is all very well to say 'Don't vote for them'. But though claiming to be ruled by the will of the people, we have very limited scope or power with the way our voting system is constructed and then only every few years. Perhaps the Internet will one day develop more effective ways of reflecting popular judgements, but with controlled release or non-release of information and imbedded hard-line traditions among so many, it won't be any time soon, unless some charismatic leader emerges, or some cataclysm happens. to galvanise the inertia, indifference and feeling of helplessness of the 'silent majority,

Robert Liddy 30 November 2015

Pamela, thank you for continuing to alert us to the terrors of detention, and for all the work you do for asylum seekers. I note some respondents ask what can be done - here is a link to Malcolm Turnbull 's office - https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm I urge everyone who is concerned to contact Mr Turnbull to share your horror and shame at the treatment meted out to innocent and vulnerable people. There is so little we can do to fight against government policies, (especially when they are hidden behind the neatly coined term 'operational matters') that we must seize every opportunity to speak out and to act. Do it now, and share the link so others can speak up too.

Ali Corke 30 November 2015

How bad does it have to get before the Federal Parliament demands "Stop!" ? Federal Parliament because both Government and Opposition are complicit in the cruel regime established and continually hardened in our concentration camps for immigration detainees. With both Government and Opposition complicit in the cruelty, what avenue is open for citizens to initiate the necessary change to respecting human dignity?

Ian Fraser 30 November 2015

All Australia and Serco employees involved should be ashamed of themselves. If the government does not do something about this then Australia will suffer the derision of the whole world. What would happen if other countries treated Australian citizens this way. It shocks me that Serco which has been fined in other countries for bad practices is chosen by the Australian government to do this job. I feel a protest rally from all Australians who agree this is NOT On should be held. Where is the United Nations in this?. If you treat people worse than animals you tend to make the people animals in return.

Noelene Champion 30 November 2015

I am in despair at the cruelty of our government and the increasing militarisation and criminalisation of so many aspects of our lives but especially this appalling treatment of people. It is bad enough when these protocols are used by Corrective Services on convicted criminals but at least one can understand the need for some security measures but this is unconscionable use of prison practices against vulnerable people who have committed no crimes.

Sue Henry-Edwards 30 November 2015


phyl toohey 30 November 2015

Robert asks 'how?'. One possible way would be to peacefully occupy the electorate offices of every member and senator of the Commonwealth parliament across the country. It would begin on a given day and continue every day until change was achieved. It's the sort of general protest that the churches could organise and staff and support and there would be many non-churchgoers who would join in so that the protest would snowball into a movement that would be beyond the power of the civil authorities to shut down.

Ginger Meggs 30 November 2015

This is just a short note to thank you Pamela for all the work you are doing for asylum seekers in these 'detention' centres. I have followed your words on the TV news with anguish and disbelief. Thank you for facing this sad truth as so many others are unable or unwilling to. You show the real face of our heartless government.

Tom 30 November 2015

I hadn't thought that Australians would condone such cruelty to people who have done nothing wrong except to want to live normal lives. How did we become so indifferent to innocent people's suffering?

Dr Joan Grant 30 November 2015

Time to open our hearts to those fleeing persecution and war! Its time to welcome refugees!

Luke weyland 30 November 2015

and we call ourselves a civilised Christian country. Shame shame shame. On this government makes you sick

Irena 01 December 2015

Spreading these facts is the only way to get information out.. Why are newspaper editors not reporting these acts against humans under our care, even at a distance??

jacinta simcox 01 December 2015

I suppose the alternative to some form of direct action, as I have suggested, would be to write a letter to The Times...

Ginger Meggs 01 December 2015

Never in the last 80 years plus have I been so ashamed of my government and their methods. Who instituted the force described as "Border Police". Obviously it's members and the contractor's must have been exposed to the training methods so effective in places like Siberia and the infamous concentration camps of other depraved countries.

peter 02 December 2015

direct action can be taken against borderforce's partner SERCO, by including it along with Broadspectrum and Wilson Security in this campaign targeting your local council- I will contact them to ask about it- http://bit.ly/councils-nbia

Dr Niko Leka 03 December 2015

Please may all Australians find our humanity and voice our outrage. We are one people

Jennifer Stevens 03 December 2015

The brutality of the Border Force guards is not only unacceptable. They should be made to see that it is likely to be counter-productive, causing depression, further alienation and, resentment among innocent people and their families in detention. The hospitals permitting unnecessary restraints and guarding should be publicly named.

Dr Juliet Flesch 04 December 2015

In an earlier post I suggested that only direct action will bring about change. I suggested one form that I believe would be feasible, continuing, and effective. There may be better ways, and I'd welcome suggestions. But only one person has, since my post, suggested a form of direct action. Most of the comments to this article consist of 'hand wringing' pleas for someone else to do something. Later on I suggested, some what facetiously, that we might write a letter to The Times. I might just as well have said write a hand wringing comment to ES for all the good that would do. Hand wringing comments will achieve nothing. Direct action could, but it needs someone to organise it and get it off the ground. The hierarchy of the Church has the resources and standing to do this? Mannix did it during the Great War, Santamaria did it during the Cold War. Is there no one who will step forward now?

Ginger Meggs 05 December 2015

I call on all Senators to oppose the horrific treatment by Border Force show to Asylum Seekers being held in detention. Children being escorted to school by guards; guard using tactics that are an affront to the dignity of women; the use of unnecessary restraints for medical visits; children banned from visits to playground etc and the removal of sewing machines. The list goes on. This is not the the Australia I love. No more force against detainees!

Bernard Dobson 05 December 2015

I expect equal respect for the detainees and anti the treatment they are receiving by being locked up . The media is not doing its work . It needs to be more active exposing the poor treatment of the unlucky humans. It could be me, you, the politicians but for a chance birth country.

Jacinta simcox 18 December 2015

Similar articles

Excluding abortion protestors is a matter of dignity

Fatima Measham | 04 December 2015

Fertility Control Clinic in East MelbourneLast Friday, Victoria passed an amendment to establish a protest-free zone around abortion clinics. I find it impossible to reconcile with the idea that personhood in utero depends on whether a baby is wanted or unwanted, but I also believe bodily autonomy is integral to the dignity of women. There is such a long history of women being deprived of agency across political, economic, social, sexual and cultural dimensions, that being able to make a choice carries its own compelling morality.

No alarms and no opinions

Ellena Savage | 04 December 2015

Ellena Savage with Mali flag overlayIn November I did not change my profile picture to a European flag. I did not post a link to a fresh journalistic insight into a gang of men with machetes who are desperate to feel relevant in the empty ravine of history. I felt mild joy for Myanmar, but if I am honest, I don't know enough about Myanmar. I felt indignant that no-one changed their profile pictures to the Mali flag after 170 people were taken hostage there. Then my indignation dissolved when I realised I didn't know what the Mali flag looked like.

Nanny State's arthritic grip contains common good

Andrew Hamilton | 03 December 2015

Bicycle helmetA cyclist since my youth, I was intensely annoyed when campaigners first tried to enforce cycle helmets. I loved the wind rushing through my hair, and believed my safety could be left to my responsibility. Others might have wondered if I overestimated my sense of responsibility. It was hardly compatible with the practice of never applying the brakes when going down hills on country roads, or with the view that traffic rules applied only to cars. Later, I came to see that individual freedom must be considered in its context of human relationships.

Naming and renaming uni's racist monuments

Jeff Sparrow | 02 December 2015

Richard Berry BuildingFor many years, historian Gary Foley has drawn attention to the racist past inscribed throughout the infrastructure of Melbourne University. Now, some staff and students are campaigning to rename facilities linked to particularly egregious individuals, such as the Richard Berry building, named after a leading eugenicist who stole the corpses of Indigenous people for research designed to prove the racial superiority of whites. While some accuse the campaigners of politically correct censorship, in fact the past has already been censored, and the campaigners are dragging it back into the light.

Turnbull-Abbott rivalry reveals Liberals' ideological chasm

John Warhurst | 01 December 2015

Cracked blue wallHistorically, it was Labor that was dogged by splits and ideologues, while the Liberals were perceived as practical. But the ideological chasm between Abbott and Turnbull suggests the Liberals are now a broader church than Labor. The party's ideological and factional conflict will continue unabated as the government contemplates the two big public debates of its next term: a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and a plebiscite on same sex marriage.