‘Squalid’ warning pre-dated riot

‘Conditions are appalling and fuelling rising client tensions.’A TOP immigration official repeatedly warned of ”filthy” and ”squalid” living conditions for asylum seekers months before a riot engulfed a Darwin detention centre, new documents reveal.

A damning internal assessment of the Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC) warns of a string of maintenance problems and substandard care at the facility housing almost 500 asylum seekers.

”Conditions are appalling and fuelling rising client tensions,” the report notes, with boredom seen as a significant problem.

The confidential report by the Immigration Department’s regional manager for detention operations in the Northern Territory and Queensland, Julie Furby, paints a disturbing picture of conditions inside one of Australia’s largest detention centres.

”A substandard activity program which in no way keeps clients engaged/interested/busy. It does not keep their minds off the negatives or length of stay/miserable day-to-day conditions, and certainly does not tire them out enough to sleep well at night,” she wrote.

The report, obtained under freedom-of-information laws, provides what she describes as a ”frank update on detention operations in the NT”.

It was written in August 2010, a week before riots erupted at the Darwin detention centre, resulting in a fire that caused thousands of dollars in damage and injured a guard. Other documents claim haphazard efforts to give asylum seekers games to play – including a beach volleyball court ”too hot to play except at night now we are in the build-up to the monsoons”.

”It is clear that this centre was only ever built for fishers who stay for a few weeks and then move on,” Ms Furby wrote in an earlier message.

The problems inside Australia’s detention network remain, with Christmas Island criticised last month as chronically overcrowded by human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs.

Ms Furby’s full report, contained in an email to the department’s Canberra headquarters, remains heavily censored and was released only in part almost 10 months after an application by the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network.

But the publicly disclosed portions illustrate tensions between the department and contracted company Serco.

Listing the reasons for growing tension, Ms Furby warns:

■”Filthy environment at the NIDC – squalid living conditions – despite this being raised with local Serco management repeatedly over the past months.”

■”Lack of ongoing repairs and maintenance – Serco have simply not been managing.”

■”Despite repeat requests … Serco have failed to implement an internet booking system for clients to ensure equity of access, saying they don’t have the staff to monitor/enforce it – despite this being the cause of many of the incidents and fights in the compounds.”

■”In summary, Serco is not managing to keep up standards in either [of] the detention centres … since the spill of clients from CI [Christmas Island]. Despite our best efforts to get these addressed over past months and weeks redacted.”

A spokesman for the department said significant improvements had been made at the centre since 2010, including a library, soccer pitch and outdoor barbecues. Toilets had also been replaced, with 332 people now detained at the centre.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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