Inside Australian detention centres holding Kiwis for deportation
By Kim Vinnell
Australia is the country we have the closest diplomatic relationship with. It's our best mate – right? For many New Zealanders, it's not feeling like that at the moment.
Today it was revealed a young Kiwi died in an Australian prison while awaiting deportation. It turns out his dreadful situation is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are shocking conditions facing many other New Zealanders also held in detention in Australia.
It's all come about because of a new law that means Kiwis who have served more than 12 months in prison are being rounded up and either put on a plane home or chucked in detention centres.
For many it means languishing behind barbed wire, or facing being ripped from their families and sent back across the ditch, to a place they have no connection with.
The guarded compounds are found where the bush meets the outback, and cannot be found on any map. But what goes on is no longer a secret – allegations of self-harm and people drinking washing powder or shampoo to try and kill themselves.
"People burning themselves, hanging themselves, getting up on the roof – I just hate that place," says Irene Fitzgerald, the mother of a detainee. "It's a place for dogs."
"We get treated pretty much like animals here," says detainee Henimoana Ranui. "We get served food in like buckets that you would feed cows or pigs."
Wickham Point Detention Centre is home to a dozen Kiwis – Kiwis in the technical, passport sense. Ms Fitzgerald's daughter, Angela Russell, is one of those desperate to stay in Australia.
"Australia is her home," says Ms Fitzgerald. "Sending her back to New Zealand, she'll have no support there. My mum and dad are too old. She doesn't know the culture because she was only a baby when she came over."
Russell moved to Australia when she was three and now has two children of her own. After a string of fairly minor convictions – the latest for shoplifting – she was put behind bars. Then, with less than a month to go, she was moved to detention, where she's been for five-and-a-half months.
"The Government is trying to say, 'Well she's a New Zealander. She should go back to New Zealand,'" says Ms Fitzgerald. "But she's not a New Zealander. The reason why I didn't get the children and myself nationalised is because of my Kiwi background. It would kill my mum and dad. I don't know – I should have done it."
She is worried by the new images coming out of Wickham Point, where detainees have tried to kill themselves. The centre, detainee advocate Tash Blucher says, is a traumatising place to be.
"They're given no information about how long they'll be there for, and I think that's one of the factors for deteriorating mental health, because if you're given a prison sentence you can think about when you'll be released," says Ms Blucher.
She has given Story a number of letters from asylum seekers inside Wickham Point Detention Centre, including emergency department reports.
One of them reads that a young man was presented to an emergency department after an attempted hanging, where he was found hanging with a sheet tied around a pole. Another young man had taken a bottle of shampoo, ibuprofen, paracetamol, and then made incisions to his torso and arms with a razor blade.
There are children in Wickham Point Detention Centre, and of course a number of Kiwis simply awaiting deportation.
There are now almost 200 Kiwis in immigration detention, making New Zealanders the second-most detained people in Australia. We're second only to Iranians.
Russell's lawyer, Lyma Nguyen, says while ex-cons are being thrown in detention, no one really seems to know what comes next.
"It's been very difficult to get any information from the Department of Immigration, in terms of understanding its process, whether she has a right to an internal process and the timeframes – even to get any information of who the decision-maker is.
The ultimate decision-makers are the lawmakers, whom Ms Fitzgerald hopes hear her message loud and clear.
"Keep my daughter here. She's Australian. She's lived here all her life. There's no support for her in New Zealand. It would break my heart if she went back home. This is home."