On this night like any other night
Maybe raining maybe clear
In a world exploding is any heart open?
Can you hear us? Can you hear?
— from ‘Article 14’ by tony mockeridge.
While just 12 of the victims of the Christmas Island boat tragedy in December were finally laid to rest today, there are disturbing claims their bodies and those of other victims decomposed following an electricity outage in the refrigerated containers acting as a temporary morgue on the island.
‘Article 14′ by tony mockeridge.
Social justice and asylum-refugee advocates are also disgusted the 22 survivors or family of the victims were allowed just one hour to mourn their loved ones in Sydney before being returned to Christmas Island.
There are also calls for the Australian Federal Police, who organised the funerals, to explain why there was minimal reference to or recognition of religious customs.
Seven survivors of the Christmas Island boat tragedy were flown to Sydney to attend the first of the funerals for those whose bodies were recovered after the flimsy boat carrying an estimated 80 asylum seekers broke up in high seas off the Island in December.
In addition to the survivors, 15 other detainees who are immediate family of the dead accompanied them to either Rookwood Cemetery or Castlebrook Memorial Park, Rouse Hill.
The seven funerals conducted at Rookwood were for those of the Muslim faith with the other five funerals at Rouse Hill, in memory of those who were of the Christian faith.
But for the 22 detainees attending the funerals in Sydney, there was no time to grieve. Under police escort throughout their time in Sydney, they were forbidden to speak with anybody from the community or the media and permitted just one hour to attend their loved one’s funeral before being immediately bused away to board a flight back to the overcrowded detention centre on Christmas Island.
According to refugee advocates Fr Jim Carty, co-ordinator of the Asylum Seeker-Refugee Service and Jamal Daoud, spokesman for the Social Justice Network, this is upsetting. But even more troubling is the fact that the Australian Federal Police organised the funerals with virtually no consultation with relatives or survivors on Christmas Island and have insisted all caskets be closed, preventing Christians from viewing their dead or Muslims from carrying out ritual washing and cleansing of the body at the mosque before burial.
“There was an electricity breakdown in the refrigerated containers that were used as a temporary morgue for the bodies recovered in the shipwreck disaster,” says Fr Jim and understands from those he has spoken with on the Island that the power outage in the midst of the island’s tropical temperatures, resulted in the decomposition of the bodies and leaked body fluids.
“A team had to be brought in to clean out the containers after the electricity failed,” says Fr Jim.
While the power breakdown has not been made public, Jamal Daoud says the information simply confirms what victims’ families from the December shipwreck have long suspected.
“They believe this must be the reason for the long delay in releasing the bodies for burial and the fact that despite requests, no photographs of the dead were ever made publicly available so they could be identified,” he says.
Of the 30 bodies recovered from the ocean of an estimated 50 who drowned in the tragedy, there were 13 men, nine women, four children and four babies.
To date only 17, the ones released by the WA Coroner to the Australia Federal Police (APF) two days ago, have been identified.
Although most of those onboard the doomed craft had relatives or friends in communities across Australia as well as on Christmas Island, the APF has refused to release any photographs claiming to do so was to breach the privacy of those who died.
“But this was not a privacy issue,” insists Jamal Doaud. “The people are dead and there is no fear of reprisals so why not show us their faces so at least someone can put a name to them.”
But even identification in person by survivors in the first few days after the tragedy was turned down by the APF. “Names could be given and then confirmed by DNA, but the APF were not interested,” Jamal says.
But for the remaining 13, DNA may not be possible particularly if they have not been given names so relatives either in Australia or their homelands of Iraq or Iran can be traced.
The delay in the release of the bodies, which were only recently removed from the temporary morgue on Christmas Island to proper refrigerated facilities, has upset the already traumatised survivors and families of those who died in the shipwreck being held in detention on Christmas Island, says Fr Jim. He dismisses opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison’s attack on the government for spending taxpayer money on flying relatives to today’s funeral.
“Yet again asylum seekers are being demonised to score political points,” he says in a scathing rebuke to the Opposition Spokesman and points out if Scott Morrison is serious about saving taxpayer dollars he and his party would be lobbying to close Christmas Island’s overcrowded and dehumanising off-shore processing centre.
“That would save billions in taxpayers dollars and now the High Court has ruled all asylum seekers must have the same rights as those on the mainland, there is no point in having an off shore detention centres,” he says.
Father Aloysius Mowe SJ, newly-appointed Director of the Jesuit Refugee Centre also disputes Scott Morrison’s remarks and emphasises under Australia’s signed agreements with the UN on refugees, human rights must be respected and these include the right of people to mourn their dead and “not to have them buried out of sight and by faceless bureaucrats.”
“Asylum seekers who arrive on our shores seeking protection are not illegal,” he stresses. “They have done nothing wrong and should be treated humanely and with compassion.”
However Fr Aloysisus doubts that by attending today’s funerals the detainees will find any sort of resolution or so-called “closure” in the wake of the tragic and untimely deaths of their loved ones.
“The sheer horror of what happened, the circumstances in which it happened and the fact these people were already very vulnerable for all kinds of other reasons, means that their trauma and grief will continue for a very long time,” he says. “The idea of closure is a nonsense even for what we might call normal bereavements. And to imagine that a funeral and ritualised bidding of farewell to a loved one will halt the grief is simplistic.”
Not only is the increased delay in processing asylum seekers – some of whom have been detained on Christmas Island for more than a year – of real concern to refugee advocates and those who work with refugees such as Fr Jim and Fr Aloysisus, are the conditions in which they are forced to live.
“When animals grieve, they creep away to find a quiet place to be alone and mourn their loss. Humans are no different,” says Fr Aloysisus. “But in the overcrowded conditions in which detainees are now being forced to live on Christmas Island, there is no quiet place in which to be alone to reflect on what has happened and what they have lost. To people who are already vulnerable, this further aggravates their emotional and mental distress as well as their grief.”
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
12 Batman Street, West Melbourne VIC 3003 mob 0417517075 Tel: +61 3 9326 6066 Fax: +61 3 9326 5199 www.asrc.org.au JANUARY
2011 1065 CHILDREN in DETENTION – 1040 UNDER LOCK and KEY