Thirty-two witness statements from refugees detained by Australia offshore on Nauru and Manus Island have been published as part of an exhibition chronicling, in graphic detail, conditions inside Australia’s offshore immigration processing centres.
The statements were collected during more than 300 hours of interviews with women and men detained offshore as part of a now discontinued pro bono class action that challenged the detention of a number of people forcibly held in immigration detention.
The witness statements have been combined with AI-generated images, representing the conditions inside the camps, and depicting incidents detailed in the reports.
Saman* – whose name has been changed – was in immigration detention for more than four years, including about nine months offshore on Manus Island.
His witness statement testifies to the squalid living conditions inside the Manus detention centre, as well as repeated incidents of physical and verbal abuse.
“By taking part in this project, I am hoping that I can shed some light on the lives of myself and so many other men, women and children inside those detention centres.
“I hope our stories will open people’s eyes to the painful legacy of offshore detention, and I urge the government to show greater humanity when dealing with people seeking asylum.”
Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Jennifer Kanis, who heads the firm’s social justice practice, said the witness statements and images “shine a light on a dark chapter of Australian history”.
“They bear witness to the unimaginable inhumanity experienced by the women, men and children incarcerated over many years.
“Our clients were degraded, dehumanised and had their lives devalued over many years in the camps on Nauru and Manus Island. Their statements describe the horror of life in detention including physical and sexual violence, racism, discrimination and self-harm.”
The Maurice Blackburn class action was discontinued after a change in Australian law. But, Kanis said, “our clients told us they didn’t want their stories to go unheard. We are in awe of their courage in wanting to share their story.”
Nauru remains Australia’s sole offshore processing centre, after the detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island was ruled unlawful and ordered to be shut down by that country’s supreme court, costing Australia $70m in compensation paid to those illegally detained.
Nauru and Australia signed a memorandum of understanding in 2021, committing to an “enduring form of offshore processing” on the Pacific island state, and the Labor government has committed to maintaining an offshore processing capability.
The Nauru detention centre is currently empty. However, it is on standby for future arrivals by boat.
The witness statements and their accompanying images were displayed at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum this week, and have been compiled into an online collection – EXHIBIT A-i – available at www.exhibitai.com.au