Numbers not on

November 19, 2010 Agencies
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B’nai B’rith Australia has attacked the Government for its continuing use of numbers instead of names in addressing asylum seekers, including children, in Australia’s detention centre on Christmas Island. For three years, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has petitioned the Government to change this humiliating treatment, but the Government has refused.

President of B’nai B’rith James Altman has issued the following statement:

This is of particular concern to B’nai B’rith whose membership in Australia includes a large number of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Nazi-occupied Europe, some of whom still bear the numbers which were branded on their arms upon arrival in concentration camps in an effort to dehumanise the victims during World War Two.

Under Item 18 of the UNHRC 2010 report on immigration detention, Staff Treatment, one finds that while ‘there is now an expectation that all staff who come into contact with people in immigration detention should treat them with respect’ … ‘and that conditions of detention will ensure the inherent dignity of the human person’, the Commission found that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s (DIAC) contract with Serco, the company which runs the centre, ‘can have significant impacts on their experience in detention and on their physical and mental wellbeing.’

‘The Commission was concerned to hear from many detainees that Serco staff refers to them by their identification number rather than their name. The Commission witnessed this on several occasions.’

It appears that the problem may be with the Serco staff, not with members of the DIAC, who, it is reported, in many cases, are working hard to improve the DIAC’s culture and image.

When one considers that some of the asylum seekers arrive without knowledge of English, it is difficult to understand the reason for the use of numbers instead of names in addressing them, other than to add to their distress.

A letter on this matter has been sent by Raoul Wallenberg Unit of B’nai B’rith to Chris Bowen MP, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; his positive reply is awaited.

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