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Refugee slams proposed bill to prohibit mobile phones in detention centres

Photo: pxhere

A Kurdish refugee held in the Mantra Hotel in Preston has slammed the proposed federal bill to prohibit mobile phones in detention centres.

Proposed changes to the Migration Amendment would allow the Immigration Minister to declare certain items such as mobile phones and SIM cards as prohibited.

Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge, said the bill is needed to give ABF officers the power to search and seize items that put staff and asylum seekers at risk.

“This does not remove mobile phones from every individual in the network,” he said.

Mr Tudge said increased powers are needed due to an increase of detainees with criminal histories due to section 501 of the Migration Act.

Opponents of the bill are concerned it could cause an overreach of power and impact all detainees, not just those with criminal histories.

“The Commission recommends that risks be considered on a case-by-case basis,” said Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow.

“Any restrictions on technology should be targeted very carefully so that innocent people are not harmed.”

The Prohibiting Items in Detention Bill passed through the House of Representatives in September, but it's vote in the Senate was postponed, partly due to lobbying efforts.

A joint petition led by the No Phones No Life Campaign received over 154,000 signatures in opposition of the bill.

Senator Jacqui Lambie has the deciding vote on the bill and will be announcing her decision on Friday after considering constituent survey responses.

Kurdish activist and musician Mostafa Azimitabar spent six years detained on Manus Island before being transferred to Australia for medical help.

He spoke out against the bill at a panel led by Refugee Voices.

“The government is disconnecting you, the public, from the atrocities they are inflicting on us,” Mr Azimitabar said.

“We know as they do that our phones are not only our window to the world but our voice to the world.”

“Make no mistake friends, this bill is an attempt to silence us.”

Mr Azimitabar condemned the government for the past confiscation of mobile phones from refugees held at the Bomana centre in Papua New Guinea.

“No one knew what happened to those refugees, no one saw their torture because there was no way to communicate,” he said.

“If they had phones, people would have been aware of the torture they suffered there.”

“The Australian government was successful in hiding their atrocities in Bomana, and to an extent at Manus Island, and now they are trying to repeat it in Australia.”

Advocate with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Jenna Williams Gray said that mobile phones in detention centres provide increased government oversight and accountability for mistreatment and wrongdoing.

“Without phones, we won’t find out about the fact there have been a lot of assaults by guards on people that have been detained,” she said.

“Without phones, it goes silent and it is much harder for the people who are detained to say they are being treated really badly.”

Ms Williams Gray said removing phones would sever asylum seekers from access to legal advice, community support, and connection leading to negative mental health impacts.


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