Detention Centre Operator’s Contract Extended Despite New Owner’s Objection

Broadspectrum has had its contract to run Australia’s offshore detention centres extended by eight months, despite the fact the company’s new owner, Ferrovial, wants to withdraw completely from the camps.

The Spanish infrastructure giant said when it bought Broadspectrum in April it would not tender to run the camps beyond the end of the current contact in February 2017. But the Australian government had exercised its option to unilaterally extend the contractor’s term on the islands, Ferrovial said.

“We have stated that we won’t be bidding for the renewal of the immigration centres’ contracts,” Ferrovial’s chief financial officer, Ernesto López Mozo, told analysts in Spain.

“But I have to say the client has extended the contract to solve this question and the right of the contract. So now it finalises in October 2017 instead of February 2017.”

Ferrovial’s takeover of Broadspectrum – and its offshore detention contracts – has exposed it to intense criticism, with international law experts saying its directors and staff could be liable for crimes against humanity because of gross and sustained human rights abuses in the camps.

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Australia’s two offshore detention camps – on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru – have been consistently condemned by rights groups, other governments and the UN for human rights abuses. They include the murder of detainees, healthcare failures resulting in death, sexual and physical abuse, massively elevated rates of mental health damage and almost daily acts of suicide attempts and self-harm, including self-immolation by detainees.

Mozo told analysts Ferrovial’s contracts to run the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres would now conclude on 27 October 2017. He said his company was obliged to uphold the Australia government’s option to exercise two four-month extensions.

“We have to fulfil these immigration contracts,” Mozo said.

Broadspectrum changed its name from Transfield last year after the owners of Transfield’s parent company, the Belgiorno-Nettis family, sought to distance itself from the continued controversies over offshore detention.

The UN regards Australia’s offshore detention as “arbitrary and indefinite”, and illegal under international law. Several arms of the UN have repeatedly condemned the offshore regime, including the UN high commissioner for human rights, the UN committee against torture, the UN special rapporteur on torture, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and the UN high commissioner for refugees.

The PNG supreme court ruled in April the detention centre in that country was “unconstitutional and illegal” but it remains in operation.

A recent report by the advocacy group No Business in Abuse and the Human Rights Law Centre said dozens of European and North American banks and investors were complicit in the abuses of Australia’s offshore detention regime because of their financial backing for Ferrovial.

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And, last week, a combined report from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said conditions on Nauru were “cruel in the extreme” and that refugees were attacked on a daily basis when they were outside the detention centre.

“Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru,” the senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, Michael Bochenek, said.

The executive director of No Business in Abuse, Shen Narayanasamy, said Ferrovial was under global pressure to exit the camps.

“Abuse is bad for business and toxic to any company’s reputation. No reputable business wants to touch these camps now.”

Narayanasamy questioned whether the Australian government could find another company to run the camps, after the reputational and financial damage incurred by Transfield/Broadspectrum and Ferrovial.

A spokesman for the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said: “On 30 January 2015 the Department of Immigration and Border Protection issued an open tender (RFT 28/14) for the provision of services in regional processing countries.

“The department has exercised the option to extend the contract for a further eight months from 28 February 2017 until the end of October 2017.

“The extension provides a continuity of services while the department progresses options to ensure services are delivered in regional processing countries.

“The Australian government is committed to ongoing cooperation with governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to ensure that services supporting the welfare and safety of transferees and settled refugees are delivered to a high standard.”

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