Claims Aus gov't hid asylum seekers' health issues

A national Australian inquiry into child immigration has been presented with evidence alleging the Government worked to cover-up the number of child asylum seekers suffering from mental health issues.

During the inquiry today, psychiatrist Dr Peter Young alleged that figures showing "significant" mental health problems among a large number of detainees had been collected by the detention centre service provider International Health and Mental Services (IHMS) before being covered up by the immigration department, ABC is reporting

Dr Young directed the mental health services of for three years until earlier this month. He said the reaction to the figures was "negative" and IHMS were asked to remove the figures from the report they were set to present to the Immigration Department.

Dr Young said he was "not sure exactly" who had wanted the data removed but that the request had come from the Immigration Department.

Immigration Department Secretary Martin Bowles said he was not present when IHMS was allegedly asked to withdraw the figures so could not comment on the reaction.

Mr Bowles said he will be sure to deal with the staff involved if it is proven they did act innappropriately. When it was claimed IMHS was regularly overridden by departmental staff, Mr Bowles responded: "not to my knowledge. I would be very upset if that was the case".

A Sri Lankan flag flies on an Australian patrol vessel presented to Sri Lanka, to boost surveillance against illegal migration. Source: Associated Press


Gaza conflict reduces UN spokesman to tears

A video clip showing a UN spokesman breaking down at the end of an interview about Gaza reveals the toll the conflict has taken on all involved.

Former BBC reporter Chris Gunness was reduced to sobs as he discussed the latest deaths of Palestinian children in a Gaza school.

In the television interview with Al Jazeera, Gunness fights back tears and condemns the attack.

"The rights of Palestinians - even their children - are wholesale denied. And it's appalling," he said.

Israeli tank shells slammed into a school where the UN was sheltering more than 3,000 Gazans who had fled their homes in fear.

16 people died and more than 90 were injured, taking the death toll to 1,336.

Mr Gunness, a former BBC reporter now working for the UN's Relief and Works Agency, had spent the day examining evidence and describing yet another attack on one of its sites.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the school attack as "outrageous" and "unjustifiable," and demanded an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

"Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children," Ban said. "I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms."



Jack Tame: Defending the US-Cuba border

If you fancy some exercise at Guantanamo Bay, it’s best to go before the heat of the day. The Americans here reckon they’re in a microclimate; that when a hurricane hits the rest of Cuba the naval base usually survives just fine.

In Guantanamo Bay it’s filthy hot and filthy humid but the earth is desert dry.

I ran first thing this morning to a lookout above the Gitmo Township, just as the sun slipped from behind the nearby hills and the galley began serving breakfast for the day.

The hills are Cuban hills. And before the summer haze kicks in, you can pick out all signs of Cuban life on the other side of the border. With the naked eye you can easily pick buildings scattered across Guantanamo’s basin. There’s smoke from a factory just across the bay; you’d swear if you were into fads and fitness you could paddleboard there in twenty minutes. I originally mistook a collection of houses for part of the American base; it’s actually a small Cuban town.

Caimanera is about as close as you can get from Guantanamo. It has 11,000 residents who can see Guantanamo’s lights and hear the Americans’ artillery training. All of its residents need a permit to enter town.

The absurd thing about the US trade embargo with Cuba is that very few people on either side really want it to remain in place. Cuba is a tantalizing cultural mecca, planted on the US doorstep. For Cubans, America represents opportunity, both good and bad, but in their current existence few have regular and free chances to explore the greater World.

Imagine being on either side. Imagine being planted in Hamilton and told that no matter how good your driving and navigation you can never visit Auckland. Not even for a day.

For residents on either side of Guantanamo’s fences, the deal is even worse: they need only climb a moderate hill to gaze at what they’re missing. Imagine standing on the wharf at Petone Beach and knowing you’ll never make it to Oriental Bay.

On his second day in office, Barack Obama signed an executive order to shutter the Guantanamo Detention Camp. He promised to improve relations with Cuba and to explore the possibility of relaxing the embargoes on travel and trade.

But the US Congress has repeatedly blocked his efforts to close the Gitmo prison and transfer the remaining inmates to the United States. There are no prospects it’ll happen any time soon, or by the time his second term of Presidency comes to and end in 2016.

Fidel and Raoul Castro are certainly getting on, but the wider relationship between the US and Cuba still appears almost as bad as ever. Last month, amidst various protestations and with few prospects for actually gleaning valuable communications, Russia agreed to reopen its spy base in Havana.

You used to be able to cross between the American base and Cuba. Americans would hit up Caimanera and the closest Cuban restaurants and bars. Cuban workers used to come into the base for their shifts then leave at the end of the day. Guantanamo Bay still has at least one Cuban exile that came into the base and never left. Rumour says he bought his Gitmo house for $US1 and settled for the rest of his days.

These days, more than a fence line and the US Marine watchtowers defend the US-Cuba border. Both sides laid border minefields, though the Americans cleaned theirs up. A line of particularly aggressive cacti was also purposefully planted at Fidel Castro’s order to deter Cuban defectors from making a run.

All of which is to say both the future of the Detainment Camp and the future of the greater Gitmo base are just as unsure as any time in recent history. Under the Gitmo lease terms, for the US to hand over the greater base will take an agreement by both countries. And even if leadership who embrace capitalism and democracy replaces the Castro brothers, Guantanamo Bay is too strategically valuable for the Americans to even consider leaving town.

But oh, how nice it’d be, after an unimpressive jog in the morning heat to the top of a dirt-dry hill, if you could swing down the road from Guantanamo Bay and cool off with some Cuban company.

Jack Tame