Tuesday, May 31, 2005

where have all the leaders gone?

Bill Leak in the SMH

Howard says mandatory detention working well...yes and hate is doing fine, racial tension is humming and we're all relaxed and comfortable - thanks John, I feel better now!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Why did it take so long? - because the system is wrong

The Age reports the long wait is finally over for Ali Mullaie and eight other Afghans who have spent more than 31/2 years in offshore detention, most of it in the harsh environment of Nauru.

"Driven mad by cruel uncertainty"

This article by Adele Horin, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 28, deserves to be read in full. I could not get the link so here it is:

The Howard Government is in a mess over its immigration detention policies at last. While the Prime Minister decides how to soften the cruelties he once boasted about, without loss of face or capitulation to the party renegades, the social experiment continues to wreak its terrible toll.

Cornelia Rau is out of detention. But others, who were perfectly sane when first locked up, have gone mad inside. Mentally ill Australians were carted off to detention centres by mistake, and the public woke up in shock. Yet the mistake, on one level, was understandable. Detention centres have become de facto mental asylums.

Psychiatrists have told us for years that detention centres drive people crazy. And that the system of three-year temporary protection visas for "genuine" refugees who arrive by boat only exacerbates the psychological damage.

Now new research quantifies the human costs of a Government policy that has inflicted unprecedented levels of mental illness on its victims.

Derrick Silove, Zachary Steel and Shakeh Momartin, and others from the University of NSW school of psychiatry, have completed a series of projects on post-traumatic stress disorder. They found the Government's cruel social experiment has caused more psychological
damage to refugees than have the traumas from which they fled.

It is understandable why the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Psychological Society advised mental-health workers this week against responding to the sudden recruitment drive of GSL (Australia) Pty Ltd, the manager of detention centres, which is seeking to hire psychiatrists and psychologists on a sessional basis to assess people in detention. It is a fundamental conflict of interest to be paid by the agency - in effect, an arm of government - that inflicts the psychological damage the doctors are meant to treat.

>From separate research projects undertaken by the university's team, a picture emerges of how traumatised people can recover from appalling experiences. They need safety, peace and security. They cannot regain their mental equilibrium if they are made to live in perpetual fear and uncertainty.

One of the research projects compared two groups of Iranian refugees who had experienced similar traumas in Iran, such as torture and the disappearance of family members. One group arrived in Australia by boat. They were put into detention, and later, when found to be genuine refugees, were granted three-year temporary protection visas that left them in limbo; the visas needed to be renewed, the people were unable to settle down, to leave the country, or to bring family to join them. The other Iranians arrived by air, through the offshore refugee program, and were given a visa that ensured permanence and full rights.

Both groups were studied over two years. Those on temporary protection visas were just as traumatised after two years of freedom as on the day they left the detention centre. Nothing was resolved for them because of fear about the future and the uncertainty of their status as "temporaries".

The Iranians on permanent protection visas showed almost no signs of mental illness after two years.

"The most effective mental-health intervention is not psychiatrists," Steel told me. "It's to provide a safe environment, and that means security about the future."

In another study of Mandean refugees from Iraq, to be reported soon in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the team was able to isolate what contributed most to mental health problems - the traumas in Iraq, or in Australia. The Mandeans' experience was diverse: some had been in detention, some not; some had temporary visas, others were on permanent visas. Those who had suffered the full brunt of Australian policy were worse off. The team was able to calculate that what Australia had done to the Mandeans was twice as destructive to their mental health as the trauma that caused them to flee.

Finally, the team examined an earlier group of boat people - Vietnamese who arrived before 1975, under a very different conservative government. Malcolm Fraser welcomed them, and accorded them permanent refugee status and settlement help. Thirty years on, their mental health was positively glowing. Problems were found in only 6 per cent of the Vietnamese, compared with 20 per cent of Australians.

Other evidence of how people recover from terrible traumas can be found in East Timor. The East Timorese suffered high levels of post- traumatic stress disorders in the aftermath of the militia's anti-independence rampage. Australian psychiatrists who went to East Timor
soon after found that almost 40 per cent of the East Timorese surveyed suffered post-traumatic stress disorders. Returning last year, after four years of relative peace, they were hard-pressed to find anyone with mental illness. With stability, the whole society had recovered.

The sad saga of mentally ill Australians thrown into detention, even deported, has rightly provoked an outcry. But the Government should also answer for policies that put sane people into detention and turned them mad.

At the very least, it could throw out its temporary protection visas. If people are found to be refugees, that should be the end of their nightmare. There are 9000 refugees whose mental health is in jeopardy because the Government forces them to live in limbo. "It's like keeping people permanently on death row," Steel said.

This research makes the perfidy of Australia's treatment of refugees clearer than ever. To recover, traumatised people don't need psychiatrists. They need permanent residence, security, stability and hope.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Blame the messenger game…

According to Cameron Stewart in the Weekend Australian:

“Since the day the Alvarez case broke, refugee welfare groups have drawn what they see as a link between the mistreatment of Rau and Alvarez to other immigration debates, including mandatory detention, the Tampa stand-off and Pacific solution, and the deaths of 353 asylum-seekers on the doomed vessel Siev X.

This argument is based on the proposition that the mistreatment of these women is more than a bureaucratic bungle; it is part of a broader culture of racism that originates in federal cabinet and permeates down to the immigration department officials who dealt with Rau and Alvarez…

The prominence given in the media to the views of refugee welfare groups in the coverage of the Rau and Alvarez cases has also frustrated the Government, with staff members muttering darkly that some groups are merely fronts for the loony Left and that to quote them so prominently is a distortion of their importance.”

Bill Leak cartoon

Yes, an effective way to counter Government critics who stand up for human rights and the dignity of all individuals is to demonize them as ‘loony’.

However, I reiterate an earlier observation: When authorities fail to ensure non-Australians held in detention facilities are afforded the same basic protection and duty of care we expect for ourselves then we are all diminished.

That noted spokesperson for the loony left, Robert Manne, sums it up well:
“Howard sang a song until the people believed him. It was a horrible song, and it allowed hateful things to happen in a democracy in a way that no one would ever have believed Australia would allow” (cited in Caroline Moorehead, Human Cargo).

Loonies unite…

Friday, May 27, 2005

Collateral damage - why Gareth Evans missed out on the UNHCR top job

In an ironic twist Crikey reported yesterday that Gareth Evans would have been the next United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees if Australia's standing in the world body was higher. Sources in New York and Canberra say Evans was on a final list of three contenders for the job, which was eventually handed to Portugal's Antonio Guterres. The sources confirmed that there were two main stumbling blocks – first, Canberra's siding with the United States and Israel on an International Court of Justice matter and, second, our record on refugees and asylum seekers.

Doubtless Howard and Downer won't lose any sleep over this but it is a sad reflection on our international standing.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Did they queue?

Jewish refugees looking for a safe haven in the late 1930s

Amnesty chief slams Australia on human rights

Irene Khan

Amnesty International’s annual report highlights the human rights failings of Howard’s government on several fronts. ABC Online reports that AI Secretary General, Irene Khan, has accused Australia of encouraging terrorism and fuelling instability around the world by betraying international standards on human rights.

On immigration detention the report card is particularly damning.

“The catalogue of injustices also criticises Australia's policy of mandatory and indefinite detention for refugees and asylum seekers.

Amnesty refers to the case of asylum-seeker Peter Qasim, who has entered his seventh year in indefinite detention.

It says thousands of refugees remain in a state of uncertainty after the Government amended Temporary Protection Visa regulations.

It also again questions the need to detain children.

Amnesty's Australian director, Mara Moustafine, says the policy is a stark reminder of how the Federal Government is breaching its human rights obligations.

"Amnesty has maintained for a long time that the Australian Government must support the rights of of refugees to seek asylum, rather than punish them for it," she said.”

the moral divide...

Today’s editorial in The Age is worth a read. Following is an excerpt:

“The ostensible justification for mandatory detention is that it is a deterrent, but this practical justification was always arguable. It makes little sense now that the boats have all but stopped, while the case against the policy is stronger than ever. Liberal MP Judi Moylan, who supports Mr Georgiou, this week summed up the policy's moral inconsistencies: "What are we doing locking up people who are innocent to set some sort of example to people smugglers in another country?" Asylum seeking is not a crime, but an internationally recognised human right. Mandatory detention should be abandoned.”

The ever brilliant Leunig holds that mirror up again

The Age has also inserted an updated map of where Australia’s detention centres are located and the numbers of detainees therein.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

RAR Media Release - Psychotic Baxter detainee told “no room in psychiatric hospital”

A long-term detainee in South Australia’s notorious Baxter Detention Centre has developed symptoms of psychosis, which remain severe despite hospitalisation in Port Augusta Hospital last week. The man, who has been locked in detention for 4 years, has been returned to Baxter where he is being kept in the Medical Unit. Despite acknowledging that the man should have specialist psychiatric care, he has been told that he cannot be transferred to Adelaide’s Glenside Hospital because “there is no room there”.

“I have known this man for one year now, and have gradually seen him become more and more withdrawn and depressed. His friends have said that he was becoming increasingly isolative, and had begun to completely lose touch with reality. He has called his family overseas a number of times and said that he was in an army camp and was being attacked by soldiers. His family were extremely distressed by his mental state” said Mira Wroblewski from Rural Australians for Refugees.

“I spoke to him yesterday, and I am extremely worried about him” said Ms Wroblewski. “Even after a short stay in Port Augusta Hospital, he is very clearly showing signs of psychosis. He said that his mother and sister are there with him, and that he could see them- even though they are not in Australia. He is not aware of his surroundings and others who have visited him have said that he has trouble recognising his friends. I visited him in Baxter only a month ago- and he is unrecognisable now.”

“This man clearly needs specialist psychiatric care in a psychiatric hospital. It is just not good enough to say that there is ‘no room’. The government’s policy of long-term mandatory detention is damaging people in a way that is tragic. This is not a problem that is going to go away. More beds in psychiatric facilities need to be opened immediately for people from Baxter”.

Commenting on the announcement by Minister for Immigration Amanda Vanstone that two full-time psychiatric nurses will be appointed at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia and there will be increased visits from a psychiatrist, Ms Wroblewski said “There is no point in increased visits by psychiatrists when the Department of Immigration has repeatedly ignored the advice of the psychiatrists already employed by them. I have read psychiatrists reports saying that various individuals should be released from detention immediately, and two years later they still had not been acted on”.

“In the short term the Government must guarantee an unlimited number of psychiatric beds for these people. In the longer term, RAR heartily applauds the news that Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou is planning two private members bills, which would release children and their families from detention centres and release asylum seekers who have been in detention for 12 months. Mr Georgiou also stated that those found to be refugees would be given permanent residency, rather than temporary protection visas.

We strongly urge all Government members to support these bills”

Time for all Christians to stand up...

In my darker musings on mandatory detention I wonder how those claiming to be ‘Christians’ in our society condone this blight on human dignity. I suggest they might think about a refresher course on what it is to be truly Christian.

Earlier asylum seekers

In my daily scan of relevant news articles I came across a report on Archbishop Ncube of Zimbabwe. In accepting the Robert Burns International Humanitarian Award in Scotland last Friday, Archbishop Ncube of Zimbabwe (whom Mugabe has attacked as ‘satanic’ for standing up for his people) slammed Britain over its treatment of asylum seekers. In his acceptance speech the Archbishop referred to the celebrated Scottish Poet, Robert Burns:

“… he had a hard life and understood the lot of the common man. He wrote the poem: ‘A man’s a man for all that’ to portray the dignity of the common man. He calls on human beings to be brothers and sisters and to support one another through respect, love and service. There is no greater message in all the world than that.”


Simply put, it is about human dignity

The brave ones...will there be any more?

A small group of Lib MPs is calling for changes to mandatory detention and threatening to cross the floor on the vote for the private member’s bills they plan to bring before the House to ‘humanize’ the detention regime . A paltry few small “l” Liberals have finally found their conscience and their voice and it is to be greatly applauded.

Just maybe these brave souls had a discreet glance in the direction of public opinion in forming their view. While Howard tells us that mandatory detention is working well, a recent poll dealing with the issue of mandatory detention in The Age was revealing. Asked if we need a royal commission into mandatory detention, of the 3653 respondents 94 per cent said ‘Yes’ and 6 per cent said ‘No’.

The ALP benches might want to review their hardline stance on mandatory detention. Read my lips – you can’t fix it by tinkering at the edges – it has to go. It would be fitting if Labor was to revisit core values and admit they got it wrong in letting this ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ out of captivity.

The light on the hill is definitely down to a pathetic glow when Howard’s brigade can trumpet ‘bipartisanship’ in defending mandatory detention. The community is crying out for a moral compass on this issue and these Liberal MPs have got the message.

Now is a good time to contact your MP to express outrage over mandatory detention.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Naomi is out of prison and Cornelia begins to tell her story

Naomi Leong, the little girl born in detention has been released into the community, along with her mother. No doubt some strategy has been cooked up by DIMIA and the Minister's office to divert attention from this situation, particularly given the recent bad press this story has got in Malaysia. Vanstone has enough distractions at present. The one message worth taking from this - keep up the public pressure!

Cornelia Rau gave her first press conference yesterday, calling for the closure of detention centres.

Wilcox in the SMH

Rural Australians for Refugees Media Release, May 23 2005

The notorious 'Red 1' isolation compound in Baxter Detention Centre is being used again, after being closed since February, when mentally ill Australian woman Cornelia Rau was released after being held there for over two months.

An African asylum seeker, who has been held in detention for over two years, was forcibly taken to Red 1 compound last Saturday afternoon (21 May). The asylum seeker has not been able to make any phone calls since being placed in the compound. He has not been provided with crutches or painkillers for a knee injury sustained whilst being forced into a van and taken to Red 1.

On Friday, 20th May, the asylum seeker was told by the acting Deputy Manager of Baxter that he must go by escorted vehicle if he wished to go to areas in the detention centre outside his compound. The next morning, after waiting 40 minutes for a vehicle to transport him to the gym, he tried to walk. He was then taken to Red 1 compound as punishment.

"Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) is extremely disturbed that Red 1 compound is being used again, in such an arbitrary manner" said Mira Wroblewski National RAR spokesperson. "Detainees who are psychologically fragile after years of detention, are again being punished by being placed in isolation units. They are being punished in this way for very trivial things which harm nobody."

RAR is concerned that detainees who are put into Red 1 compound have no right of appeal, and their placement in this compound is under the control of individual employees of GSL, the company contracted by the Australian Government to run detention centres. This morning, detainees in Baxter protested against the treatment of the African man.

"GSL is able to operate with secrecy and its actions lack accountability", said Ms Wroblewski "We are disturbed to hear that the African asylum seeker currently in Red 1 has requested to speak to an independent agency about his treatment, but was told by GSL that they would monitor any such communications."

My take: Following the recent revelations about treatment of detainees at Baxter, including the detention of Cornelia Rau in Red 1, it beggars belief that this appalling practice continues. But every time I hear either Vanstone or Ruddock justify what is being done in our name I realize the only way to stop it is to expose the abusive nature of mandatory detention and bring supporters to their senses. If there is any justice, those with prime responsibility for the abuses (which amount to a form of torture) will have to answer for them down the track.

Monday, May 23, 2005

How long...?

Satirical tid bits from one day on the trail with the SMH

Mike Carlton tells the story of Brian Walker, who has been trying to get a tourist visa for his Nepalese trekking friend for nigh on 3 years. DIMIA has behaved as if he had invited Osama bin Laden. Walker believes it is sheer racism and officious pig-headedness that is blocking the visit…can’t imagine where he gets that idea from.

Richard Glover recounts the Thai practice of dealing with illegal immigrants. Police sweep into a workplace and demand that each person in turn sings the Thai national anthem, which is drilled into Thai kids at school. One of Glover’s radio listeners expressed the hope that DIMIA does’nt get on to this idea, given the tenuous grip most us have on Advance Australia Fair. Until then, Glover reckons that ‘if you are blond and blue-eyed, you can go about your business’…provided your accent is up to scratch.

And on the wave of enthusiasm for torture in Australia, as meted out daily in detention centres and as advocated by Professor Mirko Bagaric, head of the Deakin law school, Carlton proposes a new hypothetical position at ASIO:

“ASIO, Director of Torture, Grade 6.
ASIO is seeking to recruit an experienced sadist to join the front line in the fight for freedom as head of its newly formed Directorate of Torture. The successful candidate will be a self-starter, demonstrating outstanding qualities of leadership and interpersonal violence. You will forward looking and outcomes oriented, confident in managing stakeholder relationships in a dynamic environment, with extensive, hands-on experience in the administration of all forms of physical and psychological pain to subjects under interrogation…”

Carlton predicts “a rush of applications from right-thinking people eager to serve our country. Our free way of life is at stake.”


We know from recent events and their public exposure that a majority of unfortunates who fall prey to Australia’s asylum seeker system experience considerable hardship, including those who are not locked up.

Another sorry tale is the plight of Eritrean asylum seekers. The leadership of the Eritrean community in Australia has described these asylum seekers as living in a very bad situation; some of them are forced to seek sanctuary at local churches or to live with friends and families. They don’t have any income or ability to work.

The Australian Government has failed to provide them with basic rights available to every Australian – the right to live without fear and to work.

Meanwhile the situation in Eritrea goes from bad to worse.

Australian Eritreans are calling on the government to grant residence to all Eritrean asylum seekers and to account for practices that fail our national and international commitments to asylum seekers and refugees.

The notion of sanctuary being applied by this government is not informed by values associated with a ‘free’ and ‘open’ society. Freedom and openness are tenuous realities, easily traded away if not cherished and protected.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "... As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the World, as in being able to remake ourselves. We must become the change we wish to see in the world...”

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Duty of care

DIMIA advice - "you're safe in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Manila or anywhere alse we choose to deport you. We're the experts, we purchased an air ticket to safety for you, and here's some pocket money in case you are arrested or you find yourself destitute".

You looked into a mirror and did'nt like what we saw…

Clement in the SMH

Amidst the growing clamor around mandatory detention the decision to re-examine the cases of 50 East Timorese asylum seekers is welcome. The decision to deport these people is what we have come to expect from this punitive system – this reprieve confirms public scrutiny is the most effective way to expose the injustices done in our name.

The calls for Amanda Vanstone to resign and for there to be a Royal Commission into mandatory detention will only get louder.

Radio Australia reports:

“The leader of Australia's East Timorese community says he is hopeful the Federal Government's decision to re-examine the cases of 50 East Timorese asylum seekers will mean they are allowed to stay.

Australia's Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, previously denied the group ministerial intervention.

However, the minister said yesterday there was now new information on their cases.

The minister's final decision is expected in two to three weeks.

The President of the Timorese Australia Council, Carlos Perreira, says the 50 see Australia as their home.

"It was great news, because those people, most of them they've been waiting for ten, eight, nine years," he said.

"And a lot of them are working, and they are already integrated with Australian society."”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

We're Aussies - we're safe!

Tandberg in The Age

A deal is struck – what is a life worth?

AAP reports that “Afghani asylum seekers in immigration detention can be forcibly deported to their homeland under a new deal between Australia and Afghanistan.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said 19 people detained either on the Pacific island of Nauru under the Australian government's Pacific solution or in Australia had been accepted by the Afghan government as nationals.

Those people could accept a reintegration package of $2,000 a person to return to Afghanistan voluntarily or be forcibly returned under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in Kabul by Australia's ambassador to Afghanistan Zorica McCarthy and Afghan Deputy Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Abdul Qader Ahadi.

"The arrangement provides for the re-offer of a reintegration package to encourage the voluntary return of these people," Senator Vanstone said in a statement.

"The package will include cash assistance of $2,000 per individual with a maximum of $10,000 per family, international and domestic travel, short term accommodation in Afghanistan, and access to vocational training and referral serv"

The MOU allows for the return of those who have been found not to be owed protection and who do not take up this reintegration package ices.

"Currently, on Nauru and in immigration detention in Australia, there are 19 people who have been accepted as Afghan nationals, by the Afghan government, and a further 37 people whose claims to Afghan nationality are being examined by the Afghan government."

Australia also agreed to provide $US4 million ($A5.29 million) for a housing project in Afghanistan to meet the needs of returned nationals.

"The housing project recognises the special challenges that Afghanistan faces in meeting the accommodation needs of the many Afghans returning to their country now that the situation is becoming more settled and will be used to accommodate people returning to Afghanistan," Senator Vanstone said.

Funding for the housing project is separate from a $110 million package of development assistance provided by Australia since September 2001.”

Sunday, May 15, 2005


Finally got agency and info links organised and have linked to bloggers I read. Have linked to a few WNews sites that aggregate media headlines daily, focussed on the areas from whence the bulk of refugees come.

Thanks to Nicholas Gruen posting on Troppo Armadillo

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Not funny really...

The great empathizer...

Read Margot Kingston's commentary on another black day in the Australian Senate. When will Australians rediscover their basic decency and demand this nasty episode be consigned to a political archive? It would be enlightening to know whether the AG (or any of his Ministerial staff at the time) have any recollection of the Vivian Solon case.

The Age is reporting on May 17 that Ruddock says he was never advised of the 'Alvarez' case.

Our cruelty to detainees must stop – a black Friday story

Dyson in The Age

Writing in The Age, Arnold Zable tells the story of Iranian asylum seeker Ardeshir Gholipour and explains why it's time to end the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and give an amnesty to all detainees.

Ardeshir stepped out of Baxter detention centre last Friday week after five years of incarceration. His first thoughts were of how so many years of life could have been taken away from him and his fellow detainees.

"The evidence is overwhelming. Indefinite detention creates a progressive deterioration in mental and physical health."

Read the full article.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Howard's way

Leunig in The Age

Executive Director of Rights Australia, Howard Glenn, has written an interesting piece in On Line Opinion, examining the failure of Australia’s immigration policies to help the UK Tory election campaign.

Following is an excerpt:

“The essential feature of the Australian immigration model is the failure to deal with manageable issues, masked by public mistreatment of innocent victims for short-term political advantage, but with long term consequences.

Eventually, the Howard Government will need to do more than just pretend it has dealt with the worst features of it’s policies and we all will have to face up to what has been done and learn how to do it properly.

Immigration is still a live issue in Britain as a result of the election campaign. Let’s hope the British study the Australian immigration model and help us move beyond it.”

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Relaxed & comfortable in the suburbs

Wilcox in the SMH. Click on image to read fine print.

DIMIA's concern for Vivian Solon - dumped in Manila

Vivian Solon, found weak and ill.
Photo: ABC

Michelle Grattan (good to see the big guns running with this issue) reports in The Age that “Vivian Solon, the Australian wrongly deported four years ago, has been found - alive but weak and ill in a hospice in the Philippines town of Olongapo, north of Manila.

Ms Solon, feared dead by her family, walks with a stick and spends most of her time in bed, according to Father Mike Duffin, who has cared for her.

In an extraordinary development, Father Duffin recognised Ms Solon as the woman he had been looking after when he saw ABC satellite news carrying reports about the search for her in Australia. He described it to the ABC's Lateline last night as "a miracle".

"They mentioned her name... As soon as they said Vivian, I said 'that's our Vivian'." The woman is also known as Vivian Alvarez.

The search began recently after the mother of two's mistaken deportation in 2001 was discovered. Although only in her early 40s, she is in a ward of elderly people, many of them dying, according to Father Duffin.

Father Duffin, an Australian priest based in the Philippines, said he was surprised the Government had not been able to find Ms Solon "because they are the ones who told her before she left Australia that she was coming to the Mother Teresa sisters.

"When they brought her, they left her with the Mother Teresa sisters... I find it very hard (to believe) that the Government don't know where they left her. Do they have no records?"”

Defending the indefensible has fallen to Senator Vanstone, who seemed to have her cage rattled by Tony Eastley this morning on AM.

Tony had the temerity to make the facetious throw way line that DIMIA officials might have dropped Vivian off while the car was still moving. Demonstrating her usual subtlety, Vanstone took immediate offence and no doubt castigated ABC management on her way out of the studio, leaving Tony to apologize that he did not infer DIMIA officials ill-treated Vivian.

Actually, the ill-treatment of Vivian beggars belief if you do not have insight into the mentality of officialdom trying to implement the abusive tactics of the government. It does’nt surprise me at all, and I fully sympathize with Tony’s throw away comment. The real offence is the sense that Vivian was pushed off a precipice without a parachute.

I hope our best political cartoonists are sharpening the quill this morning.

In her Web Diary Margot Kingston reports on the Senate censure motion against Vanstone. It reads like an epitaph for ministerial accountability.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Did they queue?

Refugees from Belgium arrive in Dover, 1914; The New York Times Photo Archives.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

At risk

From The Age

Now that media ‘tittle-tattle’ (to use Vanstone’s words) has brought to light the case of an Australian woman consigned to an uncertain fate in the Philippines by DIMIA, mainstream journalists are revisiting the human rights implications of mandatory detention.

Radio National’s Law Report this morning examined the legal implications of mandatory detention. ABC Radio and TV is covering the story in depth.

The whole sorry tale is coming to light. It would seem than many deportees have been put at serious risk. DIMIA has sent people into Syria, Iraq & Afghanistan, for instance, in circumstances where they were clearly in harm’s way.

Chris Sidoti (previously Human Rights Commissioner) told the program that successive governments have not observed the provisions of international asylum law. A commentator made the point that institutionalisation of detainees reduces their ability to manage the stress of deportation and its consequences. Not only are people deported in dangerous circumstances, they are further handicapped by the psychological and emotional damage wrought by long detention.

It is clear the authorities don’t care, the government does’nt care, so it is up to concerned people to let it be known that they care (writing to your MP is one option).

The Age reports today that the Interpol police chief says checks of hospitals and psychiatric clinics have so far failed to find any trace of the Australian woman missing in the Philippines.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Time for Labor to redeem itself…

Refugee advocates have released a petition calling for a Royal Commission into the treatment of immigration detainees and refugees in Australia.

AAP reports that refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said the terms of reference called for in the petition were developed over several months by advocates around the country.

Mr Smit said the petition, which has been circulated by email to 15,000 people, was particularly timely, given revelations last week that more than 100 Australian citizens, permanent residents and overseas visa holders may have been wrongly detained on Australian soil over the past three years.

He also called for federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley to speak out against the government's immigration detention policies, after opposition immigration spokesman Laurie Ferguson last week called for a "full judicial public inquiry" into the immigration detention system.

"The time has come for the ALP to redeem itself from its weak-kneed lack of opposition with what amounts to a dire human rights emergency, and for Mr Beazley to break his silence, which only seems to indicate he is terrified of the issue," Mr Smit said in a statement.

"Mr Beazley should make a landmark speech on the dark shadow of the Howard government's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and its total disregard of maintaining Australia as a leader in human rights issues."

How many more?

Tandberg in The Age

In harm's way

A picture by a child in Villawood

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A little girl lost…and two men neglected

Pryor in the Canberra Times

Kathy Marks, writing in The Independent, tells the story of Naomi, and of a recent federal court judgment.

“Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers is under scrutiny again after revelations about a three-year-old girl who suffered serious mental health problems after spending her life in mandatory detention.

Professional advice that Naomi Leong, a Malaysian child, should be allowed out to visit a playgroup for two hours once a week has gone unheeded.

Of the 74 children held in immigration detention centres around the country, she has been incarcerated the longest.

Her case was uncovered by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which reported that Naomi - once an alert and extroverted little girl - was now profoundly disturbed.

"She's in a very anxious and distressed state," Dr Michael Dudley, a child psychiatrist who visited her in Sydney's Villawood detention centre, told the ABC.
"She's banging her head against the wall, she's gazing into the distance at times, she's mute, unresponsive, listless."

Dr Dudley wrote to immigration authorities two months ago recommending that Naomi, who turned three yesterday, be allowed to visit the playgroup to mix with children of her own age. But permission was not granted.

Naomi's mother, Virginia Leong, was two months' pregnant when she was arrested trying to leave Australia without correct papers. The girl was born at Villawood and has never experienced life outside those walls.

Dr Dudley said she suffers from severe separation anxiety. "She wants to lie in her mum's arms and be nursed all the time," he said. "She watches her mum like a hawk."
Refugee campaigners say she has bruises from banging her head against the wall.

The psychiatrist said Naomi needed to be in a place where she had a chance to develop normally. "She's been brought up in prison, in a highly abnormal environment with highly distressed people. It's not an environment conducive to child development."

In a separate case, the government was condemned by a federal court judge for its treatment of two mentally disturbed Iranian asylum-seekers.

Justice Paul Finn said the authorities had breached their duty of care by refusing to transfer them to a psychiatric hospital.

He found "culpable neglect" of one man, who claimed he was treated "like an animal" and who repeatedly mutilated himself with a razor.

Both men have been in a detention centre in South Australia for several years.”

Thursday, May 05, 2005

…and let’s not forget the children on Nauru

In his statement on behalf of the Human Rights Council of Australia to the 61st Session, UN Commission on Human Rights, April 2005, Howard Glenn, Executive Director, Rights Australia, had this to say

“On the Pacific Island of Nauru, a State which like Australia, has acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there are six children whose situation is instructive. With their parents, they left Afghanistan and tried to reach refuge in Australia by boat. They were picked up by the Australian Navy in late 2001 before reaching Australia, and have spent their lives since in detention. These children have been in detention now since 2001, as part of the Australian Government’s “Pacific Solution”, a program to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia.

The three girls are now aged 14, 8 and 7; the boys are 15 and 9, and a third boy was born in detention and is two years of age. The children are amongst the last 54 of 1200 people who were detained on Nauru, in the detention camp established following the interception of the Norwegian ship, Tampa. Remaining with the children are 4 women and 44 men.

According to reports from the camp, the children are all lonely and have found it difficult to watch all the other children leaving to begin new lives. They have no friends left to play with. They of course don't understand why they have been left behind. The parents are traumatised and find it difficult to cope with parenting in that situation. They are in a camp full of depressed people….

I recommend you read Howard Glenn’s full statement. Not surprisingly, I found this on a NZ site.

Is something rotten in Australia?

Fiona Katauskas

Writing in The Age today, Sushi Das believes an undercurrent of intolerance permeates our society. Following is an excerpt:

“In Australia, racism is embedded in the history of colonisation and migration. Some link modern expressions of racism to notions of nationhood. If being a "real" Australian is presented as the norm through a host community's customs and beliefs, then racist beliefs will inevitably find expression through stereotyping.

Of course, in this multicultural, tolerant country, many people are not racists, but there are ever-present signs that something ugly lurks just below the surface. It was not that long ago that Aboriginal footballer Michael Long was called a "black bastard" during a match and Nicky Winmar raised his guernsey and pointed to his black skin in response to similar abuse.

In the political arena, John Howard, through his carefully chosen words, and sometimes through a lack of words, has fostered an environment in which racial prejudice can flourish.

When Pauline Hanson told Federal Parliament "I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians", Howard failed to specifically repudiate her comments and instead welcomed them as a return to free speech.

In 1998 he told the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils: "I genuinely believe there are some who seek to prey upon community fears to encourage a sense of hostility towards people of particular racial backgrounds."

Yet three years later, just before the 2001 (Tampa) election, that is exactly what he did when he fuelled racist beliefs by condemning queue-jumping asylum seekers whom he wrongly claimed had thrown their children overboard.

Tapping into racism delivers votes. When the stench of racist sentiment is evident in government policy (mutual obligation), asylum-seeker regulations, political rhetoric, community attitudes and individual values, there is something rotten going on.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act. Last year the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission received 159 complaints under the act. It should receive none.”

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Paul Keating's warning to the Brits - beware this malignancy

Bell in The Guardian

Paul Keating has enlightened readers of The Guardian as to why he thinks the other Mr Howard is not fit to inherit Churchill's moral legacy:

”It has been one of the conundrums of Australian public life that as Labor leader and former prime minister, I drew much inspiration from a British Conservative leader, Winston Churchill, and often said so. He sometimes expressed views on economic and social issues I would not endorse, but his moral clarity was a lesson to us all.

It was that which informed his unshakable belief that Hitler was a psychopath, a racist and a criminal and that, unlike the view of most of the upper class in Britain at the time, Hitler could not be dealt with.

Churchill bequeathed to his party a mantle of moral rectitude which remains to this day. All the greater the pity that its current leader fails to understand the importance of this inheritance. And is even prepared to shop and trade it.

All the people who dabble in race, whether it be the Hitlers at the hard end or the Hansons in Australia on the soft end, have one subject in common - citizenship. And these days, for citizenship read migration.

They seek to construct parochial and arbitrary distinctions between the civic and the human community. So some of us have a right to enjoy the sovereign benefits of security, sustenance and belonging while others are wayfarers and itinerants who are not entitled to inclusion with us.

These appeals more often than not find a measure of uncritical acceptance in countries that formerly have been monocultures. But only the shabbiest of political figures has any truck with this stuff.

Britain is a great state because it has always had solid values, and has been prepared to fight for them. How wrong it is for Michael Howard's Conservative party to tread the slippery and sleazy track of race to ingratiate themselves with that proportion of the electorate always susceptible to this malignant appeal.

A national leader should always be searching for the threads of gold that run through a society, that lift us up and bind us together. The Liberal party, Australia's Tory equivalent, has in recent years made an art form of the whispered word "race".

In 2001, Prime Minister John Howard ran a despicable election campaign against asylum seekers. The campaign was successful but Australia was weakened by it. Its moral compass now lacks the equilibrium it had and the underlying compassion has been compromised.

The Australian Tories' agents are now in Britain. The chief operator, Lynton Crosby, calls it "guerrilla warfare" or "below-the-line campaigning". Michael Howard will know none of this of course; he will be like his namesake in Australia, hearing no evil and seeing no evil.

But in his paltry opportunism, whether he understands it or not, he will be putting at risk his country's integrity. Churchill would regard the tactic as anathema and against every value he fought for.

The economically strong country that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have created has at its core a moral basis from which it derives its energy and purpose.People cannot have the wealth and the jobs while at the same time laying waste to the human spirit. The beating heart of the country has to be kept in good fettle.

Michael Howard should be mature enough and decent enough, even at this late stage, to pull the rein on this expedient search for the dark-hearted.”

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Detention stuff-ups no surprise to Edmund Rice researchers

The truth is out here...somewhere. The mighty Hinze.

The following was reported in The Age and Catholic News:

"When Australia deports people, it has not got a clue of what happens to them," said Phil Glendenning of the Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice, following last week´s revelation of the deportation of an Australian citizen whom the Department of Immigration believed was an illegal immigrant.

At least 33 Australians have been wrongfully detained in the past two years, the Government revealed last night, as it continued its hunt for a deported Australian woman missing overseas.

Dubious practices of the Department were brought to light late last year with the case of Australian citizen Cornelia Rau, who was wrongfully detained for several months.

Acting Immigration Minister Peter McGauran said the incidents occurred between July 2003 and February last year.

The figure included the case of the missing woman who was deported to the country of her birth four years ago.

Mr Glendenning said it was usual for an official to accompany the deportee to their destination and then leave them. They could not say goodbye to friends and relatives and were often sent to countries where they had no connections.

In its Deported to Danger report released last year as part of ongoing research it is conducting in collaboration with the Australian Catholic University, the Christian Brothers´ Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice claimed that Australia has deported at least 35 rejected asylum seekers into dangerous situations, and needs to urgently reform its refugee protection system.

In their push to get rid of detainees, the report said authorities "often took a reckless" view of the dangers they faced once deported.

Meanwhile Acting Immigration Minister McGauran said that the cases have prompted the Government to expand the terms of reference of its inquiry - headed by former Australian Federal Police chief Mick Palmer - into the case of Cornelia Rau.”

What about a full public enquiry with the necessary powers to get the evidence.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Asylum seekers tell their shadowy stories

I've come to say thank you ... Christine Rau and author Tom Keneally outside the Baxter detention centre yesterday

Christine Rau travelled to Baxter detention centre for the first time yesterday to join authors Tom Keneally and Rosie Scott and launch an anthology of stories from behind the gates. Another Country, edited by Keneally and Scott, is a collection of stories written by asylum seekers.

One of our own is missing

A Fiona Katauskas cartoon

Those that have followed the Cornelia Rau story will hardly be surprised by the revelation that four years ago an Australian citizen was deported under this barbaric detention regime, and nobody knows where she is. This story ran in Monday's World Today program on ABC.

I suppose it was inevitable that Australians would become victims of this repressive system. Now we have politicians on both sides of the fence spinning around to come up with a ‘palatable’ position on the unpalatable proposition that the refugee advocates have it right - mandatory detention and its consequences are a serious violation of human rights.

The flagrant violation in this case should see a mirror held up to our collective face. When authorities fail to ensure non-Australians held in detention facilities are afforded the same basic protection and duty of care we expect for ourselves then we are all diminished.

Watch the unedifying spectacle as politicians duck and weave around the growing chorus for a Royal Commission.