Friday, March 31, 2006

Time Running Out for Indonesians on Death Row

Amnesty International is urging Indonesian authorities to abandon or delay the imminent execution of three men charged with committing premeditated murder and inciting riots in the country six years ago.

AI says the men - Fabianus Tibo (60), Dominggus da Silva (42) and Marinus Riwu (48) - are due to be executed before the end of March for their role in inter-faith clashes in Indonesia. The three were sentenced to death in April 2001 for their alleged role in the riots and ensuing deaths in the Indonesian town of Poso in May 2000.

Indonesian newspapers are reporting that the Central Sulawesi Police have prepared four firing squads, comprising of 44 sharp shooters, to carry out the executions within the next few days.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rudd slams 'disgusting' cartoon

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd has described as disgusting and disgraceful a cartoon depicting the prime minister and foreign minister as fornicating dingoes.

The cartoon of John Howard and Alexander Downer dominated the front page of one of Indonesia's biggest-selling newspapers, the Islamic-leaning Rakyat Merdeka (People's Freedom).

Headlined "The adventure of two dingo" (sic), the drawing shows the prime minister as the dominant dog, shaking as he tells the foreign minister: "I want Papua!! Alex! Try to make it happen!"

Today after seeing the cartoon, Mr Rudd said he would raise his concerns about it with the Indonesian ambassador.

"This is a disgusting and disgraceful depiction of the prime minister and the foreign minister, I don't think it passes any standard of taste anywhere in the world," Mr Rudd said."

It seems the cynical bilateral game that has been played with the lives of asylum seekers can go sour when one side perceives the other as two-faced. The sorry debacle of a foreign policy shaped to accommodate shifting domestic public opinion, married to a short-sighted unilateral or limited 'bilateral' approach to complex strategic issues, is coming home to roost.

Indonesia: "Let it Rip!" over 'illegal migrants'

Let the Diplomatic Row with Indonesia Rip, especially over Indonesia's threat to stop cooperating with Australia over what one Indonesian spokesman last week termed 'illegal migrants'," says WA Rights group Project SafeCom this morning.

"We would welcome one almighty row between Indonesia and Australia over the repelled asylum seekers, who in accordance with international law sought to enter Australia. Four years ago more than four hundred men, women and many children ended up in camps run by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) at Mataram on Lombok, when they were pushed back by the Australian Navy or by Indonesian operatives working under cover on behalf of Australia."

"Maybe Indonesia should stop cooperating with Australia by stopping the practice of 'warehousing' asylum seekers for Australia and now deliver the remaining about seventy men, women and children on Australia's doorstop or fly them to Australia and then present the Bill to our country," Mr Smit said.

"Project SafeCom would encourage an immediate end to the practice of Indonesian warehousing of asylum seekers on Australia's behest, we would want to see an end to the recruiting and payment in cash or bribes of Indonesian operatives, whether they are part of the Indonesian Army or Police force, or Indonesian Immigration officials who identify and disrupt groups of asylum seekers, or boats with alleged people smugglers intending to reach Australian shores."

"Nearly five years after the infamous 2001 Federal election, won by the Howard government over disruption of boats with asylum seekers, both through activities of the maritime Repel and Deny taskforce "Operation Relex", and the use of shady operatives recruited by Indonesia on behalf of Australia, the untold misery of the hundreds of asylum seekers "pushed back" by Australia continues on Indonesian Islands," said spokesman Jack H Smit.

"The absolute majority of the several hundred asylum claimants, clearly identified as Australia's responsibility both through the Australian monies provided by the Howard government to IOM, and by Australian UNHCR representatives, have been assessed as refugees - if only because many of them were spouses and children of refugees already living in Australia - while 67 remain at the Lombok camp."

This story has many more chapters to be written. Murky bilateral deals to shore up Howard's "illegal boat people" wedge need to be exposed for the low politics they are.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

West Papua: Cry Freedom, Plea to the World

The Age's Indonesia correspondent, Mark Forbes, gained rare access to the province of West Papua, a new powderkeg on Australia's doorstep. Read Mark's full article. An excerpt follows:

"Indonesia is paranoid at the prospect of a repeat of East Timor's 2002 succession and had banned Western journalists from the province for nearly two years, until The Age was granted permission to visit Jayapura and Timika last week. In West Papua, the gap between local aspirations and Jakarta's expectations is widening, inviting the spectre of bloodier conflict.

On Timika's outskirts, the warriors lead the way to a jungle clearing. Here the leading activist behind the clashes in Timika and Jayapura, Jefri Pagawak, vows the protests and the violence will continue unless Freeport's contract is renegotiated. Activists' demands include that it stop polluting and that it redirect more of its revenues to Papuans. Some want it closed altogether.

The focus may be the world's largest gold mine, which tips more than $1 billion a year into the national coffers, but Mr Pagawak argues Freeport's contract with Indonesia was signed in 1967, two years before Indonesia formally took over Papua from the Dutch and an interim United Nations administration. The mine's riches drove the US to collude to "trap Papua into Indonesia", he says.

"Since Papua was integrated into Indonesia, military and the police treated Papuans badly and we are traumatised. We will not step back until the Government can think democratically. We will move forward even stronger if the Government does not open doors of dialogue. We will stage protests, if the Government acts brutally the people, in self-defence, will attack back."

Tensions rising: West Papua Dani tribesmen say that protests and violence will continue unless the contract with the US-owned Freeport mine is renegotiated.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

West Papua and decolonisation

When it boils down the fact remains that Indonesia colonised West Papua at a time when Australia maintained its colonial sway over Papua and New Guinea (although New Guinea was a mandated UN trust territory).

The decolonisation of West Papua is overdue. The repressive tactics employed by Jakarta over decades is documented and the case for another free and fair act of self-determination by the melanesians of West papua is overwhelming. It is time for this wrong to be righted and for the democratic rights of Papuans to be acknowledged and supported by the international community.

Following are papers setting out the case for decolonisation and the background history and issues:


Sam Blay, professor of law at the University of Technology Sydney, "Why West Papua deserves another chance"

Richard Chauvel,Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia, "Where nationalisms collide"

PCRC Briefing Paper on West Papua

Edmund Rice condemnation of detention of vulnerable

The Edmund Rice Centre issued a call yesterday for immigration law reform to prevent "a return to the sorts of disgraceful situations highlighted in the cases of Mr T, Vivian Alvarez Solon, Cornelia Rau".

The Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, Phil Glendenning, has welcomed the positive response by the Immigration Minister to the Ombudsman's report on Mr T, an Australian citizen unlawfully detained by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), but warns that legislative reform is still needed.

"We have seen that this Government has abandoned due process when it suits its political interests. There remains no guarantee that, should we face another 'Tampa', the Government won't once again turn a blind eye to these sorts of abuses", Mr Glendenning said."

Legislative reform and a Royal Commission into the system of mandatory detention is needed urgently. Abuses will continue until there is a wholesale review of the culture of detention. Such a review must be underpinned by a full judicial enquiry. One area of focus should be an expose of the ongoing management of detention camps as a profit making exercise. Another should be 'performance incentives' related to the processing of asylum seekers. Another should be a thorough audit based investigation of the money trails to recipient governments associated with the 'Pacific solution'.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

play with me!

Bill Leak in The Australian

Beazley demands Immigration royal commission

ABC reports "Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says a report released by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into the Department of Immigration is further evidence of the department's incompetence.

The damning report details the unlawful detention of a severely mentally ill man who was mistaken for an illegal immigrant.

The man, referred to only as "Mr T", was detained in Villawood detention centre in Sydney three times over four years, in one case for up to eight months.

Mr Beazley says the department needs to be fully investigated.

"This department can not be micro-managed out of its problems," he said.

"This department has to undergo a full-scale royal commission to tell us what has gone wrong with it, how many Australians have been mistreated by it, how many people who are not Australians have been mistreated by it."

This blog has been calling for a Royal Commission into mandatory detention from its outset. It is the only way the truth will be revealed and responsibility for this abusive system properly apportioned.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Embrace asylum seekers: SIEV X survivor's final wish

Mourners at a memorial service for SIEV-X survivor Amal Basry were asked last night to help enact her dream - to welcome people fleeing persecution.

The Iraq-born woman spent 30 hours in the sea clinging to the corpse of another woman after an Indonesian people-smuggling boat, overladen with asylum seekers, sank in 2001.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's Kon Karapanagiotidis said: "Her dream was that other people would not suffer as she did."

Mrs Basry, 51, who died on Saturday, was on her way to join her husband in Australia when the boat sank. After her rescue, she was returned to Indonesia where she had to wait nearly a year to come to Australia, and spent three years on a temporary protection visa before being granted permanent protection last year.

True colours: the beaming smile of Isir Mohamud, 10, a Somali-Australian, is worth a thousand words as she plays her part in breaking down the barriers. To mark Harmony Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racism yesterday, a group of young Muslim woman made hijabs out of Australian flags, which they wore during a lunch at the Northern Migrant Resource Centre?s Spectrum Employment Services in Prahran. Isir was one of the youngest girls to celebrate the day, held as a celebration of a diverse society.

Detainees on hunger strike at Villawood

7 News reports "up to 100 people are refusing food in the longest mass hunger strike in Villawood Detention Centre's history, a Sydney refugee spokesman says.

The hunger strike began on Thursday, two days after a Chinese detainee at the western Sydney centre had tried to kill himself by swallowing four razor blades.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the 35-year-old Falun Gong practitioner known as Mr Huang, had been "very depressed" before his suicide attempt.

Fearing he would turn to self-harm, Mr Rintoul said several attempts were made by the Chinese Welfare Association to get Mr Huang a bridging visa.

When none was successful he had lost hope, he said.

Mr Rintoul said scores of fellow detainees were so upset by the Immigration Department's treatment of Mr Huang that they were now accepting only water and juice."

People pushed to the edge will take extreme action, including self-harm, as a last resort. It is a tragedy that the refugee system has become so compromised by 'national interest' considerations as to be disfunctional, incapable of producing humane outcomes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Human Rights Act Podcasts

New Matilda reports on "a community forum to discuss a bill of rights for Australia was held last Saturday at Leichhardt Town Hall. Three brilliant speakers addressed an old fashion meeting of over 300 people – Julian Burnside QC, refugee rights advocate, Susan Ryan AO, former Commonwealth Minster and Chair of Human Rights Act for Australia campaign, and Rob Hulls, Attorney General of Victoria. The event was organised by the ALP Port Jackson FEC and chaired by Verity firth, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney City Council."

Podcasts of the key speakers can be found at the New Matilda site.

Julian Burnside explained how his work on refugee cases had led him to change his mind on whether Australia needs a Bill of Rights. He urged people not to think that a US-style Bill of Rights is the only option and noted that there are a number of modern incarnations that Australia can draw on. He also explained why the commonly held view that the common law and the parliament are the best protectors of rights is false. He did this by demonstrating just how few limits are placed on the powers of parliament – for example, there is nothing to stop the parliament from passing a law that kills blue eyed babies.

asylum daze

Hinze cartoons

patriot daze

Hinze cartoons

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Vanstone explains aboriginal art and migrant policy to the Indians

Expat Jane Rankin-Reid recounts the sensitivity with which our Immigration Minister regaled the Indian press during her recent visit with Howard:

" So it was disappointing a day or so earlier to hear Amanda Vanstone, the Australian government’s Minister for Immigration and Indigenous Affairs speaking at an exhibition of Aboriginal art in Delhi. The show of finely-painted traditional skeletal imagery by some of the world’s oldest artists, deserved better than this over-sized conservative mumbling banalities about storytelling. “I like stories, you like stories, we all like stories,” she told the small gathering who may have hoped to hear more of contemporary indigenous experience from the minister. “Aboriginals are big on storytelling,” she said, rounding off her unscripted speech.

Visiting India to participate in the Australian needs skills migration Expos, Vanstone told the Indian media several days earlier that the country is a “comfort zone” for students and skilled immigrants. Her department has been accused consistently over the last five years of widespread discriminatory practices in its often-brutal handling of asylum-seekers and refugees. "We don't want 'tyre kickers' i.e. people who are let in to the country but fail to get a job and may translate that frustration into something more dangerous," she told national media in a statement that speaks volumes of her government’s perennial unease with newcomers’ cultural differences. Although Australia wears its multicultural diversity like a sports medallion, cultural integration has increasingly become a demand rather than a process of experience."


Saturday, March 18, 2006

2006 Senate Migration Act Inquiry - report

A Just Australia describes the Senate report as "another valuable Government report on immigration in Australia. The inquiry primarily focused on refugee and asylum seeker issues – not because this is the majority of work performed by the Department of Immigration, but because this is the most contentious area of immigration policy. The Inquiry made some excellent suggestions for how the asylum seeking process could be made more fair and reasonable. The current process is not designed to find out who is a genuine refugee. It is designed to find as few refugees as possible.

Additionally, there was no reference to the issues of border protection, naval interdiction policies or disruption tactics. Given the tragic loss of life after the sinking of SIEV-X, the Senate inquiry lost an opportunity to investigate this important area of Government activity. There is still a need for a full and independent inquiry into this area."

When will SIEV-X be properly investigated?

Indonesia: Investigate Escalating Violence in Papua

Human Rights Watch is calling for escalating violence in Papua's provincial capital to be investigated by an independent commission. Demonstrators and police clashed in the provincial capital Jayapura this week, causing the deaths of four Indonesian policemen and seriously injuring several civilians. Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation by Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) into the incident, and for other domestic and foreign independent monitors to be allowed access to the area.

The festering sore of Papua is now coming to the attention of the world's media. The role of the Indonesian government and colluding partners in repressing the Papuan people should be subject to the scrutiny of independent media and monitors. Australia is in a cleft stick on this issue as we have berated melanesia on the imperatives of good governance and the rule of law, whilst ignoring the abuses perpetrated on our doorstep by Indonesia. The Papuan situation is deteriorating, signalling the possibility of militia loyal to Indonesia running amok as in East Timor, but on a much larger scale. The consequences will be terrible and the international community will have more blood on its hands - how many more Rwandas and Darfurs will it take for the UN membership to honour its charter?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Terror fears may spark more Papuan asylum bids reports "a new wave of West Papuan refugees may target Australia for asylum bids amid fears Indonesian forces will unleash a fresh reign of terror, a leading independence fighter has told The Courier-Mail. The Free Papua Movement (OPM) southern regional commander, Jiren Bonny, said the progress of the asylum bid by 43 West Papuans in detention on Christmas Island was being closely monitored.

Speaking at a river camp at Kiunga on the West Papua-PNG border, Mr Bonny rejected claims the Indonesian army was now under control in West Papua.

A document signed by nine regional West Papua tribal leaders and sent to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in recent weeks said Indonesian forces were training militia groups and preparing for an East Timor-style looting spree should international support for West Papua independence grow.

The document said local people had been panicked by the redeployment of troops from Aceh province to West Papua and claimed plans had been made to loot and destroy West Papuan infrastructure if international troops were sent to help any move to independence."

The Indonesian Government is desperate to have the 43 asylum seekers returned to Indonesia. It would appear that one of its main fears is that the truth about West Papua is finally emerging and these people can verify instances of human rights violations. Australian governments have been complicit in turning a blind eye to these violations over decades and it is vital the full story is now told.

United States' Human Rights Record Dismal, says global rights groups

The Asia Tribune reports "the United States government has been widely condemned for violating basic human rights in the fight against terrorism. Since 2001, the Bush administration has authorized interrogation techniques widely considered torture. It has held an unknown number of detainees as 'ghosts' beyond the reach of all monitors, including the ICRC. And it has become the only government in the world to seek legislative sanction to treat detainees inhumanly."

This is how the US-based well respected rights group Human Rights Watch scrutinized the U.S. human rights practices in its annual report released here this week.

In response to the U.S. Department of State’s release early this week of its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the London-based Amnesty International said that while the report provides a comprehensive review of the global situation, a major chapter is missing – a section focusing on the United States’ own human rights record.

The Bush administration’s practice of transferring detainees in the "war on terror" to countries cited by the State Department for their appalling human rights records actually turns the report into a manual for the outsourcing of torture, Amnesty International further states."

The US should get its own house in order if it is to be taken seriously as a watchdog of human rights violations and that applies to Australia as well.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

'Living hell' built for two - Nauru still open for business

The Age reports on the plight of the two remaining asylum seekers on Nauru:

"MUHAMMAD Faisal calls his life a living hell. He suffers from high anxiety and poor vision, takes medication three times a day, and recently, in an act of desperation, tried to take his life.

Faisal, 26, is one of the last two asylum seekers left on Nauru under the Howard Government's Pacific Solution. The other, Mohammad Sagar, 29, became concerned last month when he knocked on Faisal's door and there was no reply.

He called the security people and a nurse at the camp and, when they opened the door, he saw Faisal, semi-conscious, bleeding from cuts to his chest, arms and stomach. Faisal was taken to the clinic that once served several hundred mainly Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers on the tiny, impoverished island.

He later said he had been "pushed to the edge" by the isolation and uncertainty of his situation and a sense of desperation.

"In Nauru life is black," he told the The Age this week. "I feel I am in hell. When I came to Nauru I was 21. My age now is 26. Everything is negative."

Now, almost 4½ years after being sent to Nauru, two of the world's loneliest asylum seekers are now preparing for a new existence outside the camp.

While the camp will be maintained, at a cost to Australian taxpayers of $1 million a month, those employed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) who have been responsible for the welfare of the two men, including a psychiatrist, are pulling out."

I was involved in the aid component of the Pacific Solution for over a year, which included membership of the Prime Minister's taskforce on asylum seekers. I was also a member of the Nauru facilities' coordinating committee chaired by DIMA. I believe a Royal Commission is essential to expose the Howard government's asylum seeker strategy to the full glare of public scrutiny.

Indonesia: Stop the imminent execution of three men

Amnesty is calling for a review of three pending executions. "The authorities are reportedly preparing for the execution of Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu. The intended date and time have not been announced, but the Central Sulawesi Prosecutor's office has apparently ordered three coffins and begun final preparations. President Yudhoyono rejected the three men's appeal for clemency in November 2005, but the authorities still have the power to delay the execution while the case is reviewed.

The three men were sentenced to death in April 2001 for premeditated murder and inciting riots, in connection with ethnic and religious violence between Christians and Muslims in the town of Poso, Central Sulawesi, in May 2000. Tibo, da Silva and Riwu, all Christians, were accused of leading an attack on a Muslim village.

Amnesty International believes that their trial in 2001 may not have been fair. Reportedly there were demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse, demanding that the three be sentenced to death, and their legal representatives were subjected to intimidation including death threats. A bomb was planted at the house of one legal adviser.

On 1 February 2006 the lawyers representing the three men announced that they had new evidence and called for a renewed investigation into the case. They claimed that this evidence demonstrates that 16 other people were responsible for instigating the violence in Poso. The lawyers assert that the new evidence will show that Tibo, da Silva and Riwu did not orchestrate the disturbances, but that they are key witnesses in the cases of the 16 people, whose names the lawyers have submitted to the National Police headquarters.

In the past few weeks, the case has attracted the attention of numerous local and national human rights groups and religious leaders, including former President and prominent Muslim cleric Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid. They have repeatedly called on the authorities to abandon or at least delay the execution to allow for further investigation into the case.

Appeals to:

* President President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President RI, Istana Merdeka, Jakarta Pusat 10110, Indonesia Fax: +62 21 345 2685 +62 21 526 8726 Salutation: Dear President Yudhoyono
* Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin, Menteri Kehakiman dan HAM, Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said Kav. 4-5 Kuningan, Jakarta Selatan 12950, Indonesia Fax: +62 21 725 0213 Salutation: Dear Minister

Copies to:

* Chairman, human rights commission Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia, Jl. Laturharhary No.4B, Menteng, Jakarta, Indonesia Fax: +62 21 392 5227
* His Excellency Mr Mohammad Hamzah THAYEB Ambassador Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia 8 Darwin Avenue Yarralumla ACT 2600 Fax: (02) 6273 6017, 6273 3545 Email: Salutation: Your Excellency

Please send your appeals immediately.

Refugees and asylum seekers: a guide to key resources

It is important to understand the network of agreements and conventions underpinning the conduct of nation states in their dealings with refugees. It is alarming to see how far Australia has diverged from the 'spirit' of this international architecture. The Parliamentary Library has an accessible data base.

African refugees 'dumped without health checks' reports "the Federal Government was dumping vulnerable immigrants on NSW without providing proper medical checks and treatment to protect them and the community, NSW Premier Morris Iemma said today. Mr Iemma said the increase in asylum seekers arriving from African countries such as Sudan was posing a range of complex problems never encountered before by the state's health system.

The federal Immigration Department today strongly rejected reports it had only screened 37 per cent of more than 10,000 African refugees who had come to NSW.

But Mr Iemma told Parliament he had been advised by NSW Health that as of late 2005: "Only 37 per cent of the 4000 humanitarian refugees (in NSW) from Africa underwent screening for diseases before arriving in Australia."

"That puts the whole community in danger from diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis and measles," Mr Iemma told Parliament.

"The Federal Government is not only dumping vulnerable immigrants on our doorstep without proper medical checks and without medical cards, they have also refused to set up a single dedicated support service in areas where refugees settle, such as western Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Tamworth."

By denying refugees access to Medicare it left them to fend for themselves while the NSW health system picked up the pieces, Mr Iemma said."

The neglect of refugees continues apace and will continue until there is a major overhaul of the whole system. A Royal Commission will be needed to identify the full extent of the systemic deficiencies.

US report might help Papuan boat people

The Age reports "a US State Department report alleging torture and intimidation by Indonesian security forces against Papuan separatists may add weight to the case of 43 Papuan boat people seeking asylum in Australia.

The US report on human rights in Indonesia said abuses had decreased in the past year, but there were still serious problems in Papua province, where separatists have struggled against Jakarta's rule for decades.

Widespread intimidation was occurring even though the military estimated there were only 620 guerrillas belonging to the Free Papua Movement, or OPM, armed with only around 150 weapons among them, the report said.

The use of torture to obtain confessions from suspects was most apparent in Papua and Aceh, where rebels have concluded a peace deal with the Indonesian government."

It is pleasing that the US State Department takes its human rights reporting mandate seriously. It would be even more impressive if it turned that enquiring eye toward the activities of its own government, but perhaps that would be an enquiry too far!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Howard blames asylum seekers for "Children Overboard" scandal

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the refugees he falsely accused of throwing their children into the ocean deserve no apology because they did the next worst thing - "they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water"...Refugee rights advocate, Jack Smit, from the West Australian-based group Project SafeCom says: "Refugees don't sink damned boats, Mr Howard!" He said in a media statement: "The Prime Minister remains one of the very few politicians in Australia who maintains the slandering descriptive word 'illegals' to denote boatpeople."

"Refugees rarely sink their boats," said Mr Smit, "Usually it is the people smugglers who do the sinking, sometimes the sinking is due to physical sabotage by sting operators working from countries such as Indonesia, and sometimes these sting operators are contracted by countries such as Australia."

Petty in The Age

Asylum-seekers in Australia remain in long-term limbo

It is worth reflecting on the Amnesty report of last year that "estimates that as at 29 May 2005, 210 people detained in Australian immigration facilities (including the offshore centre on the South Pacific island of Nauru) had been there for over 18 months. The longest serving detainee at that time was Peter Qasim, a rejected Kashmiri asylum-seeker who had been held since September 1998. Australian law requires that a non-national in Australia without a valid visa must be detained until he or she is either granted a temporary protection visa or leaves the country. Rejected asylum-seekers such as Peter Qasim, who cannot leave Australia because no country will accept him as a national or allow him entry, face being detained indefinitely...Australia’s mandatory detention regime places it in breach of several of the inter-national human rights treaties which it has signed up to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In June the Australian Prime Minister announced several changes to the detention regime, intended to soften its edges without altering the fundamental policy.

While the changes are a step in the right direction, they have not adequately addressed the key recommendations made in AI’s report. Unless further changes are made asylum-seekers who arrive without a valid visa will continue to be automatically detained in contravention of Australia’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law. They will continue to be held without an assessment of whether their detention is necessary and proportionate, and without access to review by an independent body able to order a release.

The only safeguard against indefinite detention will be the Minister for Immigration’s discretion – which she cannot be forced to use. And any alternative to indefinite detention for rejected asylum-seekers who cannot be returned will also be at the Minister’s discretion."

Experience has shown that anything left to the discretion of this government's Ministers is likely to lead to further human rights violations.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New visa needed for those at risk

The Australian reports " a SENATE committee reviewing immigration laws has recommended introducing a "complementary protection" visa to asylum-seekers who have not qualified for refugee status but may still face dangers in their country of origin.

The review of the Migration Act recommends the abolition of isolation cells, and says the "self-protective" approach of immigration officers reflected the tougher policy stance of the Coalition Government.

The 500-page report by the Senate's legal and constitutional references committee claims substantial taxpayer savings could be achieved by offering the new class of visa to people facing human rights violations if they were deported.

Those eligible would include people who have no nationality or right of residence and those from conflict-riven countries where human rights abuses are widespread.

The visa would bring Australia in line with Canada, the US and members of the European Union, which have all adopted complementary protection."

This is a positive development in the current situation where asylum seekers are invariably subjected to a callous regime of psychological and physical abuse. However, much more reform is needed to clean up the system in line with international law and conventions.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Two more 'lost' in detention system

The Age reports "two men were lost in Australia's immigration detention system for several years while officials tried unsuccessfully to identify them, in a case that echoes the Cornelia Rau scandal.

In a damning report, Commonwealth Ombudsman John McMillan criticised the slowness of immigration officials in investigating the men's backgrounds and called for their urgent release into the community while the inquiries continued."

The dreadful state of the detention system can only be fully investigated by a Royal Commission. This ongoing scandal must be exposed to the full glare of public scrutiny.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Pollies, lies and videotape

Tandberg in The Age

Detention shake-up follows scandals

The Age reports THE CONTROVERSIAL private operator of Australia's detention centres (Global Solutions Limited) will not have its lucrative $90-million-a-year contract extended...The company has come under intense scrutiny, with critics claiming it has introduced a punitive prison regime to detention centres, including the use of solitary confinement."

GSL will have an opportunity to bid for the new contract, and one can only hope that its performance to date will exclude any chance of it picking up the new tender. One can also hope that GSL will come under even closer scrutiny down the track when a future Government subjects this dark period of asylum seeker management to the full glare of a Royal Commission. I am looking forward to GSL executives being asked searching questions about such things as the role of government in establishing policy settings and performance benchmarks for detention centres etc. (echoes of AWB methinks).