Monday, May 21, 2007

Human Rights in Australia & China - refugee supporters hold vigil for Villawood hunger strikers

Those who keep an eye on the appalling indifference to asylum seeker suffering displayed by the Howard Government will not be surprised by the turn of events at Villawood. Australia kowtows to China on human rights issues routinely to avoid any problems emerging on the trade front. It shocks me how sanguine the general population has become to this reality.

Refugee supporters will hold a protest vigil outside the Department of Immigration office, 26 Lee Street, Sydney, from 4.00pm-5.30pm to mark the 50th day of the hunger strike by two Chinese asylum seekers in Villawood detention centre.

The strike began on 28 March following the deportation of Chinese asylum seeker. There are grave fears concerning the welfare of the hunger strikers. Ms Yuan has been in hospital for over two weeks but is still refusing food. She suffered kidney problems after only two weeks into the hunger strike.

Reports from the hospital a few days ago indicated that Immigration may be planning to force-feed Ms Yuan.

The Refugee Action Coalition understands that Ms Yuan would have to be determined to be "incompetent" before such a step could be taken. There are strict ethical guidelines for doctors intervening in political protests.

Villawood management is now refusing to allow other detainees to visit the hunger strikers.

"W are pleading with the Minister to urgently intervene to review the cases of people at Villawood. The fate of these people is in the Ministers hands. Chinese asylum seekers have said they would rather die here than at the hands of the Chinese authorities," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

"Australia has a responsibility not to send asylum seekers anywhere they may face persecution. The hunger strikers have consistently asked for the Minister to end the forced deportations to China or anywhere else, yet the Minister has forcibly deported at least four people to China while the hunger strike has been on."

"The government promised a different Immigration department following the revelations of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon," said Ian Rintoul, "but Kevin Andrews has taken the department back to the punitive days of Philip Ruddock. The Minister has behaved recklessly with the lives of those who are supposed to be in his care."

"We do not want to see a tragedy in Villawood. These people may already have suffered permanent damage to their health on top of the suffering of the months and years of detention."

Anyone wising to let Minister Andrews know their feelings on this ongoing abuse can email him at:

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