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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Baxter hungerstrike: health deteriorates, calls for independent intervention

Welcome to Iran: the picture of what awaits the Iranian detainees upon return to the Islamic Republic of IranNarrogin WA, Dec 14 - The situation in the Baxter detention centre is deteriorating. Two of the men who had stiched their lips, were taken to the Port Augusta hospital yesterday. Independent from the hunger strike, lawyers for another man who takes part in the hunger strike, filed an order in the court for the man to be released from the Baxter centre for a full and independent psychiatric assessment.

What is clear, is that the prolonged detention, without any form of outlook or prospect of outcomes, has seriously damaged the Iranian men's psychological health. Dr Louise Newman of the Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers calls Baxter "a defacto psychiatric hospital, without adequate treatment or monitoring".

Govt won't negotiate with protesting asylum seekers

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Tuesday, December 14, 2004. 9:01am (AEDT)


The Immigration Department is urging Iranian detainees involved in a hunger strike at South Australia's Baxter detention centre to accept that the Government has rejected their refugee claims.

The hunger strike is now in its second week and includes three men conducting a roof top protest, as well as a group of detainees who have sewn stitches through their lips.

Immigration Department spokeswoman Sarah Crichton says the Government will not negotiate the men's cases and the protest is not helping their cause.

"All the detainees currently protesting at [the] Baxter immigration detention facility have previously received decisions on their refugee claims and none were found to be refugees," she said.

"Most of the protesters have exhausted all avenues of appeal while a small number of others have ongoing litigation."

However ALP federal president, MP and asylum seeker advocate Carmen Lawrence says that is not good enough and the Minister, Amanda Vanstone, must help break the impasse.

"Send someone in there to negotiate," she said.

"This is a very unsatisfactory situation with people on hunger strikes, sewn lips and obviously no resolution in sight."

Dr Lawrence says the current situation simply can not continue.

"It's not good enough for the department to tell people not to make a fuss but we should be making a fuss, and the Minister should get someone involved who can negotiate an outcome," she said.

"No-one wants to see people starving, no-one wants to see people harming themselves."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1264516.htm

A call to action from inside Baxter

From Jerome Small
Melbourne RAC
Tuesday December 14


Reports from inside Baxter last night that two Iranian men on hunger strike have been taken to Port Augusta hospital, both seriously ill.

There is a call from inside Baxter for [groups and individuals] on the outside to have nationwide, coordinated activities over several days starting on Friday of this week, as follows:

On Friday, the call is for everyone to go to DIMIA and make a noise to bring attention to the situation.

Saturday is the day for hunger, the request is for everyone to go on a one day hunger strike. It doesn't matter if people do it by themselves, but its better if people do it together.

Sunday is for media, the request is for all journalists to write in the paper to bring the situation to international attention.

Monday is the day for everyone to write a letter to [UN Chief] Kofi Annan to bring us once again to international attention because detainees don't have any hope in this Australian Government.

The emphasis was that it should be everyone; Sydney, Adelaide, Darwin, wherever we can organise something to happen.

There is also an immediate demand for a group from the Red Cross to come into the centre and to check the health and wellbeing of the people in there.

And a call to groups and organisations overseas to bombard the Australian Embassy with letters and emails.

This call for action comes via Tanya McConvell [of 2XX-FM radio, Melbourne].

Melbourne RAC will obviously be talking about this call, and any other ideas people have for solidarity actions, at our meeting tonight (Tuesday). It would be great to hear what people in other cities and towns are doing as well, as plans develop.

Jerome Small
jeromes(at)alphalink.com.au
Melbourne RAC

CALL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDICAL REVIEW OF BAXTER CRISIS

ALLIANCE OF HEALTH PROFESSIONALS FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS

MEDIA RELEASE
14 December 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CALL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDICAL REVIEW OF BAXTER CRISIS


The Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers has convened an independent medical team including psychiatrists and general practitioners to review the condition of hunger-strikers in Baxter detention centre.

Dr Louise Newman, Convenor of the Alliance said that "this latest outbreak of despair and self-harm is entirely predictable. Long-term detention damages psychological health and the prospect of indefinite detention, results in hopelessness and mental deterioration.

The Alliance described Baxter as "a defacto psychiatric hospital, without adequate treatment or monitoring."

"The fact that some individuals have exhausted avenues of legal appeal is no justification for inhumane treatment and sub-standard medical care" said Dr Newman.

"All people, regardless of visa status, have a right to adequate health care".

The Alliance medical team has sought approval to conduct a review of Baxter detainees and recommend treatment as required.

Contact: Dr Louise Newman
[phone number]

THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND COLLEGE OF PSYCHIATRISTS (RANZCP)
New South Wales Branch
PO Box 280, Rozelle NSW 2039
Australia


Telephone: (02) 9810 7963
Facsimile: (02) 9810 5073
Email: ranzcp(at)bigpond.net.au

The original Press Release Document has LOGOS STAMPED from:

PROFESSIONAL ALLIANCE FOR THE HEALTH OF ASYLUM SEEKERS AND THEIR CHILDREN

AUSTRALIAN PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY

SUICIDE PREVENTION AUSTRALIA

COMMITTEE OF PRESIDENTS OF MEDICAL COLLEGES (CPMC)

MENTAL HEALTH COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA


Download this document:

Word Document

Baxter hit by hunger protests

The Australian
by Andrew McGarry
Tuesday December 14, 2004
The Nation, Page 6


The rooftop protest and hunger strike at Baxter detention centre has entered its 10th day with a cascade of claims and counter-claims about the treatment and welfare of the detainees.

Immigration officials have blasted claims by refugee advocates about ill-treatment, saying "imflammatory ad exaggerated comments" were only raisinhg flase hopes that detainees rejected as refugees would be able to stay in Australia.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department dismissed suggestions centre staff were denying protesters food and water.

Three Iranian detainees last night remained on the roof of the centre. All three have refused food for at least a week, with one man today entering the tenth day on hunger strike.

Refugee groups said there were a total of 27 detainees on hunger strike, including three with their lips sewn shut.

Jack Smit, from refugee group Project SafeCom, said he had been told centre staff had forbidden detainees from climbing on to the roof to hand bottles of water to the hunger strikers. He claimed staff had also used sticks or other items to bang on the roof to keep protesters awake.

"If this is the current medical practice to keep hunger strikers from slipping into a coma, we wonder whether third-world standards of medical care would qualify for the Nobel Prize by comparison," he said.

Kathy Verran, from the Rural Australians for Refugees group, said there were serious concerns for the well-being of the hunger strikers, since they were likely to suffer permanent damage even if they ended their fast now.

"The message I got the other day was that they wanted to take this through to the end, whatever that means," Ms Verran said.

An immigration spokesman rejected any suggestion that detainees were being denied access to food or water.

"A group of detainees are still claiming that they are choosing not to eat," the spokesman said. "The detainees who have chosen not to eat are being encouraged to end their actions as soon as possible".

Water and food are being offered to the detainees and were available to detainees at all times, the spokesman said.

He refused to confirm the number of people involved in the hunger strike, but said they had all been found not to be refugees. Their action would not help them to remain in Australia, he said.

In the High Court yesterday, Justice Kenneth Hayne dismissed an application on behalf of Mazhar Bakhtiyari, a baby born to detainees while in Australia.

Lawyers had appealed for a habeas corpus to allow the baby's release from detention, saying authorities were holding the child illegally because he had been born in Australia. Justice Hayne rejected the application.

The baby lives with his mother Roqiah and siblings Alamdar, Muntazar, Nagina, Samina and Amina in community detention in Adelaide. His father Ali is in detention in Baxter.

[not available online]

Two suggestions for action

(1) From Emma Corcoran, Port Augusta RAR

Hi all,


Jenny and I have been brainstorming ideas for raising awareness of what is happening to the asylum seekers, particularly hungerstrikers, in Baxter.

Coming up to Christmas it would be great if we could get some coverage in the rural press. The coverage could focus on the fact that asylum seekers in detention will spend their 4th, 5th, 6th or even 7th Christmas in detention in a few weeks.

One way to get this coverage is to have a small event in your town, alert the press, and get into the paper. An event will give the press a local angle, and we know that's essential for rural press!!

Some groups in Adelaide are holding a Christmas carol vigil outside churches this week, and the RAR groups here did a similar thing on the weekend outside Baxter. It's fairly simple, you just sing a few songs, and have some placards explaining who you are singing for. The Baxter group had a peace dove motif on banners and flags and candles, which was beautiful.

You may not get a lot of attention from people passing by - but if you can get a photo into the press then it will be really good coverage for the men in Baxter.

If anyone thinks this is a good idea I'd be happy to write a draft press release that you could adapt for your own group. (Or, if you write one, you could forward it around!)

Please forward this onto anyone who you think would be interested.

yours
Emma
Port Augusta RAR


(2) From Jen Brown, Port Augusta RAR

To all refugee supporters


A message from Baxter this morning has requested supporters all over the country to take up the following plan of action later this week. They ask that we get these suggestions out today to as many community groups as possible.

1. Fri 17th:Demonstrations at government offices
They ask supporters across the country to gather at DIMIA offices in all capital cities and at local members offices in rural cities (perhaps at 12.30 to include workers on lunch break).

2. Sat 18th:Hunger strike in solidarity
Everyone in Baxter will be on hunger strike that day. They ask supporters in the community who want to hunger strike in solidarity to make it known in their local communities and to the media that they are taking this action and why.

3. Sun 19th:International Media Campaign
They ask that Australian supporters deluge the international media and human rights organisations with the story of the Baxter hunger strike, the background to the situation and their urgent plea for release.

Best wishes,
Jen
Port Augusta RAR

Iranians' cases should be fully re-assessed with mercy and honesty

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Tuesday December 14 2004 13:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

• Two Iranians hospitalised


With the news that yesterday evening two of the Iranian who were amongst the six with lips stitched, have been hospitalised in the Port Augusta hospital, and the fact that the senior, internationally acclaimed psychiatrist Dr Louise Newman now calls the Baxter detention centre a "de-facto psychiatric hospital", it is clear that the situation is entering a stage 'beyond desperation'. In a separate matter, a lawyer acting for a third man involved in the protest, has asked a court in Adelaide to demand from the Commonwealth, that the man be independently undergo a psychiatric assessment, and, if need be, be released immediately to undergo such an assessment.

• Within this context, Project SafeCom issues a call for

1) an independent negotiator, not linked to the government to speak with the hunger strikers,
2) an independent medical and psychiatric assessment of all Iranians involved in the hunger strike, and
3) a re-consideration of all asylum cases of all Iranians in the light of current and changed political and country information, including a setting aside of their first claims when they entered Australia

At the time the Iranians sought to claim asylum in Australia, one of the main opposition and resistance groups in Iran, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK or MKO) was listed as a terrorist organisation. Some, or likely many of the Iranians, may have hidden their affiliation to this organisation or to other organisations. They may even have lied about their affiliations, or about the fact that they were members of the Indigenous Arab minority in the southwestern province of Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz or Arabistan). Since earlier this year, the US government has rescinded MEK's listing as a terrorist organisation.

• Project SafeCom maintains that:

1.
All Iranians currently in detention have a well-founded fear of persecution if they're returned to Iran (regardless of whether the Australian government recognises that or not) - and there are mountain-loads of corroborating evidence for this (see the web links above).

2. Consequently, none of the Iranians should be returned to Iran.

3. All of the cases of the Iranians in detention should be re-opened as a matter of the greatest urgency.

More information: Jack H Smit, Project SafeCom, phone 0417 090 130

Web resources:

Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)

Past statements by Iranians in the Baxter detention centre

Baxter 'a psychiatric hospital'

news.com.au
By Lauren Ahwan
December 14, 2004


THE Baxter detention centre was being run as a de facto psychiatric hospital but without the staff to help its inmates, a health professionals group said today.

The Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers today called on Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to allow its members to conduct an independent review of the medical condition of detainees at the Baxter centre, in South Australia's north.

A hunger strike at Baxter started 10 days ago with one detainee but refugee advocates said the number had rapidly increased and today 27 detainees were refusing to eat for a second week.

Louise Newman, alliance convenor and NSW chairwoman of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, said the hunger strike was predictable, given the severe mental distress of the detainees.

"Obviously these people are psychologically unwell," Dr Newman said.

"They're suffering a sense of hopelessness.

"Detention centres are not designed as hospitals but they're running Baxter as a de facto psychiatric hospital without psychiatric staff.

"The fact that some individuals have exhausted avenues of legal appeal is no justification for inhumane treatment and sub-standard medical care."

Five Iranian men who have sewn their lips together and three who are protesting on the detention centre's gymnasium roof are among the hunger strikers, according to refugee advocates.

ALP national president Carmen Lawrence said instances of self-harm were an inevitable consequence of keeping people in detention without hope of release.

"Let us remember, as we approach Christmas, that these men have been in detention for around four years," Dr Lawrence said.

"They should not be left to rot while the minister tucks into her Christmas pudding.

"I call on the minister to appoint an independent negotiator to resolve this situation as a matter of urgency."

The immigration department has not revealed its figures for how many detainees are participating in the hunger strike but has said it was fewer than 25.

It said food and water were regularly offered to all detainees.

Kathy Verran, from Rural Australians for Refugees, today said the hunger strikers on the gym roof were feeling sick and tired.

"A couple of them are finding it difficult to move around but they're still managing," she said.

"Their friends (other detainees) have been trying to talk them down but they've had no success with that.

"I think the situation is going to get really horrible."

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive Report

Baxter: the wrong place for my client

14 December 2004

"I have an application in the Federal Court today 14th December, in the Adelaide Registry, continuing from yesterday, in relation to an Iranian detainee who is on a hunger strike and is in the Baxter detention centre. I have sought an order from the court that he be examined immediately by a psychiatrist and if it is the psychiatrist's view that he should be in a hospital and that continuing detention at Baxter is exacerbating his mental health problem then the court should so order."

"We already had a psychological report that indicated he should be receiving immediate in-patient care and Baxter was the wrong place for him."

Claire OConnor,
Barrister and Solicitor
Criminal Practice,
Legal Services Commission
82-98 Wakefield Street
Adelaide SA

Suicidal hunger striker needs psychiatric help, says lawyer

The Advertiser
By SAM LIENERT
16dec04


AN Iranian man on a hunger strike at a South Australian detention centre was mentally ill and needed to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital, his lawyer said yesterday.

Abdoul Hamidi, 31, who has been taking part in a hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre, near Port Augusta, for the past nine days, had a history of self-harm and suicide attempts, lawyer Claire O'Connor said.

The Federal Court in Adelaide will decide today on an application by Ms O'Connor to have the court make an order Mr Hamidi be assessed to determine if he should be moved out of detention and into hospital.

"He has cut his stomach so many times with razor blades that his stomach is just ribbons of scar tissue," Ms O'Connor said.

"He's swallowed shampoo, panadeine, tried to hang himself, cut his neck."

Ms O'Connor said she obtained the information about Mr Hamidi's suicide attempts from immigration department records under a freedom of information application.

She said a psychologist had visited Mr Hamidi six weeks ago and recommended he be assessed to determine if he should be out of detention, but the immigration department had not followed the recommendation.

Refugee advocates said yesterday 27 Iranian detainees at Baxter were involved in the hunger strike, including three men who remained on the roof of the centre's gymnasium.

Link to The Advertiser

Protesting asylum seekers hospitalised

tvnz.co.nz
Dec 14, 2004


Two asylum seekers who stitched their lips shut as part of a hunger strike at an Australian immigration detention centre have been taken to hospital, as negotiators try to end the protest.

The detainees are part of a group of 27 Iranian men - six of whom have stitched their mouths up - held at the remote Baxter detention centre in South Australia state, who are rejecting food to protest against Canberra's refusal to grant them sanctuary.

One lobby group, The Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers, described Baxter on Tuesday as "a de facto psychiatric hospital without adequate treatment or monitoring" and called for an independent medical review of the centre.

"The fact that some individuals have exhausted avenues of legal appeal is no justification for inhumane treatment and sub-standard medical care," Alliance convenor Louise Newman said in a statement.

"All people, regardless of visa status, have a right to adequate health care," she said.

The Baxter protest is similar to one staged by 35 Afghan men held in an Australian-funded detention camp on the Pacific island of Nauru in January, when several detainees also stitched their lips together.

The Immigration Department was unavailable to comment on the health of the protesters, but said in a statement that there was no need for outside intervention in the situation.

"Professional negotiators have been on site and have been speaking with detainees about their actions. This is continuing. However, there will be no negotiation about people's cases," the department said.

There are 252 people detained in the Baxter camp, which is primarily used for boat people who arrive in the country illegally.

Australia has one of the world's strictest immigration policies, detaining all asylum seekers, illegal workers and anyone overstaying their visas in guarded camps while their cases are handled, a process that can take years.

Australia has six detention camps on its soil and pays for others on the Pacific island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

The controversial camps, which have been condemned by international human rights groups, have been hit by a string of protests, hunger strikes, riots, escapes and suicide bids.

Link to the TV New Zealand website

Riddle of the Day

Jesuit priest and lawyer Frank Brennan told people in the Bowral Memorial Hall in August 2002:

"During this last financial year (1 July 2001 - 30 June 2002), the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) set aside 62% of all Afghan decisions appealed and 87% of all Iraqi decisions appealed. This means that Afghan asylum seekers got it right 62% of the time when they claimed that the departmental decision makers got it wrong. And the public servants got it wrong 87% of the times that the Iraqi applicants claim to have been mistakenly assessed." [Source]

The question: In the context of this, and given the fact that most, if not "nearly all" of the Iranians in Baxter, arrived in Australia in the period referred to by Frank Brennan, how reliable would the statement of Immigration Department spokeswoman Sarah Crichton be as quoted in the media today, that

"all the detainees currently protesting at [the] Baxter immigration detention facility have previously received decisions on their refugee claims and none were found to be refugees"?

See Govt won't negotiate with protesting asylum seekers (ABC ONLINE NEWS - Tues Dec 14 2004)

The answer: Highly unreliable.

All Iranian's cases should be re-opened, if only because if you "run away" from Iran, you commit a punishable offence. I think the non-approval of the Iranians as refugees is one of Australia's greatest scandals.

Jack Smit, Project SafeCom

Hunger strikers in hospital: report

news.com.au
December 14, 2004


THE immigration department would not confirm reports tonight that two asylum seekers taking part in a hunger strike at South Australia's Baxter detention centre had been taken to hospital.

Media reports said two people had been taken to hospital from the immigration detention facility near Port Augusta, while ambulances had been called to the centre to treat another person.

An immigration department spokeswoman would not confirm the reports, citing privacy issues.

"For privacy reasons we are not able to discuss issues concerning the medical condition of individual detainees," she said.

"Trained nurses and doctors at the Baxter medical centre are available when required and further treatment can be provided at hospital whenever necessary."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said appropriate medical attention was being provided to detainees.

The hunger strike at Baxter started 10 days ago with one detainee, but refugee advocates said the number had rapidly increased and today 27 detainees were refusing to eat for a second week.

Refugee advocates say that among the hunger strikers are five Iranian men who have sewn their lips together and three who are protesting on the detention centre's gymnasium roof.

The immigration department has refused to confirm the numbers involved in the hunger strike.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948.

Article 1
The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article 2
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html

And so it goes....

14 December 2004, midnight

Apparently a DIMIA "negotiator" has been trying to talk with Arab-Awahzians, telling them that the Govt will look at their cases if they cease their hunger strike. Understandably, they don't trust this guy and they don't believe him.

Physical signs of deterioration are evident eg. blood in urine etc. One Arab was taken to Coronary care Unit at hospital after a cardiac "episode". And so it goes....

Mental fears for hunger strikers

The Age
By Andra Jackson
December 15, 2004


The Government rejects a request to examine detainees in the Baxter detention centre.

Baxter detention centre in South Australia has come under fire from health professionals.

The convenor of the Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers, Louise Newman, yesterday described the centre as "a de facto psychiatric hospital, without adequate treatment or monitoring".

The alliance has formed an independent medical team of psychiatrists and general practitioners prepared to enter Baxter to assess the condition of hunger-strikers there. The Immigration Department has refused them entry.

Dr Newman said: "This latest outbreak of despair and self-harm is entirely predictable. Long-term detention damages psychological health and the prospect of indefinite detention results in hopelessness and mental deterioration."

The move comes as two of the three Iranian detainees who had sewn their lips closed were taken to hospital in Port Augusta on Monday night.

Ten Arab Iranians and 15 other Iranians, many of them Christian converts, are now in the second week of a hunger strike with another three detainees continuing a roof-top protest.

The Arab Iranians have vowed to continue their hunger strike "to the death" or until the Immigration Department recognises that they belong to an oppressed minority in Iran, their Baxter spokesman said.

Their claim for protection has been rejected despite Refugee Review Tribunal member Philippa McIntosh acknowledging at a hearing in 2002 that Arabs were discriminated against in Iran, the spokesman said.

Their long wait in detention - up to five years - has taken a psychological and emotional toll on them, the spokesman said. Over the past few weeks two Arab Iranian detainees had slashed themselves, another tried to electrocute himself, and a fourth dug a grave and buried himself. When he was taken from the grave he tried to hang himself.

Iran's Arab minority is from the south-western province of Khuzestan, originally a separate country with a different language and traditions.

"We have been fighting to get our rights back," the spokesman said. He himself had been jailed twice and tortured for political activities against Iran's government.

A year ago, the Arab Iranians supplied new evidence supporting their claim to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone and asked that their case be reviewed. They received no reply.

Labor Senator John Faulkner has confirmed that he also wrote to Senator Vanstone in June asking her to consider reviewing the case.

The new evidence presented included the 2003 US Department of State's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Iran, which said that foreign representatives of the Ahwazi Arabs of Khuzestan, who numbered about 4 million, claimed that their community suffered from discrimination, including a ban on their right to study and speak Arabic.

An Immigration Department spokesman confirmed the situation at Baxter. "They are in detention because they have been found not to be owed refugee protection and are unwilling to depart," he said.

Link to article in The Age

Amnesty International statement on Baxter hunger strike

Press Statement
14 December, 2004


Amnesty International is deeply concerned over the hunger strike taking place in Baxter detention centre in South Australia. It is understood that the majority of the 22 people involved in the hunger strike, which commenced on 8 December, are Iranian.

Amnesty International recognises that a hunger strike can be a form of non-violent protest against an abuse of human rights. The organisation neither encourages or dissuades hunger strikes, and is concerned only with the human rights concerns that underlie the protest.

Amnesty International understands that there are over 100 Iranian detainees who have spent more than 3 years in detention. The ongoing and indefinite detention of asylum seekers is an abuse of human rights and breaches Australia's international obligations. As such Amnesty International maintains that asylum seekers should not be detained once the necessary health, identity and security checks have been completed.

Amnesty International has recorded numerous human rights violations in Iran in 2003 and 2004. Amnesty International notes that there have been cases of incommunicado detention for the peaceful expression of one's conscientiously held beliefs and that prisoners of conscience in Iran run the risk of torture and/or ill treatment.

Amnesty International is calling on the Australian Government to urgently:
  • ensure that the health of 22 men who are currently on the hunger strike is being cared for, including affording appropriate medical attention and other assistance as is requested by the men;

  • provide alternatives to the long term detention of asylum seekers, including expediting the granting of Ministerial Discretion for the provision of refugee status or bridging visas, or the granting of complementary protection to those who may not meet the criteria for refugee status but for whom return would place them at risk of human rights abuse;

  • ensure no person is returned to a country where they may face human rights abuses;

  • and ensure that the GSL management practices are strictly in line with Immigration Detention Standards including the establishment of a Community Reference Committee in Baxter.
From The Amnesty International Australia Website

Two Baxter detainees hospitalised

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Tuesday, December 14, 2004. 8:05pm (AEDT)


Two asylum seekers have been taken to hospital from the Baxter detention centre in South Australia.

Ambulances have again been called to the centre tonight to treat another person.

Around two dozen people are currently on a hunger strike at the centre, including three people on the roof of the gymnasium.

Those taken to hospital early this morning are in a stable condition.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1265190.htm

Temperatures set to rise

Click for Port Augusta, South Australia Forecastfrom Project SafeCom
15 December


Temperatures around Post Augusta are set to rise dramatically over the next few days. A max temperature of 39C is expected on Thursday, and a max of 41C on Friday.

Lawyers want Baxter detainee released for treatment

ABC Eyre | Local News | Story
Wednesday, 15 December 2004


Lawyers acting for a hunger-striking detainee inside South Australia's Baxter detention centre have asked the Federal Court to order a psychiatric assessment for the man, saying he needs to be in mental health care, not detention.

Two male hunger strikers were taken to hospital early yesterday morning and another was taken to hospital last night for non-urgent treatment.

Lawyer Claire O'Connor says she will find out on Thursday whether the Federal Court will release one of her clients to get the health care she says he needs.

"He's swallowed shampoo, he's swallowed razor blades, taken overdoses of tablets," she said.

"He's been cut down by other detainees trying to hang himself.

"That's the man who we're trying to say is so ill we just want a hospital to look after him."

http://www.abc.net.au/eyre/news/200412/s1265297.htm

Refugee advocates maintain health concerns amidst DIMIA "spinlines"

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Wednesday December 15 2004 6:45am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


(snippets only)

"It's time for DIMIA representatives to stop fiddling and hiding in the long grass, and for the Minister, Amanda Vanstone to appear from behind their front facade, and directly answer the Australian public under The Right to Know, says Jack Smit from WA refugee group Project SafeCom."

"DIMIA has no credibility in its standards of medical care, nor has it any credibility in keeping Australians, including reporters, informed under the conventions of a democracy, where the public has "A Right to Know", especially because what happens in the Baxter detention centre is followed by hundreds of thousands of refugee supporters right around Australia."

"The hunger strikers and other Iranians all have thousands of friends right around the country, who are being kept in the dark. This is an unacceptable situation."

"Regardless of the silence and "spinlines" issued by the Department of Immigration about the health of hunger strikers at the Baxter detention centre, refugee advocates maintain that the strike already has serious consequences for participants."

[...]

"Detainees also report that one of the hunger strikers has been to a hospital more than once since the start of the hunger strike."

"Regardless of, and perhaps more so because the fact that DIMIA plays down this serious issue, and in this also refuses to brief reporters and journalists what's going on, refugee group Project SafeCom has all the more reason to maintain its demand for an independent medical examiner, in line with the Convention of Tokyo and the Declaration of Malta pertaining to hunger strikes."

Project SafeCom has approached renowned Migration Agent and Human Rights Medal winner Ms Marion L with the view to ask her, whether she would be available as an independent negotiator with the hunger strikers. Ms L has an outstanding 25-year career as a Migration Agent, and is respected by both refugee advocates, activists and the Australian government, including Departmental staff and management for her high quality assessment and review skills. Ms L is also a holder of the Medal of the Order of Australia (1990), and winner of the Austcare Paul Cullen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Refugees in 1994.

Recently Ms L has travelled to the island of Nauru four times to assist DIMIA in its assessment and review of the Iraqi refugees. Both the previous immigration minister Phillip Ruddock and the current minister Amanda Vanstone have collaborated directly with her.

Ms L has commented in conversations with Project SafeCom, that she would do whatever she can to assist and help out in this situation.

Democrats renew call for independent medics and monitors inside Baxter

Kate Reynolds Media Release
Wednesday, December 15, 2004


The Australian Democrats are again calling on the Federal Government to allow a team of independent doctors and psychiatrists to enter the Baxter Detention Centre in a bid to avert a a hunger strike taking place in the Pt Augusta complex.

Democrats Refugee spokesperson Kate Reynolds MLC said immediate action was needed to end the hunger strike at Baxter - now in its second week - which involved more than 20 Iranian detainees, some of whom are maintaining a roof top protest, while others have sewn their lips together.

"We know that Baxter Detention Centre is in all but name a 'psychiatric hospital', but the people locked inside, away from the public eye, some of whom have been diagnosed years ago as suffering chronic and acute post traumatic stress disorder, are denied specialist care," she said.

"Now, as a result of this latest crisis, three people who stopped eating 10 days ago have been taken to Pt Augusta for medical treatment.

"The Federal Government continues to resist calls for an independent negotiator to be sent to resolve the stand off, and continues to stand idly by while people who have reached the end of their endurance place their lives at risk.

"The Democrats have long been calling for independent human rights observers to be given unrestricted access to Australia's detention centres, so that there can be regular unbiased, factual reports made about what the actual situation is for asylum seekers.

"These detainees need doctors and proper care, they need an independent 'watcher' and they need a commitment from the government that it will immediately reopen their applications for asylum.

"These people have already been locked away for more than four years. The Iranians in Baxter hold genuine and well founded fear of persecution because of their political, religious or ethnic history. Even the United States government has recognised this and earlier this year granted protection to 4000 Iranian asylum seekers in that country.

"There is no reason for the Minister to refuse to act, and given the threats to life caused by long term detention in Australia, or by forced return to Iran, there is in fact every reason for the Minister to grant these people the protection they sought four very long years ago.

"If the Minister and her staff are so confident that they can justify their actions, then they should be welcoming and implementing our suggestions for independent doctors and monitors to be sent to Baxter, instead of spending yet another holiday season refusing to intervene, refusing to answer questions and hiding behind spin while lives are put at risk."

Democrats fear detention centre death

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Wednesday, December 15, 2004. 2:42pm (AEDT)


The Australian Democrats are warning there will be a tragedy inside South Australia's Baxter detention centre unless the Federal Government intervenes.

A hunger strike is now into its second week. Three men are conducting a rooftop protest and another group have sewn stitches through their lips.

The Democrats are urging the Government to allow an independent team of doctors into the centre.

Three protesters were taken to hospital yesterday.

South Australian Democrat MP Kate Reynolds says the detainees are at the end of their endurance and need medical help.

"We're very, very concerned that there will very soon be a preventable death at Baxter, these are people that cannot continue any longer."

The Immigration Department has already ruled out sending outside experts into Baxter, saying its own trained staff are dealing with the protest.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1265862.htm

Baxter protest continues

The Transcontinental, Port Augusta
Wednesday, 15 December 2004


Three Iranian detainees are continuing their protest on a rooftop at Baxter Detention Centre, despite the horrific weather conditions over the past week.

Two more men joined the lonely protester on the roof of the DIMIA Office Block, last Tuesday afternoon, with one refusing to come down from the roof since Sunday, December 5.

[The three men] are reported to have refused food and water offerings from staff at Baxter and about 25 Iranian men are now taking part in the hunger strike, including the three men on the roof and three Iranian men in the compound stitching their lips together with thread.

The Immigration Department has reported that the Government will not negotiate with the protesters, maintaining that their refugee claims will not be accepted.

Rural Australians for Refugees say guards have now stopped other detainees from bringing the protesters water and are reportedly throwing basketballs at the roof in an attempt to keep the men awake urging them to retreat from the roof.

Link to the article in The Transcontinental

Sign of desperation on a hot tin roof

The Australian
Andrew McGarry
December 15, 2004

WEAKENED
and increasingly desperate, three men sat on the roof of the gymnasium at Baxter detention centre yesterday, wrapped in sheets.

The trio of Iranian detainees ave been conducting a lonely hunger strike for up to 10 days from their vantage point above the centre, in Port Augusta, 320km north of Adelaide. The trio has been backed up by more than 20 of their fellow detainees within the main compound.

The trio yesterday unfurled a sign aimed at Australia's Prime Minister. It read: "Mr John Howard, we are all innocent, please help us."

So far, neither Mr Howard nor his Government have made any overt gestures towards those protesting, although negotiators have been attempting to talk them down. One visitor yesterday, Bernadette Wauchope, from the Rural Australians for Refugees group, spoke to friends of the people on the roof and was disturbed by what she was told.

"They (friends) are really concerned, because they (the trio) are getting so weak," Ms Wauchope said, adding that she and others were worried the men could fall while getting water. "We were hopeful they might come down, but they're not going to do that and go straight into management, which is like solitary confinement."

The Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum-Seekers entered the debate yesterday, sending a letter to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone asking to be allowed to conduct an inquiry into conditions at Baxter. Alliance convenor Louise Newman said the proliferation of psychiatric problems among detainees was a serious concern.

"Detention centres are not designed as hospitals but they're running Baxter as a de facto psychiatric hospital without psychiatric staff," Dr Newman said. "It's hard to know, but we're looking at 25 or so hunger strikers, and possibly five who have sewn their lips shut.

"Once you get to that type of numbers, going on the Woomera experience, detainees' levels of distress escalate, and people join in (hunger strikes/self-harm)." Dr Newman said it was "entirely predictable" that people in detention for three or four years would suffer mental and emotional problems.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs said there was no need for outside intervention at Baxter.

"The department has the people and processes to deal with the situation," the spokesman said. "However, there will be no negotiation about people's cases."

Link to The Australian article
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