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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.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Changing worlds: the coming of envirogees

An exploration of some Australian and global issues associated with ecological and seismic disasters, and the links between the two aspects of a planet under pressure - and the implications for a world community 'on the move'.

The Tsunami slams into the Aceh coastlineThey will be on the move by the thousands and thousands. They will be coming in boats, in trucks, on trains - and in lorries, in aircraft wheel housing spaces, crouched on planks under trains, and in goods containers, if we don't assist them. As we saw in the last week of 2004, when undersea earthquakes followed by tsunamis seriously impacted on so many local communities, that events became a wake-up call for the entire world, we should also become alert to the possibility that another similar epic event could take place at any moment in the near future. Such dramatic events seriously erode the safety and viability of the home environment for many millions of people.

We had some precursors of the 2004 tsunamis: the last decade saw several serious imbalances of the earth's weather patterns. During the year 1998, when I kept an entirely personal and daily tally of all reported natural disasters and their impact on the world community in terms of lives lost, people displaced and injured - not including wars or internal conflict - I counted an estimated 2 247 000 fatalities, and around 151 million people injured and affected in several ways - from injuries to loss of house or habitat.

In Australia, we will need to start by building at least 1800 copies of the Baxter detention centre. No problem in many ways: they will all fit into the vastness of our Outback, far and far away from interference from the courts and from the bleeding hearts human rights lawyers.

Next, we will need to increase the National Budget at least ten-fold - and that's just a start - to swarm the Indian Ocean with vessels mandated by Operation Relex, John Howard's Deter and Deny Refugee Repellent Army, and we need to increase staffing of the Immigration Department by, let's say by 1200%, spend billions more on legislative extensions, establish a Migration-Only Court not open for review by other courts instituted in Australia, so processing does not drag on for more than just a few weeks.

Then, we will need to employ the strictest of guidelines, such as applying for asylum using English-only, and submitted on the right Form issued by the Department of Immigration, making claims void immediately if asylum seekers who make it through the Repellant Army's barrier talk about something else before they express that All-known Internationally Recognised Sentence: "I desire to seek asylum".

Or - we can do something different.

We could start by acknowledging that the First Law of Globalisation should remind us of that age-old dilemma of Cain and Abel. We are our brother's keeper with no holds barred, if the entire world is engulfed in a drama of epic proportions. And on a planet where border-exclusion has become irrelevant in many respects already - for the movement of goods and the movement of capital - we will have to move towards a softening of hardline exclusion and increase the strength and openness for a welcome to foreigners caught up in these dramas. The moves taken in the weeks following the devastating effects of the tsunami are heartening in many ways: the world community has rallied, financially and in-kind, to the aid of millions of victims who are affected by the disaster.

Of course, while George W Bush and John Howard have indicated rather grandiose moves to form an alliance with Australia, Japan and India to coordinate relief, the Bush Administration's financial and other aid remains an expression of the fact that the USA under Bush is more interested in spreading its hegemony than to play its role as an equal partner in this drama. But the world will learn this lesson fast, I expect. If Bush does not become more intelligent in his approach to many issues, it will eventually also include a full-scale rejection of Bush's role as a stupid and blind dictator only interested in American domination of the world stage.

While local, regional and State communities in Australia, as well as the churches and aid organisations have shone in their rushing to the aid of the ten stricken nations, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." And the New York Times, on Christmas Eve, writes:

"$35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for non-military foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent." [1]

Global warming and earthquakes

Scientific opinion is now well established as to the link between earthquakes and global warming and the ensuing pressure on the earth crust, whether it is our populated or remote landmass or the ocean floor. It is also becoming part of public insight, understanding and opinion.

Gordon Drennan from Burton SA in a letter to the Editor of The Age writes:

It is no coincidence that a Richter scale 8.1 earthquake near Macquarie Island between Tasmania and Antarctica was followed just days later by the catastrophic one in the Indian Ocean off the Aceh coast. Both are on the boundary of the India-Australia tectonic plate, and shocks and stresses from the first would have contributed to the one that followed. And a factor in the Macquarie Island earthquake would have been the redistribution of load on the planet's crust as Antarctic ice melts due to global warming. As the climate warms, and more Antarctic ice melts, the countries on the boundary of our plate - New Zealand, New Guinea, Indonesia and southern Asia - can expect more and bigger earthquakes. [2]

Or, elsewhere in a discussion of the relationship between glacier melt-down and earthquakes in the Alaska region:

"Alaska is seismically active because a North Pacific crustal plate is ramming into southern Alaska, creating pressures that must be relieved at some point. However, these pressures do push up high mountains where glaciers form - and the weight of the glaciers pushing down can stabilize the situation, if not eliminate the risk altogether. Remove that weight, and the likelihood of a quake goes up as the strain accumulates. [....] Photographs show how glaciers in the fault area had thinned substantially during the 80 years since the previous earthquake activity." [3]

In The New Statesman of May 2004, Mark Lynas mentions similar findings:

In the pre-industrial era, levels of carbon dioxide per cubic metre of air stood at roughly 278 parts per million (ppm). Today, they have soared to 376ppm, the highest in at least 420,000 years, and probably much longer (....) if the current rate of carbon accumulation continues, the rise in temperature could be as much as 6 Celsius by the end of the century, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (....) according to a paper from the Benfield Hazard Research Centre (....) the impact of methane hydrate failure could be very dramatic indeed. If enough gas is released, entire continental slopes could collapse in enormous submarine landslides, triggering tsunami waves of up to 15 metres in height - enough to level entire coastal cities. Again, there is a precedent: just 7,000 years ago, an area of continental slope the size of Wales slid downhill between Norway and Iceland, triggering a tsunami that wiped out neolithic communities on the north-east coast of Scotland.
(....) A recent report for America's military top brass warned that mass refugee flows and competition for water and food could plunge the world into nuclear conflict. "Humans fight when they outstrip the carrying capacity of their natural environment," it warns. "The most combative societies are the ones that survive." The report charts some of the "potential military implications of climate change", including the collapse of the EU, civil war in China and the takeover of US borders by the army to prevent refugee incursions from the Caribbean and Mexico.
[4]

What we can conclude from this, seems to be that the world community, in addition to its already common rushing to the aid of those whose lives are compromised by such disasters, needs to also rush to pressure governments to immediately spend central government time and commitment to reduce its damaging footprint on the capacity of the planet to deal with what we do to it.

The push on governments to enact restrictive legislation, both on the corporate world but also on its allies in other countries, has an imperative connected to our own very survival in the world. People need to stand up who can mobilise local community groups, who in turn can mobilise members of local government, state government, and in Australia, the federal government. And if one thing can be learnt from the refugee movement since TAMPA, then it is that the push on Federal government is more likely to produce success if it happens via the backbenchers.

The relationship between last week's earthquake drama and the global warming phenomenon can be easily explained over a coffee. If that is so, we have a handle on how to mobilize the local community to not only collect goods and services, funds and donations to be sent to Aceh, Sri Lanka, to name a few countries that were affected, but also to make appointments with representatives in State and Federal government. The message could have many popular "wrappers" to wake up the community. One that comes to mind is "Stop the Envirogees: Sign Kyoto". In giving this example, I do not want to create the impression at all that I support a halt to refugee intake or similar sentiments, or that I think that signing the Kyoto agreement is a panacea for the debacle of the environmental danger we find ourselves in: I'm just trying to think out a start to dealing with the issue, and taking an approach that connects to the Aussie larrikin and the bumper stickers on the back of our cars may well work. We need all the cleverness we can muster; otherwise we'll be washed away.

31 December 2004
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom, Narrogin WA


-----------
NOTES

[1]
New York Times Editorial: Are We Stingy? Yes. (Dec 30, 2004), found at
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/30/opinion/30thu2.html

[2] The Age, 30 Dec 2004, letters, found at
http://www.theage.com.au/news/Letters

[3] Global warming's surprising fallout, By Robert C. Cowen, Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2004 edition. Found at
http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0819/p16s01-sten.html

[4] Global warming: is it already too late? - A New Statesman Essay by Mark Lynas, 17 May 2004, found at
http://www.newstatesman.com/Ideas/200405170018. (Mark Lynas is the author of High Tide: news from a warming world, published by Flamingo.)

Melbournian Simon Willace writes on Melbourne Indymedia (edited extract and summary):

The tsunami was created by a seismic shift, powered by the constantly fluid and molten lava, the magma layer, beneath the earth's crust which is up to 50 miles thick. Beneath the sea the oceanic crust is in some places 10 miles thick but between the continental plates the oceanic crust reduces to depths of just five miles. Seawater keeps the magma from boiling over, working like a car radiator which keeps your engine cool.

Deep beneath the sea the oceanic crust is insulated and contained by the weight and cold temperature of the sea above. In these areas the sea duplicates the containment achieved by the land and does so as a liquid coolant, constantly distributing temperatures evenly within its mass, allowing cold water to transport the radiant heat from the magma, and maintaining physical containment beneath solid seabed.

Within the earth's crust are carbon deposits, oils coals and trace elements of fossilised sequestered remains, which give our volcanoes the carbon dioxide as they belch and explode on occasions. Nevertheless where no outlet is feasible, the gas of a thousand atom bombs builds up beneath the crust, transported into pockets of immense natural power.

Where natural faults occur, the seismic shifts are often reported and seem more frequent these days as they reoccur as earth quakes and tsunamis devastating parts of Japan, Iran, Indonesia, China and New Zealand: India, Thailand and Africa just in this past year.

Global warming increases the sea temperature and as a result its ability to maintain the oceanic crust insulation is becoming compromised.

Last week, the oceanic crust west of Indonesia finally split, but it did not happen within the Ring of Fire, where such seismic shifts occur frequently.

Our scientists have been pre-occupied over the years by atmospheric effects of Global Warming, the Gulf Stream has a measurable effect upon climate and we have become aware of the rising temperatures that affect our lives. For example, the Inuit are seeing grasshoppers for the first time; polar bears cannot migrate due to melting ice flows, and snow resorts are opening all year - promoting walking trails - while snow disappears, slowly even those who refuted the global warming theory are now 'warming' to the theory becoming a fact.

Nevertheless, only the above-sea aspect of this natural threat has so far been studied; no one has researched its effects upon insulating the earth's crust.

This is an edited extract and summary of what at some places is a longwinded 'rant': Science, tsunami and other Global Warming Threats, by Simon Willace (Melbourne Indymedia, 30 Dec 2004):
http://melbourne.indymedia.org/news/2004/12/85487.php

Migration and the Environment

by Cam Walker
Friends of the Earth
Published at Greenpepper Magazine


If you want to highlight political differences within the 'green' movement, using 'environment' and 'population' in the same sentence is a good way to do it. In the Australian case, there are two relatively small groupings on either end of the spectrum: those who advocate for reduced population (and therefore reduced migrant intakes) and those, such as Friends of the Earth (FoE), who argue that unless population is seen in the context of consumption, internationalism and human rights, the wrong conclusions will be reached. In between, many, if not most groups simply do not address the topic. Everyone senses that this is an emotional, difficult and often divisive issue; those advocating reduced migrant intakes go to great lengths to explain that they are not racist, and there was even an attempt to develop environment 'policies' by the Pauline Hanson's new-right One Nation party. Beyond this, we have been lucky so far in that there has been no serious attempts by new-right groups to adopt environmental arguments in opposing immigration, as has happened in various European countries.

But the fact remains that the environment movement in Australia and elsewhere in the North has not yet approached the tangled issues of consumption, population, trade, and broader matters of history, politics and economics that have lead to the current debate around refugees and the movement of people across international borders. While some groups oppose free trade and the unhindered movement of capital, we have not yet tackled the corresponding criminalisation of the free movement of people. By placing concern for biodiversity above a commitment to social justice and an understanding of why people flee their homelands, environmentalists also fail to fully understand the global nature of the key environmental issues of our era, especially climate change. The North over consumes resources, thereby leading to carbon (and other ecological) debts to the rest of the world. This over consumption is the main cause of global warming which, evidence suggests, is now manifesting as modified weather patterns around the world; floods, droughts, cyclones and so on, with corresponding impacts on human communities. So, taking a supportive approach to asylum seekers is not merely an act of basic solidarity, it is based on the understanding of the environmental dimensions of the refugee issue.

Despite the rapidly growing number of people who are fleeing their homelands (either to other parts of their country as internally displaced people, or externally as refugees) because of environmental deterioration, the UN refuses to recognise environmental refugees as a distinct category of people. The largest sub group of this 'category' are the climate refugees, those fleeing the impacts of human induced climate change.

According to sources such as the International Red Cross, there are currently 25 million people who could be classified as being environmental refugees - 58% of the world's total refugee population. Norman Myers of Oxford University estimates that climate change will increase the number of environmental refugees six-fold over the next 50 years to 150 million. Already we have witnessed the agreement which will see the entire Pacific nation of Tuvalu move to New Zealand/Aotearoa as environmental refugees, and heard statements by the Bangladeshi Environment Minister, Mrs Sajeeda Choudhury, that if climate change causes sea levels to rise in line with scientific predictions, her country will have millions of homeless people within the next few decades. While scientific opinion now agrees that climate change is real, there is not yet widespread acknowledgement that this will lead to a huge number of refugees.

FoE Australia argues that the environment movement in Northern countries needs to be leading the campaign for recognition of environmental refugees. Countries owing a significant carbon debt to the global commons (such as Australia) will also need to accept environmental refugees in addition to existing intakes of those fleeing poverty and political persecution. Northern nations will need to significantly increase foreign aid, and carry out a fundamental re-assessment of how this aid is allocated, especially in those regions which are likely to be most affected by climate change.

There are some greens who argue that it is environmental madness to support increased immigration. However, given that the North has, and continues to, benefit from the same economic and political structures that often force people to flee their homes, and is largely responsible for climate change, there is a responsibility on all Northern nations to accept more refugees. There is a need for progressive environmentalists to actively oppose the use of environmental arguments by racist and nationalist organisations in opposing immigration. The issues of per capita and national consumption that are at least equally important as 'population' as a consideration in addressing environmental impact. Finally, in the North, environmental activists should continue to build links with the movements acting in support of refugees and asylum seekers, and adding an environmental perspective to concerns about human rights.

Friends of the Earth Australia has an environment and population project. Details can be found at: http://www.foe.org.au/nc/nc_enviro_pop.htm

Cam Walker is a national liaison officer with FoE Australia.


From The greenpepper Magazine
Read more ...

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bakhtiari family taken: Deported to danger

Narrogin 30 Dec 2004 11:33am - As the phone calls came one after another yesterday evening from folks on the ground in Port Augusta, from people in networks in Melbourne, Sydney and other places, the Bakhtiari family boarded the chartered nearly white BA-146a with its strangely drooping wings, seemingly burdened by the sheer weight of its four Rolls Royce engines.

Alamdar looks once more through the window, while Amina seems to pull down the sunvisor shutter to keep the cameras of the TV men from peering at her, but an adult hand does the bidding for her. Then, off they are.

I speak to a television reporter at the airport, and ponder aloud about the voracity of Ruddock and Vanstone's claim that the family is Pakistani, and how this voracity is about to be tested when the family will check in with Immigration in Lahore or Karachi, and I suggest a lot of money will have to change hands between the Australian government and the Pakistani authorities. Reporter replies by suggesting it's not a new concept, and he estimates about ten thousand dollars per person for a three-month permission to reside peacefully in Pakistan. That makes eighty-thousand for the entire family.

The reporter does not mention the issuing of eight Pakistani passports, you know, that small pile of those fresh and new booklets you get to pick up, when your country, the country where you're a citizen, has responded to your paid application for a new passport. I don't have that picture entering my mind either. Vanstone has never thought of mentioning those passports either. Pity, it would have gone down well with the millions of viewers looking at the last episode of the family's reality tv show.

I want it to be known at this place, that Alamdar held up and seriously delayed the deportation procedure in a surprising but determined way. He insisted on writing a signed declaration, his last will on Australian soil, while he officially declared all of his artwork and all of his paintings, to be from now on and forever the property of his best friend, Robert M.

He got what he wanted. The next morning, the man who had stood by Alamdar in an unwritten but truly and unbroken held covenant of a promised life-long commitment to the ongoing welfare and education of the boy, received a call from DIMIA in Baxter to inform him of his young but true friend's intention. The paintings are on the way to Victoria. Good for you, Robert, Alamdar was well off with the support you've given him.

The furtive hand of Howard

John and Trish Highfield
Sydney NSW


So, once more the furtive hand of the Howard Government at work, its institutional abuse of children conducted, as directed, by the politicised servants at DIMIA and the hired mercenaries from the globalised rendition rackets.

The Australian taxpayer funding the payoff to Pakistan - and the night-flight of a four-jet charter, hustling detention-damaged, traumatised children to the uncertainty of a country they do not know.

Our Prime Minister tells us we are a humane and compassionate country. Except to those the Government declares unworthy of its protection.

No humanity when the rough handling by officers includes denying a little child the dignity of a change of underwear after wetting her pants with fear after being woken by a stranger prior to a 3-hour trip to renewed incarceration in Port Augusta. No nappy change for a baby either - nor an early morning calming bottle. These agents of the night know their duty. Child Protection authorities powerless, bending to the bullying from Canberra.

And the anonymous hand of the Stern Officer, pulling down the shade of the aircraft window when one of the young Bravehearts dares to take one last look at those who cared.

John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Amanda Vanstone - and those in the shadows - remember the injunction from another victim of injustice, an old Jewish man about to face death at the hands of the Einsatzkommando in Poland. "My Children", he said, "God is watching what you do."

[The Past is Myself - Christabel Bielenberg 1968]

Leaders' family values go out the steel-barred window in Bakhtiari case

Sydney Morning Herald
December 29, 2004


There's no room at the inn, nor for any compassion for unwanted asylum seekers, writes Julian Burnside.

As you read this, the Bakhtiari family awaits its likely removal from Australia to Pakistan. It will be the final act in a drama that has been played out over four years.

The essential elements of the plot were scripted by the Government: unauthorised arrivals must be detained, and must remain in detention until given a visa or removed from Australia.

To determine whether they get a visa, a single member of the Refugee Review Tribunal receives all manner of evidence - reliable and unreliable, direct and hearsay, speculation and rumour. If that person gets the facts wrong, the courts can do almost nothing to correct the mistakes.

In accordance with the script, Roqia Bakhtiari and her children were locked in a cage in the South Australian desert, behind razor wire. Locking up innocent people for years has fairly predictable consequences, especially if the prisoners are children. Depending on their age, resilience and personality, children will retreat into depression and incontinence, or they will take charge by harming themselves or attempting suicide. Either way, the effect of prolonged detention is devastating.

One part of the drama was not scripted. In July 2002 two of the Bakhtiari children escaped from Woomera and made their way to the British consulate in Melbourne, where they sought to be protected - from Australia. (Their claim will be heard by the House of Lords early next month.) At the consulate the boys were filmed by TV crews and revealed something terrible: they were just ordinary kids, like the kids next door, but we had locked them up for years and driven them to attempt suicide.

The public reaction was one of widespread sympathy. The Government had to ad lib the next act: it decided that the boys' father was not a refugee after all and revoked his visa.

Whether the family comes from Afghanistan or from Quetta in Pakistan is a matter of debate, and the rival claims will never be resolved. However, it is worth noting that the Bakhtiaris are Hazaras, from an ethnic group whose territory runs diagonally across Afghanistan and into Pakistan, near Quetta. The Hazaras have been persecuted in both countries for centuries. Debating which side of the border they come from is as arid as debating in 1939 whether a Jew came from Poland or Germany.

From that point on, the essentials of the drama were more or less inevitable, because the Bakhtiari boys had done the one thing the Government could not forgive: they had exposed the undeniable cruelty of imprisoning children. After that, no legal manoeuvring had a chance of success.

So to the final act, removal, but - another unscripted element - it coincided with Christmas. The Government had the legal power to grant visas, even if it had doubts about aspects of the Bakhtiaris' story.

What should it do? Regardless of doubt about which country they fled, one thing is clear: we damaged these children. They are not to blame. The harm they have suffered was the obvious and predictable consequence of the treatment we inflicted.

It continued last Saturday morning when their house in Adelaide was raided and they were taken to Port Augusta in preparation for removal from Australia. The baby had a dirty nappy; the mother was not allowed to change it. The younger girl wet her pants in fright; she was not allowed to change before the five-hour drive. Alamdar Bakhtiari - his face familiar to us from TV as he screamed through the steel bars at Woomera - is afraid to sleep in case of another wrenching raid. All the children are haunted by terrors childhood should never know.

The Australian Government had a choice this week: to enforce the policy rigidly, or to show kindness to a few damaged children and their parents.

What were the calculations in such a choice? The Government's policy of punitive deterrence has succeeded in shutting off almost completely the trickle of unauthorised arrivals on Australia's shores. The drowning of 353 people who were on board the ship SIEV X effectively ended the people smugglers' trade. It is difficult to imagine that sparing the Bakhtiari family would have triggered a spate of new arrivals, eager to spend years behind razor wire. From here on the cruelty is pointless.

On the other hand, showing compassion to the family would have gone a small way to restoring this country's name for decency and humanity. Unfortunately, the Government seems concerned that mercy and compassion set a bad precedent. Given that it has a discretion to allow the family to stay, it is hard to understand why it insists on removing these people it has damaged so badly, unless its purpose is to send a message - not to people smugglers, but to us. Its message to us is this: we hold absolute power; we do not have to acknowledge public sentiment; we can crush anyone who messes with us.

John Howard, Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone are personally responsible for the shocking damage suffered by these children. They hold themselves out as Christians; they embrace "family values". But at Christmas they denied kindness or compassion to six children whose lives they have blighted. What a performance.

Julian Burnside is a Melbourne barrister.

Link to the Sydney Morning Herald article

a PDF documentIdentity evidence from Afghanistan - documentation presented to the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone by lawyers for the Bakhtiyari family, faxed to the Minister's office on 21 January 2004. (right-click, choose "Save As" to download)

a PDF documentSolicitor Paul Boylan's letter to The Australian: Your comment in today's edition of your paper that "nobody can suggest that the courts have not had a good look at the family?s claim" grossly misleads the Australian public. [....] clause provides in part that Mr Bakhtiyari's Refugee Review Tribunal decision "must not be challenged, appealed against, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court". (right-click, choose "Save As" to download)

The Bakhtiyari Files

Hundreds of news articles have appeared in Australian and International media about the Bakhtiari family since Andrew West revealed the story of the family in the Sun-Herald in February 2002, shortly after their uncle, the now deported "crown witness", clearly a Hazara from Afghanistan, jumped on the razor wire at Woomera. At Project SafeCom, we collected them all (well, most of them). They are brought together in four WORD documents, zipped up for security from viruses. Simply use the "Right-click, Save As" command of your mouse on the images or on the linked text.

Bakhtiari family enroute to Pakistan

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Thursday December 30 2004 10:20am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


The high-proffile Bakhtiari family was flown last night at about 3am local time from Port Augusta airport, the aircraft believed to be a BA-146A, a craft with STOL (short take-off and landing) capabilities.

The aircraft is believed to be a charter flight by National Jet Systems, a subsidiary of Qantas International.

At the moment it cannot be confirmed whether the family will make a stop-over at any Australian airports. The most likely places for a stop-over would be Cairns, Darwin or Perth airport, because they are all places of transit for international passengers.

Refugee advocates are monitoring several places and contacting allies in these cities in a last-ditch bid to prevent the government from deporting the family to Pakistan, because senior migration agents believe the family is at risk of abuse and persecution by members of population groups hostile to Hazara in Pakistan, from the Taliban or from authorities in Pakistan.

Project SafeCom insists that the Bakhtiaris are not Pakistani, and that the documents backing travel for the family are so flimsy that it is likely that Karachi immigration authorities will not accept the family into Pakistan, unless a large sum of money has been or will be supplied as a bribe by the Australian government.

Bakhtiari family to be deported within the hour

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Wednesday December 29 2004 11:20pm WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


Word has just been received that the Bakhtiari family is about to board a chartered aircraft out of Australia.

Mr Bakhtiari has just been "taken" from his compound at the Baxter detention centre, and he was told when authorities collected him, that all his children are 'waiting for him at the airport'.

Earlier in the evening, a supporter had reported that a charter flight, most likely with about 20 seats, was likely to be expected during the night from Port Augusta. This supporter also expected this charter flight to directly fly outside Australia.

Project SafeCom's Jack Smit commented, that "this game-in-the-dark, probably the final round of playing around with the lives and wellbeing of the Bakhtiary family is not just adding to the multiple layers of trauma Mr Howard, Mr Ruddock and Minister Vanstone have inflicted on this family, it will be something that will haunt the government for a long time - and so it should."

"The evidence the government has used to paint the Bakhtiaris as a Pakistani plumber's family is unbelievably flimsy, and it remains to be seen whether the Pakistani authorities will let them into the country at all. It is not the first time that "deportees" come bouncing back to Australia after having been sent all over the world by immigration authorities."

"And, even while the family may be able to enter Pakistan, the claims peddled in the Australian media by the Minister as well as the former Minister about suspected 'lies' of Mr Bakhtiari, are just that - spurious claims, and in addition they bear no relation to the fact that they are and were genuine refugees, because they are Hazaras, a point nobody disputes, while Minister Vanstone has happily peddled the accusation in the media, to defend herself, that the family are not refugees."

Bakhtiari family 'to be deported today'

Sydney Morning Herald
December 30, 2004 - 7:57AM


Australia's highest profile asylum seekers, the Bakhtiari family, were being deported today, a federal government spokeswoman said.

"I can confirm that the removal is currently underway," a Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) spokeswoman said.

Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children are being deported to Pakistan, after failing in legal bids over four years to secure refugee status in Australia.

The family claims to be Afghani, but the government says they are from Pakistan.

Mrs Bakhtiari and her children - ranging in age from one to 16 - were taken from their house in Adelaide to immigration detention in Port Augusta on December 18.

Mr Bakhtiari was held at the nearby Baxter detention centre.

The six children and their mother had been living in a Port Augusta housing project while their father was being held in the centre.

The DIMIA spokeswoman would not reveal the current whereabouts of the family or whether they have already left Australia.

She would also not confirm whether a chartered plane or commercial flight was being used to deport them.

Refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom said it had received word the Bakhtiaris have boarded a chartered flight out of Australia.

"Mr Bakhtiari has just been taken from his compound at the Baxter detention centre, and he was told when authorities collected him, that all his children are waiting for him at the airport," group spokesman Jack Smit said.

Last night, a supporter reported that a charter flight, most likely with about 20 seats, was expected during the evening from Port Augusta, he said.

The supporter also expected this charter flight to directly fly outside Australia.

Justice for Refugees South Australia chairman Dr Don McMaster said the department's deportation of the Bakhtiaris over the Christmas holiday period was a ploy to avoid media coverage.

"It's doubling distressing for them because one, they don't want to go to Pakistan, and the way it is being done is very cloak and dagger," he said.

"It's not a very good Christmas present for the Bakhtiaris. They would be very distressed about it, they don't want to go to Pakistan."

He said their removal would have repercussions in the wider Adelaide community because the family had a large support group there.

Meanwhile, Catholic welfare agency Centacare director Dale West said security guards took Mr Bakhtiari out of the Baxter detention centre at 1am (AEDT) today.

His wife and children were removed from their accommodation at the same time.

"They have been the public face of the way people are treated in our detention system and people don't realise that one o'clock in the morning is the standard approach," he said.

"My understanding is they were taken to the Port Augusta airport and they were flown out from there."

Mr West said supporters at the scene told him there were about 20 guards to remove Mr Bakhtiari and "masses" of guards to take Mrs Bakhtiari and the children.

AAP

Link to the article in The Sydney Morning Herald

Bakhtiyari's 'removal underway'

The Age
December 30, 2004 - 8:03AM


Australia's highest profile asylum seekers, the Bakhtiyari family, were being deported today, a federal government spokeswoman said.

"I can confirm that the removal is currently underway," a Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) spokeswoman said.

Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children are being deported to Pakistan, after failing in legal bids over four years to secure refugee status in Australia.

The family claims to be Afghani, but the government says they are from Pakistan.

Mrs Bakhtiyari and her children - ranging in age from one to 16 - were taken from their house in Adelaide to immigration detention in Port Augusta on December 18.

Mr Bakhtiyari was held at the nearby Baxter detention centre.

Bakhtiyari family being deported says govt spokeswoman.

The six children and their mother had been living in a Port Augusta housing project while their father was being held in the centre.

The DIMIA spokeswoman would not reveal the current whereabouts of the family or whether they have already left Australia.

She would also not confirm whether a chartered plane or commercial flight was being used to deport them.

Refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom said it had received word the Bakhtiyari have boarded a chartered flight out of Australia.

"Mr Bakhtiyari has just been taken from his compound at the Baxter detention centre, and he was told when authorities collected him, that all his children are waiting for him at the airport," group spokesman Jack Smit said.

Last night, a supporter reported that a charter flight, most likely with about 20 seats, was expected during the evening from Port Augusta, he said.

The supporter also expected this charter flight to directly fly outside Australia.

Justice for Refugees South Australia chairman Dr Don McMaster said the department's deportation of the Bakhtiyaris over the Christmas holiday period was a ploy to avoid media coverage.

"It's doubling distressing for them because one, they don't want to go to Pakistan, and the way it is being done is very cloak and dagger," he said.

"It's not a very good Christmas present for the Bakhtiyaris. They would be very distressed about it, they don't want to go to Pakistan."

He said their removal would have repercussions in the wider Adelaide community because the family had a large support group there.

Meanwhile, Catholic welfare agency Centacare director Dale West said security guards took Mr Bakhtiyari out of the Baxter detention centre at 1am (AEDT) today.

His wife and children were removed from their accommodation at the same time.

"They have been the public face of the way people are treated in our detention system and people don't realise that one o'clock in the morning is the standard approach," he said.

"My understanding is they were taken to the Port Augusta airport and they were flown out from there."

Mr West said supporters at the scene told him there were about 20 guards to remove Mr Bakhtiyari and "masses" of guards to take Mrs Bakhtiyari and the children.

- AAP

Link to the article in The Age

Bakhtiyari family moved from Port Augusta

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Thursday, December 30, 2004. 8:05am (AEDT)


A cloud of secrecy hangs over the whereabouts of Australia's highest-profile asylum seekers, the Bakhtiyari family, after they were flown out of Port Augusta last night in preparation for their deportation.

The Federal Government has confirmed the six children and their parents were moved from Port Augusta last night.

However, the Government has refused to say where they were flown to or whether they are still in Australia.

The family of six children and their mother had been living in a Port Augusta housing project, while their father, Ali Bakhtiyari, was being held at the Baxter detention centre.

They have been refused asylum in Australia, as the Government says they came from Pakistan, not Afghanistan as they claim.

Dale West from the Catholic welfare agency Centacare, which had been supporting the family while they were in Adelaide, was surprised when he was told the news this morning.

"Certainly, it's news to us," Mr West said. "We always thought that we would hear from media outlets or from people not associated with Government and I guess that's what's happened this morning.

"So whilst we're not surprised that this has happened, I suppose at any time that we get that news, it's a bit of a shock certainly."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1273833.htm

Deportation shame, shame, shame

Thursday 30th December 2004
Kate Reynolds, Australian Democrats
NEWS RELEASE
Australian Democrats


The Australian Democrats have condemned the Federal Government for its cloak and dagger treatment of the Bakhtiyari family as they were removed in the early hours of the morning from Australia to an unknown destination.

Australian Democrats SA Spokesperson for Refugees, Kate Reynolds MLC said "this family has been subjected to the most appalling punitive treatment over five long years by this government, and now the children have been taken from their beds and from the country they know of as home to an unknown and unpredictable future.

"If the Australian Government is so confident that its decision to refuse the family protection in this country can be justified, then it should have acted on the Democrats call for an independent Human Rights Monitor to accompany the family and report on their safety and welfare.

"Instead Alamdar, Montezar, and their four younger siblings, who had become the public face of children seeking protection in this country, were subjected to another terrifying experience at the hands of a government determined to punish children as harshly as it punishes adults seeking asylum.

"If the government's plans for the family were all above board, then the Minister should have announced the arrangements made with the Pakistan Government and it should have allowed the family to say goodbye to their friends and the communities who have supported them for so long.

"If the government's plans for the family were all above board, then it would not have secreted them out of the country under cover of darkness hoping we would all be distracted by the tragic events in South East Asia or the holiday season.

"If the government's plans for the family were all above board, then they would have been issued with travel documents and identity papers and would have a guarantee of safe and legal entry into Pakistan.

"But we know that 'open and transparent' are not words this government understands.

"It is no wonder that so many Australians brand the Howard government's refugee policies as inhumane and unjustifiable and then use the same words to describe the processes used to send traumatised men, women and children back to countries torn apart by religious and political conflict or devastated by decades of poverty.

"Earlier this year the government tried to remove a number of single men but failed in the attempt, and those men remain locked up in immigration detention waiting for the Minister to use the legal powers available to her to give them protection in this country.

"The Australian Government has rightly shown compassion and taken action to assist the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the earthquakes and floods in South East Asia, but those people whose futures are being destroyed after years of being locked away in immigration detention also deserve a compassionate response.

Deportation shame, shame, and yet more shame!

Thursday 30th December 2004
Kate Reynolds, Australian Democrats
NEWS RELEASE
Australian Democrats


Following their condemnation earlier today of the Federal Government for its cloak and dagger treatment of the Bakhtiyari family as they were removed in the early hours of the morning from Australia to Pakistan, the Australian Democrats have expressed outrage that the Minister for Immigration has announced the family will be billed for their years in detention.

Australian Democrats SA Spokesperson for Refugees, Kate Reynolds MLC said "this is a further example of the scathing disregard the Howard Government has for vulnerable families".

"Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children have suffered enough at the hands of the Australian Government and the Minister for Immigration. This action cannot by any measure be justified.

"Announcing, before the family has even arrived in a strange and probably unwelcoming country, that the family will be billed for their time in detention is the ultimate indignity for parents who were afterall only trying to secure a safe future for their children.

"The Australian Government kept the family under lock and key, in separate prisons, subjected the children and their parents to all sorts of physical and psychological trauma, used them as political pawns, frightened the children in their beds during midnight raids, and now wants to charge them for five years of abuse.

"How much lower will this government stoop?

"The Minister cannot seriously expect Mr and Mrs Bakhtiyari to find the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Australian Government has spent keeping the family in detention, when they will be struggling in a dangerous country just to keep themselves and their family safe.

"Every Australian who believes that Australia has both moral and legal responsibilities to treat people with decency will be outraged at this latest cynical attempt to punish the Bakhtiyari family who, through no wish of their own, have become a household name in this country and a symbol for the government's inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.

"Our international reputation will be in tatters, and the Government will have no-one left to blame but themselves.

Kate Reynolds, Australian Democrats
Member of the Legislative Council
Democrats Spokesperson on Aboriginal Affairs, Ageing, Children's Services, Disability Services, Equal Opportunity, Education, Family & Youth Services, Further Education & Training, Gambling, Housing, Local Government, Recreation & Sport, Social Justice (including Refugees), Tourism, Youth & Volunteers.

Democrats condemn deportation

The Courier Mail
30dec04


THE Federal Government should be condemned for its secretive deportation of the Bakhtiari family, the Australian Democrats said today.

Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children were deported today, with immigration officials removing them from detention about 1am CST today.

The family's current whereabouts was unknown with the Government only saying their removal to Pakistan was underway.

The Bakhtiaris had claimed they were from Afghanistan but the Government maintained they were Pakistani.

Democrats refugee spokeswoman Kate Reynolds said the family had been subjected to "the most appalling punitive treatment" by the Government during a five-year bid for asylum in Australia.

Ms Reynolds said the Bakhtiari children were today "subjected to another terrifying experience" when removed from detention at Port Augusta in South Australia's north.

"If the Government's plans for the family were all above board, then it would not have secreted them out of the country under the cover of darkness hoping we would all be distracted by the tragic events in south east Asia or the holiday season," Ms Reynolds said.

"But we know that open and transparent are not words this Government understands.

"It is no wonder that so many Australians brand the Howard Government's refugee policies as inhumane and unjustifiable."

Link to the article in The Courier Mail

The Bakhtiari family saga

Sydney Morning Herald
December 30, 2004 - 11:43AM


Key dates in the case of high-profile asylum seekers, the Bakhtiari family:

October 1999 - Ali Bakhtiari seeks asylum in Australia, saying he is an Hazara from Afghanistan.

August 2000 - Ali Bakhtiari granted a temporary protection visa. He settles in Sydney to await the arrival of his family - wife Roqia and five children.

December 2000 - Roqia and children land at Ashmore Reef, and are subsequently placed in Woomera detention centre. Ali still free and living in Sydney.

February 2002 - Roqia's brother Mazhar throws himself onto razor wire at Woomera detention centre to draw attention to his family's plight.

June 27, 2002 - Two Bakhtiari boys - Alamdar and Muntazar - part of mass breakout from Woomera.

July 18, 2002 - The two Bakhtiari boys walk into British consulate in Melbourne. Britain takes less than seven hours to reject their bid for asylum.

July 19, 2002 - Ali flies from Sydney to Melbourne to visit his sons, but breaks down in tears after learning they had been flown back to Woomera less than an hour before he arrived in Melbourne.

July 22, 2002 - Federal government moves to cancel Ali Bakhtiari's visa, saying he is an electrical plumber from Pakistan and not a subsistence farmer from a small village in Afghanistan as he claims. He is later moved into immigration detention.

July 25, 2003 - Mrs Bakhtiari's brother Mazhar removed from Baxter detention centre and deported to Pakistan. He later made it to Afghanistan and voted in that country's October 2004 election.

August 26, 2003 - Five Bakhtiari children enjoy first day of freedom from detention, after moving into an Adelaide house in the care of Catholic welfare agency Centacare, following a Family Court order for their release.

October 15, 2003 - Sixth Bakhtiari child, Mazhar, born under guard in an Adelaide hospital as a non-citizen, in keeping with his parents' status. He was named after Roqia's brother.

April 29, 2004 - High Court overturns Family Court decision, ruling Bakhtiari children must be moved back into detention. But federal government allows the children to remain under Centacare's care, officially declaring the Adelaide house where they are living a place of detention.

May 28, 2004 - Alamdar and Muntazar win right to appeal to the British Court of Appeal over Britain's refusal to grant them asylum.

June 3, 2004 - Federal Court of Australia dismisses fresh application by five Bakhtiari children to be removed from detention.

June 8, 2004 - Roqia and baby Mazhar accept federal government offer to move into Adelaide house and be reunited with the five eldest children. Ali remains in Baxter detention centre.

July 20, 2004 - Hearing begins before Britain's Court of Appeal, which ultimately rejects Bakhtiari's bid for asylum.

Dec 18, 2004 - Roqia and her six children taken from Adelaide house and into the Port Augusta residential housing project, near the Baxter detention centre, in preparation for their deportation.

Dec 21, 2004 - New Zealand rejects appeal to take Bakhtiari family in as refugees.

Dec 30, 2004 - Entire family taken from detention by immigration officials and deported.

AAP

Link to the article in The Sydney Morning Herald

Bakhtiyaris given a 'fair go'

news.com.au
December 30, 2004


THE Bakhtyiari family has left Australia, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed today.

Senator Vanstone defended the 1am (CST) pick-up of the family who had been fighting to be declared asylum seekers since 1999.

Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children were deported today, with immigration officials removing them from detention in Port Augusta in the early hours.

In a statement, Senator Vanstone said the family had been flown out of Australia after being declared medically fit by a doctor.

"The timing of the family's departure was determined by the availability of the charter aircraft and transfer arrangements en route," she said.

"The family had been advised last week that departure from Australia was their only option and arrangements were being made for them to return to Pakistan."

Senator Vanstone said the Bakhtiaris had been given more than a fair go: they'd gone through the Refugee Review Tribunal and 20 subsequent legal actions.

"At the end, the conclusive finding was that the family was not owed protection and, consequently, the removal process is now being followed," she said.

"The debate surrounding this family should not overshadow the fact that Australia has a generous refugee and humanitarian program, providing 13,000 places this year."

AAP

Link to the article at AAP

High-profile asylum-seekers deported from Australia to Pakistan

30 December 2004
AFP - Khaleej Times Online

ADELAIDE
- Australia's highest-profile family of asylum seekers were deported to Pakistan on Thursday, ending a four-year battle for sanctury, immigration officials said.

The deportation of Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children brings an end to a four-year fight to stay in Australia, which has made them a symbol of the country?s controversial treatment of asylum seekers.

Their deportation was carried out in near secrecy in the early hours and took many of their supporters by surprise although the government had made it clear it was imminent.

The family became a national cause celebre in 2002 when their two eldest sons Alamdar and Muntazar sought refuge in the British consulate in Melbourne after escaping from a detention centre at Woomera in South Australia state.

The Bakhtiaris claim they are ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan, a Shiite minority oppressed by the former Taleban regime, but the Australian government insists they are from Pakistan.

"They have left Australia and they are on their way to Pakistan," an immigration spokeswoman said, declining to give further details.

Opposition politician Kate Reynolds joined the chorus of protests from supporters at the surreptitious deportation and said the family had suffered "most appalling punitive treatment.

"If the government's plans for the family were all above board, then it would not have secreted them out of the country under the cover of darkness hoping we would all be distracted by the tragic events in southeast Asia or the holiday season," said Reynolds, of the small Australian Democrats party.

An official with the Catholic welfare agency Centacare, which had been providing housing for the mother and children, said they had been flown out of an airport at Port Augusta, where the mother and children had been held for the past two weeks, under heavy guard.

The father had been brought separately from a separate detention centre.

"My understanding is they were taken to the Port Augusta airport and they were flown out from there," said Centacare director Dale West.

After they sought refuge at the British consulate in Melbourne, the two eldest boys took their case to the Court of Appeal in London, arguing British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw breached the European Convention on Human Rights to protect them from inhumane and degrading treatment by Australian immigration authorities.

However, they lost that and other legal bids to stay in Australia and the government announced their deportation despite recent suggestions from the Afghan embassy that Roqia Bakhtiari may have relatives in Afghanistan.

Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers has been widely criticised at home and abroad as inhumane but the conservative government's hardline stance proved an election winner in 2001.

Link to the article in The Khaleej Times

Dead of night swoop ends asylum saga

The Age
December 30, 2004 - 2:26PM


Under the cover of darkness, the final chapter of the Bakhtiari family's Australian saga was played out today.

In secretive operations, immigration officials swooped on a sleeping Roqia Bakhtiari and her six children at a residential detention house in Port Augusta in South Australia's north.

At the same time, 20 immigration guards reportedly removed a protesting Ali Bakhtiari from the Baxter detention centre on Port Augusta's outskirts.

The family had been asleep in the knowledge their deportation was looming, but the 1am (CDT) operation stunned and angered their supporters.

The Bakhtiaris were whisked, under guard, to the Port Augusta airport where, at about 3am (CDT), they were placed on a waiting plane and deported from Australia.

Just exactly where they were initially headed remained unknown, but their final destination is Pakistan.

In line with its long-standing policy of giving minimal information to the media and public about its operations, the immigration department would only say the Bakhtiaris' removal was underway.

The operation to remove the Bakhtiari family - Australia's highest profile asylum seekers - was greeted with indignation by some.

"If the government's plans for the family were all above board, then it would not have secreted them out of the country under the cover of darkness hoping we would all be distracted by the tragic events in South East Asia or the holiday season," Australian Democrats refugee spokeswoman Kate Reynolds said.

Her sentiments were echoed by refugee advocates.

Dale West, the director of welfare agency Centacare, had been hosting Roqia Bakhtiari and her six children at his Adelaide house for the past 16 months, until they were removed to Port Augusta on December 18.

Mr West said the 1am CDT operation was not unusual for the immigration department.

"They have been the public face of the way people are treated in our detention system and people don't realise that one o'clock in the morning is the standard approach," he said.

"With the tragedy of the tsunamis, it's good timing for a government who wants to do it as privately as possible."

The deportation ends a five-year saga for the Bakhtiari clan, who say they are from Afghanistan.

The government maintains they are Pakistani.

Ali Bakhtiari arrived in Australia in 1999 separately from the rest of his family, and sought asylum, saying he was a persecuted Hazara farmer from a small Afghan village.

Initially, he was granted asylum only for the government to rescind his visa because it said the document was gained under false pretences.

Mr Bakhtiari was not a subsistence farmer from the Afghan village of Charkh but an electrical plumber from Quetta in Pakistan, the government said.

He was returned to immigration detention, where his wife and children had been held since December 2000.

The change of Mr Bakhtiari's status was brought about after the Refugee Review Tribunal considered the asylum claims of Mrs Bakhtiari and her children in 2002.

During the hearing, Mrs Bakhtiari could not identify some Afghan coins, prompting the tribunal to find she was not Afghani.

Her supporters claim the money was Northern Alliance currency unknown in her township, and regardless, Mrs Bakhtiari was illiterate and bartered for goods.

The family was sent to the Woomera detention centre in South Australia's north, where their plight soon made international headlines.

In February 2002, Mrs Bakhtiari's brother, Mahzer Ali, was also in detention at Woomera, and threw himself onto razor wire at the now-defunct detention centre to draw attention to his family's situation.

Mahzer Ali was later deported to Pakistan but has since made his way back to Afghanistan.

In June 2002, Mrs Bakhtiari's eldest sons, Alamdar and Muntazar, escaped Woomera during a mass breakout of detainees.

Aided by refugee advocates, the teenage boys arrived in Melbourne and sought refuge at the British consulate in the Victorian capital, only to be later returned to Australian authorities and immigration detention.

Last month, the British Court of Appeal rejected legal action claiming the boys were unlawfully removed from the British consulate in Melbourne.

That court's ruling was the outcome of one of about 20 separate legal actions taken by the family and their lawyers to try to gain asylum in Australia.

During the legal proceedings, Mrs Bakhtiari and her children were moved into residential immigration detention, initially residing at an Adelaide hotel before moving in with Mr West and his family in east suburban Adelaide.

While in Adelaide, Mrs Bakhtiari gave birth to another son - whom the High Court ruled was not an Australian citizen because his parents were not genuine refugees.

Mr Bakhtiari remained at the Baxter detention centre throughout the legal battles.

With the family's legal avenues exhausted, the immigration department on December 18 removed Mrs Bakhtiari and her children from the Adelaide house and back into residential detention at Port Augusta.

The move was a precursor to today's deportation.

- AAP

Link to the article in The Age

Bakhtiari family deported under cover of darkness

Sydney Morning Herald
By Cynthia Banham and Penelope Debelle
December 31, 2004


The Bakhtiari family were deported to Pakistan yesterday, ending a very public four-year battle with the Government to be accepted as refugees.

At just after 2.30am yesterday, Alamdar Bakhtiari, 16, the oldest of the six children, was glimpsed at the window of the RAAF charter plane flown into Port Augusta by the Department of Immigration to remove the failed asylum seekers.

"He looked out and gave us a sad wave," said a refugee supporter who rushed to the airport after hearing around 11pm on Wednesday that a special flight to deport the family was flying in and would be leaving again some time before 3am.

The father of the family, Ali Bakhtiari, was brought to the airport first, after reportedly putting up some resistance when 20 guards forcibly removed him from the Baxter immigration detention centre, his home since mid-2002 when the temporary protection visa he received not long after his arrival in 1999 was cancelled.

An hour later, two minibuses turned up carrying his wife Roqia Bakhtiari and her six children - three boys and three girls aged from 16 to one year.

Within 12 hours they were out of Australia and on their way to Pakistan, from where, their supporters say, they will return home to Afghanistan.

The family lost the protection of the courts early this month after their final High Court appeal was rejected. The Government faced the choice of backing down from its public assertion that the family were fraudulent asylum seekers and quietly letting them stay, or forcing them to go back.

The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, yesterday confirmed the Bakhtiaris were taken from their beds "quite early" yesterday and bundled onto a charter plane under guard.

The family were accompanied by 12 officials, including guards and a nurse, Senator Vanstone said. No restraints were used "on the flight out of Australia".

Senator Vanstone said the deportation took place in the middle of the night because aircraft availability was "limited" and because of transfer arrangements to connecting flights.

The family had been "given more than a fair go in testing their claims for protection", and had "plenty of advice they were about to be removed".

She would not disclose whether the family had been given any resettlement allowance for when they arrived in Pakistan, but said they had declined to speak to their lawyers before they were deported.

"I think the family finally accepted they had, and used, every opportunity in Australia for their case to be heard and it [had] come to an end," she said.

Asked whether the Government was relieved the family had left Australia, Senator Vanstone said: "I think when any anguish from either side of a discussion, argument, battle, call it whatever you want, comes to an end, there has to be a certain sense of relief, and I hope the Bakhtiari family are feeling that."

Dale West, head of the South Australian Catholic welfare agency that sponsored the family in the community after they were released by the Family Court, said their deportation was inevitable. "It was always going to end this way," Mr West said.

He said the Government was so embarrassed by the family's defiance, in particular the attempt by the two elder boys, Alamdar and Monty, to seek asylum from the British consulate in Melbourne after escaping from Woomera in 2002, that it was resolved to show no mercy.

The immigration department began the deportation process a fortnight ago. At 7am on December 18, guards arrived unannounced at the family's villa in the Adelaide suburb of Dulwich and took Roqia and the six children away in two cars.

They were returned to the Port Augusta Refugee project, guarded accommodation in Port Augusta that acts as an offshoot to the Baxter detention centre.

After Senator Vanstone gave an assurance that the family would not be deported before Christmas, Roqia was given bags and told to pack on Christmas Day.

Link to the article in the Sydney Morning Herald

Govt denies restraining Bakhtiyaris during deportation

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Thursday, December 30, 2004. 7:21pm (AEDT)


The Federal Government has denied that members of the asylum seeking Bakhtiyari family had to be restrained while they were being deported from Australia early this morning.

After being taken from the Baxter Detention Centre, Ali Bakhtiyari was seen struggling with guards as he was being put on a plane at Port Augusta.

But Senator Vanstone denies he or any other member of the family had to be restrained.

"That's not my advice... no family that wants to stay in Australia welcomes going, that's understandable," she said.

The Bakhtiyari's are heading for Pakistan, but Dale West, from welfare agency Centacare, is convinced they will not be there long.

"These children are certainly from Afghanistan and I believe that they'll be doing all they can to get back to Afghanistan in the next couple of weeks," he said.

Mr West says the Federal Government's actions have been unnecessary and inhumane.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1274292.htm

Flight ends long fight for Bakhtiyaris

The Australian
Andrew McGarry and Katharine Murphy
December 31, 2004


THE Bakhtiyaris were yesterday deported on a 2.45am charter flight to Pakistan, bringing to an end a five-year fight to remain in Australia which included 20 legal actions, an escape from detention and an appeal for political asylum in Britain.

The family of eight ethnic Hazaras, who claimed to be Afghan but were deemed to be Pakistani, had been under the threat of imminent deportation since their last appeal was dismissed by the High Court two weeks ago.

They will be billed for the costs of their incarceration in at least three immigration detention centres, but the Government will not seek to recoup the $500,000 it spent on legal fees fighting their cases.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the flight had left at 3am in order to meet connections en route and to fit in with the availability of the aircraft.

"It will be quite expensive but nothing like the cost of maintaining this family in detention over the next 12 months," she said. "I think when any anguish from either side of a discussion, argument, battle -- call it whatever you want -- comes to an end, there has to be a certain sense of relief, and I hope the Bakhtiyari family are feeling that." After losing a last legal appeal, Roqia Bakhtiyari and her children Alamdar, 16, Montazer, 14, Nagina, 12, Samina, 10, Amina, 7, and Mazhar, 14 months, were taken from their Adelaide home to Port Augusta. Roqia's husband, Ali, who arrived alone in 1999 and was granted refugee status before his wife arrived the following year and was deemed in 2002 a Pakistani, has been at the nearby Baxter Detention Centre for the past two years.

He was moved there after his visa was cancelled and Alamdar and Montazer's breakout from Woomera detention centre in July 2002 ended three weeks later in the British consulate in Melbourne. Their appeal for asylum was rejected. A supporter of the family said the first signal that their time in Australia was about to end came at 1.30am.

"We received a call from one of the detainees in Baxter saying that Ali Bakhtiyari had just been taken out kicking and screaming," the supporter said.

Mr Bakhtiyari was bundled into a van and driven to the Port Augusta housing project, where he was reunited with his wife and children.

Less than an hour later they were taken to the airport, where a National Jet chartered plane was on the tarmac, ready for the family's belongings to be loaded on board.

The Bakhtiyaris then joined another group of eight to 10 detainees from Port Augusta on board the plane. Ali Bakhtiyari appeared unsteady as he climbed the steps to the plane.

In the last minutes before take-off the blinds on some of the windows were raised and Montazer made a final wave to bystanders, while his sister Amina was seen crying.

Link to the article in the Australian

Dark end to saga

The Herald Sun
Editorial
31dec04


THE Federal Government's handling of the Bakhtiari family's deportation has needlessly cast a cloud over the whole affair.

After four years of legal battles, the family has been sent home after exhausting all avenues in their bid for refugee status.

The process has been fair, extensive and carried in the open forum of the courts.

Why then did immigration authorities need to act like thieves in the night as they transported the family from the Baxter Detention Centre in the early hours of yesterday morning?

The clandestine operation angered refugee advocates and raises unnecessary questions about the integrity of the process.

A Government that stands by its actions should feel comfortable having them scrutinised in the harsh glare of daylight.

Link to the article in The Herald Sun

Government expels Bakhtiyaris after four-year fight

The Advertiser
31dec04


AFTER four years of emotional struggles and legal wrangling, the Bakhtiyari family has been deported from the country they desperately wanted to call home.

At about 2.30am yesterday, Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children left Port Augusta on a chartered jet for Pakistan, believed to go via Perth.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone defended the departure from Port Augusta, and said the Bakhtiyaris would be billed for their detention - the family's 20 legal bids to stay in Australia alone costing taxpayers $500,000 to defend.

She said the family had been checked by a doctor before travelling and had declined a final offer to speak to a lawyer before boarding a chartered jet.

Senator Vanstone said the family's removal was determined by the availability of the aircraft and transfer in Pakistan.

"(The flight) will be quite expensive but it will be nothing like the cost of maintaining this family in detention over 12 months," Senator Vanstone said.

Just hours before their departure, 14-year-old Montazer Bakhtiyari told The Advertiser he was thinking of writing a "letter to God" to discover his family's fate.

His father, Ali, was taken from Baxter Detention Centre, reportedly kicking and screaming, while his family were transported in vans to the airport.

Bewildered and scared, some of the children shed tears when they were ushered out of the housing complex.

The security surrounding the family was high, with about eight guards ushering the family into three white vans, flanked by other cars.

As they were leaving their temporary housing, one of the boys was heard saying something like "thanks Australia".

The vans then sped out of the complex - one driver hurling abuse at the waiting media.

Once arriving at the airport, heavy security and a strong police presence meant little could be seen of the family, except for the frightened faces of the children, including Amina who was crying, peering out of the plane's windows. It appeared the family were being encouraged to shut blinds, but they pushed them open to watch supporters wave them off.

All phone lines at the housing complex were disconnected in the early hours of yesterday morning, meaning supporters were unable to warn the family of their imminent departure.

Senator Vanstone conceded the family objected to leaving but rejected claims restraints had been used to force them onto the flight.

Yesterday, friends and supporters expressed their shock at the family's deportation.

Centacare director Dale West said finding out the family had been deported in the early hours was "surreal".

"I was half expecting it to happen but until it does, it doesn't really hit you," he said.

Despite an ongoing plea by the Bakhtiyari family that they had been forced out of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the Federal Government believed they were from Pakistan. Mr Bakhtiyari spent the past two years at Baxter, while his children and wife lived in Adelaide.

On December 18, Mrs Bakhtiyari and her children - Alamdar, 16, Montazer, 14, Nagina, 12, Samina, 10, Amina, 7, and 14-month-old Mazhar - were taken from their Dulwich accommodation following a dawn raid.

They spent the past 10 days under virtual house arrest at a Port Augusta housing complex, surrounded by fencing and watched by security guards.

Their only respite was visits to see their father at Baxter. The deportation distressed staff and students at Saint Ignatius College, where Alamdar, 16, and Montazer, 14, studied.

Headmaster Father Greg O'Kelly said the Federal Government had "stolen the childhood" of the six children.

"These children have known this type of experience, dislocation, forced separation, hostile treatment for four years - a large portion of their lives," he said. "In a time where there is so much human misery, with the tidal waves, we have chosen to add to the human misery."

Saint Ignatius students Sam Hooper, Anthony Kunda and Jeremy Khong, who were friends of the two boys, were in shock.

"It hit me straight away, it is shocking, we just don't know where they are," Sam, 15, said.

Link to the article in The Advertiser

Family to be charged for detention

The Advertiser
By Alexandra Economou, Laura Anderson and Craig Clarke
31dec04


AFTER four years of emotional struggles and legal wrangling, the Bakhtiari family has been deported from the country they desperately wanted to call home.

About 2.30am yesterday, Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children left Port Augusta airport on a chartered jet bound for Pakistan.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone defended the departure from Port Augusta, and said the Bakhtiaris would be billed for their detention - the family's 20 legal bids to stay in Australia alone costing taxpayers $500,000 to defend.

She said the family had been checked by a doctor before travelling and had declined a final offer to speak to a lawyer before boarding a chartered jet.

Senator Vanstone said the family's removal was determined by the availability of the charter and transfers in Pakistan.

"(The flight) will be quite expensive, but it will be nothing like the cost of maintaining this family in detention over the next 12 months," Senator Vanstone said.

Just hours before their departure, 14-year-old Montazer Bakhtiari said he was thinking of writing a "letter to God" to discover his family's fate.

His father, Ali, was taken from Baxter Detention Centre, reportedly kicking and screaming, while his family was taken in vans to the airport.

Looking scared, some of the children had tears in their eyes.

The security surrounding the family was high, with about eight guards ushering the family into three white vans, flanked by other cars.

On arrival at the airport, heavy security and a strong police presence meant little could be seen of the family, except for the frightened faces of the children, including weeping Amina, peering out of the plane's windows.

It appeared family members were encouraged to shut blinds, but they pushed them open again.

Phone lines at the housing complex were disconnected early yesterday, meaning supporters could not warn the family of their departure.

Senator Vanstone conceded the family objected to leaving, but rejected claims restraints had been used to force them on to the flight.

Friends and supporters expressed their shock at the family's deportation.

Centacare director Dale West said finding out the family had been deported was "surreal".

"I was half expecting it to happen, but until it does, it doesn't really hit you," he said.

Despite a plea by the Bakhtiari family that they had been forced out of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the Federal Government believed they were from Pakistan.

Mr Bakhtiari spent the past two years at Baxter, while his children and wife lived in Adelaide.

On December 18, Mrs Bakhtiari and her children - Alamdar, 16, Montazer, 14, Nagina, 12, Samina, 10, Amina, 7, and 14-month-old Mazhar - were taken from their accommodation following a dawn raid.

They spent the past 10 days at a Port Augusta residential housing complex, surrounded by fencing and watched by security guards.

Link to the article in The Advertiser

Inevitable end to immigration debate

The Advertiser
Editorial
31 Dec 2004


IT might have been done for all the right legal reasons, but ultimately what has happened to the Bakhtiyari children was a cruel lesson.

After experiencing a taste of freedom and the love, friendship and support of many South Australians, they are gone.

When these children awake in Pakistan today, their affection for Australia as a country of hope, promise and opportunity will surely have evaporated.

Instead, there will be bitterness, helplessness and despair - and no doubt anger that will scar their lives forever.

The treatment of the Bakhtiyaris - dragged from their beds in tears and deported under the cover of night - was brutal and totally without compassion.

Yet, in many ways, it was inevitable.

This family had exhausted every possible legal option that would have allowed them to stay here ahead of others.

They were unable to prove to any court - and the Immigration Department - that they originated from Afghanistan.

The Government argues the family has been given a "fair go" - almost 20 separate appearances before the highest courts in the land. Courts that have upheld the Immigration Department's position that Ali, Roqia and their six children were not refugees.

It was understandably cautious to avoid favouritism on the basis the Bakhtiyaris enjoy a high public profile. We have come to know their faces and share a snapshot of their life, their joy and their grief.

Don't let others suffer this way

FAMILY supporters believe, however, that same public profile is responsible for the Bakhtiyaris' final treatment - the Government was backed into a corner and had to prove a point.

Whatever the view, one truth remains. The six children, one born here, have endured a terrible ordeal from the moment they left their homeland with their mother in the hope of a new life in Australia.

For a fleeting moment, it seemed within their grasp.

But to want to settle in Australia is to accept the conditions and legal restrictions under which this country operates.

No doubt these children will be forever damaged by their tug-of-war experience in Australia. The treatment of this one family has served to highlight the barbaric practice of detaining innocent children behind bars and barbed wire.

Ultimately, the ruling of the courts was final and it was clear that despite their public protestations and support, the Bakhtiyaris would not be allowed any future in this country. We can only hope that no other children are forced to endure such treatment in the future.

Responsibility for all editorial comment is taken by The Editor, Melvin Mansell, 121 King William St, Adelaide 5000

Link to the article in The Advertiser

Read more ...

Monday, December 27, 2004

Australia's Christmas gift to the Sri Lankans

Map of Sri LankaNarrogin WA, 27 Dec 2004, 19:30pm - Last week, on Christmas eve, many Sri Lankans living in the community around Australia received a letter from the immigration minister Amanda Vanstone. Bluntly speaking, the letter said: "Get your bags, organise the contents, and bugger off outta here".

That was our generous Christmas present to many of the about 500 Sri Lankans who arrived before the excision of half of Australia's coastline - and consequently they live in the community instead of in Baxter, but just with our infamous Living Under The Bridges Visa. And it was before Sri Lanka was devastated by a tsunami.

As Sarah Stephen wrote in Green Left Weekly, "...most of those on bridging visas have had their claims refused at every level of appeal, and are required to report monthly, even weekly, to immigration department offices to get their visas renewed. There has been a characteristic unwillingness by successive immigration ministers to exercise their discretion and grant Sri Lankans the right to stay on compassionate or humanitarian grounds."

But now, the devastating earthquake and the subsequent tsunami ripped away their home. The devastation in Sri Lanka is worse than in any other of the many countries hit by the disaster, and we think it's about time the minister for immigration faces up to the facts and commits herself to some humanity.

Sri Lankan refugees received Christmas Eve removal letters

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Tuesday December 28 2004 07:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"In an unbelievable and cruel collision of government manipulation and geologic reality, many Sri Lankans (figures could well be in the hundreds) living in the Australian community on BVE's or Bridging Visas, are believed to have received their final notice to remove themselves from the Australian continent within 28 days, back to their homes in Sri Lanka," according to reports received by refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom.

The asylum seekers, who arrived in Australia before the "excision legislation" and well before the enactment of the TAMPA laws, are not in detention centres, but have awaited their fate for years whilst living in the community. There are about 500 Sri Lankans in the community, the majority of them Tamils, but there are also Sinhalese families. Many of them are families with children born in Australia over the last ten years. Recently a spokesman for the Victorian Tamil Cultural Association, Mr Nagamuthu Ramalingam Wickiramasingham, commented on their situation, and compared their predicament to the situation of the East Timorese refugees in Australia. Successive governments have avoided taking responsibility for their fate up till now.

The Sri Lankans' final claims for humanitarian intervention by the Minister have now failed, and "as we now well know, the Department of Immigration has again acted manipulatively by sending these letters during the Christmas holidays - while lawyers are well out of reach and on leave and less likely to act for their clients prior to the 28 days required to leave the country, or be locked up in immigration detention," Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said today.

"For some or many, the letters may well have arrived on Monday or Tuesday, after the news about the devastating earthquakes and the subsequent tsunamis had become common knowledge in the community."

"Now a tsunami has come in the way of the Minister's determinations, and she could now immediately overturn these "Christmas present" decisions and grant them all humanitarian and permanent visas, just as she could now grant asylum to the fifteen men in the Baxter detention centre. Today is an opportunity for Immigration Minister Vanstone to show, loud and clear to all Australians, that she has a heart and that she can act with compassion."

"The men in the Baxter detention centre centre are also concerned for the wellbeing of their relatives and friends in Sri Lanka. Although highly unusual, the two groups of men, some from Sinhalese and some from Tamil background, have spoken together in the Baxter centre to discuss the tsunami and the devastating loss of life in their home country."

Earthquake Foreign Aid starts at home in Baxter

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Monday December 27 2004 14:00pm WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"Foreign Aid for inhabitants of the devastated regions in several countries, including the Tamil region in Sri Lanka, can start at home, in the Baxter detention centre", refugee lobby group Project SafeCom said today.

"Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans in the Tamil region of that country have been left homeless and their communities have been devastated as a result of yesterday's earthquake and its associated tsunamis."

Sri Lankan Tsunami"In Sri Lanka proper the toll is even higher, and TV New Zealand reports that the "Sri Lankan government declared a national disaster and made its own appeal for aid following the tsunami, which has killed more than 3,500 Sri Lankans and displaced around 750,000 more."

"The about fifteen Sri Lankans in the Baxter detention centre have no home to go to, if ever they did, and the devastations of the disaster provides an opportunity for the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to provide relief to the Sri Lankans in Baxter, in addition to extend some generosity to the hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, many of them "living in Australia without the right to work, Medicare or government benefits", as Green Left Weekly recently reported."

"The most appropriate gesture would now be to grant all Sri Lankans permanent residency under Australia's humanitarian program. The current circumstances certainly would make such an act desirable, and it would be supported by all Australians."

The General Secretary of the Victorian Tamil Cultural Association, Nagamuthu Ramalingam Wickiramasingham, recently reported that there are about 500 Sri Lankans in the Australian community, and that no known moves were underway by the immigration minister to take any other action than to try to get them deported.

Sri Lankans' asylum appeals fail

The Age
By Fergus Shiel
January 3, 2005


Sri Lankan asylum seekers face imminent deportation to their stricken homeland or detention after the failure of final appeals to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.

Refugee advocates say many Sri Lankans living in the community on E-class bridging visas received letters effectively giving them 28 days to make arrangements to leave Australia.

Victorian Tamil community spokesman Nagamuthu Wickiramasingham told The Age that the asylum seekers' plight was desperate, as they had no means and nothing to return to.

"Their situation is very, very bad. Sri Lanka has been crushed by the tsunami, 1 million are homeless, tens of thousands are dead and the economy is in ruins," he said. "On top of that, the Tamils among the asylumseekers who have received final notice, face probable detention, interrogation and treatment as traitors if they're sent back.

"Really, it is an impossible situation for the affected families, all of whom have been here for more than seven years and many of whom include children that have never been to Sri Lanka."

He added that Tamil areas in north-east Sri Lanka had been hit very hard by the tsunamis and were calling for emergency relief.

Pamela Curr, campaign co-ordinator with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne, called on Senator Vanstone to provide the Sri Lankans with humanitarian visas.

She said more than 500 Sri Lankans on bridging visas were being cared for by community and church groups, as they were unable to work or receive Centrelink payments.

Jack Smit, of the refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, said Senator Vanstone should also grant asylum to 15 Sri Lankan men being held in the Baxter detention centre.

An Immigration Department spokeswoman said last night that anyone from an area affected by the tsunamis who wished to extend their stay in Australia temporarily should contact the department.

Link to The Age

Eyewitness report from the Sri Lanka tsunami

By Roland Buerk, BBC News, Sri Lanka
BBC News | South Asia
27 December 2004


I'm in a town called Unawatuna, which is on the south coast of Sri Lanka.

We didn't feel the earthquake here so there was no warning at all.

Then at about 10:00 this morning our time a huge wave suddenly hit the beach.

We were still in bed in a ground floor room right on the beachfront when we suddenly heard some shouts from outside.

Then the water started coming under the door. Within a few seconds it was touching the window.

We very quickly scrambled to get out as the windows started to cave in and glass shattered everywhere.

We swam out of the room neck deep in water, forcing our way through the tables and chairs in the restaurant and up into a tree.

But within about 30 seconds that tree collapsed as well and we were thrust back into the water where we had to try and keep our heads above the water line.

We were swept along for a few hundred metres, trying to dodge the motorcycles, refrigerators, cars and other debris that were coming with us.

Finally, about 300m inshore, we managed to get hold of a pillar, which we held onto until the waters just gradually began to subside.

Little help

Other people though weren't so lucky.

One elderly British gentleman was walking around in a state of shock. His wife had been swimming when the waves struck.

And a family has just walked past carrying a very small bundle with pale white feet poking out the bottom of it.

As they walked past, the teenage son, wearing an England football shirt said in a very matter of fact way "My brother is dead".

Looking around it's easy to see that this has caused incredible devastation here. There are cars in trees, buildings destroyed.

But it is impossible really to get an accurate picture of the number of casualties from where I am.

I haven't looked around a great deal yet, and I certainly haven't been inside the ruins of the hotel or other buildings, or joined in the digging.

But in one small area of one small village I have seen four bodies so far, including two Sri Lankans - an elderly lady and a young woman - and the Western boy who looked to be about five years old.

There are no kind of emergency services here, there are no helicopters thumping through the sky to come to save people.

It is a do-it-yourself rescue.

People are trying to go through the buildings and rescue those who might be trapped.

Most people have gone up onto higher ground, fearful of another tidal wave - rumours are that another one might be coming and people are trying to get up onto the hills.

There are no real medical services here either at the moment.

A call went round about 15 minutes ago for a doctor because a man's pulse was getting weaker and weaker but there are no doctors here.

I think the death toll is likely to rise quite sharply as rescuers start to arrive, and bodies begin to be dug out.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4125581.stm

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers appeal for tsunami relief

Reuters Alertnet
26 Dec 2004 18:46:25 GMT
Source: Reuters


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels appealed on Sunday for interational donor aid after a tsunami devastated Tamil communities along the coastline of their northern and eastern strongholds.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, whose two-decade war for autonomy killed more than 64,000 people until a ceasefire three years ago, said several hundred Sri Lankan Tamils have been killed and tens of thousands left homeless.

"The human disaster and the tragedy the surviors face are unprecedented and need immediate and effective humanitarian intervention," the rebels, who are on a list of terror groups banned by the United States, said in a statement posted on pro-Tamil website Tamilnet.

The Tigers' call for help came hours after the Sri Lankan government declared a national disaster and made its own appeal for aid following the tsunami, which has killed more than 3,500 Sri Lankans and displaced around 750,000 more.

Donor nations have grown increasingly impatient with the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government in recent months. Efforts to forge lasting peace have been deadlocked since last year over the rebels' central demand for interim self-rule, and the Tigers have threatened to resume their freedom struggle.

The tsunami was triggered by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra that was followed by a series of aftershocks stretching north into the Andaman Sea.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/COL135250.htm

Sri Lankans in Baxter detention centre

NauruWire
November 23, 2004


The outlook is bleak for this group, most of whom have minimal or no legal representation, and are detained at the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia. Only a handful of Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been granted refugee status by the Australian government since 2001.

Their situation has become even bleaker over the last few months.The armed conflict between the LTTE and Srilankan Government forces has displaced over 1.3 million people and over 64 000 are considered to have lost their lives since 1983. On September 26 Lennart Kotsalainen for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a statement that conditions in Sri Lanka are not conducive for the return of refugees.

http://www.nauruwire.org/refouler/srilankan.htm

Time runs out for asylum seekers

The Age
By Andra Jackson
September 20, 2004


A hunger strike, a High Court action and a direct appeal to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone are among last-ditch efforts to stop the forced return of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.

The general-secretary of the Victorian Tamil Cultural Association, N. R. Wickiramasingham, said there were 525 unsuccessful Tamil asylum seekers in Australia who had fled violence and torture and were unwilling to return.

Those told by Immigration Department compliance officers that they must leave include asylum seekers who have been on bridging or temporary protection visas that have now expired.

Another 16, Tamils and Sinhalese - have been in Baxter detention for three years with one now on the eighth day of a hunger strike.

They fear returning to a country where thousands of Tamils arrested under the anti-terrorism legislation have "disappeared" from detention and rehabilitation camps, Mr Wickiramasingham said. But over the past two weeks, members of three families he knows of have been forced to leave Melbourne.

At the same time the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre's David Manne and Melbourne University psychiatrist Paddy McGorry have expressed concern at a recent "disinclination to intervene" in Sri Lankan appeals for protection on compassionate grounds by the minister.

This is despite many Sri Lankans living in Australia for periods of nine to 10 years and having children born here.

The Victorian Tamil Cultural Association this week called on Mrs Vanstone to consider that "conditions are not yet conducive for the return of refugees to Sri Lanka". It pointed out that more than 800,000 Tamils were internally displaced in Sri Lanka; more than 35,000 were disabled; and the Sri Lankan armed forces continued to harass civilians despite a truce.

A Sri Lankan man (name supplied but not for publication) living in Melbourne for five-and-a-half years, took High Court action this week to stop the Immigration Department expelling him.

The man, 22, said he had been tortured twice while a student in 1996 and 1998 by Sri Lankan police and feared for his life if returned.

He said his parents and three brothers were in Canada and were trying to sponsor him to Canada. He said the High court case would not be heard for months but an Immigration officer had told him that unless he left Australia by midnight on Monday he would be detained.

The 16 Sri Lankans in Baxter detention centre arrived by boat to the Cocos Islands on September 15, 2001, two days before it was excised from Australia's immigration zone.

They were initially denied the right to lodge protection visa applications for a year, Rural Australians for Refugees spokeswoman Mira Wroblewski said.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission is inquiring into whether this error led to the 16 being detained for longer than necessary, thereby breaching the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she said.

The man on hunger strike, who is 34 and was detained after his visa expired, was put into Baxter's management unit on Thursday and forcibly fed. He resumed his hunger strike on Saturday, Ms Wroblewski said.

Eleven other Sri Lankans held at Baxter yesterday entered the fifth day of a peaceful sit-in at the compound.

An Immigration spokesperson said all applications for ministerial intervention were assessed individually.

Link to article in The Age

Sri Lankan asylum seekers face deportation

Green Left Weekly
October 6 2004


The plight of hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, many of them living in Australia without the right to work, Medicare or government benefits, was largely invisible until the Victorian Tamil Cultural Association raised the alarm on September 18.

Nagamuthu Ramalingam Wickiramasingham, general secretary of the Victorian Tamil Cultural Association, told Green Left Weekly that he estimates there are some 500 people, most of them Tamils, who face being returned against their will to the country they fled from.

"Some families have lived here for up to 10 years, their kids have been born and schooled in Australia", Wickiramasingham explained. He sees a parallel with the situation of some 1600 East Timorese asylum seekers, some of whom waited up to 10 years for a decision on their asylum applications, developing enduring links in the communities in which they lived.

Most of those on bridging visas have had their claims refused at every level of appeal, and are required to report monthly, even weekly, to immigration department offices to get their visas renewed. There has been a characteristic unwillingness by successive immigration ministers to exercise their discretion and grant Sri Lankans the right to stay on compassionate or humanitarian grounds.

Wickiramasingham explained that many Sri Lankans' asylum claims have been rejected because the Australian government maintains that there is no longer a war in Sri Lanka, citing the cease-fire signed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government in 1992 as proof that there is peace in Sri Lanka, and it is therefore a good time to go back.

According to Wickiramasingham, though, there is "an undeclared war still going on - both sides are still killing each other. The searches and harassment of the Tamil community is still going on. The Tamil MPs in parliament are voiceless."

Amnesty International has documented the use of torture and rape in police custody, and notes that no perpetrators have been convicted. At the end of 2003, the US Committee for Refugees estimated there were 500,000 people internally displaced within Sri Lanka and 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees in India, most of them Tamils.

Having exhausted every avenue of appeal in Australia, some Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been told they should make arrangements to leave Australia. Many have no money to get a plane ticket within the 28 days they have to make such arrangements, Wickiramasingham explained, so they get an itinerary from a travel agent. This allows a four-week extension on their visa.

Next time they report to immigration, they are asked to present a plane ticket. If they don't have one, officers threaten them with detention. When faced with such a choice, some have managed to scrape the money together to buy a plane ticket and leave "voluntarily". To date, Wickiramasingham has heard no news about the 10-15 families who have returned to Sri Lanka.

When assessing the veracity of a claim for asylum, Wickiramasingham explained, the authorities ask for proof that an applicant is in fact a Tamil, and not of Sinhalese or Indian background. They want documentation from the area where the applicant lived, but because many Tamil areas are still under the control of Sri Lankan security forces, this documentation has been impossible to obtain.

"Last month the UNHCR argued that conditions were not conducive for the return of Sri Lankan refugees from India", Lalitha Chelliah told GLW. Chelliah is a Tamil-Australian and a Socialist Alliance candidate for the Senate in Victoria. "The Australian government should accept the widespread assessment that it is not safe to send people back to Sri Lanka at the moment, and it should grant them humanitarian visas."

A number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers remain in detention. There are a small number in Melbourne's Maribyrnong detention centre, and 16 remain in South Australia's Baxter detention centre.

Those held in Baxter have been detained for three years. They marked the anniversary on September 15 with a plea to the immigration minister to reassess their cases for asylum in light of the deteriorating situation in their country.

These Sri Lankans, both Tamil and Sinhalese, were among 65 people who arrived by boat in the Cocos Islands on September 15, 2001. Two days later, the islands were excised from Australia's migration zone. The men were treated as "offshore entry persons", as if they had arrived after the excision.

They were held on Cocos Island for six months, then transferred to Christmas Island for a further six months, before a complaint they lodged with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission forced the government to transfer them to the Australian mainland and allow them to submit new applications.

On September 26, they addressed a letter to the Australian people. They explained: "We Sri Lankans have been living in our life in our home land, with threatened life, persecution, armed violence and killings since we've born. We are asylum seekers, in fact, seeking for freedom, peace and humanity that we have never felt in our whole life so far.

"We have explained our problems in a right way to the leaders of this nation with the hope of freedom and peace. But unfortunately, there is no compassion, there is no justice and there are no good results, but we've only got a life that there is not much difference between the life we lived back home and the life that we're living in here by being detained. Only difference is, giving up our life bit by bit and day by day in detention instead of being killed totally in one day.

"Let your friends know that still people in this beautiful nation, living without freedom and treated inhumanly by locking up indefinitely with the stamp of UNAUTHORISED ENTRY. At the same time ask the immigration ministry to consider our problem and to set us free by writing a letter to the minister."

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/601/601p6.htm

Sri Lankan man deported to danger

Green Left Weekly
December 1 2004
Sarah Stephen, Sydney


Ismail, a Sri Lankan man, was deported from Sydney?s Villawood detention centre on November 23. A previous attempt to deport him on October 19 failed after he panicked and harmed himself. Ismail was diagnosed by Professor Patrick McGorry of Melbourne University's psychiatry department as suffering from severe depression and requiring treatment as an inpatient in a hospital.

He was on a hunger strike in October and weighs only 51kg. He also has a condition that makes his fingers and toes permanently swollen, and his nails are lifting off. Although he has been in detention, this condition has been untreated.

Ismail has been in Australia for nine years, working and paying tax for seven of those.

Ismail is from the oppressed Tamil minority, and his family is also Muslim. Muslims comprise only 6% of a Sri Lankan population dominated by Buddhism and Hinduism. He fled his country when rebels attacked his family and sacked the jewellery shop he ran with his brother and father. His father died of a heart attack, while his brother fled to Italy, where he has been recognised as a refugee.

"Other Sri Lankan Muslims Ismail knows have been granted asylum in Germany, Norway and Britain", said Mark Goudkamp from the NSW Refugee Action Coalition, in a November 23 media release. "He arrived here in March 1996, the same month John Howard became PM. By winding up in heartless Australia, Ismail clearly got the short straw."

On November 19, Ismail was forcibly removed from Melbourne?s Maribyrnong detention centre, handcuffed, and driven to Villawood. He was held in the Management Unit (isolation cell) until his removal on November 23. Only the day before, the guards at Villawood had been telling Ismail that he would be transferred to a "normal" compound.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) and Villawood officials have so far refused to provide refugee advocates with any information concerning Ismail?s removal. This includes refusing to disclose what airline he was deported on. Malaysian Airlines, which was scheduled to deport him on October 19, refused to take him the second time, as a result of his self-harm.

Due to a mix-up with his flight time, friends missed Ismail's arrival in Sri Lanka. As of November 28, Ismail had not been in contact with anyone he knew in Australia or Sri Lanka. There are serious concerns for his safety, given that he told some of his friends that he would kill himself outside the Australian embassy in Colombo. DIMIA has previously indicated that it is not concerned with monitoring the safety and welfare of asylum seekers it deports.

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/608/608p4.htm

2004 Country Report - Sri Lanka

US Committee for Refugees

Close to 500,000 Sri Lankans were internally displaced at the end of 2003, although estimates range between 363,000-600,000. Around 92,000 were in government run welfare centers. Almost 100,000 Sri Lankans were refugees in India. Most Sri Lankan refugees and displaced persons were Hindu Tamils, although thousands of Muslims and some Buddhist Sinhalese were also displaced.

.....

In May [2003], inter-communal violence displaced some 35,000 in eastern Trincomalees district, and hundred of others became internally displaced because of violence in other districts at the end of the year.

Link to Worldwide Refugee Information

2003 Country Report - Sri Lanka

US Committee for Refugees

At year?s end, UNHCR said that conditions in Sri Lanka were not yet conducive for a large-scale, organized return of refugees or internally displaced persons, particularly since landmines posed a significant threat. However, the agency provided assistance to the spontaneous returnees and monitored their safety.

Link to Worldwide Refugee Information
Read more ...

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Bakhtiyari bungling and the DIMIA media set

Sydney RAC Bakhtiyari protest Christmas 2004Narrogin WA, 26 Dec 2004 - Politicians are notorious for their inferior skills in clinically assessing and promoting the facts, but they're masters in stating their own case, defending conclusions, elaborating on them, and "selling them", provided they get their policies successfully backed up. One of those cases defended through thick and thin by politicians is the ongoing case of mandatory detention post-Tampa-style, and the notion that asylum seekers with initiative, who dare to arrive unannounced on Australian shores are queue jumpers or fraudsters. Labor's spokesman for immigration Laurie Ferguson happily joins with the government on this bandwagon as we learnt recently ... and former immigration minister, now Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock made the strongest initial case during "his reign" in the portfolio.

Ruddock was keen as mustard to prove the point that "many" asylum seekers who claimed to be from Afghanistan were in fact from Pakistan. He started to announce this "rampant fraud" on April 12, 2002, when he announced his trip to Asia and Europe. For good measure he included Pakistan on the itinerary, and on the same day that he announced the trip he also announced that he sought to discredit Ali Bakhtiyari's claim to be from Afghanistan. Presumably he sought to overturn the claim because Roqia, his wife, was determined by the RRT to not be from Afghanistan.

Not only did Ruddock spend your tax dollars to "find out the facts", when he came back from Pakistan he sent the media hound from The Age, Russell Skelton also to Afghanistan. What? He sent them? No way.

Of course he didn't. Russell Skelton was paid by The Age for the trip. But let it be known, and let it be on the public record, that Skelton took with him an interpreter from the Department of Immigration, DIMIA. And we call that "Independent media", yeah right. When a Senator - Andrew Bartlett from the Australian Democrats - wishes to visit Nauru, the visa for his independent interpreter gets cancelled, but when the Australian media want to find out facts about Ali Bakhtiyari lying to the authorities, they get considerable support. Below is Skelton's new piece from the Sunday Age, in reply to Bob Ellis' critique from last week, see our previous report on the Bakhtiyari family. And I've added Marilyn Shepherd's reply to Russell - and in our Scoop of the Week, the documentation with evidence that the family is from Afghanistan, sent by lawyers for the family to Vanstone's office (yes, almost a year ago!) is now also on our website.

And let it also be known that Ruddock's announcement of 12 April 2002 that there were lots of "fraudsters" - our Master Illusionist politician mentioned a figure of 700 - amongst the 4000 asylum claimants who said they were Afghanis, but who instead were from Pakistan, did not get any confirmation. There were some. Maybe a handful. Read more below.

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock will discuss issues ranging from border protection, to tourism and the international asylum system during a visit taking in Europe, China and West Asia. [...] "The recent Bali Ministerial Conference on people smuggling demonstrated that Governments have common concerns about irregular movements," Mr Ruddock said. The visit will include discussions with Pakistan and Iran which have both struggled under the burden of millions of refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. (Media Centre, Minister's Visit to Discuss Border Protection and Migration MPS 27/2002 - 12 April 2002)

"On 12 April this year [2002] my Department issued a notice of intent to cancel the father's Temporary Protection Visa on the grounds that he was actually a Pakistani national who had been working as a plumber in Pakistan, not an Afghan national as he claimed," Mr Ruddock said. (Media Centre: Brothers Reunited With Their Mother MPS 66/2002, 19 July 2002)

Australia has cancelled the protection visas of 50 Afghan asylum seekers and says there is evidence that some of them are from Pakistan. [...] The father, Ali Bakhtiyari, who claims to be an Afghan refugee but who is said by Australian authorities to have come from Pakistan, is thought to be one of the 50 who now face expulsion. [...] Mr Bakhtiyari and his two sons had claimed to be members of Afghanistan's persecuted Hazara minority. But Mr Ruddock's spokesman argued on Monday: "There's very large Hazara populations in Pakistan and have been for many years." (BBC World, Asia-Pacific Monday, 22 July, 2002)

Ruddock has come under pressure from some sections of the press, however. On the ABC's July 22 Lateline, he was told by a reporter to publicly produce evidence that people were lying. Ruddock has now started to backtrack from his attack on the Baktiyari family, referring to them as Afghans who were "resident" in Pakistan. But he has already fuelled the prejudice of those hostile to asylum seekers. (Green Left Weekly, July 31, 2002)

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I mentioned this week that amongst the 4,000 or so Afghan - or people claiming to be Afghan who have obtained temporary protection visas - some 700 are being investigated. And in relation to some 40 people we have obtained very firm evidence in the form of original documents from Pakistan, registration documents, as to their identity, and a number of visas have already been cancelled. And in relation to Mr Bakhtiyari we've been undertaking further inquiries in Pakistan which confirm to our mind, the findings of the media inquiries and we'll putting that evidence to Mr Bakhtiyari with a view to moving on with the cancellation that had been foreshadowed. (ABC Insiders, 25/08/2002)

a PDF documentIdentity evidence from Afghanistan - documentation presented to the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone by lawyers for the Bakhtiyari family, faxed to the Minister's office on 21 January 2004. (right-click, choose "Save As" to download)

a PDF documentSolicitor Paul Boylan's letter to The Australian: Your comment in today's edition of your paper that "nobody can suggest that the courts have not had a good look at the family's claim" grossly misleads the Australian public. [....] clause provides in part that Mr Bakhtiyari's Refugee Review Tribunal decision "must not be challenged, appealed against, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court". (right-click, choose "Save As" to download)

The Bakhtiyari Files

Hundreds of news articles have appeared in Australian and International media about the Bakhtiari family since Andrew West revealed the story of the family in the Sun-Herald in February 2002, shortly after their uncle, the now deported "crown witness", clearly a Hazara from Afghanistan, jumped on the razor wire at Woomera. At Project SafeCom, we collected them all (well, most of them). They are brought together in four WORD documents, zipped up for security from viruses. Simply use the "Right-click, Save As" command of your mouse on the images or on the linked text.

Pack bags, family told

The Advertiser
26dec04


THE Bakhtiyari family - Australia's highest profile asylum seekers - spent Christmas Day packing their bags.

Officials told Roqia Bakhtiyari she and her six children should have warm clothes as they faced immediate deportation, probably today, according to refugee groups.

The order follows a written plea by Montazer Bakhtiyari, 14 - penned on behalf of the family and addressed to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone - to spare them from deportation.

The family's impending deportation follows four years of legal bids to stay in Australia.

In the letter, published for the first time today, the teenager begs for help and vents his anger at the family's treatment by the Federal Government.

"The Christmas presents that my family want now is the freedom that we had in the community," Montazer wrote from the Residential Housing Project at Port Augusta, where the family is detained.

"My brothers and sisters don't want any presents this Christmas their presents have already been taken away."

Contacted by the Sunday Mail  at their detention house yesterday, Bakhtiyari sisters Nagina, 12, and Amina, 7, said they felt sad to be leaving Australia.

Nagina, who had just finished packing her bags, said she wanted "to stay here and go to school and have friends and do a lot of things but we don't know what's going to happen".

She paused as she recalled her time at St Aloysius College with her favourite teacher, Jo Weir. "She was the best teacher I ever had - she was warm and nice," Nagina said.

Refugee groups say Montazer's letter is a final desperate attempt to prevent deportation. They say the family's lives are in danger if they return to Pakistan.

The letter was given to lawyer Paul Boylan, who is representing Ali Bakhtiyari, who is detained in Baxter Detention Centre.

He then passed the letter to Montazer's former headmaster at St Ignatius College, Father Greg O'Kelly, who gave a copy to the Sunday Mail.

The Immigration Department has refused to reopen the Bakhtiyaris' case, saying they are not refugees but Pakistani nationals and should voluntarily leave Australia or face deportation.

Last Saturday's dawn raid by Immigration officials on the family's Adelaide home is the latest twist in the long-running saga.

In the letter to Senator Vanstone, Montazer, who is known by his mates as "Monty", recalls the raid and likens it to Nazi Germany.

Father O'Kelly, who is visiting the family today, appealed to Senator Vanstone and Prime Minister John Howard to show some compassion.

"It's no longer an issue of legalities or national identities - it's a question of humanity with regard to the six children who have been integrated into our society," Father O'Kelly said.

"Focus on the children please senator and don't let the official mindset against the Bakhtiyaris distract you from humanity and the needs of the children."

Mr Boylan said the family was "terrified they will be dumped at Karachi Airport".

"This is psychological torture," Mr Boylan said.

Centacare director Dale West said "the family have been asked to pack their warm clothes", adding it was "pretty cold in Karachi".

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone would not say when the family would be deported.

"Arrangements are certainly being made," he said.

"None of the arrangements have been finalised - they are still being worked through and even when they are finalised, it's highly unlikely we will let . . . you know."

He declined to comment about the letter to the media, saying Senator Vanstone would respond formally.
Son's letter begs Vanstone for reprieve

Reproduction of the letter written by Montazer Bakhtiyari to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. With the exception of paragraphing, it is reproduced exactly as written.

Dear Amanda Vanstone,


After years and years of persecution I had never experienced something that happened on Saturday with my family.

This year in school I studied about the German Nazis and how they treated innocent people.

For example walking into peoples room without any permission and take them away with taking their belongings and without saying goodbye to their friends and relatives.

But my studies I was thinking of those people just using my imagination. I never thought in this modern world new century a first class developed country would do the same as what the German Nazis did.

Unfortunate it is very sad for anyone to hear that. Even myself not being Australian I am so embarrassed on myself that I just couldn't believe.

I wonder how many Australians including those that I have never heard of. On Saturday I just thought that was done very badly.

I thought the human beings are nice to each other especially when someone is sleep we would let them sleep. But I never thought that we humans can be very rude and also have no respect not just for adults not just for children and also not just for babies.

The hardest part for me was to see my baby brother being woken up by stranger not even his mum. I thought people not only in Australia all over the world would be gentle with the babies because they are our new generation our future and we would be welcoming them to our beautiful world.

If I tell the story to my 14 month baby brother when he is grown I am sure that he would be very disappointed.

As a Bakhtyiari family we came injured from Afghanistan and the that Australia would be the medication for our injuries.

While I was outside in the community I always asked for Christmas presents. Even the night before I was talking with Dale West about Christmas presents.

When you are a teenager you just want presents for Christmas. We would be so busy opening our presents that we would actually forget the meaning of Christmas.

The meaning of Christmas not just for Christians for everyone is caring for each other, loving and helping the people that needs help. My brothers and sisters don't want any presents this Christmas their presents have already been taken away.

The Christmas presents that my family want now is the Freedom that we had in the community, loving, caring, from others would be the best Christmas present.

My schooling in the community my friends are again an other wish for Christmas same with my sister. Taking the schooling from me and my friends just before Christmas is one of the things that I never will forget in my life. I want every single one of these for my Christmas.

Montazer
Link to the article in The Advertiser

Speculation continues on Bakhtiyaris' deportation

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Sunday, December 26, 2004. 7:50am (AEDT)


There is increasing concern that the asylum-seeking Bakhtiyari family will be deported from Australia today.

The Australian Government has refused the family refugee status and plans to deport the family to Pakistan, although the family continues to argue it is from Afghanistan.

Mother Roqia and her six children were moved to community detention housing at Port Augusta last week, while father Ali is at Baxter Detention Centre.

Dale West, from the Catholic welfare agency Centacare, says the family packed their bags on Christmas Day.

He believes they will be flown out of the country today.

"Exactly how that will happen I think's open to speculation," he said.

"I'd be surprised if the Government went ahead with something that so many people knew about.

"In that context I believe that perhaps a chartered flight from Woomera or some other airport in the region is more likely than the fact that they seem to have been planning to come to Adelaide and go on a Malaysian Airlines flight."

Mr West says he has given up on last minute appeals to the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstrone.

"The Federal Government have made it clear by their public statement and by their actions of last Saturday morning when they came and woke the children and took them from their beds back to the Baxter detention environment that they are hell-bent on deporting this family," he said.

"New information about their origins, appeals for compassion all of those things seem now to be past and it's my view that the family will be deported."

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone says arrangements are being made to deport the family as soon as possible, but would not confirm if that will be today.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1272286.htm

Deportation of Bakhtiyari family at hand

The Age
By Russell Skelton
December 26, 2004


Fresh claims that Roqia Bakhtiyari has been identified as an Afghan national by a relative living in a remote village in Afghanistan's Ghazni province have been discounted by authorities in Kabul.

The high-profile asylum-seeking Bakhtiyari family - Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children - could be deported by the Federal Government as early as today after failing in legal bids over four years to secure refugee status.

Justice for Refugees' South Australia chairman Dr Don McMaster said the Bakhtiyaris had been told to prepare to leave Australia this weekend.

The family claims to be Afghan, but the Government says they are from Pakistan.

Authorities told The Sunday Age that they are investigating claims generated by a man named "Yusef" that he is Roqia's uncle.

Yusef lives in the tiny village of Blo near Jaghuri about 300 kilometres south of Kabul.

But a senior official in the Ministry of the Interior with responsibility for investigating the case said Jaghuri's chief minister, who initially endorsed Yusef's claim, had since admitted that he had never met Roqia or any members of the Bakhtiyari family.

The chief minister said he had only endorsed the claim as a favour to Yusef who had pressured him into endorsing the claim after showing him pictures of Roqia.

Blo is about 600 kilometres from the village where Roqia Bakhtiyari claims she grew up and lived all her life before fleeing to Pakistan with her children and brother Mazhar Ali to escape Taliban persecution. Charkh is in Uruzgan province.

The official, who is responsible for investigating nationality and citizenship issues, said it would be several weeks before investigations would be completed but he said preliminary inquiries cast serious doubt over the claims.

He said a team had already been sent to Shashrestan in Uruzgan province to investigate claims by Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari that they came from Charkh but the team failed to find any evidence to support their claim.

"We spent days looking and found nothing," he said.

The official investigation confirms an earlier Age investigation undertaken in August 2002 that also found no evidence of the Bakhtiyari family ever having lived in Charkh - or anywhere else in that immediate region.

Last week the Afghan Embassy in Canberra announced that the Kazai Government was investigating new claims that Roqia Bakhtiyari was an Afghan national after she had approached the embassy requesting help in establishing her identity as an Afghan.

It is understood the claims referred to by the embassy were made by Yusef and do not relate to Ali or any of the children. He apparently says he knew Roqia when she was a small girl.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the inquiries into Roqia Bakhtiyari's nationality would not delay the decision to deport the family.

"We have written confirmation that the family are nationals from Pakistan. People can have dual nationality," he said.

Under Pakistani law if a Pakistani man marries an Afghan women she is regarded as a Pakistani national.

Meanwhile, lawyers acting for Ali Bakhtiyari have, for the first time, asked the Afghan Embassy to investigate Ali's claim that he is an Afghan national.

The move, which could have been made any time in the past two years, comes only hours before the Bakhtiyari family are to be deported.

- with AAP

Link to the article in The Age

When a family tree casts only shade and doubt

The Age
December 26, 2004


The Bakhtiyaris say they are Afghan refugees, but as Russell Skelton reports, the evidence is patchy, often contradictory, or doesn't exist.

I first became aware of the Bakhtiyari family in 2001, when a welfare worker at the Woomera detention centre - then a place of violence, frustration and rage - told me about an Afghan teenager she had befriended.

The woman told me this boy had arrived at Woomera brimming with optimism but had quickly succumbed to the desperation and manipulative influence of older male detainees.

His name was Alamdar Bakhtiyari. She was deeply troubled by the alarming decline in his emotional state and filed a detailed report to ACM - the US company contracted to run Woomera - requesting intervention.

Alamdar, 12, had suicidal thoughts and had engaged in numerous acts of self-harm, including cutting the word "freedom" in his forearm with a razor blade.

The most distressing moment for the boy had come when he learnt from his mother, Roqia, that his father, Ali, had not been killed by the Taliban but was alive and working in Sydney. The boy could not understand why he could not join him.

While the accounts of Alamdar and his brother Montazer relayed to me by other ACM employees reflected the brutal environment that children were subject to at Woomera, where self-mutilation and attempted suicide were common occurrences, Roqia and her family were also the subject of speculation among other asylum seekers, especially Afghans.

When Roqia and her five children were refused refugee status by the Refugee Review Tribunal on July 26, 2001, after hearing evidence that the family was from Baluchistan, in Pakistan - a region bordering Afghanistan - it confirmed the suspicions of some detainees who had believed all along they were Pakistanis simply seeking a better life in Australia.

Tens of thousands of Hazara Afghans - descendants of the Mongols who settled in Central Asia centuries ago - had fled into Pakistan since the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and had become linguistically indistinguishable from Pakistanis.

There was also considerable speculation about the nature of Roqia's relationship with her younger half-brother, Mazhar Ali, who had chaperoned the family from Pakistan to Jakarta to Darwin by boat in January 2001.

Mazhar Ali mentored Alamdar and Montazer in their father's absence and they bonded closely with him, so much so that both boys told me during an interview over several days at the Baxter detention centre in 2002 that they loved him more than their own father. When Mazhar Ali was deported to Pakistan just days after the interview, the boys became distraught and alienated from their father. I learned later they partially blamed him for Mazhar's removal.

Since his arrival in Pakistan, Mazhar Ali has been in regular contact with Roqia and her lawyers and has apparently devoted himself to finding evidence to establish the family's Afghan history. The Sunday Age understands he has travelled to Shahrestan in Uruzgan province, ironically a region of Afghanistan the Bakhtiyari family said they could never return to. The evidence he has gathered, including a voter registration that can be purchased by any Afghan on the blackmarket for $US20, is inconclusive.

THE first time I saw Alamdar and Montazer was when they scampered behind Sister Brigid Arthur through the foyer of a Collins Street office block early one morning in July 2002 to request political asylum from the British Consulate, in a cynical stunt contrived by refugee activists. The exercise had nothing to do with the welfare of the boys, who had been living in safe houses in Melbourne ever since they escaped from Woomera during a riot, and everything to do with discrediting the Government's policies on mandatory detention.

They had been on the run for weeks, but appeared wiser than their years. I later learnt that Alamdar was suffering acute back pain from an injury he sustained in the escape, and that both boys, distressed at being separated from their mother and sisters, had become unmanageable, refusing to stay indoors.

The stunt captured headlines around the world, but it destroyed any hope of the family ever obtaining refugee status in Australia, and infuriated the Federal Government.

The family's best interests were consumed in the divisive debate that followed as the pro-refugee lobby - a broad church of lawyers, clerics, ALP, Democrat and Green politicians and anything-goes radicals - and the Government waged their arguments through the media.

Then immigration minister Philip Ruddock made his intentions clear, telling ABC radio the day after the Bakhtiyari boys were taken back into custody: "There has been information that the department has received, information from people who have known the family abroad, that they are, in fact, Pakistani . . . That information has been put to Mr Bakhtiyari as part of a process for determining whether or not his visa would be cancelled."

In another interview Mr Ruddock, to the surprise of some in his own department, went further, declaring the family to be Pakistanis and not Afghans.

Within a matter of weeks I found myself and two interpreters sitting on richly coloured rugs among scores of Hazara men in a hostel on the outskirts of Kabul. The men were anxious to help us find a safe route to Charkh, a tiny village in Uruzgan province that Ali and Roqia consistently claimed they had grown up in and from which they fled during the dark days of the Taliban. The men knew Charkh, but had never heard of the Bakhtiyaris.

Before leaving Australia I had interviewed Ali in Sydney at length about where to go and who to interview to verify his story. Speaking through an interpreter, he volunteered the names of people, places and even tea-houses. It has since been claimed by activists, lawyers and minor celebrities who have embraced the Bakhtiyari cause that I and the late Alastair McLeod, a freelance journalist retained by The Australian to make the same trip, went to the wrong place.

I went to Charkh because that was where Ali Bakhtiyari told me he came from and where he directed me to go. It was also where Roqia insisted she came from in her first record of interview and during her appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal. The phrase Ali used in his conversation with me was: "I am from Uruzgan province, Shahrestan district and Charkh village." Nothing could be clearer.

On arriving in Afghanistan I contacted the United Nations, which has the most comprehensive and detailed maps of Afghanistan, and the Afghan transitional government's department of the interior to pinpoint Charkh. There is only one Charkh in Uruzgan and that is where I took a team of experienced interpreters, including one from Time magazine who had covered the war and one from Australia who had worked for Immigration and ACM before quitting in the wake of the Government's refugee policies. Our guide was Mohammad Jan Peicar, a Hazara schoolteacher who had taught in the Charkh Chaprasak district since 1992 and was clearly a respected local figure.

It is now a matter of record that we found no trace of the Bakhtiyaris in Charkh or the district. It is also a matter of record that when Ali Bakhtiyari was confronted with this during a telephone conversation with two of The Sunday Age interpreters and a village elder, he suddenly and quite inexplicably changed his story, claiming that he came first from Charkh Nolije and then Charkh Chaprasak before hanging up. A search of both villages turned up no trace of the Bakhtiyaris.

What is not known is that since my visit, the Karzai Government has dispatched a mission to exactly the same area at the request of migration agents AMPI, representing Roqia Bakhtiyari, and also found no trace of the family ever having lived there or in the district. The Afghan embassy in Canberra has confirmed this.

Last year I went to Baxter and interviewed the Bakhtiyari boys and their father over three days. The boys were disturbed and upset. Alamdar had been classified as a potential runaway and he was showing signs that years of institutionalisation were seriously affecting his emotional state, which I wrote about with Ali's permission.

I also took with me photos of Charkh, of the imam and the village elders for Ali and his family to identify. While I agreed to treat our conversation as off the record until Ali's status in Australia was resolved, I can say I heard nothing from him to persuade me that any of my conclusions had been wrong.

It must be said, and it is something seldom discussed by those campaigning for the release of the Bakhtiyaris, that Roqia has a profound credibility problem. In her record of interview and before the tribunal she contradicted herself on numerous occasions. Much of her account of life in Charkh, such as not knowing the name of the Afghan currency, not knowing the names of nearby towns and not being able to cite the years in the Afghan calendar in which her children were born, was implausible. Indeed, Hazara women I interviewed in Charkh were amused by these claims.

Tribunal member Genevieve Hamilton concluded: "The tribunal as constituted usually avoids commenting on an applicant's overall credibility. But in this case the applicant's credibility was remarkably poor.

"The primary applicant is not an Afghan national. The tribunal is not satisfied that the applicants have a well-founded fear of persecution in Afghanistan."

Surprisingly, Roqia has refused to co-operate in any meaningful way with immigration authorities in their bid to establish her identity. She has, however, approached the Afghan embassy in Canberra to investigate her claim that she is an Afghan national. This will take several weeks to process. To make the issue of her identity even more complicated, a man has mysteriously stepped forward in another remote corner of Afghanistan to claim that he is Roqia's nephew.

It is surprising that Ali and Roqia have brothers and sisters, and in Ali's case a mother, still living in Afghanistan and Iran, yet nobody has been able to locate them, not even the two teams of lawyers acting for the family. Evidence from family members as to their true identity would be overwhelming. Only recently have lawyers for Ali Bakhtiyari approached the Afghan embassy in Canberra for help.

Much of the legal effort waged on behalf of the Baktiyaris has gone into a series of costly legal appeals that have failed, and a campaign to discredit Government claims that they are Pakistani nationals.

Behind the scenes, the tactics have been borderline. On one occasion, an affidavit was sent to The Sunday Age interpreter on the Afghanistan assignment with suggested answers to questions. The same interpreter has also been harassed late at night and early in the morning by an activist closely linked to the Bakhtiyari lawyers urging him to renounce the veracity of his work and reports.

For the record, I have never asserted that the Bakhtiyaris are Pakistanis. In years of researching and exploring their claims, I have never made a definitive statement about their nationality, and there is good reason for that.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan border is porous. At least 5 million people have crossed back and forth across it in a quarter of a century of civil war. I have met Afghans returning to Kabul who have lived and worked in Pakistan for 25 years. Their children speak with Pakistani accents, yet they are accepted without a blink as Afghans.

THE fate of the Bakhtiyaris now rests with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. With all avenues of legal appeal exhausted and an Immigration Act that requires her to remove asylum seekers who have no valid claim for refugee status, plus documentation from the Pakistani Government that the Bakhtiyaris are Pakistani nationals, her options are severely limited.

She could exercise ministerial discretion and grant the family visas on compassionate grounds, acknowledging that they are Pakistani but also that there is plenty of evidence that they have sustained much emotional damage, and the children cannot be held responsible for their parents' mistakes.

But that would be to create not so much a precedent but a new avenue of appeal for hundreds of other cases, many with far more compelling histories. Does the family that comes from the killing fields of Darfur or a Korean family that has arrived in Australia illegally to obtain specialised health care for a terminally ill child have less claim to Australian citizenship than the Bakhtiyaris?

For Senator Vanstone, the issue is also complicated by the fact that the Bakhtiyaris are a reminder - even an emblem - of Mr Ruddock's controversial period as immigration minister, where compromise was regarded as weakness or an admission that the Government's tough stand on mandatory detention was flawed. Senator Vanstone says the decision has been made, but declines to say when the family will be removed to Pakistan.

Link to the article in The Age

Skelton and the Bakhtiyari family

25 Dec 2004
Letter to The Age


My name is Marilyn Shepherd, an independent and unpaid researcher who became interested in the horrible way the Bakhtiyari children had been treated by Australia while in detention, and I have followed the case through all the court cases since July 2002 when the Family court started.

I heard the trauma these children had suffered, the suicide attempts and the desperate fears for their safety and the pleas of lawyers to have them released from a punitive type of detention that was slowly killing them. They were two young boys and I remember seeing the pictures of Monty at Easter and now knowing who that boy was but knowing it was wrong. When the boys were taken from Woomera in June 2002 by cowards and fools I was sickened by the lack of interest in their welfare that was shown by the Australian public and the government. Their plight has further been deemed by Sev Ozdowski to have been cruel, inhuman and degrading and it doesn't get any better.

The subsequent stories in the Australian and the AGE seemed all wrong to me somehow. It was as if the journalists felt thwarted in their quest so they decided to vilify the family as liars and frauds. It always struck me as odd that these journalists could get into the centre of Oruzgan when food aid convoys could not and when all the reports showed there was no functioning road, which is why the food convoys could not get in. I had cut the map drawn by the Australian and published on 26 July 2002, obviously the one I have referred to and the one Bob Ellis also was referring too, and the subsequent maps which show that McLeod was only barely inside Oruzgan and in fact was close to the Bamian border.

The map produced in the AGE of 23 August [2002] shows that Skelton went to the same place but shows that while the Australian couldn't find any town called Nolije, Skelton did but I cannot. I have searched hundreds of maps since then and still cannot find it. I also cannot understand why the Australian went to the left of the village they call Charkh and Skelton went right but claims to have been in the same place. I have pointed out the maps to Skelton many times including sending them by fax to him from the Adelaide office of the AGE at 13.59pm on the 21st December. Included in that was a map showing clearly a village called Quetta in Afghanistan and I have the fax transmission sheet.

I sent the copies of the maps to Andra Jackson and Meagan Shaw on the day I was interviewed by Andra for the article appearing in the AGE last Monday.

Sadly for the Bakhtiyari family Russell has now confirmed that he was with Ali the day the map was drawn, which includes the teashop at the border of Ghazni and Oruzgan in the centre of Afghanistan. I feel sure the archives of the Australian and the AGE will find those maps and then ask why Russell would send Ministry of the Interior officials to the same wrong place and expect them to confirm the presence of a family who have never been there.

I have also attended all the court cases for Ali Bakhtiyari and heard the following in the cases of SHJB and STKB, easily accessible on the Austill website to confirm.

At the first case if was acknowledged by Justice Selway that the evidence from Pakistan was negligible, that information from 2 eyewitnesses from Afghanistan was ignored, the two language tests from experts accepted by the Federal court stated clearly that Ali and Roqia both only spoke Afghan Hazaragi, that the governor of Shahrestan province had confirmed the family's Afghan origins in September 2002, three months before his visa was cancelled and that what was relied on was unsubstantiated and untested reports in the newspapers. The member was also given Ali's official Taskara which Justice Hayne could not find to be considered anything but genuine as recently as 13 December. In fact, as Andra Jackson has reported Justice Hayne stated clearly, I was in the court, that there is an arguable case that the family are all Afghan citizens as they claim.

Ali lost the appeal because the privative clause does not allow for the review of facts, only for the review of judicial error. As I have said it is easily verified on the legal cases website.

Having done that last year I searched on the Refugee Review Tribunal website using the word "cancel" to see how many Afghan refugees had their visas cancelled. I figured if the reports were correct there would be about 700 of them trying to get visas back. Imagine my shock when I only found a handful. The first was in February 2003 when RRT member Chris Keher decided the visa had been illegally cancelled, it seems the refugee did not receive the notice of intent to cancel.

Then there was one with Kim Rosser in April 2003 where she was pretty certain that dobbers should not be given much credence and that the picture on the so-called Pakistani document was brighter and newer than the rest of the thing and in any case it was only a photo copy, the refugee had never had it in his hands, never used it and did not know the person. He got his visa back.

In May 2003 member Giles Short had another one and again the Pakistani documents were discarded as smugglers documents but not the applicants documents. October 2003 saw Bruce McCarthy decide again in favour of the refugee because he deemed the documents to be false, and in October this year another one came up and used Ali's case SHJB to prove this cancellation was false - Mila Males finally was the one who wondered out loud who it was that was making the leap of faith to match documents with different names and family members to particular refugees and why. It was published in full on Margo Kingston's webdiary the day after I found it.

It should be pointed out that Giles Short was the second RRT member to see Ali's case and conceded that the picture on the document could not safely be stated to be the applicant. This was also aired in the full federal court case which I attended this year.

Having seen the documents used against Ali I can say they are in a different name, it is just a photocopy from something, it is unsigned, unauthenticated and has no wetstamp on it, just as Kim Rosser described in her case. It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 10 2004 that Penelope Debelle has investigated these documents and had expert advice from Hassan Ghulam and this was published again in the AGE after the dawn raid on the family last weekend.

Senator Bartlett has questioned the RRT extensively over these Pakistani documents over the last year, largely at my behest, and discovered that the RRT routinely throw even genuine Afghan documents in the bin but they know the Pakistani documents are false, just old smugglers documents photocopied and sent to Canberra from Indonesia. Again readily available in the estimates transcripts of 27 May 2004.

It has also been extensively reported that the lawyers, with whom I have no official status at all as I informed Russell this week, that the governors of Shahrestan and Jaghouri have confirmed the family are from those districts, that Mahzar Ali has been interviewed by the Norwegian Refugee council who would have no reason to lie to the authorities here or there and that they have seen his voter registration card, British library records that Ali's father was in the Afghan Hazara pioneers and other official documents.

I believe these are with the Afghan embassy, along with the Pakistani documents well known now to be bogus and not Ali Bakhtiyari. They have also been lodged with the UN for judgement.

Earlier this year I phoned the interpreter whom Russell Skelton took to Afghanistan and he willingly provided the information that he was in Woomera working with ACM and was with Alamdar when he drew somewhat spontaneously the terrible picture of the Taliban cutting off his friends head. The interpreter told me absolutely that the family were Afghani and all I did was describe the maps to him suggesting they were in entirely the wrong place and told him the information that I had heard in the courts. I was astonished recently to find his CV stating that his trip with Skelton to Afghanistan was for the purpose of "giving project advice to the people of Charkh" and that he simultaneously worked for a number of different groups including DIMA [Australian Department of Immigration].

Dr Marie O'Niell, the ACM psychologist was also with them and gave extensive evidence to the HREOC hearings in July 2002, again that is readily available on the Human Rights website for anyone who cares to look.

I was left with the impression the interpreter was a truly good and decent man and certainly Roqia and the children think of him very fondly, he shares a name with Roqia's surviving uncle who lives in Jaghouri.

Now we get to Roqia and I don't understand what Skelton is doing or saying about her. The only "evidence" before Hamilton was the language analysis that said she spoke Dari Hazaragi with an Urdu accent. Roqia finds it highly amusing that she could possibly speak any language with an Urdu accent as Urdu is not an accent it is a language she cannot speak. Iranian friends and carers for the family have repeatedly stated that Roqia does not speak Urdu at all, and this was also reported in the AGE at the time the boys were turned into the British consulate.

Before the computer crashed in August 2002 and wiped out many RRT decisions Roqia's was available and I read it over and over again. The language test claims she speaks Herawi so I asked some Afghan friends what Herawi was and was told it does not exist. Again it was off to the google and sure enough it doesn't exist, anyone could do such simple tasks and come up with the same answer. Even if it meant Herati, that is a dialect spoken only in Herat in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan. In any case the AGE has reported extensively that the tests are discredited on every level and the courts deemed many cases to be incorrect when they only hang on the tests.

The AGE has also used quotes from the first lawyer, and I have used them myself in letters, that it could not be said the applicant was a national of Afghanistan but nor could it be said she was a national of Pakistan. In many other cases the benefit of the doubt was given to the applicant if that was the major evidence. I remember reading as well that the same test said Roqia's brother is from Afghanistan.

It is outrageous to me as a close friend of this family that on the eve of the wrongful deportation by force to the wrong country Skelton would still seek to be self-serving and hope that the distortions will go unchallenged. Maybe Russell should have asked Roqia at some point about Mahzar Ali and he would find out that he is Roqia's brother and he has recently sent photos from Afghanistan that I have seen. Their mother looks just like Mahzar and is alive and well in what is left of the village of Chaqu in central Oruzgan. The area is still drought stricken as Russell noted in 2002 but it wasn't in 1998 when the family left there. All that is left standing is a house or two, a few stringy old cows and scraggly ducks. Ali's mother was there, Roqia's mother and much younger brother and sister.

As Roqia is the oldest at just 34 it would be impossible to have an adult nephew, but I can state under oath that I was with Roqia when her uncle rang from Jaghouri to say that officials, including a white person, had shown her photo and it has been verified. If Russell had interviewed Roqia as I suggested on Tuesday he would know that her father was Yusef and that he died about 3½ years ago.

If Russell stopped relying on people no-one can question like Jan Peicar, and concentrated more on reading the investigations carried out by his colleagues, if he spoke to Roqia who speaks English with a beautiful soft Afghan accent and simply asked her maybe this family would not be in the mess they are now.

There is no value in saying that Peicar was a teacher in Charkh as the children didn't go to school, and it is a bit like asking us to accept that a teacher in the south of SA should be able to identify a student in the north based on nothing but a photo.

Variously over the past two years the Murdoch and Fairfax media have claimed that Ali Bakhtiyari, simple and illiterate farmer from Afghanistan is Haja Ali Asighar, fitter from Kuwait or Pakistan or Iran or Ali Bakhtiyari or Asghar Ali or Skelton's claim in September 2002, Haji Asquar from Saudi Arabia. If this simple farmer was such a wealthy plumber/electrician/gasfitter/shopowner from Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, depending on the day and month, surely he would not have to claim he is a simple Afghan refugee.

He would have been a welcome rich migrant and asked to "jump the queue" with his wife and children who would surely have been literate as well when they arrived. Roqia proudly showed me in September that she had just learnt to sign her name and was wanting to get the records from the government to explain how her little baby could have been registered as a Pakistani national while she and Ali maintain they are Afghans and have been in detention the entire time.

The request was sent in September by the lawyers at her request and with my assistance, I readily acknowledge that and to date Roqia has not received an answer.

Perhaps Russell would like to visit the ChilOut site and read the terrible report of the raid on the house, read how the little one was left in her own urine all the way to Port Augusta, how the oldest girl was gripped by the arms and marched out to the car and how the baby was not allowed a nappy change or a bottle. He could read the long statement issued by Nick Poynder showing the Afghan evidence collected and then ask this.

"If the Pakistani ID has been deemed to be false and reported to the government in June, the so-called children's ID is false as it is based on his false ID alone there is no longer any basis for the Pakistani claims. I saw the letter handed to the High Court and there is nothing on it so show a photo registration of the baby or permission from the parents, indeed Justice Hayne appeared to set it aside as irrelevant.

Another search shows that the Pakistani government are very fussy and require many photos, written permission from the husband or father of the mother, and that all members of the family must have their own ID number.

This is not an opinion piece, it is a piece I have written many times, which Skelton seems to have read when he questioned me about it. It is based entirely on internet research, attendance at the many futile court cases and a deep and abiding love for a family who have been badly wronged by my Government and the media.

The government could have avoided all the court cases for Roqia and the children, could have saved taxpayers about $13 million in detention costs, could have saved the physical and mental health of 5 young children and avoided one scandal after the other if they had only had the decency to tell her Ali was here. Every single other mother who came later was released years ago and many of them are now permanent residents of Australia having done the same as Roqia.

Indeed as Ali's visa ran out on August 2003 it seems deranged that they cancelled it in December 2002, three months after they had Afghan verification and almost 3 years after he was ASIO cleared, to subject Ali to the two MRT hearings I have found, 2 RRT hearings that I attended the court for, three hearings in the federal court to prevent his transfer to Baxter, 2 further federal court cases and two Full Federal court hearings and a High court appeal and the children to the Family court and the subsequent High court and almost 4 years in detention.

Smugglers who brought Roqia and the children were sent back to Indonesia in 2002 after a short stint in prison but Roqia has been locked up for 4 years based on nothing more than a language that doesn't exist supplied by a discredited company and a lack of knowledge of a calendar. A calendar is utterly useless to an illiterate woman and it has been accepted time and again that the human rights violations against women in Afghanistan are grotesque. Little wonder they won't talk about them.

Sadness, grief, pain and sorrow are my chief feelings as I read Skelton's latest article. I am the person he refers to rather obliquely so I know he received the fax. In the fax I demanded he not quote me as he had said he would. It is sad that he had the evidence in his hands to show clearly the journalists were in the wrong place, probably by accident, and chose to ignore it.

The children will continue to suffer, if sent to either Pakistan or Afghanistan Nagina will be forced to marry at 13 or so, have babies one after the other, be denied any education or rights and so will the other two girls. Their thirst for education and knowledge will wither on the vine of trying to survive with nothing of their own and the hopeful belief that he could be a lawyer will die unborn for Monty, Alamdar's engineering dream will go the same way, down the drain.

And it could have been avoided if the government had told Roqia in February 2001 that Ali was here. A point acknowledged by the government in the High Court and in subsequent statements has been "if you come without authority you don't have family reunion", which in the final analysis is what it was all about.

Thank you Russell for showing us all how ugly we are, and thank you Fairfax for allowing Russell to continue publishing statements that can never be checked. The poor lawyers here simply cannot afford the wild goose chase required to do what Fairfax could.

Marilyn Shepherd
Kensington SA

See also this page | First Bakhtiyari Report | Second Bakhtiyari Report | Deportation Report
Read more ...

Friday, December 24, 2004

Baxter hunger strike reaches medical emergency stage - and ends for Arabs

Narrogin WA, 24 Dec 2004, 9:30am - (from today's Press Release) Reports of the sixteen hunger strikers, although the wording is minimal, indicate that the strike has reached a stage where critical organs start to be damaged beyond recovery. A supporter in Port Augusta wrote yesterday evening: "I just received a message from a hunger striker in Baxter saying that people were now very weak and some vomiting and passing blood in their urine."

Amongst the Iranian men are now those who pass blood in their urine, in addition to a general weakness - even people who had just returned from the hospital in Port Augusta had to be assisted to sit up to ingest water.

Conditions related to advanced stages of a hunger strike include "vertigo" and "dizziness" as a result of the body generally weakening, but also as a result of problems with so-called "ocular mobility" (eye movements). The fact that some of the hunger strikers now start to vomit is an indication of the strikers having reached the "advanced stage".

(For more information: below is an excerpt of a document about implications of a hunger strike for medical professionals by The World Medical Association and a link to the full document in PDF format [157 kB]. This document also outlines the International Rights of Hunger strikers, medically as well as politically and socially)

"All of the circumstances of the hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre feel like a deja-vue of the drama last year at Christmas time on Nauru".

"We have some of the same ingredients as during the hunger strike on Nauru, but this time there is more: there is detention in a maximum security facility, there is silence about and dismissal of this medical emergency by officials in DIMIA, and within the convenience of another issue - the likely pending deportation of the Bakjhtiyari family - a silence from the Minister about the fact that sixteen men who should never have been in this prison, are prepared to continue with an extremely serious hunger strike about the grave human rights breaches we inflict on these men."

"There is an almost unbelievable hypocrisy in the fact that foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock released their UN Human Rights report yesterday and claimed that it shows Australia's forward looking commitment to the International Declaration of Human Rights. Both Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock should consult an eye specialist, because on this Christmas Eve, they do not see the wooden beam in their own eyes, and they should take Amanda Vanstone with them." [See the AAP report here]

The phases of a hunger strike

The first week

• fasting generally well supported, as long as water intake is sufficient
• hunger pangs and stomach cramps disappear after the 2nd - 3rd day

After 15 - 18 days

• the hunger striker suffers from dizziness and "feeling faint"
• severe ataxia (inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements)
• standing up may become difficult to impossible
• bradycardia (slowing of heartbeat)
• orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up, often with faintness, dizziness, and vision problems)
• "lightheadedness" or inversely "mental sluggishness"
• sensation of cold
• general sensation of weakness
• fits of hiccoughs
• loss of the sensation of thirst

At the end of the first month, symptoms may be severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. Hydration needs to be particularly monitored. Too much supplement of NaCl (Sodium) may lead to hypokalemia (low level of potassium in blood).

Between 35 - 42 days

• troubles of ocular mobility (eye movements) due to progressive paralysis of the oculo-motor muscles:

• ==> uncontrollable nystagmus (rapid, involuntary, oscillatory motion of the eyeball)
• ==> diplopia (double vision)
• ==> extremely unpleasant sensations of vertigo
• ==> incoercible vomiting
• ==> extremely difficult to swallow water
• ==> converging strabismus (inability to focus :: cannot attain binocular vision)

This has been described as the most unpleasant phase by those who have survived prolonged fasting, and is the phase most dreaded by potential hunger strikers.

One week after the « ocular » phase

• once paralysis of the oculo-motor muscles is total ==> nystagmus ceases and with it all associated problems (vertigo, vomiting...)

From ~ 42 days onward

• progressive asthenia (physical weakening)
• torpitude (exist in a sleeping state)
• increasiningly confused state
• concentration becomes difficult or impossible
• somnolent state (in sleep state)
• anosognosia (ignorance of the presence of disease, especially of paralysis)
• indifference to surroundings
• incoherence

a PDF documentDownload this document - an outline and explanation of the implications and ethics surrounding hunger strikes - from its original location at The World Medical Association website at http://www.wma.net/e/humanrights/pdf/hunger_strikes.pdf

In the Spirit of Christmas

Media Release
on behalf of
Juliana Qian, Richmond VIC
[phone number inserted]


Juliana at Flinders Street Station om MelbourneThis Christmas, Melburnians Juliana Qian and Emily Smith will not be joining their families for the usual celebratory feasts.

Instead, they will be engaged in a 24-hour hunger strike in solidarity with the Iranian detainees at Baxter Detention Center, of whom sixteen men have been refusing food for close to three weeks now. This is only part of the ongoing crisis at Baxter, which recently has included lip-stitching and rooftop protests.

Ms Smith and Ms Qian will fast until 10pm Christmas Day, spending the last twelve hours of their hunger strike at Flinders St Station in Melbourne's CBD.

Seventeen-year-old Juliana Qian says, "I want to show my support to the detainees, and to draw attention to their situation. Many Iranians have been detained in Australia for four or five years. There is much evidence to suggest these detainees would be persecuted if deported to Iran. While I don't encourage anyone in detention to participate in self-injury, I understand this is a desperate act committed by distressed people."

"In the spirit of Christmas, in the spirit of hope and compassion, in a time reserved for joy, I ask the Australian people to remember those suffering. In particular, I ask Senator Amanda Vanstone to consider the plight of these people and review their cases."

Ms Qian, an active member of Amnesty International and an executive member of the United Nations Youth Association, compares the experience of asylum seekers in Australia to that of a famous family two thousand years ago. She says, "Mary and Joseph took refuge in Egypt when they feared for Jesus' life at the hands of Herod. They were not locked behind razor wire indefinitely."

"I wonder what would have happened to them under the current government policy of mandatory detention."

Media representatives are welcome at their location, between 10am and 10pm under the clocks at Flinders St Station. Ms Qian and Ms Smith are also available for comment via mobile phone.

For more information: Juliana Qian [phone number inserted]

photo one | photo two | photo three

'Free refugees for Xmas': Bartlett

news.com.au
December 24, 2004


FORMER Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett has urged the Government to free detained asylum seekers as a gesture of Christmas goodwill.

Senator Bartlett, who fasted for three days this week to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers, said Prime Minister John Howard should act on his own Christmas message to Australian people and not forget those less fortunate.

The Prime Minister was right in saying Christmas could be a time of stress and loneliness for some people, he said.

"He can do his own bit to reduce some of that stress by freeing the innocent people he has kept locked up in detention for over five years and allowing refugees in Australia to reunite with their families," Senator Bartlett said in a statement.

"Christmas is the ideal time to acknowledge that doing what we can to end suffering is more important than being seen to be right or wrong in a policy debate."

Senator Bartlett said the Government could easily free these people tomorrow and end their suffering without admitting it was wrong or setting any legal precedent.

There had been a drop in the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia - although he disagreed with how that was achieved.

"While there will always be debate about how best to deal with asylum seekers, there can be no question that these people have suffered enough," he said.

AAP

Link to the article in The Age

Hunger strike may end tomorrow

The Herald Sun
24dec04


SOME Iranian asylum seekers at the Baxter detention centre are believed to have agreed to end their hunger strike tomorrow, the Immigration Department said today.

But refugee advocates claim the protest action has reached crisis point, with some 16 detainees still refusing food at the facility in northern South Australi.

An Immigration Department spokesman said it was believed some of the hunger strikers would end their protest tomorrow.

The department welcomed the development and urged other hunger strikers to do the same, he said.

The Government did not negotiate a deal with individuals to end hunger strikes.

Advocates say that at one stage 27 Iranian detainees were involved in the protest.

Jack Smit, from Project SafeCom, said reports from inside Baxter indicated some detainees were weak, vomiting and passing blood in their urine.

Mr Smit said the Iranians, whom the Government says are not refugees, were prepared to continue the hunger strike indefinitely.

Link to the Herald Sun

Iranian-Arab Hunger strikers write to PM

The Arab-Iranian Detainees
Baxter IDF
Locked Bag
Pt Augusta SA 5700

The Hon. John Howard
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2606

Cc Senator Amanda Vanstone
Minister for Immigration
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2606

Ms Kaye Kennis
Manager, DIMIA
Baxter IDF
Pt Augusta SA 5700

23 December 2004

Dear Prime Minister,


You may or may not have been informed that we, the Iranian detainees of Arab ethnicity, have suffered a hunger strike for the past 16 days. Our life is not worth living in this terrible place and we hope that you may consider our situation with compassion as we approach the Christmas season.

We have thought much about the spirit of Christmas and how families and communities come together in celebration of kindness and peace. We miss our families and our mind cannot find peace, but we do not wish to disturb the Australian people with our sorrow. We want to respect your tradition and show kindness to those who are troubled by our deteriorating health. We want to thank all those who supported and cared for us and gave us strength of mind to endure.

We also listened to their plea for us to end the hunger strike and have therefore decided to start eating again on Christmas Day as a sign of our good will and friendship.

It saddens us that you have chosen to ignore until now all the information about us Arab-Iranians which we and our friends have provided to you, your Minister and her Department. We have demonstrated that our Arab minority suffers disadvantages and persecution in Iran and that, no matter what our individual situation, we all had to flee home because we were striving for more freedom and justice for our people. We are real and genuine refugees.

It is unconscionable that we are not allowed to submit this information or that DIMIA and the Australian courts should not be permitted to consider it, contrary to other civilized countries. How can we prove our case when the authorities will not acknowledge the independent information we have provided?

The fact alone that we rather endure hardship and imprisonment for many years and that we continue to resist the offer of 'repatriation' and the threats of 'removal' shows you clearly that we simply cannot return to Iran where we would suffer torture, prison and possibly death.

In the spirit of Christmas and peace, we sincerely ask you to allow us to present our documents and cases for consideration. We do not wish to disturb your celebrations but we ask you to please help us in our hopeless situation.

With the best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,

Yours respectfully

The Arab-Iranian Detainees at Baxter

A message from Baxter

relayed by phone
24 Dec 2004, 17:30pm WST


On behalf of all people in detention, we wish to thank everyone so much for your support.

Thanks to Senator Andrew Bartlett, Corinne Grant & Arnie Zable and everyone who supported us during the hunger strike.

We will see in the New Year and ask the members of Parliament, DIMIA, Minister Amanda Vanstone and Prime Minister John Howard to directly look at our cases.

We cannot go back and we are very suffering. Our message to everyone at this time, to all the Australian people:

"Merry Christmas and Happy New Year".
Baxter Detention Centre


NOTE: this message was written for the 10 or 11 Ahwaz Arab-Iranians who had been on the hunger strike. Later reports have confirmed that another 2-5 Iranians, some of whom are in the "management unit" have not given up their action and are still on the hunger strike.

Baxter detainees end hunger strike

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Saturday, December 25, 2004. 6:24pm (AEDT)


Ten detainees at the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia have ended their hunger strike.

Some of the detainees have gone more than two weeks without food.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department says it appears the protest action has ended after the detainees said they would resume eating normally on Christmas Day.

He says the detainees were seen to be eating normally at Christmas lunch.

Spokeswoman for the group Rural Australians for Refugees, Kathy Verran, says the asylum seekers in the main compound stopped the hunger strike out of respect for Christmas.

Ms Verran says most of the hunger strikers have been in detention for years.

"And I think they see just years ahead of continuing detention and don't believe that they can return to their home countries because of fear of persecution and death," she said.

'We've had the continuing hunger strikes and unrest within detention centres for quite a long time now and I don't see that that's going to end easily."

Ms Verran says while 10 detainees stopped the hunger strike out of respect for Christmas, they have information that two more detainees are continuing.

"All of them have been in there for years they're absolutely exhausted and don't know what's going to happen to them what's going to be the outcome for them," she said.

"My concern is that we may see continuations of some of the unrest."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1272218.htm

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas in the wilderness, keeping Howard intact: Bakhtiaris

Narrogin WA, 21 Dec 00:25 - So it's true then. The Bakhtiaris may soon be expelled to Pakistan in the dark of night, to a country they don't know anything about, whose language Roqia does not speak. All of these silly and upsetting, traumatising enemy and war games, just to feed the Canberra gang, who, right until the end, want to persist in the suggestions, fed by Mr Ruddock to the Australian public and to the media, when Alan Ramsey knew about the case details as intimately as someone who has the DIMIA file parked next to him on the writing desk, when Russell Skelton found "the truth" about Ali Bakhtiari when .... anyway, read on and see the Trial by Media come apart below.

For the rest of the decade and well into the next decade, the Bakhtiary case may well haunt the Howard government, and I for one hope it does; I hope it haunts Mr Ruddock (fat chance, his feeling department is so minuscule, he will not register), I hope it haunts Ms Vanstone, PM John Howard, all the liberals who have not raised one finger for more than two years at the lies and cover-ups, including those in the ALP who let lies exist, because it didn't interfere with their political careers. The stench of this issue will be in the records of this country, and you've smeared Australia with an abysmal disgrace, and this story will be recorded for all in the world to see. May you feel very, very unwell whenever you encounter this stench, because it's yours, and yours alone.

You know, there's a reasonable chance we'll see Monty or Alamdar back in Australia, when they come back to bomb the living daylights out of some target in our country as members of a terrorist group. Please guys, can you start with Baxter? Course, they would. Much obliged, Sir. Any offices of DIMIA? Adelaide perhaps, that office we hate with a vengeance? Or the Port Augusta police lock-up?

It's a bit like the sick dark joke I have stored away, somewhere in the back of my mind. It goes like this: Three guys sit in a pub somewhere in the Middle East. One says to another: "Hey man, where did you get your real training - you know [wink-wink], the real training?". Number two replies: "Bora Bora Mountains". The first guy shares he has been there as well. Conversation develops. Guy number three stays silent.

"Come on man, what about you. Where did you get the real stuff, you know - the hard-core thing. You're not saying? Come on, no-way, you can't do that. Fess up. Where?"

"Ummmm, errrr, well, it's a place in Australia. It's called Woomera. And the guy in charge is Ruddock, but later on they had this big lady, waddling around..."

The Bakhtiyari Files

Hundreds of news articles have appeared in Australian and International media about the Bakhtiari family since Andrew West revealed the story of the family in the Sun-Herald in February 2002, shortly after their uncle, the now deported "crown witness", clearly a Hazara from Afghanistan, jumped on the razor wire at Woomera. At Project SafeCom, we collected them all (well, most of them). They are brought together in four WORD documents, zipped up for security from viruses. Simply use the "Right-click, Save As" command of your mouse on the images or on the linked text.

No biographies have been written about John Howard. But I expect a book about the Bakhtiaris, and another one, and another one. Have they signed consent papers for their deportation? No? Well, that keeps the road open for an International Court case against the Howard government.

Farewell Monty, farewell Alamdar. Farewell, Roqia. Farewell Ali, hope you start talking again and smiling again. Farewell to all you kids - keep forgetting your names. Turn around once more please. Just to say "goodbye, good riddance, Australia."

And to all those so-called "investigative journalists" who fed the mill of dis- and mis-information - you all should be de-registered by your professional bodies and stripped of any previous awards you hold. Have you ever thought it fit to apologize to the Bakhtiari family? Where were your comments when it was left to Sara Shephen of Green Left Weekly (article also on our website here) to unravel some of the spin and grave errors you made?

Thank you to The Age today. At least your good-bye gifts were beautiful, and you went out of your way, once the Bakhtiaris were also on their way: spot my wry smile....

Mary Crock: Tragedy of a common man

by Professor Mary Crock
Faculty of Law
University of Sydney


23 December 2004

The saga of the Bakhtiyari family's attempts to gain protection in Australia as refugees has been a long and tortuous one. A great many legal challenges have been made on behalf of the family (20 by some accounts) -- all without success. The failures make the task of advocating clemency for the family a difficult one. Mondays' editorial in The Australian describes the case as a 'kind of lightning-rod for the politics of asylum-seekers under the Howard Government'. The very fact that those in government are now referring to the family openly by name underscores the extent to which they have been excluded from the conventions and protections of the refugee system. Whether the family stays or goes, it is my personal view that the family's story provides a vivid illustration of the very worst aspects of the laws, policies and procedures that govern Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

This is not because the Bakhtiyaris are unusual. On the contrary, their story is archetypical of the stories of many Hazara asylum seekers who have sought protection in Australia in recent years.

Ali Bakhtiyari is in many respects the Australian refugee embodiment of the common man. He left his home (the location of which is disputed) in search of a better, safer life for his young family. Changes to Australia's laws in 1999 meant that recognition as a refugee no longer brought with it the right to sponsor family through regular migration channels. This is why he took the risky decision to engage people smugglers to have Roqia and their five children follow in his footsteps. It seems doubtful that Roqia knew where she was being taken. She certainly arrived in Australia without knowledge of the fact that Ali had made it to Australia, or that he had been accepted as a refugee.

In spite of the length, danger and ardors of their journey, Roqia and the children faced the same reception as their husband and father. They were taken into immigration detention at Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia. Here again, the family received 'standard' treatment. Asylum seekers who arrive without visas are questioned to see whether they have a 'protection claim' as refugees. This involves detainees being asked a series of questions about their origins and motives for leaving a country. Access to legal advice is only afforded to those who answer the questions posed in a way that suggests that the respondent might meet the UN Convention definition of refugee. The central problem is that the system assumes that the person interviewed understands the significance of the questions being asked so that they can make out a case for protection. In her 'screening in' interview (as this process is known), Roqia clearly had no notion of why she was being asked the questions put to her and had no inkling of the dire consequences of her failure to respond.

Upon her arrival, Mrs Bakhtiyari was not informed of her husband's presence in the country, and no reference was made to his claims in the assessment of her case. Australia does not recognize the concept of 'derivative refugee status' in cases like these: separated families cannot use the claims of family members as a basis for their own refugee status. Roqia's account of being a fugitive from Afghanistan was disbelieved because of her inability to recognize Afghan currency shown to her, or to describe key aspects of the geography and political structures of the region from which she claimed to have come. Few concessions appear to have been made for the educational and cultural constraints on Afghani women living in the shadow of the Taliban.

It is worth noting at this point that in late 2001 interviews at the Woomera detention centre were conducted in circumstances that can only be described as extremely stressful -- both for the detainees and for their interlocutors. Indeed, the physical and psychological conditions in the detention centres during the period in question could scarcely be described as conducive to any form of quality fact-finding or decision-making. One departmental officer involved in the processing of these cases made the allegation to me that Mrs Bakhtiyari's confusion over Afghan currency stemmed from the fact that she was shown money that would have been unfamiliar to her because it came from a part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance.

Roqia Bakhtiyari was interviewed a second time, and was better prepared. However, the damage had been done: her more accurate answers on the second occasion were dismissed as the result of 'coaching' from other detainees.

Roqia and the children were not the only women and children left to languish in detention, their claims rejected in spite of the existence of husbands and fathers in Australia who had been recognized as refugees. If their plight was 'ordinary', two events intervened to catapult the family into the public eye. The first was the highly publicized escape of Roqia's two sons, Almadar and Montazar, from Woomera detention centre and their adoption as a cause célèbre by refugee advocates. The second was the publication by The Australian newspaper of an article by a freelance journalist who had traveled to Afghanistan to 'check out' the Bakhtiyari's claims.

After their escape from Woomera, the Bakhtiyari boys became instant icons for those wishing to protest against the inhumanity of immigration detention in general and the detention of children in particular. The two young boys brought home the reality of mandatory detention. No longer nameless, faceless and hidden away in the Australian desert, Alamdar and Montazer Bakhtyari's tearful young faces were beamed into every home as they were turned away from the British consulate where they sought asylum. They became a reminder that there are innocent children locked up behind razor wire and that families have been divided by a policy that can allow some members to be recognized as refugees while others languish for years in desert camps.

The Bakhtyaris brought the ordinary injustice of Australia's laws and policies into Australian homes. The Department of Immigration retaliated by going into damage control mode. The authorities moved to deflect criticism from a cruel system by focusing attention on the faults of the family. Roqia's failure to persuade the decision makers of her Afghani origins became the focus for discrediting Ali and the family as a whole. Ali's refugee status was revoked and he was placed back in detention.

The story by freelance journalist, Alistair McLeod featured on the front page of The Australian in mid August 2002 together with a large photograph of an Hazara man looking quizzically at a picture of Ali Bakhtiyari. The family might have once lived in the village of Charkh, it was alleged, but they had not been seen in the area for about 20 years. Sadly, the journalist was killed a short time after the publication of this article in a car accident. Any chance of cross-examining the author as to the accuracy of his account died with him. Later assertions that the journalist had visited the wrong village or had otherwise erred have been rejected at every level, in spite of the family obtaining a large body of evidence to show that they are from where they claimed. The media focus turned predictably from the fate of children in immigration detention to Ali Bakhtyari's identity.

Once this story broke on the front page of The Australian, any hope of leniency for the Bakhtyari family seems to have evaporated. If it was not possible for the family to sway the Refugee Review Tribunal that there had been a miscarriage of justice, it was never going to be easy to persuade the courts that an 'error of law' had been committed. The family were marked as rogues. Their refusal to lie down and submit to their fate only confirmed the views of public and officialdom alike.

The Bakhtyaris assert that they have proof that they are from Afghanistan and strongly contest their vilification as mendacious opportunists. The number and voice of their supporters in the community suggest that while the government (and Labor's Laurie Ferguson) are unmoved, many ordinary Australians have been touched by the family's plight.

As a refugee lawyer, I am personally mystified by the focus that has been placed on the truth or otherwise of the family's country of origin. The family are indisputably Hazara. Indeed, when I first saw Alistair MacLeod's August 2002 article I was struck by the physical resemblance between the man photographed in Charkh and Ali Bakhtiyari. (I even wondered briefly whether the two were related) If the Hazaras have suffered in Afghanistan, they have not received (and are not receiving) brilliant treatment. If the Bakhtyaris did hail from Quetta in Pakistan, there is strong evidence that Pakistan is not safe for Hazaras. Many Hazaras have been killed in Quetta in recent years (and months). I would have thought that the Bakhtyari family's fame could place them in real and present danger. The children could well be at particular risk of being kidnapped or abused. This should be enough to engage a compassionate response even if the authorities are not moved to acknowledge status as refugees.

In point of fact, the family has been able to produce fairly conclusive evidence in recent weeks that they are in fact from Afghanistan. Barrister and advocate for the family, Nick Poynder, provides the following commentary on the material now before the Minister for immigration:

In about December 2003/January 2004 Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother, Mazhar Ali, was deported to Pakistan. He and his Australian escorts were initially refused entry into Pakistan, but after some discussion he was allowed to enter Pakistan, from where (surprise surprise) he returned to his home in Afghanistan. Mr Ali collected a number of letters and documents to prove that the Bakhtiyari family was from that village. These included:

• Confirmation from the District Governor that Mrs Bakhtiyari and her family are Afghan citizens.

• Confirmation of the Governor of the Province in relation to Mr Bakhtiyari's origin.

• Confirmation from the residence of a local mosque that Mr and Mrs Bakhtiyari are from the district.

• Document from the Transitional Islamic Government of Afghanistan containing confirmation from a representative of the village confirming the residency of the relatives of Mazar Ali. The document also contains confirmation from the local high school that Mazar Ali is from the village.

• Confirmation from an Acting District Governor that Mr and Mrs Bakhtiyari are Afghan citizens.

These documents were provided to the Minister's office on 8 June 2004. No substantive response has yet been received.

Then in July/August 2004 Mazar Ali travelled to Kabul and met a guy called Simon Russell, who has been working in Afghanistan with the Norwegian Refugee Council since December 2002. On 17 September 2004 Mr Russell provided a statement confirming that Mazar Ali is without doubt is a Hazara from the central region of Afghanistan. This was apparently provided to the Minister only a few weeks ago; again no response.

From what I understand of Afghanistan, it is not surprising that there has been confusion over the identification of the village. However the fact remains that Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother is from Afghanistan, ergo Mrs Bakhtiyari is from Afghanistan, ergo Mr Bakhtiyari is from Afghanistan. Ergo they have all been wrongly denied protection visas and have spent years in detention for nothing. ENDS.

The Bakhtyaris' biggest crime has been that they have embodied the ordinary pain suffered by many asylum seekers separated from family, locked up for long periods and subjected to vilification and abuse. For this they are being punished.

The Bakhtiyaris represent much about our loss of capacity to respond to pain and need with compassion. We prefer instead to characterize asylum seekers as unworthy and as a threat. When Almadar and Montazer cried at the British embassy we recognized their youth and vulnerability. They were part of us. Sitting next to their classmates at St Ignatius in Adelaide, they became a loved and accepted part of the community. Yet in the remoteness of the public discourse, the boys and their family have become literally and figuratively 'aliens' who we feel comfortable banishing from our shores to face an uncertain future.

Ali Bakhtiyari sits despondently in Baxter detention centre, depressed and alone. His is truly the tragedy of an ordinary man thrust into the vortex of a life of confusing and seemingly unrelenting harshness.

Mary Crock
First published at www.tonykevin.com, also at Scoop NZ

Family loses fight after four years

The Age
By Angela O'Connor
December 21, 2004


Ali Bakhtiyari arrived in Australia about four years ago claiming to be a Hazara Afghan who had been persecuted and tortured by the Taliban.

He stayed at Port Hedland detention centre until he was granted asylum in August 2000. He lived and worked in Sydney while he waited for his wife Roqia and their five children to join him in Australia.

Because they arrived separately, their claims were processed separately. She and the five children were placed in detention at Woomera.

Mrs Bakhtiyari has had another child, Mazhar, now 14 months, who the High Court has decided is not entitled to Australian citizenship because his parents are illegal immigrants.

The family have become Australia's most high-profile asylum seekers while a battle rages over their true identity.

They have always claimed they are from Afghanistan while the Department of Immigration says they are from Pakistan.

In 2002 Age reporter Russell Skelton went to the Afghan province of Uruzgan to check on Mr Bakhtiyari's claim that he came from a village called Charkh. No one in that village, or two others he claimed to have come from, knew or remembered him.

In February 2002, Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother, Mahzer Ali, made world headlines when he threw himself on razor wire at Woomera detention centre. He was later deported to Pakistan.

The Woomera ID CardIn June 2002, the two eldest boys, Alamdar and Muntazar, escaped from Woomera and made their way to Melbourne where they tried to obtain asylum at the British consulate. This month Britain's Court of Appeal in London rejected their claims that they had been unlawfully ordered out of the consulate. In June this year the Family Court ordered the family's five oldest children be freed. They have since been living in Adelaide.

After 20 court actions, it now appears that the Bakhtiyaris will be deported. On Saturday, immigration officials took Mrs Bakhtiyari and her six children from their suburban Adelaide home to immigration detention.

Link to the article in The Age

Headmaster blasts 'totalitarian' act on family

The Age
By Deborah Gough
Social Affairs Reporter


The headmaster of Australia's most well known asylum seekers, the Bakhtiyari brothers, has criticised the sudden removal of their family from their home as similar to that of a totalitarian regime.

St Ignatius College headmaster Greg O'Kelly sent a letter to The Age after Roqia Bakhtiyari and her six children, including students Alamdar and Montazer, were taken from their home in community detention in Adelaide at 7am on Saturday.

"It is totalitarian to come into a house of sleeping children and to have these children woken by what was probably unsmiling strangers," Father O'Kelly told The Age.

"That's the sort of thing that we read about in areas we in Australia are generally against. I think people would consider that very unAustralian."

Yesterday, he met the boys, their father Ali and his lawyer, Paul Boylan, at the Baxter Detention Centre, South Australia, where Mr Bakhtiyari is held. The family is now at a separate detention facility near Baxter.

In a letter to The Age, Father O'Kelly urged the Howard Government to show clemency to the family.

He said the children's high profile had worked against them after they escaped from the Woomera Detention Centre and sought asylum at the British consulate in Melbourne at the behest of refugee advocates.

"I think there is a mindset against the family by certain high officials with the (immigration) department because they embarrassed the department," Father O'Kelly said.

He said the boys had integrated well into the community. Montazer, who graduated from year 9 this year, was known at school at "Monty" and was a fine cricketer.

Both brothers were good at soccer and Alamdar, who is in year 11, was presented with the school prize for English as a second language this year. They were Port Power supporters and had attended games.

Father O'Kelly described suggestions that Mrs Bakhtiyari was not coping without her husband as political persiflage - her husband had visited every three weeks.

Link to the article in The Age

False claims

The new Australian fair go

The Age
Bob Ellis
December 21, 2004


The Bakhtiyaris are to be sent to Pakistan. To Australia's shame. By Bob Ellis.

And so the story moves towards its end. The Bakhtiyari family's phones have been confiscated and they wait in the Baxter detention centre to be taken to Pakistan. They are asking to go to Afghanistan because that is where they come from, but Amanda Vanstone won't let them go there. Although they speak no Pakistani language and speak Farsi, the language of their home region of Uruzgan in accents appropriate to the region, they will go instead to Quetta, in Pakistan. How do we know they come from Afghanistan? Well, the Governor of Sharestan said they did in a document signed on September 7, 2002, naming all the children. Roqia Bakhtiyari's brother, Muzar Ali, voted, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, in the Afghan election of last October 9, a right he has as a registered (and investigated) Afghan citizen.

Justice Kenneth Hayne of Australia's High Court, moreover, said on Monday of last week they may well be Afghans. "It is at least arguable," he said while ruling the baby, Mazhar, though born in Adelaide, was somehow not an Australian, "that the applicant's parents are both citizens of Afghanistan as they claim".

They look and sound like Afghan Hazaras. The father Ali, when I showed him a cricket game on television, was mystified by it, unusual in a Pakistani, and asked me only if Ponting was an Afghan. The mother, Roqia, when asked, identified Afghan tribal recipes for bread and sour milk, and told how her village celebrated the birth of children.

But where was that village and what is its name? Ali drew a map that showed in central Uruzgan a village called Charkh next to a village called Chenar under mountains called Daikwidi. They are all there where he said they were, but an Australian reporter, Alastair McLeod, later killed, went to a place 160 kilometres north of the real one. The translator he brought with him belonged to the murderous Northern Alliance, and to him, of course, the fearful villagers in subsequent valleys professed unanimous ignorance of everything. Bakhtiyari? Never heard of him. Roqia's brother, Muzar, dumped in Quetta so peremptorily that the immigration officers with him were arrested for lacking visas, went back to the real Charkh and got and sent proof that Ali and Roqia are who they said they are. No court has yet considered this.

Asked yesterday if she had read their file, Amanda Vanstone said she hadn't. Asked if she had seen any evidence that they were Pakistanis, she said she hadn't. Asked if she'd seen, or anyone had seen, their Pakistani birth certificates, she agreed there weren't any. She said, however, that they had had a "fair go" - including, apparently, 32 months behind razor wire - and that fair go was now, sadly, fading to black. She never visited Woomera and, though a lawyer, never looked at the evidence.

That Ali is a Pakistani depends on a document that is not signed or dated and indicates one Akhbar Ali to have been born in Quetta, Pakistan. The names of his family - Mariam, Zakia, Sikander and Ghazanfar - are not those of Ali Bakhtiyari's family. On this alone, an unsigned, undated document with the wrong names in it, he is held to be from Pakistan, none of whose languages he or his children speak.

The boys: Ali and Monty Bakhtiyari with their lawyer in Melbourne, looking for a consulateAlamdar is in year 11 at St Ignatius' College and doing scholastically well. Montazar, in year 10, is thought a world-class soccer player and won the school medal for his ability. The little girls Nagina, Samina and Amina have made friends at school who are now crying on talkback radio.

What has all this suffering been about? Well, for the Government to admit it was wrong and by its significant errors and cover-ups caused more suffering than Lindy Chamberlain's family endured would raise the question of the many libels it has committed against this family. It let it be known, for instance, that Ali was an "electrical plumber" from Quetta but never gave the address of his shop. It let it be known he was a rich man with businesses in Saudi Arabia, and Alan Ramsey, the fool, printed this in his column. It let it be known, last week, that Roqia was so stressed with parenting that she would be better off in Quetta, begging with her family on the streets.

And it did not let it be known there is a tiny village called Quetta, not far from Charkh. Which may be where the confusion began.

It has got, in short, a lot of answer for, and pay damages for, perhaps, in what may turn out to be - if our democracy survives - Australia's Dreyfus case.

It began, of course, as cover-ups usually do, with an honest mistake. Roqia couldn't identify some Afghan currency. But it was Northern Alliance currency, then unknown in her district. When she was rejected because of this, and it found out Ali had already been accepted - correctly - as a fugitive from the Taliban, it had to prove his story also was false. And it told so many tales about him that no one remembers now any more what it is they said he did wrong.

He did nothing wrong, of course, just try to save his family from slaughter by selling up and risking all on a perilous journey to a better, kinder land.

And now the story moves towards its end.

Merry Christmas, Bakhtiyaris?

Bah, humbug.

Bob Ellis is a Sydney author.

Link to the article in The Age

NZ asked to give Bakhtiyaris a lifeline

The Age
By Penelope Debelle, Misha Schubert, Meaghan Shaw
December 21, 2004


New Zealand has been asked to grant asylum to Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children, who are on the brink of deportation from Australia after four years and 20 separate legal actions.

In a letter cleared by the South Australian Government, the Catholic welfare agency Centacare has asked New Zealand Immigration Minister Paul Swain for clemency.

A spokesman for the NZ Immigration Department said he was unaware of the application.

But when she visited Australia in March, NZ, Prime Minister Helen Clark said her country would respond to any request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to take asylum seekers. The UNHCR said last night it had made no application on the Bakhtiyari's behalf.

The last-ditch plea from South Australia came as Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone ruled out using her discretionary powers to grant asylum to the family, saying they should accept the verdict of the courts. "They haven't been found to be refugees - they've been found to be Pakistani and in my view should go back to Pakistan," she said.

Lawyers for the family said Australia's immigration laws prevented new material being used to overturn a finding of the Refugee Review Tribunal.

The head of Australia's Hazara Afghan community, Hassan Ghulam, yesterday vouched for the family, who were forcibly returned to immigration detention at Port Augusta on Saturday.

Mr Ghulam, an Australian citizen who supported Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia and Nauru, said he had met Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari, and Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother Mahzer Ali who was deported to Pakistan earlier this year but is now living in Afghanistan.

"I am sure these people are from Afghanistan," Mr Ghulam said. "I have met them, I know their story, I know the detail. They are from Afghanistan."

The family could have lived temporarily in Pakistan, but their language, dress, habits, and detailed knowledge of the country proved they were Afghans, he said. Mrs Bakhtiyari's spoken dialect was pure Hazaragi and her knowledge of the area was consistent with where she claimed to be from.

Documents used by the Federal Government as proof that Mr Bakhtiyari was really from Pakistan were clearly fakes, he said. Clues to this included an oddly positioned photograph, suggesting the identity document had been "fiddled with".

Mr Gulam's claims came as a child psychiatrist who visited one of the Bakhtiyari children two weeks ago warned that the boy's mental health was in "real danger".

"It's as serious as it gets - depression, post-traumatic stress, and all the effects of unlimited detention," said Jon Jureidini, from Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital.

But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer accused the Bakhtiyaris of trying to fool Australians about their identity.

"I don't think you should make a fool of the Australian people and come to our country and claim to be a refugee when you're not a refugee," he said.

Despite the request to New Zealand, refugee advocates do not have high hopes for the family's chances of asylum there.

Centacare director Dale West said last night he had received acknowledgement of the letter but was less optimistic about New Zealand accepting them because the situation had become more political since the family had returned to detention. "New Zealand doesn't want to embarrass Australia," Mr West said.

Link to the article in The Age

Early morning brings dreaded arrival

The Age
By Andra Jackson, Penny Debelle
December 21, 2004


It is usually about 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning when immigration officials come to collect a deportee.

No notice is given and there is little time to say goodbyes.

Often deportees are not given time to pack their belongings - a concern to refugee advocates who say they may have with them material that could put them at risk in the country to which they are returned.

Detainees are handcuffed and removed by two armed employees of the detention centre. Those who resist are usually sedated. Some say they have been beaten before they are removed, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre campaign co-ordinator Pamela Curr said.

Charter flights are used to transport detainees to major airports where they are transferred to international flights.

Phil Chilton, a spokesman for the Refugee Rights Action Network, said protesters who tried to stop the deportations were kept well clear.

His organisation is concerned that deportations often take place without the knowledge of the detainee's lawyers.

Mr Chilton said he believed the Dutch airline KLM refused to handle deportations and that Qantas had expressed concerns.

Malaysian Airlines and UEA have been used in the past, but a Malaysian Airlines pilot and crew recently refused to fly a Sri Lankan deportee who tried to harm himself.

When he was deported some weeks later, he was handcuffed throughout the flight, even when going to the toilet, Ms Curr said.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the timing of deportations was not disclosed in advance for "operational reasons".

In one operation, in August 2001, 31 detainees considered at high risk of escape or harming themselves were forcibly removed to Syria using handcuffs, batons and restraining belts. Some had up to four guards, employed by the private company Australasian Correctional Management, according to evidence to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

Last year, the Immigration Department forcibly removed 3390 people from Australia.

Link to the article in The Age

And the forces of good come forth

Marilyn Shepherd
21 December 2004


After 4 years of trauma, depression, beatings and torture of various kinds committed against the Bakhtiyari family some things still need to be said.

Frank Brennan suggested I pen a line or two, something I have never done before, about the legal side of this families plight.

In March I approached Frank with the files for Ali and Roqia as a volunteer researcher and friend of the children. At that time I have met mum and dad but didn't know them well, the children were all firms friends and "grand-children" whom I adore. Now I adore their mum like a sister and daughter and friend.

Roqia only got one chance to have a hearing of her case after rejection by the RRT, it was taken to the High Court because the appeal was over time for the Federal court to hear it. Nick Poynder QC argued that as a member of the family unit of Ali Bakhtiyari who resided in Sydney as a refugee Roqia should be granted a visa under S36(2) of the Migration Act. Justices Kirby and Gaudron supported that view but sadly this government had added a clause denying family reunion for people on Temporary Protection Visas so she lost and stayed in detention.

The High Court was also asked to rule on the Minister's right to deny relief and whether it was reviewable by anyone once the decision was made. Roqia lost that question as well.

Alamdar and Montezar did not escape from Woomera, a video supplied by one of the thieves in the night shows the ACM guards watching them being taken out. They did not get to Melbourne alone, they were taken, they did not turn themselves into the British Consulate, well meaning people did that. I cannot fault Sister Brigid for her role but I utterly condemn the fools who took these boys without thought of what would happen to them.

Jeremy Moore and Paul Boylan could not stand by while these children were publically tortured and it had been deemed the children had no right to appeal their detention in the courts so the Family court were asked to intervene. The Family court did in the end intervene, after 13 long months, and release the children from Baxter into the care of Centacare, they were free for just 8 months.

The High Court was asked by Minister Ruddock to overturn the Family court, which they duly did, no jurisdiction for the Family court to act. Amanda Vanstone had a discretionary right not to redetain the children as a court of law had released them but she chose not to act on that discretion.

Instead she redetained them in their home in contempt of a court proceeding to prevent such an action... Justice Lander in the end had no legal basis on which to release them again and so the Minister gave them their mother and baby brother as fellow prisoners.

Ali was a genuine Afghan refugee when he arrived in 1999 leaving his much loved wife and children not very safely in Pakistan, they lost touch but Roqia tells me that the government were told by Ali just where she was. I would guess they have checked because the High Court heard that the government agreed in the end that they knew he was here.

After Monty and Alamdar were stolen and traded and turned in, Ruddock claimed the children were Pakistanis so the AGE and the OZ sent journalists to see in Afghanistan. Trouble is they both went to the wrong place entirely, as I discovered in my searches.

The village described by Ali is Chaqu, right in the centre of Oruzgan, over the mountains from Bamian on one side and Dai Kundi on the other. In a drought stricken valley their village is still standing, at least a couple of houses are.

The AGE and the OZ though hardly got past the mountains of Bamian, and now they refuse to believe they were wrong so the children are publically tortured for the world to see, for the third time.

Ali had his visa cancelled, it went to the Migration Review Tribunal and he was denied a bridging visa, not because he did anything but because other people got publicity for him, and Bob Ellis went to Woomera to see the boys.

He was denied again, and the MRT member said at the time that she felt really sorry for him, that the grounds for cancelling his visa had not been made out yet but he must stay locked up.

The next proceeding was in the Federal court to have the right to stay in Sydney to fight the cancellation but before it could be decided he was whisked off to Baxter by DIMA.

The Federal court had grave misgivings about the Refugee Tribunal's finding of his so-called Pakistani nationality but they had broken no laws, committed no judicial error so Ali became a Pakistani based on false documents that DIMA had been sent from Indonesia at least a year after Ali arrived in Australia. They are in a different name and have a different face and age but they did the job.

The Full Federal court dismissed an appeal in November 2003 and then the lawyers discovered that he had another RRT hearing, for a permanent protection visa. This RRT failed due to the newspaper reports by Russell Skelton and the rest of the information relied on by the first RRT was ignored. However, the Afghan Identity card was also ignored, the affidavits from Afghanistan were ignored and the language tests saying he was from Afghanistan were ignored. Giles Short even deemed that the photo was unsafe to claim as the applicant.

The Federal court dismissed the appeal because again the RRT was disturbing in it's findings but they had not made any judicial errors, the truth and facts cannot be reviewed by law.

The High court dismissed a leave to appeal, and the cycle went on endlessly with a fraudulent decision being constantly upheld. I have previously sent Sarah Stephen's piece so the readers know about the photos and how different they are.

At 2am on Saturday morning I felt such a dread that I walked down to the house and cried at the gate, then said goodbye and walked home. 9am I heard the news while half awake and spent the day crying and screaming and ranting.

Now the fraud is being revealed is it too late to save our much loved family for my little grand-daughter who has not stopped crying?

How I wish the media, the kidnappers and other fools had left these children to those who love them.

A Barrister's note: where's the Bakhtiyari evidence?

Below is a note from Nicholas Poynder, Barrister at Frederick Jordan Chambers in Sydney, showing that documents were sent to Minister Vanstone's office as long ago as June this year, that should have confirmed, that the entire Bakhtiyari family is NOT from Pakistan, as the minister claims, but from Afghanistan.

Ali Bakhtiyari never lied. It seems more likely though, that Minister Ruddock on the other hand may well have leaked confidential Immigration Case file to certain journalists, and may well have "stimulated" or "massaged" journalists to travel to Afghanistan and other regions to "clearly show" it to be evident that Mr Bakhtiyari had lied. This week all the "evidence" that Mr Bakhtiyari is from Quetta, has come apart in the media.

But regrettably, up to today most media outlets have proven to be absolute weasels.

Please phone Minister Vanstone as soon as possible to ask what happened to the material Mr Poynder sent to her, and why she still claims that the Bakhtiyari family is not from Afghanistan but Pakistan.

Minister's office contacts: Phone (08) 8223 1757 Fax (08) 8223 1750

cheers
Jack


Asking villagers about the Bakhtiyaris

I rarely get involved in online discussions with large groups of unidentified people, but the situation with the Bakhtiyaris is becoming desperate and information doesn't seem to be getting out.

In about December 2003/January 2004 Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother, Mazhar Ali, was deported to Pakistan.  He and his Australian escorts were initially refused entry into Pakistan, but after some discussion he was allowed to enter Pakistan, from where (surprise surprise) he returned to his home in Afghanistan.

Mr Ali collected a number of letters and documents to prove that the Bakhtiyari family was from that village. These included:

• Confirmation from the District Governor that Mrs Bakhtiyari and her family are Afghan citizens.

• Confirmation of the Governor of the Province in relation to Mr Bakhtiyari?s origin.

• Confirmation from the residence of a local mosque that Mr and Mrs Bakhtiyari are from the district.

• Document from the Transitional Islamic Government of Afghanistan containing confirmation from a representative of the village confirming the residency of the relatives of Mazar Ali. The document also contains confirmation from the local high school that Mazar Ali is from the village.

• Confirmation from an Acting District Governor that Mr and Mrs Bakhtiyari are Afghan citizens.

These documents were provided to the Minister's office on 8 June 2004.  No substantive response has yet been received.

Then in July/August 2004 Mazar Ali travelled to Kabul and met a guy called Simon Russell, who has been working in Afghanistan with the Norwegian Refugee Council since December 2002. On 17 September 2004 Mr Russell provided a statement confirming that Mazar Ali is without doubt is a Hazara from the central region of Afghanistan. This was apparently provided to the Minister only a few weeks ago; again no response.

From what I understand of Afghanistan, it is not surprising that there has been confusion over the identification of the village. However the fact remains that Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother is from Afghanistan, ergo Mrs Bakhtiyari is from Afghanistan, ergo Mr Bakhtiyari is from Afghanistan. Ergo they have all been wrongly denied protection visas and have spent years in detention for nothing.

I was interviewed by a journalist about the above material only a few days ago, yet there is still nothing in the media about this.

I don't propose to involve myself further in these discussions, as there are plenty of others who can do this.  But I am surprised that the above information does not yet appear to have been made public.

Nicholas Poynder
Barrister
Frederick Jordan Chambers
53 Martin Place
Sydney 2000
New South Wales
AUSTRALIA

Tel (02) 9229 7352
Fax (02) 9221 6944

Govt dismisses Bakhtiari claims

news.com.au
December 22, 2004


THE Federal Government has dismissed claims from the Afghan embassy that people had vouched for the Afghani identity of the Bakhtiari family.

Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children face deportation from Australia to Pakistan, after failing in legal bids over four years to secure refugee status.

The family claims to be Afghani, but the Government says they are from Pakistan.

The Afghan embassy said today it understood people in an Afghan province had confirmed they were related to Mrs Bakhtiari.

As 100 Bakhtiari supporters rallied in front of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone's office in central Adelaide today, the Government rejected the claims.

"It has nothing to do with their case," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

"This is a campaign to put the Government under pressure.

"The courts of this country are not bodgie courts and are not corrupt, and the courts of this country have upheld the Department of Immigration's assertion that these people are not refugees."

In a statement today, the Afghan embassy said that since late last year, the Afghan Government had been investigating claims by Mrs Bakhtiari that she was Afghani.

"It is understood that at least one person in the Jaghuri district of Ghazni province whom Mrs Bakhtiari has claimed to be related to, has confirmed the existence of such relation," the embassy said.

"We have also recently understood that at least a few local inhabitants of the Jaghuri district of Ghazni province have identified Mrs Bakhtiari to the local authorities as someone who is apparently connected to this district."

The Afghan embassy said the issue of the identity of Mrs Bakhtiari was still inconclusive and further investigations were needed until it could be established beyond reasonable doubt.

But Mr Downer said "all evidence points to them having come from Pakistan".

"If the courts have apparently got this wrong, and the hearsay and claims of the Bakhtiari family are somehow right, I'd be very, very surprised," Mr Downer said.

"This family seems rather well known in Pakistan."

Senator Vanstone's office was beset by protesters who staged a noisy but peaceful demonstration calling for the Bakhtiaris to remain in Australia.

The protest action came as South Australia's United Church joined the call for the family's release from detention.

AAP

Link to the article at AAP/News Ltd

Afghan embassy making Bakhtiyari inquiries

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Wednesday, December 22, 2004. 8:36pm (AEDT)


The Afghan embassy in Canberra says it is looking into claims that a woman facing deportation to Pakistan is an Afghan national.

But the Federal Government is standing by its finding that the Bakhtiyari family is not eligible for refugee status.

Last weekend, the Bakhtiyaris exhausted their legal appeals for refugee status in Australia and were moved from Adelaide to secure housing at Port Augusta in South Australia's north.

The Government maintains the family is from Pakistan and should abide by the rulings of the Immigration Department and Australian courts and accept that they are not refugees.

But the Afghan ambassador, Mahmoud Saikal, says his embassy, along with relevant Afghan authorities, is investigating claims that at least one person from the Ghazni province in Afghanistan is related to Roqia Bakhtiyari.

"All I can say - the file on establishing Roqia Bakhtiyari is not closed with us yet," he said.

Mr Saikal says the claims only relate to Mrs Bakhtiyari and not her husband nor children.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1270747.htm

Afghans checking Bakhtiari claims

news.com.au
December 22, 2004


ANECDOTAL evidence exists to support claims that Roqia Bakhtiari is from Afghanistan but the issue needs further investigation, the Afghan embassy said today.

The Bakhtiari family, Australia's highest-profile asylum seekers, faces deportation after New Zealand yesterday rejected their request for asylum.

The family claims to be from Afghanistan, but the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) has ruled the Bakhtiaris are from Pakistan and refused all family members refugee status.

But the Afghan embassy said in a statement today that the government in Afghanistan had been investigating claims by Mrs Bakhtiari that she was of Afghan nationality.

"It is understood that at least one person in the Jaghuri district of Ghazni province whom Mrs Bakhtiari has claimed to be related to has confirmed the existence of such relation," the embassy said.

"We have also recently understood that at least a few local inhabitants of the Jaghuri district of Ghazni province have identified Mrs Bakhtiari to the local authorities as someone who is apparently connected to this district."

The Afghan embassy said the issue of Mrs Bakhtiari's identity was still inconclusive and further investigations were needed until an answer could be established beyond reasonable doubt.

AAP

Link to the article at AAP

A message from Dale West

(Dale West is the Director of Centacare in Adelaide, the agency that cared for the Bakhtiyari family until "the raid" last Saturday)

Received 23 Dec 2004

At 7 o'clock last Saturday morning uniformed men and women representing the Federal Government burst into our house at Dulwich and arrested six children and their mother.

It is clear that while the planning for this operation had included a social visit the day before to "case the joint" and determine who slept where, no thought was given to the re-traumatisation of these children by the surprise attack.

While predictable that the children would experience panic at being woken in their beds by strangers, those intruding also had a moment of panic when one of the boys was not in his bed.

Relief for the guards when he was found asleep on the couch in the lounge room. No single moment of relief for those taken captive.

No time to dress properly, no time to pack, no food, no access to toilet, and no explanation.

Sixteen months of integration into schools, social networks, and building trust, destroyed in three frantic minutes.

No nappy change for a baby boy snatched from his cot by a stranger, to cry all the way to Port Augusta. No bottle for him either.

No time to change the clothes of the youngest girl who wet her pants as a fear reaction to being awoken by strangers. Simply forced to sit in the wet until arrival at the Baxter Detention environment.

A very different day to the expectation of her St Aloysius teacher taking her to a birthday party.

No time for the oldest girl to place her scarf where it needs to be, as she was lead, arms gripped, to one of three waiting motor vehicles.

No time for any of those arrested to understand why this was happening, in the place of their planned day at the beach.

Phones confiscated, personal items of importance broken, and again those who had sought to deceitfully build trust, exposed as agents of a well planned operation.

When the Federal Government authorized the early morning capture of a family they angrily describe, the "worst of the worst", they brought to our suburbs what Centacare has been speaking out against for more than four years.

Children in our Detention system are routinely terrorized. We now know that it happens with planning.

This has long been denied by our Federal Government despite numerous reports and evidence of the impact and the hard work of many people who are experts in working with traumatized children.

The arrogance to do what we know has been happening behind razor wire, in a church owned house in an Adelaide suburb should frighten every Australian, regardless of their position on people who have come to Australia by boat seeking asylum.

I sat with the Bakhtiyari children and their mother last Friday evening unaware that just eight hours later they would be gone from the house they had made their home.

It was not until Tuesday when I was able to visit the family inside the Baxter Detention Centre that the detail of their allegations and its impact of the Saturday morning action could be discussed and comprehended. I would welcome any approach by the others involved that might dispute their account of events.

The signs of trauma for these children have returned. On high alert, but withdrawn. High anxiety drives the need for continual reassurance. The little ones are clinging again. Trust gone.

Again the heart of our international reputation on human rights has been ripped out, like the sleeping children from their beds.

Bakhtiyari supporters in barricade protest

The Age
December 23, 2004 - 1:58PM


A group of refugee activists has occupied the central Melbourne offices of the immigration department in protest at moves to deport the Bakhtiari family.

About six activists are refusing to leave the offices of the department's onshore protection division on the 10th floor of the office Casselden Place building in Lonsdale Street, in the city.

They arrived there about 11.30am.

A spokeswoman for the activists, who identified herself as "Fleur", said the occupation was in protest at last week's transfer of Roqia Bakhtiari and her six children from Adelaide to immigration detention at Port Augusta.

The transfer to Port Augusta has been interpreted as the start of fresh moves to deport the family of asylum seekers to Pakistan.

Security at the Casselden Place building is refusing media access to the floor where the protest is occurring.

- AAP

Link to the article in The Age

Bakhtiyaris are a living on 'knife edge'

The Advertiser
By LAURA ANDERSON
25dec04


IN A desperate effort to avoid deportation, one of the Bakhtiyari children has written a letter detailing the trauma of their removal to Baxter and their desire to regain the freedom they had enjoyed.

The family is "extremely anxious" and nervous about its fate, Boylan and Co lawyer Shaya Lewis said yesterday. She was handed the letter when she visited Baxter Detention Centre.

Written by Monty Bakhtiyari, 14, and addressed to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, the letter begs for the children to be allowed to be reunited with their friends and schoolmates. "They are really scared that they are going to be deported," Ms Lewis said.

"They are so anxious to know what is going to happen to them, they asked me about three times what was going to happen to them. One of the kids was asking "if Minister Vanstone said we are going to be here until Christmas, what happens on Sunday?" The children are becoming increasingly depressed in detention and are struggling to sleep, supporters of the family said.

Ms Lewis said Monty and Alamdar, 16, "didn't look like the same boys" because of their lack of sleep.

"The kids Alamdar and Monty, I was quite surprised at their spirit on Monday but they've deteriorated," she said. Centacare director Dale West said the "signs of trauma" had returned in the children, with "the little ones clinging again".

Saint Ignatius College headmaster Father Greg O'Kelly called for the Federal Government to "act humanely". Roqia Bakhtiyari and her six children had been living at a Dulwich house until their removal at 7am last Saturday. Senator Vanstone said placing the family into the Port Augusta residential housing facility was a "better move" as they could see their father Ali in Baxter.

The Government believes the family is from Pakistan but the family argues it is from Afghanistan. A spokesman for Senator Vanstone confirmed the family would be given a bill for the costs of their detention.

Link to the Advertiser
Read more ...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Hungerstrike in the shadow of Bakhtiari case

Launceston vigil in progressNarrogin, Mon 20 Dec 18:30 - The hungerstrike at the Baxter detention centre is still on. Fifteen men are still part of the team, even while the attention of all of Australia focuses on the Bakhtiari family. My advice is, don't stop what you're doing, what you're planning and what you stand for, because the leopard hasn't changed its spots, and there is no prospect of the beast soon changing them. The question is, who will win the tug-o-war, the lawyers who desparately want to file papers that show that the government does not just have egg on its face, but that it's been lying to all of us in Australia about the Bakhtiari's nationality, as well as having deliberately orchestrated a campaign of vilification of Ali Bakhtiari, who is now a broken man who barely talks - and his entire family?

Vanstone, who can expect some visitors at her Adelaide office at 81 Flinders Street on Wednesday (see below) liberally spent your tax dollars today running her spin machine, telling Australia that hungerstrikes such as the fast by Andrew Bartlett encourages detainees, so Senator, you know you're a bad boy now: stop it, and she was assisted by the foreign minister Alex Downer, who thought it helpful to tell the Bakhtiari family that they're also bad in the headline "Bakhtiyaris 'making fools' of Australians".

Of course, Vanstone was pretty desparate, the headlines and the editorial in The Advertiser this morning didn't do her any favours. One of the Tiser's reporters shared the mood in the office with me yesterday: "...we're all depressed, what are we going to do? All of us have worked with the Bakhtiari kids on stories, We feel so powerless..." But, Vanstone's desperate bid came whilst the editors at The Age were working to put the next paper together, only to reveal that Vanstone has not aas yet read the case file on the Bakhtiari family.... I wonder what we pay our people's representatives for.

And, lo and behold, Laurie Ferguson went to Baxter today! Don't hold your breath, I thought when I heard it. I supplied reporters with some questions as soon as I heard, but to no avail, I'm afraid. All he did was reported in The Australian, a "me too" statement about the Bakhtiari family, and many of the members in the ALP would have cringed when they read the headline: "Labor backs Bakhtiyari verdict":

"Labor's immigration spokesman Laurie Ferguson yesterday joined the Howard Government in dismissing the Bakhtiyari family's plight, declaring the asylum-seekers' story lacked "credibility" and they should leave Australia. Adopting the stance of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, Mr Ferguson said the family had had a "reasonable" go and should leave voluntarily.

The phases of a hunger strike

The first week

• fasting generally well supported, as long as water intake is sufficient
• hunger pangs and stomach cramps disappear after the 2nd - 3rd day

After 15 - 18 days

• the hunger striker suffers from dizziness and "feeling faint"
• severe ataxia (inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements)
• standing up may become difficult to impossible
• bradycardia (slowing of heartbeat)
• orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up, often with faintness, dizziness, and vision problems)
• "lightheadedness" or inversely "mental sluggishness"
• sensation of cold
• general sensation of weakness
• fits of hiccoughs
• loss of the sensation of thirst

At the end of the first month, symptoms may be severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. Hydration needs to be particularly monitored. Too much supplement of NaCl (Sodium) may lead to hypokalemia (low level of potassium in blood).

Between 35 - 42 days

• troubles of ocular mobility (eye movements) due to progressive paralysis of the oculo-motor muscles:

• ==> uncontrollable nystagmus (rapid, involuntary, oscillatory motion of the eyeball)
• ==> diplopia (double vision)
• ==> extremely unpleasant sensations of vertigo
• ==> incoercible vomiting
• ==> extremely difficult to swallow water
• ==> converging strabismus (inability to focus :: cannot attain binocular vision)

This has been described as the most unpleasant phase by those who have survived prolonged fasting, and is the phase most dreaded by potential hunger strikers.

One week after the « ocular » phase

• once paralysis of the oculo-motor muscles is total ==> nystagmus ceases and with it all associated problems (vertigo, vomiting...)

From ~ 42 days onward

• progressive asthenia (physical weakening)
• torpitude (exist in a sleeping state)
• increasiningly confused state
• concentration becomes difficult or impossible
• somnolent state (in sleep state)
• anosognosia (ignorance of the presence of disease, especially of paralysis)
• indifference to surroundings
• incoherence

a PDF documentDownload this document from its original location at The World Medical Association website at http://www.wma.net/e/humanrights/pdf/hunger_strikes.pdf

Refugee advocates welcome Ferguson's Baxter visit

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Sunday December 19 2004 11:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"Refugee lobby and advocacy group Project SafeCom today welcomes ALP's Laurie Ferguson's planned visit for tomorrow to the Baxter detention centre," spokesman Jack H Smit said today.

"The recent ALP appointee to the Shadow Immigration portfolio, who expressed concern according to media reports this week about the possibility that the Bakhtiary family could be forcibly deported from Australia, is reported to plan a visit to the detention centre on Monday."

"We hope that Mr Ferguson now will also ask himself the question whether the language and nationality assessment of the Bakhtiary family was conducted by Malyar and Sayar Dehsabzi of Ethnic Interpreters & Translators, who operate from within Mr Ferguson's electorate."

"Recently the Australian Financial Review lifted the lid on the conduct of this company, stating the operators Malyar and Sayar Dehsabzi had not only links to groups supporting the Taliban and Al Quaeda, but that they are also members of ethnic groupings, well-known as arch-enemies of the Afghan Hazara minority group - to which the uncle of the Bakhtiary children, Mr Mahzer Ali belonged, the man who threw himself on razor wire at the Woomera detention centre in 2001."

Recently Sarah Stephen of Green Left Weekly reported (GLW, Dec 1 2004): "Following Mahzer Ali's forcible deportation from Australia in July 2003, he obtained documents proving that Roqia Bakhtiyari was from a village in the Jaghoori district of Ghazni and that all her children were born in Afghanistan. Her identity was confirmed by the residents and the statement signed by the district governor," and Ms Stephen gave "a clear summation of what has amounted to a Trial by Media, assisted and encouraged by former Immigration minister Phillip Ruddock", Mr Smit stated.

"The children claim they're Hazaras from Afghanistan. The family claims they're from Afghanistan. Refugee advocates claim that it's overwhelmingly evident they're from Afghanistan. Isn't it time that DIMIA and the government come clean on what exactly happened? Hasn't the family suffered enough?"

"We wish Mr Ferguson well for his visit. Although he cannot undo the damage done to the family by the former immigration minister, continued through to the current minister and her department, he can, and surely would want to, uncover fraudulent nationality and language assessments, and serious hostility against those who come here to seek protection, even more so if it takes place in his own electorate."

Action: Darwin NT

Protest - Monday January 20th, 4-5pm
(Last Friday's protest cancelled as storm strikes Darwin)
Immigration Department Offices
40 Cavenagh St, City, Darwin


From http://darwin.indymedia.org/index.php?action=default&featureview=42

Refugee action group considers hunger strikes

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Monday, December 20, 2004. 8:03pm (AEDT)


The Northern Territory Refugee Action Network says it is considering joining hunger strikes in protest against conditions inside the Baxter immigration detention centre.

Around 20 people protested outside the Commonwealth's Immigration Department in Darwin this afternoon to put pressure on the Federal Government to abolish its mandatory detention policy.

The network's Kathy Newnam says it will take further action to highlight the plight of refugees in detention centres across Australia.

"We certainly would call on the Martin Government to support what we're calling for here today and to speak out very actively in the end to mandatory detention, which is certainly something they haven't done to date," she said.

Ms Newnam says the call to abolish mandatory detention nationally is widely supported in the Territory.

"I think anyone who really understands and knows what's happening inside these detention centres and understands the human impact of this policy is in support of this message that we're saying here today," she said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1269352.htm

Let the Bakhtiyari Family Stay | Free the Baxter Asylum Seekers

SOLIDARITY PROTEST
12:30pm Wednesday 22 December
outside the IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT
313 Adelaide St, Brisbane

Speakers:

Senator Andrew Bartlett
, Australian Democrats
Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Collective
Iranian Association of Refugees representative
Church representative


The hunger strike by Iranian refugees at the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre will soon be in its third week (read the statement below). And while most in the community are preoccupied with Christmas, the Minister for Immigration i s making preparations to deport one of most well know families in detention, the Bakhtiyaris.

Help put the spotlight on the Government's treatment of refugees. Come to the solidarity protest. Phone Greg on 0409 877 528 for more details.

REFUGEE ACTION COLLECTIVE STATEMENT ON HUNGER STRIKE

As Christmas looms close, and the hunger strike by refugees in the Baxter detention centre enters its second week we need to ask ourselves what kind of country Australia has become?

The Refugee Action Collective is calling on the government to Free the Baxter Refugees.

The hunger strike by 22 Iranian asylum seekers at the Baxter detention centre has entered its second week. The refugees face persecution if forcibly returned to Iran. Some have been previously jailed and tortured by the regime. Many of the refugees have converted to Christianity, a crime punishable by execution in Iran.

The government is insisting on deporting them. Within days of the October Federal Election the government deported an Iranian Christian back to Tehran. They guaranteed his persecution by refusing to allow him to remove his Baptism Certificate from his luggage.

The Iranian asylum seekers began the hunger strike to raise public awareness about their plight.

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said "The fact is that these asyl um seekers have been driven into dangerous desperation by their long harsh detention and the threat of deportation to face persecution in Iran."

"When innocent men are willing to die in these detention camps then it should be obvious to all that the mandatory detention regime is cruel and inhumane policy which must be abolished."

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett said "Those asylum seekers on hunger strike have been locked up for years and they feel they have no other options left. It is important for them to know that many people in the Australian community support them in their struggle for justice."

Amnesty International states 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.

There have been numerous human rights violations recorded in Iran and prisoners of conscience run the risk of torture and/or ill treatment.

Amnesty International is calling on the Australian Government to urgently:

• ensure that the health of the hunger strikers 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.

To find out more about the refugee rights campaign visit www.rac-qld.org

Bartlett continues hunger strike

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Monday, December 20, 2004. 8:32pm (AEDT)


Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett is continuing his hunger strike to show support for refugees in detention centres.

The Queensland politician began his fast at the weekend.

He says the Federal Government's treatment of asylum-seekers has been disgraceful and he is determined to draw public attention to their cause.

"Certainly, still keen to ensure that the plight of the people in detention, not just the Iranians currently expressing their plight, but the other long-term detainees in Baxter and Nauru does get greater public awareness," he said.

Some detainees at the Baxter Detention Centre have been staging a roof-top hunger strike for a fortnight.

At one stage, the protest involved 20 detainees.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1269359.htm

Adelaide: 81 Flinders Street

The South Australian Greens have organised a rally for this Wed 22nd at 1pm outside Amanda Vanstone's office at 81 Flinders Street, Adelaide city in support of the Bakhtyari family and the Iranian hunger-strikers.

Bartlett's hunger strike gave hope

An Iranian asylum seeker who has been on a hunger strike in Baxter said on the phone to a supporter today that when Andrew Bartlett joined the hunger strike 'everyone lit up with hope'. It was as if someone had heard them, he said. 'We are used to the liberal and labor parties ignoring us or saying what bad people we are. But Mr Bartlett links our humanity together,' he said.

http://www.bloglines.com/blog/CommunityComment?id=13

Andrew Bartlett report-back

From Bartlett's Blog
Tuesday, December 21, 2004


I thought some readers may be interested in the level and nature of the feedback I've received over the last couple of days (if you're not, then read no further).

By late Monday evening, I'd received 96 email messages about my fast in support of the detainees. [the emails are here]

I'm aware of 19 phone calls to my office about it too, but this may not be a complete total, as I didn't check with all my hardworking and wonderful staff. Of the 19 phone calls, 6 were negative and 13 were positive.

I received a larger amount of media calls on this issue over the last day and a half than I can recall on any other single matter this year. This includes at least 9 extended radio interviews today (as opposed to the 'quick grabs' for the hourly news bulletin type of interview) in all states except Tasmania. There were also 3 TV news interviews.

There were 3 main categories of emails - supportive messages from Iranians overseas, and positive and negative messages from people in Australia.One type of feedback I didn't expect was from people overseas. A report by Reuters news came to the attention of some of the Iranian diaspora in various parts of the world and a number of them wrote in with messages of support and thanks for drawing attention to the serious human rights abuses of the current Iranian regime.

I received 39 messages from overseas. 19 of these were from the USA, 7 from the UK, 4 each from Canada and Sweden, and the rest from Italy, Netherlands, India and Japan.Of the 57 email messages I've got so far from Australians, 46 have been positive and 11 have been negative. Of the negative ones, 10 were critical towards asylum seekers and/or Muslims, or abusive of me and 1 expressed concern at the use of hunger strikes as a form of protest.

http://andrewbartlettonline.blogspot.com/

Bartlett ready to give up hunger strike

Sydney Morning Herald
December 21, 2004 - 3:54PM


After four days without food, Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett is growing weak and expects to wind up his hunger strike in support of asylum seekers on Wednesday.

Senator Bartlett has been fasting since Friday night, refusing food [in support of detainees] at the Baxter immigration detention centre, near Port Augusta, in South Australia's north.

About 20 detainees have been involved in a hunger strike that began two weeks ago and Senator Bartlett on Wednesday urged them to start eating before they suffered long term damage.

"I don't have mountains of energy," he said when asked about his own health.

"But I'm not doing very much anyway in terms of expending energy.

"I expect probably by tomorrow I might wind it up. There's other people doing various actions around the country to try and reinforce the public's thoughts."

Senator Bartlett said refugee advocates were planning day-long fasts in Launceston and Darwin on Wednesday which would keep attention on the plight of asylum seekers detained at Baxter.

But he hoped detainees on the hunger strike would join him in giving it up on Wednesday.

"I would be happy if people put an end to the hunger strike to ensure they didn't risk any greater harm to themselves than is already being done by the government," Senator Bartlett said.

An Iranian asylum seeker at the Baxter facility told a supporter on the phone that everyone lit up with hope when they learned of Senator Bartlett's hunger strike.

"It was as if someone had heard them," a refugee advocate quoted him as saying.

"We are used to the Liberal and Labor parties ignoring us or saying what bad people we are.

"But Mr Bartlett links our humanity together."

Senator Bartlett said he had received mixed reactions to his hunger strike but was pleased to know he had given hope to asylum seekers.

"The aim all along is to provide encouragement and support and hope to the people there, hopefully sufficient hope that they might end their hunger strike as well," he said.

The Immigration Department confirmed fewer than 20 of the asylum seekers were continuing to refuse food.

© 2004 AAP

Link to the article in the Sydney Morning Herald

We treat some killers better than asylum seekers

The Age
Arnold Zable
December 22, 2004


The people suffering indefinite detention are being slowly broken, writes Arnold Zable.

The two-week hunger strike by Iranian inmates in the Baxter detention centre is a desperate cry for help. It is not blackmail. It is not a demand, but a plea. It is an attempt to reveal the horrors of indefinite detention, and a passionate cry for freedom.

Some inmates are now spending their sixth year in detention. After talking to people who have been in touch with the strikers this past fortnight, one overriding message comes through.

As one striker put it: "We have applied for asylum. We have been here too long. Please, let us out." Or, as another inmate said: "I am going mad. I just cannot take it any more."

Indefinite detention creates madness and severe depression. It drives inmates to contemplate suicide and, at times, to attempt it, as several have in recent weeks. One dug a grave and buried himself, and when he was taken from the grave he tried to hang himself. It was indefinite detention that drove three Iranian men to spend 11 days this month on the tin roof of a gymnasium, where they weathered severe thunderstorms, torrential rain and temperatures as high as 40 degrees, and unfurled banners pleading for help.

On Tuesday, December 13, Dr Louise Newman, convener of the Alliance of Health Professionals for Asylum Seekers, summed up the inmates' predicament: "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."

After observing the short sentences sometimes given in Australia for deliberate murder, one detainee remarked, "yet we get indefinite years just for asking for asylum from persecution. The sense of injustice in us is strong. We are every day degraded and humiliated by being locked up and treated like criminals, and in the end we will all crumble."

How can it be that in a democratic country that prides itself on its decency, there are people who languish in prison for trying to seek a new life, free of oppression for themselves and their families? This is a human right under the terms of the 1951 UN conventions on refugees, to which Australia is a signatory.

These inmates have not been convicted of any crime, yet they do not know when, if ever, they will be released or when they could be summarily deported.

The hunger strike raises many issues. Baxter is, in effect, a high-security prison surrounded by an electrified fence. To enter, visitors must pass through a series of electronically controlled gates and doors. Inmates are locked away from public scrutiny and are subject to mental abuse.

The centre is managed by a private company, GSL. Running prisons for profit is not conducive to humane management. Of particular concern is the scandalous use of solitary confinement in isolation cells at the infamous "management unit" as a means of controlling behaviour, including attempted suicide and extreme distress.

Coupled with the horror of detention is the seemingly arbitrary nature of the refugee determination process. While some Iranians have finally gained temporary protection, or bridging visas, all too many remain incarcerated.

There is the predicament of Iranians who have converted to Christianity, a crime punishable by death in Iran.

The suffering of Iranian Shiites and inmates of other faiths are of equal concern, as too is the suffering of inmates from countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The deteriorating situation in Iran has increased fears of returning. Amnesty International is one of a number of agencies that have recorded numerous human rights violations in Iran in 2003 and 2004, including torture, imprisonment and public hangings. We should not be sending asylum seekers home to such situations.

Yet all these considerations are overridden by the simple fact that asylum seekers should not be detained in the first place, whether it is in Baxter, on Nauru or in other detention centres.

Whatever the asylum seekers' original claims may have been, their trauma has been compounded by the gross human rights abuses they have been subjected to at the hands of Australian authorities. Indefinite detention is in itself an abuse of human rights and breaches Australia's international obligations. After so many years of imprisonment, these inmates should be let out and allowed the proper counselling and care needed to help restore them to normality.

It is time for the Australian Government to find a dignified and humane solution. What is needed is a circuit breaker, an act of humanity that can immediately end the despair of detained asylum seekers. The Immigration Minister can quickly exercise such an option by issuing humanitarian visas, as she is entitled to do, on a number of grounds.

Long-term mandatory detention for asylum seekers should be abolished. There are humane alternatives practised in countries such as Sweden, and there are a range of well-thought-out alternatives that have been proposed by agencies such as the Refugee Council of Australia, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker project. The jailing of innocents in such hellish places is a barbaric practice. It should end before more inmates are driven to attempt suicide, or sink into madness. We are breaking their bodies, their minds and their spirits.

Arnold Zable is the spokesman on asylum seekers for the Melbourne Centre of International PEN. On Saturday he joined a 24-hour fast in empathy with the Baxter hunger strikers.

Link to the article in The Age

Shame, Australia

The Age, Letters
22 December 2004


On Saturday I joined a 24-hour hunger strike with hundreds of others across the country. In Baxter detention centre, 27 people (asylum seekers from Iran) are in total despair after years of indefinite detention and fear of forced deportation to Iran. They are in the second week of a hunger strike. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things.

The indefinite detention of asylum seekers is a crime against humanity, to Australia's great shame. My country, my people, find your voices and speak out against this travesty.
Julie Bain, Northcote

Bartlett ends hunger strike

ABC Brisbane News
Wednesday, 22 December 2004


Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett has ended a five-day hunger strike in support of asylum seekers.

The Queensland Senator had been fasting since Friday night in a show of support for asylum seekers who were refusing food at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia's north.

Today, Senator Bartlett joined Labor Party Senator Clair Moore and dozens of protesters outside the Immigration Department in Brisbane to draw attention to what they claim is the inhumane treatment of refugees.

The protesters say Australia's record on refugees is disgraceful, with some detainees being locked up for years.

Senator Moore says despite the high-profile case of the Bakhtiyari family, people are becoming desensitised to the issue.

"They don't think about the issue of refugees or asylum seekers as people who need our help," he said.

"They've been somehow convinced that we're talking about are criminals and people in conflict."

Senator Bartlett says the Federal Government has reneged on Australia's long-standing commitment to welcome people who are fleeing persecution.

http://www.abc.net.au/brisbane/news/200412/s1270681.htm

Bartlett ends five-day hunger strike

Seven News
Date: 22/12/04
By Roberta Mancuso


Australian Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett ended his five-day hunger strike in support of asylum seekers, saying the first thing he wanted to eat was a piece of fruit.

The Queensland-based senator and former party leader had been fasting since Friday night in a show of support for about 20 asylum seekers refusing food at the Baxter immigration detention centre in South Australia's north.

A visibly tired Senator Bartlett encouraged detainees to end their own hunger strike, assuring them their Australian supporters would take up the cause.

"The asylum seekers have already suffered enormous damage to their health from being locked up for so many years by the government. I don't want them risking more harm to their well-being," he said.

He said asylum seekers felt supported by his actions, and he believed his protest had drawn greater attention to the plight faced by detainees held at the Baxter centre, and on Christmas Island and Nauru.

His decision to participate in the hunger strike drew criticism from Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, who labelled him silly and foolish and said it was irresponsible for a member of parliament to set an example that could result in serious health problems.

But Senator Bartlett accused the minister of having her priorities out of whack.

"For the minister to say that it sends a bad message for someone like me to not be eating for a few days in support of people who are being denied justice I think shows how warped her understanding of priorities are," he said.

Senator Bartlett said two supporters of asylum seekers, Don Sinnamon and Emad Soliman, would take over his hunger strike so detainees could end theirs.

They said "rolling hunger strikes" would continue into the New Year, with each person going without food for a maximum of three days.

Senator Bartlett said he had sustained himself by drinking juice and tea during his fast, which ended on Wednesday afternoon, but he was looking forward to eating solid food again.

"I might get a piece of fruit or something like that," he said after addressing a small rally outside the Immigration Department offices in Brisbane.

"I don't have a lot of energy but I've been taking it pretty easy anyway.

"I've been careful about it and by some extent I've been energised by the level of support for the cause that it's generated."

http://seven.com.au/news/topstories/147162

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

Friday, December 17, 2004

Baxter, Bakhtiyari and bullshit: the battle over DIMIA's accountability

DIMIANarrogin Sat 18 Dec 9:00am - The start of this fifth report on the Baxter hungerstrike makes for depressing reading, but I intend that to be the case. I could have easily spared you and myself this introduction, which may come across as just an unwelcome diversion into matters not directly related to the strike, but because the year is nearing its end, and previous reports have hinted at the link between what happens in Baxter and the concerted attempts coming from DIMIA to keep you fed mushrooms, I'm pressing ahead anyway. Three years ago, TAMPA was not about refugees, but about the PM, keen to manipulate himself into power in what seemed like an election he was going to loose, and it was about his obligations to inform Australians instead of manipulate them. TAMPA was about government accountability, and a government's absolute duty to promote openness, transparency and all other issues related to what we call 'democracy'. And the issues are still the same.

This weekend Alan Ramsey in the Sydney Morning Herald shares with his readers a Christmas message, and he lists a few alarming issues from 2004 using the Eureka Stockade theme as a "christmas wrapper" for his message. In his opinion piece Ramsey shows us some large gaping holes in Australian democracy as expressed in openness, honesty and accountability of elected government. Margo Kingston sums up her expectations of the erosion we can expect in the Senate from July next year in this Web Diary write-up - it left me with a feeling of being seriously alert and alarmed, to keep it in the style of the fridge-magnet.

Justice Michael Kirby, in accepting an honorary degree at Australian National University this week, warned his audience in his acceptance speech that the sum-total of the work of the Australian High Court "makes for depressing reading", and you get the impression that Kirby is seriously worried about democracy and justice in Australia. And because most of Kirby's examples were from within our own sphere of 'interest' - refugees and asylum seeker cases - I was doubly worried: it seems evident that politicians have more sovereignty than the courts, especially in relation to detention and deportation of asylum seekers. In The Age, Pat Dodson and Noel Pearson show their serious concerns, and openly issue a warning to the Prime Minister about his social engineering attempts with his Welfare for Showering Yourself with Soap policy. And finally, in The Australian, Moira Rayner, who I call "the banished one from WA" (WA Premier Geoff Gallup sidelined her as Acting Equal Opportunities Commissioner as soon as he came to government because she was going to be too open about Indigenous issues) opens up the can of worms about Indigenous housing in WA, one that Gallup wants to keep closed pretty badly, especially a few months before the State election.

And that's not all. Today I'm thinking of the Bakhtiyari family as DIMIA once again engages its Compliance Branch - on a weekend as usual, and more so, at the start of the convenient Christmas season - which to me bears all the hallmarks of the German Gestapo, especially because its actions are clouded in secrecy, and in the case of the Bakhtiyari's swiftness of action and secrecy is even more predictable - because what should be avoided at all costs is legal action, which may well expose Immigration as being complicit of falsifying documents. See Sarah Stephen's work in Green Left Weekly (article also posted below): none of the mainstream media had the courage to touch it. They were happy to spend a small fortune on international travel and "investigative journalism" to discredit the family, in particular Ali, the father, but they have shown no interest in investigating errors made by our friends in DIMIA and their information spin in what reminds me of that hideous Gestapo. The six kids and Roqia were moved from Adelaide to Port Augusta at seven o'clock this morning. Our warning bells rang yesterday when the minister broke with her undertaking, previously given to the courts, to give the family 48 hours notice before any deportation action would be undertaken, and made sure the media knew about it.

I referred in the Fourth Report to Your Right to Know in relation to the continuing misuse by DIMIA of the right to privacy of detainees and asylum seekers when it conveniently extends its right to exercise this privacy, demeaning it when it simply spins to the press generalisations and information that amount to lies about the Iranians involved in the hunger strike: the example below is about DIMIA denial that a "police negotiator" assisted to get the three men off the roof, while the messages from detainees and hunger strikers keep rolling in, telling us the exact opposite (we also received a name, see below). Nothing has changed since Tampa, when even the most minute information "spill-over" was tightly controlled from John Howard's Department - lest the voters would hear a whisper of facts from asylum seekers and their human story.

As an example of the net effect of Howard's continuing manipulation of Australia in the media, take Senator Andrew Bartlett's press release, detailing his resolve to start a hunger strike in solidarity for the remainder of the time that the Iranians keep going with their gruelling action at Baxter (Bartlett's news is also part the 4th report). Within hours of his media release, the news appeared at Reuters and the US ABC online (thanks to international correspondents Michelle Nichols and Kylie Scott, who are based in Australia) yet we're yet to see any mention of it at News Ltd, which usually spawns a string of articles in the Murdoch press. The Australian, see below, refers to this extraordinary step by the Senator but does not see the need to give you more than one line about it (we spotted a terrific logo for The Oz here) and The Advertiser as the daily paper of Baxter's Home State, devotes just three lines to the end of the rooftop protest under the misleading headline of "Detainee strike ends", omitting that more than 20 Iranians have just confirmed their resolve to remain on the strike.

The Bakhtiyari Files

Hundreds of news articles have appeared in Australian and International media about the Bakhtiari family since Andrew West revealed the story of the family in the Sun-Herald in February 2002, shortly after their uncle, the now deported "crown witness", clearly a Hazara from Afghanistan, jumped on the razor wire at Woomera. At Project SafeCom, we collected them all (well, most of them). They are brought together in four WORD documents, zipped up for security from viruses. Simply use the "Right-click, Save As" command of your mouse on the images or on the linked text.

Detainee family back on tightrope

The Australian
Elizabeth Colman
December 18, 2004


THE prospects of the Bakhtiyari family being deported increased yesterday after Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone reneged on her promise to give 48 hours' notice before issuing orders that the asylum-seekers were moved.

Representatives of the family fear Roqia Bakhtiyari and her six children could be transferred from community detention in Adelaide as early as this weekend, and detained in the Baxter facility in the South Australian desert. Roqia's husband, Ali, is already in detention at Baxter.

A letter from the Australian Government Solicitor carrying yesterday's date cancelled the agreement between Senator Vanstone and the family's lawyers.

"The minister had instructed that you be given 48 hours' notice of any substantive changes to ... detention arrangements.

"We advise that the minister now withdraws her 'undertaking' to you," says the letter, signed by senior executive lawyer Katherine Bean, obtained by The Weekend Australian.

Faced with the prospect of deportation, Mrs Bakhtiyari was considering negotiating with immigration authorities to allow her school-age children to remain.

Principal Greg O'Kelly, who teaches Alamdar and Muntazer Bakhtiyari at Adelaide's St Ignatius College, pledged to "nurture" the boys should their parents be deported, saying the school could provide accommodation. "They have turned up every day, they have excelled and they should be allowed to complete their schooling with no more dislocation," Father O'Kelly said.

The developments concerning the family occurred as Victorian senator-elect Steve Fielding declared he was ashamed of the Government's treatment of asylum-seekers.

Mr Fielding, who will become the first federal senator for Christian values party Family First on July 1, has called for an "urgent summit" to review the issue of long-term mandatory detention. Responding to a 13-day protest by long-term Iranian detainees camped on the roof of the Baxter gymnasium, Mr Fielding said the Howard Government needed to show some compassion as well as a tough stance on border security.

Family First was in "dialogue" with the Prime Minister's office, and would meet John Howard in the next few days, party federal chairman Peter Harris said yesterday.

The roof-top protest was resolved on Thursday night after a South Australian police negotiator was called in and the protesters agreed to come down.

However, a spokesman for the department said the situation remained "of concern", with 15 detainees continuing a hunger strike.

Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett will begin a hunger strike today in sympathy with the plight of the detainees.

Link to the article in The Australian

"I have not said I will hunger strike for as long as the detainees do. I will take it one day at a time in deciding what is best, but what I have said is that I will continue to support them, as do many thousands of people in the Australian community, in their struggle for justice and freedom." - Senator Andrew Bartlett [more]

Government uses false documents to discredit Bakhtiyaris

Sarah Stephen
Green Left Weekly
December 1 2004


In June 2002, the Australian immigration department claimed to have proof that Afghan refugee Ali Bakhtiyari was actually a plumber from Pakistan called Ashgar Ali.

In December 2002, Ali's temporary visa was cancelled and he was re-detained. That same month, Afghan refugee Mohib Sarwari's temporary visa was also cancelled on the accusation that he was Ali's brother, a Pakistani by the name of Ghazanfar Ali.

Sarwari had been living quietly with his family in Launceston, Tasmania, and had never met Ali. The accusation fell apart when refugee lawyer Marion Le went to Afghanistan to find the Sarwaris' village and returned with proof that they were Hazaras and had lived there until they fled to Australia.

Despite this revelation and the doubts it raises about the accusations against Sarwari's alleged "brother", Ali remains in Baxter immigration detention centre to this day.

In 2002, the Coalition government responded to growing public disquiet at the treatment of asylum seekers by launching a systematic campaign to attack the credibility of Afghan refugees seeking asylum in Australia, claiming they were Pakistanis posing as Afghans. Newspaper headlines immediately promoted this unsubstantiated slander. The July 22 Sydney Morning Herald's front page story was headlined "Fake Afghans caught in migration net" [by Neil Mercer, formerly located here].

In an interview on the ABC's Insiders program on August 25, 2002, then-immigration minister Philip Ruddock claimed that some 700 people "claiming to be" Afghans were being investigated by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).

The Bakhtiyari family developed a high media profile at a time when the refugee issue was centre-stage in Australian politics. Ali's wife Roqia and their five children were in Woomera detention centre with Roqia's brother Mazher Ali. In January 2002, during a hunger strike in Woomera, Mahzer threw himself onto the razor wire surrounding the camp to call attention to the family's plight. He nearly sliced his jugular and required 100 stitches.

In June 2002, Alamdar and Montazar Bakhtiyari, then aged 14 and 12, escaped from detention and were on the run for three weeks. Amid international media attention, they took refuge in the British consulate in Melbourne, unsuccessfully sought asylum in Britain and were eventually returned to Woomera.

The following day, Ruddock announced that DIMIA had informed Ali in April that it intended to cancel his visa due to its claim that he was really Pakistani plumber Ashgar Ali. Making such an announcement the very day after images of tearful children in detention were beamed across the world appears to have been an attempt to undercut any developing sympathy for the Bakhtiyari family.

The document DIMIA cited as proof of Ali's identity was a 1975 Pakistani application for registration with a photo attached, obtained in August 2002 by John Caspersson, a DIMIA compliance officer in Islamabad.

Supporters working on Ali's case have identified three versions of the same document, all with a slightly different photo, despite assurances that the original document was photographed only once. One photo has flash spots in the eyes; another photo is attached at a different angle on the page to the others.

An appeal under section 417 of the Migration Act was submitted to immigration minister Amanda Vanstone in June this year, calling on her to exercise her ministerial discretion to reinstate Ali's visa. It was accompanied by an affidavit signed by Hassan Ghulam, president of the Hazara Ethnic Society in Australia, who was asked to examine the Pakistani identity document to determine its authenticity. In a detailed description of all its inconsistencies and omissions, Ghulam said that "an authenticity test of the original document did not take place" and that many parts of the document had not been translated.

In Ghulam's opinion, "the document is false, and a lot has been fiddled with. It is not reliable and does not belong to Mr Bakhtiyari as a genuine document for proof of his identity." However, there has been no response to the appeal.

A number of other Afghan refugees whose visas were cancelled on grounds of identity fraud had them reinstated, on the ground that the Pakistani documents used to allege identity fraud either appeared to have been tampered with or could not be authenticated.

In one Refugee Review Tribunal appeal on April 15, 2003, RRT member Kim Rosser noted that the grounds for cancelling the applicant's TPV included an anonymous letter and a photo of a Pakistani National Identity Card. Rosser was unable to conclude that the photo on the NIC was of the applicant, given that it was taken up to 20 years ago and the person in the photograph did not appear to be so many years younger than the applicant.

According to Rosser's findings, the photograph was "much clearer and brighter than the rest of the document" and contained other anomalies. "I consider it possible that the photograph is a recent addition to the document and is not the photograph that was originally on the document." The refugee's visa was reinstated.

EK is another Afghan refugee whose visa was cancelled on grounds of identity fraud, after DIMIA decided that he resembled the passport photograph of a man called Muhammad Anwar. The Pakistani passport was among documents seized by Indonesian police when they intercepted asylum seekers in November 2000.

DIMIA claims that it subsequently obtained from Pakistani authorities Anwar's application for a Pakistani NIC, lodged in 1978. At the time, Anwar was 22, which would make him 49 years old today. EK is only 30 years old!

EK has been detained in the Baxter immigration detention centre since August, and has a RRT hearing in mid-December to appeal his visa cancellation.

While the government tried to create the impression that there was widespread fraud among Pakistani migrants posing as Afghan refugees, the number of visas eventually cancelled was very small. On February 17, immigration minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed in parliament that a total of 27, or a tiny 0.8% of all Afghan TPV-holders, had their visas cancelled on the grounds of identity fraud. Who knows how many of these refugees were victims of fraudulent documents that did not belong to them.

Even a suspicion that documents may have been forged to strip some Afghans of their visas should have thrown every allegation of identity fraud into question, but it did not. There have been no exposes in the press, no Senate inquiries and no police investigations.

DIMIA's case against Ali wasn't limited to the Pakistani documents. The department also worked hand in hand with a number of journalists to sow further doubt about Ali's identity. Some went to Pakistan to find "evidence" and others went to Afghanistan.

In a July 28, 2002, article in Sydney's Sun Herald titled "He's from Pakistan and he used to repair our pipes", Matthew Behns alleged that Ali was really Ashgar Ali, a pipe fitter from Pakistan. He claimed he was educated, four years older and that he had a different family. The story carried a picture of a plumbing shop purportedly in Quetta with a picture of Ali above it taken in Sydney. This was interpreted by many as Ali in front of his alleged shop.

Writing in the August 2, 2002, Sydney Morning Herald, two weeks after the Bakhtiyari boys' attempt to claim British asylum, Alan Ramsey claimed "evidence builds that Ali is not who he says he is". Some details in the article were only available from the Bakhtiyaris' DIMIA files, indicating collaboration between Ramsey and DIMIA.

Ramsey quoted extensively from DIMIA's initial decision to grant Ali a visa on August 3, 2000. According to Ramsey, DIMIA thought he could be "Ali Bakhtiyari, Haja Ali Aghisar or Ashgar Ali Bakhtiyari, a Pakistani plumber and gas fitter who reportedly owned shops in Kuwait and a gas company and/or a plumbing business in Quetta, Pakistan". DIMIA couldn't even decide who it thought Ali was.

On July 26, 2002, the Australian carried a map showing the location of Ali's village in the centre of Afghanistan's Oruzgan province. The Australian's Alastair McLeod went to Afghanistan to verify Ali's story. On August 14 he described how nobody recognised Ali's photo when it was shown around in the village. It is quite likely that McLeod was in the wrong area. According to the map accompanying his article, McLeod was in the north-eastern corner of Oruzgan and he refers to the village being high in the mountains. However, Ali says his village is in a valley.

The Age's Russell Skelton also made a trip to Afghanistan that year, but it appears from his map in the August 23 Age that he also went to the wrong part of Oruzgan province. Skelton also claimed to have showed Ali's photo to villagers, who said they didn't know him.

According to Dr William Maley, who has appeared as an expert witness in a number of other cases of identity fraud involving Afghan refugees, there are many reasons why villagers' claims not to know a person should be considered unreliable. In particular, when strangers or government officials enter a village, the locals often say they don't know the person in question in order to protect him or her, due to justified suspicion of the intention of those asking the questions.

Despite the contradictions, factual inaccuracies and serious lack of evidence to support the journalists' claims, they assisted the government in sowing serious doubt in the minds of even the most sympathetic.

Following Mahzer Ali's forcible deportation from Australia in July 2003, he obtained documents proving that Roqia Bakhtiyari was from a village in the Jaghoori district of Ghazni and that all her children were born in Afghanistan. Her identity was confirmed by the residents and the statement signed by the district governor.

DIMIA has told Roqia that it now accepts that she is Afghan - or at least is no longer certain that she is Pakistani. DIMIA offered to grant permanent visas to her and her children if she agreed to divorce her husband. Roqia and her children are currently living in home detention in Adelaide.

Skelton visited Baxter in July 2003 and met the Bakhtiyari family for the first time. Roqia, Alamdar and Montazar have all recounted to friends how Skelton offered to change his story about them.

In the last week of November, Ali came under pressure to sign documents agreeing to his removal from Australia. He has few avenues left to appeal the cancellation of his visa.

For a detailed account of the Bakhtiyaris' experience, visit
http://www.carad-wa.org/library/latimes.htm

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/608/608p9.htm

Detainee strike ends

The Advertiser
18dec04


THREE detainees at the Baxter Detention Centre have ended a rooftop protest.

The men had been on the roof of the centre's gymnasium for more than a week and had refused food in protest at their detention.

An Immigration Department spokesman yesterday confirmed the three had ended their protest overnight.

Link to the article in The Advertiser

A 'denied' police negotiator at Baxter

One: (11.00am, Fri 17/12) Just had a call from the guys. All are back from hospital and in the compound. They say they had a visit from Adelaide Police and from GSL Management in Canberra, who threatened to move them all into Management Unit (ie: solitary confinement) if they don't break the hunger strike.

They're determined to go on with it, claiming it was their right to do with their body as they wish and that they had not committed an offence or hurt anybody, so no reason to move them to management. Personally, I'm surprised it hasn't already happened.

Two: (11.15am, Fri 17/12) I just had a phone call from one of the Baxter hunger-strikers. The police have moved into Baxter and GSL is threatening to use them to break the strike and put individuals into isolation, if they continue with the protest. I was asked to pass this news on.

Three: (7.00am, Sat 18/12) There has been an Iranian man, visiting with a GSL person on Thursday and Friday; he said he was a policeman from the South Australian police and had been brought to talk to the guys. Now they are very worried that he's connected to the Iranian government, as he had no ID and they have told him things including their names. He said he had lived in Australia since he was six. His Farsi was very good indeed. His name is Mehrdad Yazrlu.

Melbourne Solidarity fast

Arnold Zable, Kate Durham, Kavisha Mazella, Diana Greentree and Corinne Grant in a 24-hour public fast in solidarity with the Iranians on hungerstrike at the Baxter detention centre

Thanks to the Melbourne Indymedia folks we have some photos of the Melbourne fast. Note: Arnold Zable asked for this action not to be called a hungerstrike but a "fast".

Perth report: DIMIA infiltrated

by Ehssan Ahmadi EME 67
18 Dec 2004


Coordinated by SMS from hunger-strikers in Baxter, simultaneous protests were held at DIMIA offices around the country.

Around fifteen people converged at Crazy Clark's in the city and loitered around, until we figured that DIMIA nextdoor would be a better place to protest... especially considering the Iranians currently on hunger strike in Baxter. Amongst the protestors were the elderly militant cell known as "Women in Black".

As passers-by blissed out in xmas consumerism, the protestors gave speeches to one another... then, led by the militant "Women in Black", a small breakaway faction infiltrated the DIMIA office, and proceeded to queue up in line.

"Next!"

"Yeah, hi, we were just wondering if we might be able to speak to anyone about the situation in Baxter at all..."

The infiltrators' polite and courteous manner belied their terroristic ambitions.

The walls of the DIMIA waiting room were covered with colourful murals featuring "welcome" in 20 languages, which of course only served as a backdrop to the "Terrorist Hotline" and "Immigration Dob-in Line" advertisements. Another sign said "no cameras", so of course, I had to take a photo of that.

The counter-lady was flustered and didn't know how to handle our enquiry until a supervisor intervened to let us know they would try to find someone to talk to us.

Little did we know the police had been called. During our 20 minute wait, I proceeded to steal DIMIA's xmas decorations... After all, they ain't bringing anyone any xmas cheer. (See DIMIA tinsel modelled by anonymous radical in the photo below).

The head of DIMIA in all of WA emerged and without so much as a greeting, she proceeded to state, "You have no business being here, I ask that you leave now. The police have been called".

"But... we're just doing our duty as citizens. Whatever happened to democratic, accountable and transparent governance?"

"Yeah, it feels a bit like Stalinist Russia. What are you hiding?"

A verbal melee ensued.

"Do you even know that there are people on hunger strike at the moment in Baxter? Do you know people have been in there for 6 years? In the desert, with no charge? What are you doing to these people?"

The DIMIA chief met our enquiry with silence. DIMIA workers and immigrants in the waiting room eavesdropped into our melee.

"You can put your tape recorder away now!" the DIMIA chief yelled at me. Her aide then corrected her. "You know, its not a tape recorder, it's a camera, which is strictly banned here. Please put it away."

To which I responded, "Smile!" and took a snapshot of our wonderful democratic, accountable and transparent public servants. He he he... (See photo below).

As the cops were on their way, we decided to leave. "We'll be back" we told the bigwigs. "And we'll bring ten times the amount of people".

"Well, look, there's a 1300 number and a website. If you want information, you can go there, through the proper channels. This isn't the time and place. You've had your fun, now everyone's happy. Goodbye."

"Yeah, everyone's happy" I mimicked sarcastically, "except our brothers and sisters in Baxter".

The cops rocked up as we were leaving. They were extremely dismissive of DIMIA. "Jeez, they told us there was a protest, and we come rushing and, what?, there's just you guys? hahaha... I mean, I can sort of see where you guys are coming from. You just wanted information. Where else are you supposed to get that sort of information?"

Was this the embryonic stages of a police mutiny?

'Dropping in' on DIMIA in Perth

from Peace-Nic
17 Dec 2004


Just a wee bit of feedback - a couple of us, Me, Marco and some Women in Black thought we would just drop in in a very non-confrontational manner to DIMIA this arvy, politely wait in queue and ask to speak to someone about our concerns with the Iranian hungerstrike situation.

The head honcho woman was actually really threatened by us and told us to leave, despite our reasonable request to just make an appointment, even if it was on another day. They advised we would need to go to the website or call up to make an appointment and said they had called the police. As you know the Women in Black are a well organised terrorist group and are quite physically frightening so i don't blame them.

My suggestion is EVERYONE calls up individually and tries to make appointments, if not able to then individually go into DIMIA every day - take turns etc and ask to speak to someone about the issues ... perhaps someone could forward this to other state groups.

MEDIA RELEASE: MUCH WORSE THAN PRISON

Saturday 18th December 2004
Launceston Advocates group
No embargoes

30-hour Vigil and Fast in solidarity with long-term detainees in Baxter Detention Centre, South Australia


Four Launcestonians will publicly declare their solidarity with the long-term detainees in Baxter from 8am on Wednesday, December 22nd in Civic Square, Launceston.

Professor Robert Bland, Gregory Stephens SSM, Sally and Christopher Strong will peacefully fast and offer a vigil of protest, hope and Christian witness following recent visits to Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia.

Just as the World Vision 40-Hour Famine allows individuals to express solidarity with the world's poor, so this Vigil and Fast allows these four citizens to express concern for men, women and children held by our country in detention prisons for many years without criminal charges and against their will.

Christopher Strong, spokesperson for the group, said: "These people are triple victims - persecution and danger in their own country, then exploitation by people smugglers, and now we are responsible for further inhumane treatment."

He went on to say: "While we acknowledge the government's right to make policy and the deterrent effect of the present policy, it is now time to address the unintended consequences of that policy. These regrettable consequences can be handled so as to create win win win results. We appeal to our government to seize this moment of opportunity".

Those supportive of the peaceful purposes of the vigil or wishing to share their sorrow and their stories, are invited to visit the vigil.
Any request for interview or further information should be directed to Christopher Strong [phone inserted]

Purpose of the 30-hour Vigil and Fast

This document explains the purpose of the vigil and fast. It is not a political attack or act of religiosity.

There are 5 main purposes:

1. We seek to encourage people to greater information, understanding and reflection upon the circumstances of those in detention.

2. We want to challenge all people of conscience, and especially Christians in all churches, to play an active role in seeking social justice for long-term detainees.

3. We appeal to all Australians to act as agents for change to bring about the intention of this vigil through democratic processes.

4. We want to give hope to people held in detention. We want to assure them that many Australians care deeply about their suffering, and are working to seek change.

5. We appeal to our government to find avenues to solve this damaging and dangerous situation.

Adelaide: Pilgrim Circle of Friends

from Peter Russell
on behalf of the Pilgrim Circle of Friends
18th December 2004


The Pilgrim Circle of Friends based at Pilgrim Uniting Church, in the heart of the CBD of the city of Adelaide, has been conducting a Vigil (which commenced on the 13th Dec 2004) in support of the Baxter detainees on hunger strike. This has been going daily all through this week and will continue into the forseeable future as long as the hunger strike continues.
###################
BAXTER VIGIL TODAY
and same time each day this week ...
1-2 pm & 5-6 pm
Pilgrim Uniting Church in the City
Flinders Street off Victoria Square
also Sat 10am - 2pm sponsored by Pilgrim Circle of Friends
On behalf of Asylum Seekers at the Baxter Detention Centre taking extreme measures out of their despair!
###################
We would like as many people attend as possible to show solidarity.

Come at any time during the hours indicated and stay whatever time you can.

Besides quiet prayers, lighting a candle ... those of other persuasion may spend the time writing Christmas Cards to detainees or protest letters to authorities. Some materials are provided.

For people coming off the street we are providing printouts of the latest news from PROJECT SAFECOM (for their education).

One person just returned from visiting Baxter this week, made the following observations and comment:

"As a visitor to Baxter this week it was distressing to hear of the lack of trust which may have contributed to the protest. Those on the roof would not accept drinks from GSL or DIMIA staff, for fear it would contain a sedative allowing them to be brought down. One detainee (at least) who took water to them was placed in solitary confinement. So much for the act of a 'Good Samaritan'."

"On Christmas Day, while most Australians eat and enjoy, it will, at Baxter, be a day no different from the day before or the day after. Even murderers and rapists in Australian prisons receive a Christmas meal."

Peter "Mac" Russell
Adelaide
South Australia 5000
http://www.pipalya.com

Advocates express shock and horror about children's 'snatching in Gestapo style'

Project SafeCom
Media Release
Saturday December 18 2004 13:30pm WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"Refugee advocates Project SafeCom expresses shock and horror this morning about the "snatching in Gestapo style" of the Bakhtiyari children and their mother at dawn this morning from their home in Adelaide."

"Australia is not NAZI Germany, and the Australian public - if it were not manipulated by the Howard government, the previous immigration Minister Philip Ruddock and the current Minister Amanda Vanstone - would be likewise expressing their abhorrence with the way DIMIA Compliance runs its own Kingdom, void of accountability. DIMIA Compliance can well be compared to the Gestapo in Germany during World War Two."

"First, DIMIA has shown time and again that it does not have the qualifications for precise, accurate and non-biased language assessment of asylum seekers, in order to determine nationality beyond any doubt."

"The fact that in the end DIMIA had to call on the expert help of Canberra-based Migration Agent Marion Le who determined that many who were named as "Pakistanis" by DIMIA, were in fact Afghanis, shows the lack of skill and the presence of politically driven bias in these assessments if they are left to DIMIA. Ms Le also disproved DIMIA's claim and showed that her Tasmanian client Mr "S" was not at all Mr Bakhtiyari's brother. Recently, the Australian Financial Review has pointed to the fact that DIMIA used seriously biased agents, members of the Taliban [1], to assist them in nationality assessments of certain population groups from Afghanistan."

"Secondly, the Bakhtiyari family's case credibility has been actively undermined through the vilification of the former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, who built his case against the family in what could well be described as "collusion with the media" after journalists of various Australian media outlets went on a witch-hunt, not as independent investigative journalists, but as sensational evidence-hunters, spending tens of thousands of dollars on overseas trips to prove Mr Bakhtiyari was from Pakistan; this media feeding frenzy was intensified after two of the boys escaped from the Woomera detention centre a few years ago - the next week Minister Ruddock claimed that a multitude of asylum claimants from Afghanistan were in fact Pakistani."

"While the facts show that Ruddock engaged in sensationalist vilification, while the evidence could not verify his statements, Australians are yet to see an apology from the former immigration Minister."

"Project SafeCom finds itself horrified by this renewed human rights breach of locking up children, and also other groups such as the South Australian group Justice for Asylum Seekers has expressed its deep concern with this situation."

Project SafeCom wonders why this snatching in Gestapo style needs to take place so suddenly. "Did the nationality assessment of the Bakhtiyari family perhaps take place by one of the underlings of Osama Bin Laden [1], so DIMIA want them out of the country before this news leaks to the media?", spokesman Jack Smit commented this morning.

[1] See Australian Financial Review - Julie Macken, Lost in Translation: The dangerous undercurrents of refugee politics. [a copy is here]

ChilOut deplores treatment of Bakhtiyari family

ChilOut - Children Out of Detention
18 December 2004
PRESS RELEASE 21/2004


ChilOut is outraged by the Australian government's treatment of an Afghan family of seven who have been seeking asylum for the past four years. At 7 o'clock this morning, the mother, five children and baby were forcibly transferred to Port Augusta's immigration detention centre. They fear that they will be deported to Pakistan tonight.

Grave fears are held for the family's safety. ChilOut and other human rights agencies are alerting international bodies such as the Red Cross, UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF that Australia may dump an extremely vulnerable refugee family in Pakistan.

ChilOut is appalled by the Minister for Immigration's justification for her Department's treatment of the Bakhtiyaris this morning. The Minister claims that the family were given notice that there would be a change in their detention arrangements - but if this was the case then why did they need to be woken from their beds and forced into a vehicle at 7am? How is it that none of the South Australian government officials entrusted with their care for the past two years were aware of today's move?

"The human cost of our refugee status determination system has been disastrous. The children's experiences in Australia - being caught in terrifying riots with uniformed guards wielding batons, tear gas and water cannon - expose a government policy that ignores its duty to act in the best interests of the child," ChilOut spokesperson, Dianne Hiles, said today.

Apart from the above experiences, during their two years at Woomera, the older boys stitched their lips and went on hunger strike, escaped and were captured and redetained. Numerous child psychiatrists urged the Government to release the whole family from detention for the children's sake, to no avail.

Ms Hiles said, 'It is to our great shame that the whole case has been politicised to the detriment of six vulnerable children. You would think we'd be able to find it in our hearts to give the family an amnesty at this time of year."

CONTACTS:
Dianne Hiles [phone], Alanna Sherry [phone]
www.chilout.org

Bakhtiyari family told to leave

news.com.au
December 18, 2004


THE Federal Government told a family of asylum seekers to get out of Australia after moving them today from suburban Adelaide to immigration housing in South Australia's north.

Roqia Bakhtiyari and her six children were sent to Port Augusta today during an early morning immigration department operation. They were given no time to pack belongings.

Her husband, Ali, remains at the Baxter detention centre on Port Augusta's outskirts, where more than 20 Iranians have been on a hunger strike for about two weeks.

Mrs Bakhtiyari and her children had been living in suburban Adelaide, despite the Government having refused all family members refugee status. The family says it is from Afghanistan, but the Government maintains it is from Pakistan and can safely return. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the living arrangements of the family had become "untenable" but refused to elaborate.

Senator Vanstone defended the haste of the Bakhtiyaris' removal to Port Augusta today and would not say if it was a step towards deportation, instead asking the family to voluntarily depart.

The family had cost taxpayers more than $500,000 in having 20 claims heard and refused by the courts, she said. "What I think is appropriate is the Bakhtiyari family accept that they have had a fair go in Australia, all their claims have been considered, that they accept that and simply choose to go," Senator Vanstone said.

"If they don't choose to do that, removal is an option that can be considered. This family has been given every opportunity. They should recognise the reality that Australia has been very fair and they have had a very, very fair hearing, but haven't been successful. It's time to face that reality, and go."

The family's plight attracted international attention in 2002 when, during a mass escape from the now defunct Woomera detention centre, two of the children fled to Melbourne where they sought refuge in the British consulate.

Meanwhile, Senator Vanstone said the actions of Iranians on a hunger strike inside the Baxter facility were "futile".

"The Government abhors these sorts of actions," she said. "The detainees who are engaging in the action are not refugees. I strongly urge all those still involved in this futile action to cease immediately."

Three Iranians yesterday came down after spending more than a week on a rooftop at Baxter. Others have stitched their lips in a hunger strike which began two weeks ago and has involved up to 27 detainees, according to refugee advocates.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Ltd article

Vanstone defends decision to move Bakhtiyaris

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Saturday, December 18, 2004. 5:26pm (AEDT)


Federal Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has defended the way high-profile asylum seekers, the Bakhtiyari family, were ejected from their Adelaide home of 14 months.

Immigration officials went to the Bakhtiyari family home at 7:00am ACDT to collect the family and take them to the Residential Housing Project at Port Augusta, in South Australia's north.

A spokesman for the family says Immigration Department officials turned up at the house unannounced this morning and made the family leave immediately in two cars.

They claim the family was not allowed to pack belongings and mobile phones were confiscated. But Senator Vanstone says the current arrangements for the family have become untenable for the Australian Government. She says the South Australian Government agrees with the latest move.

Senator Vanstone is also not ruling out the possibility that the family will be deported before Christmas and has rejected claims that the Bakhtiyaris were caught unaware this morning.

"They were given notice on Wednesday night that the current arrangements would be changed, probably in about 48 hours," she said.

The family has been seeking asylum in Australia, saying they were from Afghanistan. However, the Australian Government insists they are from Pakistan. Their much-publicised bid for freedom received a setback when the High Court rejected their last appeal this week.

Critics

Greg Kelly, the principal of St Ignatius College where the two eldest Bakhtiyari boys have been studying, is upset the Federal Government has acted a week before Christmas. "It couldn't be worse, there's a Merry Christmas sign on the front door," he said. "They're talking about where they'd have Christmas dinner. "To do this at Christmas, I mean there is another family that was in similar circumstances... Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also refugees at this time of the year."

"The Prime Minister said [when] claiming election victory that he hoped Australia would be a beacon of hope and a beacon of tolerance. "Certainly, Amanda Vanstone has been more compassionate than the predecessor. I thought she was more compassionate than she's turned out to be."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1268299.htm

Bartlett joins hunger strike

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Saturday, December 18, 2004. 10:59pm (AEDT)


Queensland Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett has gone on a hunger strike in support of detainees in the Baxter detention centre.

Several detainees at the centre started a hunger strike two weeks ago, saying they would prefer to die than stay in detention.

Some of the detainees have since ended the protest and have been taken to hospital for treatment.

Senator Bartlett says he wants the detainees to maintain hope.

"Really what I want to do is simply indicate to people in detention that they have support in the Australian community," he said.

"There are thousands of Australians who are doing what they can to help the detainees and refugees who are suffering because of unjust laws.

"[We are trying to] send a message to the community that this is an incredibly serious situation."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1268358.htm

"I have not said I will hunger strike for as long as the detainees do. I will take it one day at a time in deciding what is best, but what I have said is that I will continue to support them, as do many thousands of people in the Australian community, in their struggle for justice and freedom." - Senator Andrew Bartlett [more]

Baxter protest waning: Vanstone

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Sunday, December 19, 2004. 8:15am (AEDT)


Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says there are signs the latest protest action which included a roof-top hunger strike by detainees at Baxter detention centre is waning.

At one stage, the fortnight-long protest involved more than 20 detainees.

Senator Vanstone says two men who have been treated at the Port Augusta Hospital for dehydration are being returned to the facility.

She says others have come down from the roof of the gymnasium and another has unstitched his lips.

"It does appear as though this protest may be dissipating as they all have in the past," she said.

"During the time of these protests it's a very anxious time for the carers and the guards because they do have responsibility to look after people and it's an additional stress on the people to make sure that the people in their care are properly looked after."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1268394.htm

Bartlett pledges support for Baxter detainees

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Sunday, December 19, 2004. 7:28am (AEDT)


Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says he will remain on a hunger strike as long as detainees at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia's north do.

Several of the hunger strikers, including those on the roof of the centre, have ended their strike, although refugee support groups say the protest is continuing inside.

The Queensland Senator, who will drink water but not eat, says he is protesting about the conditions for asylum seekers in Baxter.

"I'd also like to encourage the detainees to retain some hope," he said.

"I don't encourage detainees to go on hunger strikes.

"I've always encouraged them in the past not to do that, to pursue other means and I continue to encourage them not to do that but to indicate to them that we'll continue to support them."

Meanwhile, Senator Bartlett says the Federal Government's treatment of the Bakhtiyari family has been unjust and a disgrace.

Immigration officials arrived unannounced at the Adelaide home of Mrs Bakhtiyari and her six children early yesterday morning and moved them to secure housing at Port Augusta.

The Government has not said wether they will be deported, but says it had become untenable to allow them to continue to live in the eastern suburbs home.

"The Government and the department act close to Christmas, act in the night, act on the weekends and attempt to try and get away with what they're doing with less scrutiny," Senator Bartlett said.

"Part of my job is to highlight what they're doing and ensure there is scrutiny of incredibly callous an inhumane acts."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1268378.htm

A statement from Andrew Bartlett

Senator Andrew Bartlett has said he will continue his fast in support of the Iranians locked up in Baxter detention centre.

"Whilst I was initially only planning to fast for a couple of days, I do believe it is important to stress how very serious the situation is and how completely desperate the people in detention are," Senator Bartlett said.

"I have not said I will hunger strike for as long as the detainees do. I will take it one day at a time in deciding what is best, but what I have said is that I will continue to support them, as do many thousands of people in the Australian community, in their struggle for justice and freedom.

"I do not encourage people in detention to engage in hunger strikes, as it risks causing them serious self-harm and I continue to encourage those people in Baxter to resume eating. They have already shown their strength and determination, and many Australians are even more committed to do what they can to help them.

"However, whilst I do not encourage self-harm, it is very important to continue to show support for them and to try to demonstrate to the wider public just how incredibly serious the situation they face is."

"The asylum seekers are faced with a so-called 'choice' between perpetual imprisonment and serious persecution. Some have already been locked up for over 5 years for committing no crime. In such a situation, it is not surprising that people will resort to desperate measures."

"Showing solidarity with the asylum seekers is one measure that can prevent them from giving up hope all together, which would risk more dire consequences. What they do should be a decision entirely for them, which is why I do not want to link my decision on fasting to theirs."

"The Australian Government must take the simple step of acknowledging that our law has led to a grossly unjust situation. A recent report by the Edmund Rice Centre has shown that many asylum seekers deported have been persecuted on their return. Iran is a country with one the worst human rights records in the world and we should not be returning people to such a situation.

Detainees' plight spurs senator to go hungry

The Courier Mail
Stefanie Balogh
20dec04


HE has protested to save battery hens, bungy-jumped for votes, and played keyboard to rock against Prime Minister John Howard.

Now Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett, deputy leader of the Australian Democrats, is on a hunger strike to highlight the plight of Iranian refugees at South Australia's Baxter detention centre, near Port Augusta.

Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone yesterday labelled his actions as foolish.

But Senator Bartlett said that desperate times called for desperate measures, and he wanted to highlight the desperate situation of people in detention.

Senator Bartlett said he would take his fast one day at a time.

Refugee advocates claim more than 25 detainees have been refusing food for about two weeks at the detention centre.

Three of the Iranian detainees have now ended their hunger strike after spending more than a week on the rooftop at Baxter. Others have sewn their lips together.

Despite not eating since Friday, Senator Bartlett said: "I do not encourage people in detention to engage in hunger strikes, as it risks causing them serious self-harm, and I continue to encourage those people in Baxter to resume eating."

Senator Bartlett said Iran had one of the worst human rights records in the world and Australia should not be returning people to such a dangerous situation.

He said it was a concern that the High Court had confirmed that the Federal Government could detain people indefinitely.

Refugee Action Collective spokesman Ian Rintoul applauded Senator Bartlett's protest actions.

"It has been the case that previous groups of people have taken measures like this to highlight the difficulty (of those in detention) and to mobilise community support and to urge the Government to act compassionately," Mr Rintoul said.

Senator Vanstone said: "For a Member of Parliament to engage in such an action sends a message to people both inside and outside immigration detention that a hunger strike is an acceptable form of protest.

"Given the potential health risks to individuals, it's not an acceptable form of protest and so it's a very foolish thing for Senator Bartlett to do."

Senator Bartlett said he was not going to do anything that would harm himself. He said people had tried everything inside and outside of parliament to end the absurdity of locking people up for more than five years, and desperate measures were needed to attract attention.

The hunger strike follows a tough 12 months for the Queensland senator.

He gained notoriety last year when he manhandled and verbally abused Liberal senator Jeannie Ferris in the Senate chamber. He later admitted a problem with alcohol and depression.

As the Democrats eighth leader, he oversaw the party's worst ever election performance. Five days ago he officially handed over the leadership to Victorian Senator Lyn Allison, and he became deputy.

Link to the Courier Mail article

Bartlett joins hunger strikers

Sydney Morning Herald
By Cynthia Banham
December 20, 2004


Last Christmas the then Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett gave up alcohol after a fracas with a government Senator; this Christmas he is giving up food.

Senator Bartlett's abstinence is to show solidarity with the long-term detainees at Baxter Detention centre, about 20 of whom are on hunger strikes in protest against their detention and the possibility some will be deported to Iran. Senator Bartlett told the Herald he began his fast on Friday night and was only consuming water and other fluids.

He would not say how long his fast would continue, but that he would take things "day to day". He said he did not "encourage people to engage in acts of self- harm", and that he would not do anything harmful to himself.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, said "for a Member of Parliament to engage in such action sends a message to people ... that hunger striking is an acceptable form of protest ... it's not an

Link to the Sydney Morning Herald article

Pollie hunger strike 'a bad example'

news.com.au
December 20, 2004


IMMIGRATION Minister Amanda Vanstone has criticised Australian Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett for staging a hunger strike.

Senator Bartlett says he has not eaten since Friday night in support of a hunger strike by asylum seekers at the Baxter Detention Centre.

Senator Vanstone today said there were health risk associated with such action.

"Hunger strikes are not a good idea, there are health risks and I don't think a member of parliament should be setting that sort of example," she said on ABC radio.

"I don't like the idea of kids, teenagers or adults learning from a member of parliament that this is an acceptable form of protest."

Senator Bartlett says his protest is against conditions at the Baxter facility, near Port Augusta in South Australia.

Up to 27 detainees have been involved in a hunger strike that began two weeks ago, according to refugee advocates, but three Iranians ended their strike on Friday after spending more than a week on a rooftop at the centre.

Others have stitched their lips together.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Ltd article

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Baxter: eleven days on a tin roof, Orwellian lawyers in the Courts

The Gates of Baxter HellNarrogin WA, 16 Dec 13:30pm - Day 11 for the first man on the roof of the Baxter gymnasium, and temperatures at Port Augusta are soaring towards the Centigrade mark: as I look at the temperature at local time in SA of 16:00pm, Wunderground.com's gauge stands at 35° C. The Department of Immigration has gone silent; Your Right To Know does not play a role. No news or updates have come in directly for a while, but in the Adelaide Court Claire O'Connor's efforts to get one of the men out of Baxter are being derailed by the lawyer for the Immigration Minister by using the 'spinline' of things being too busy at Baxter for the DIMIA psychologist as a result of the hunger strike, to have the time to look at the situation of her client .... who's on the hunger strike. An Orwellian assessment, we can safely conclude.

I'm also touching on the issue of placing identifying details of the Iranians on the internet, while refugee supporters, advocates and activists alike mobilize for protests, vigils, hunger strikes around the country in solidarity with the Iranians.

Identifying details of Iranians

From Project SafeCom Inc.
16 December 2004


Anybody who's unsure about posting on not posting identifiable details of the Iranians, or photographs of the Baxter men on any internet list or website should read the article below from the Svenska Dagbladet.

Over the last few weeks I've made several phone calls to Australian as well as international newspapers and website owners, asking them to take names or photos of Iranians off their website - in all cases my pleas were honoured and editors changed the text of the online news articles. The same applies to emails sent to any list, whether that's a "Mailman" list, a Yahoo!Groups list or a Topica list, because all of them have archives on the internet.

Placing identifiable photos of Iranians on the internet places them in immediate and terrible danger, because there is evidence that the Iranian religious council has "refugee spies" working around the planet. Their brief is to identify and list refugees as well as photograph them. Their activities do not limit themselves to just "run-aways" who have fled to other countries but also to accepted refugees with permanent residency in other countries. No other article illustrates this better than the article pasted below, from Svenska Dagbladet.

Some of the Iranians in Baxter may have told you that they actually want to have details or photos of themselves on the internet. Well, that's not the single criterion, but there are also considerations at play, that they do either not know about, or no longer want to know about. The final judgment is up to people who know the set of circumstances also from the outside of the "fence".

It's a bit like addressing the question, what you would do if someone, your best friend, stands on the edge of a bridge, ready to jump into the traffic and on to the concrete road, 50 metres below.

Is friendship determined by giving your friend a push, if you're asked, or is friendship determined by applying your "knowing better" as a friend and bystander?

A message from one of the Christian Ministers that attended the church service today: "If you have received a document with names of detainees included do not under any circumstances send this information to anyone. Some detainees are horrified that their names are included. They did not give permission for this info to be circulated. Please destroy or delete this information it will be very damaging for this information to be made public."

Also: Release of this information runs counter to the entire approach and strategies of the Unitng Church who are on the record as being very successful in lobbying the Minister on behalf of the Iranians.

Suspected refugee-spies worked for Iran

(Misstänkta flyktingspioner jobbade åt Iran)

Nyheter
Svenska Dagbladet
14.11.2003

(translated from Swedish)

Both suspected refugee-spies who were expelled a week ago came from Iran. The men where seized in Kista after having contacted refugees from the Baluchistan province. The refugees were photographed by the spies and Säpo [Swedish secret service] were made aware of the men after a tip-off from exiled Iranians.

Säpo & Chief prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand of the Stockholm's International Prosecution Chamber has been very reluctant about details surrounding the suspected refugee espionage last week.

Two men, about 35-40 years old, where seized suspected of having spied on refugees. The preliminary investigation was closed but the men were expelled after a decision by Margareta Linderoth, head of Counter-Terrorism for Säpo.

Still, both the Prosecution authorities and Säpo refuse to say where the men come from. The only information given is that they come from a non-European country.

Why won't you say that they are Iranian?

"I can answer the question generally speaking, it's not up to me, the prosecutor, to point out separate countries at this point, in particular since the preliminary investigation has been closed." -Tomas Lindstrand.

Why's that?

"That is how I interpret the secrecy law. It deals with Sweden's relationship towards a foreign power. I don't think it's suitable. One shouldn't hastily point the finger at other countries without proper grounds", he continued.

But according to information to Svenska Dagbladet from many independent sources, both men are Iranian. The men have visited Sweden earlier. Last year they made contact with exiled Iranians with left-wing sympathies. Both men returned to Sweden this year in October where they made contact with refugees both here and in Norway, and according to certain information, also in Denmark.

The purpose for the Iranians' operation in Sweden in October and November was to establish contact and to recruit sources amongst the Iranian refugees. More specifically, on his occasion they contacted Iranians from the Baluchistan province, according to anonymous source information.

The men operated under different names with their contacts and met refugees in many locations. A group of Iranians became frightened. In Sweden are there an estimated thousand people with Baluchistanian background and in Norway, roughly 60-70 families.

That the preliminary investigation against the Iranians was dropped was because it wasn't possible to prove that they'd been acting "secretly" & "with deceiving methods", as the old illegal intelligence operations law demands.

"This law is not particularly well suited to deal with refugee-espionage", says Tomas Lindstrand.

Many exiled Iranians are critical of the Swedish authorities for not saying directly that Iran lies behind the operation.

"We are disapointed. This creates an anxiety among Iranians and distrust of Säpo increases", said Mehrdad Darvishpour, Doctor of Sociology at Stockholm University.

The men were seized in Kista after a tip-off from exiled Iranians who had themselves been contacted.

"We want to have an official and public protest from Sweden against Iran sending agents here. If Iran sees that nothing happens they will continue with their work", said Mehrdad Darvishpour. "Enough is enough".

http://www.svd.se/dynamiskt/inrikes/did_6520044.asp

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

Protest delays detainee court bid

news.com.au
December 16, 2004


A HUNGER-striking Iranian man seeking a court order for an urgent psychological assessment had his case delayed today, partly as a result of the protest he is involved with at a South Australian detention centre.

Lawyer Claire O'Connor says Abdoul Hamidi, 31, is mentally ill and urgently needs to be transferred out of the Baxter detention centre, in north SA, to a psychiatric hospital.

Ms O'Connor said Mr Hamidi, who has been taking part in a hunger strike at Baxter for the past 10 days, had a history of self-harm and suicide attempts, including cutting his stomach and neck, attempting to hang himself and swallowing shampoo and panadeine.

The Federal Court in Adelaide was today due to hear Mr Hamidi's application asking the court to order that he be psychologically assessed, with a view to transferring him out of Baxter.

But a lawyer for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, who is opposing the application, asked for an adjournment.

She said an affidavit from the detention centre's psychologist was not ready because he was busy dealing with the protest at Baxter.

"There's a focus at Baxter on some detainees, including some on the roof, which is taxing the staff there," she told the court.

There were 27 Iranian detainees involved in a hunger strike at the facility, including three men who remained on the roof of the centre's gymnasium as part of their protest against their detention.

Justice Bruce Lander adjourned the hearing until tomorrow.

AAP

Link to The AAP/News Interactive article

The Kafkaesque Catch 22

Friday, December 17, 2004
Andrew Bartlett's BLOG


If you haven't read any books by Franz Kafka, I recommend you do - especially The Trial. Nothing I've read better portrays the bizarre, surreal, nightmarish torment refugees in detention have been subjected to by our Government - perhaps embellished with a dose of Catch 22 just to round off the horror.

I saw a news report yesterday which gives a glimpse of this - its so sick and shameless it's almost funny in a very black way.

A hunger-striking Iranian man in Baxter is seeking a court order to get an urgent psychological assessment. The court was told he is severely mentally ill and urgently needs to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital. He has a history of self-harm and suicide attempts.

The Govt lawyer tried to delay the hearing, saying evidence from the detention centre's psychologist was not ready because he was busy dealing with the protest at Baxter. To quote - "There's a focus at Baxter on some detainees, including some on the roof, which is taxing the staff there."

• Yes that's right, the psychologist couldn't do an assessment of the health of the hunger striker because he was too busy dealing with the hunger strikers.

• Yes it's true, people who are deliberately driven insane by the detention regime of this Govt have to go to court to try to get access to proper psychiatric care.

• Yes it's true, the Govt fights these court actions to try to stop the detainees from getting 'out' to a psych hospital.

• And yes, the Govt was successful in getting the Court to adjourn the matter to give them more time to provide to the Court with their mental health assessment of the hunger striker.

See Andrew Bartlett's BLOG

JRSA supports call for independent medical review of Baxter crisis

Media Release
Justice for Asylum Seekers, Adelaide
15 December 2004


As the rooftop protest at Baxter detention enters the eleventh day, JRSA is increasingly concerned for the health and well being of the three Iranians on the roof and supports the call from the Alliance of Health Professionals for asylum seekers for an independent medical review, said Dr Don McMaster.

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 de facto 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".

JRSA supports the Alliance medical team in seeking approval to conduct a review of Baxter detainees and to recommend treatment as required.The situation at Baxter has to be resolved soon before a major catastrophe occurs.

Images of the detainees on the rooftop are available from REUTERS

Prayer Vigils at Pilgrim Uniting Church

Daily prayer vigils are being held at the Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders Street Adelaide. The vigils are for the Baxter detainees who are resorting to the desperate measures such as hunger striking. The prayer vigils are being held weekdays 1-2pm and 5-6pm, on Saturdays from 10am to 12 noon.

Angela Dawes
Coordinator
Justice for Asylum Seekers
Phone (08) 8266-4111
www.justiceforrefuges.asn.au

Hunger strikers bake on tin roof while Minister ignores their pleas

Senator Kerry Nettle
Senator for NSW (The Greens)
Press Release 16.12.04


Greens Senator Kerry Nettle today called on Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to agree to review the asylum claims of the Iranian detainees including the 25 currently on hunger strike in Baxter Detention Centre. "Amanda Vanstone must act now to save these men and all their compatriots from the deadly situation that their long and harsh incarceration has left them in," Senator Nettle said.

"This situation is now life or death. The Minister must act now to ensure there is no tragic death as a result of her intransigence.

"The three desperate men on a tin roof at Baxter are in particular danger. Temperatures are soaring into the high 30s and set to reach over 40 degrees by the weekend, and these men are getting weaker by the day.

"The fact is that these asylum seekers have been driven into dangerous desperation by their long harsh detention and the threat of the deportation to face persecution in Iran.

"These men need urgent independent psychiatric assessments and must have their cases reviewed by the department in light of the deteriorating political situation in Iran, their own deteriorating mental condition.

"When innocent men are willing to die in these detention camps in an effort to get justice then it should be obvious to all that the mandatory detention regime is cruel and inhume policy which must be abolished."

The Greens will be joining protests and vigils around the country on Friday and Saturday in solidarity with the hunger strikers calling for the release of asylum seekers from the government's prisons.

Contact Jon Edwards - [phone inserted]

Baxter detainees' 5th Christmas in detention

RAR Media Release
14th December 2004


Of the 200 asylum seekers in the Baxter detention centre most will this year be 'celebrating' their fourth or fifth Christmas in detention.

To highlight their plight members of Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) will hold a number of Christmas vigils in rural and regional towns. There are now 90 RAR groups in towns across Australia.

The largest group of asylum seekers in Baxter are Iranians who fled persecution in Iran to come to seek asylum in Australia. Many have converted to Christianity, a crime punishable by death in Iran.

25 Iranian asylum seekers have recently begun a hunger strike to try to raise public awareness of their years in detention, and the dangers they face if deported to Iran.

"People who are mentally healthy and in control of their lives do not self-harm or go on hunger strikes," said RAR spokeswoman Emma Corcoran. "These are the actions of powerless and despairing people. They are so desperate to have a normal life. All they want is freedom, but they have all spent 4 or 5 years in detention.

"The government could stop the terrible suffering of these people, and save the Australian people millions of dollars, by giving these asylum seekers freedom," Ms Corcoran said. "These people are now our friends, and all we want for them is a fair go."

Rural Australians for Refugees is the largest grassroots refugee support groups, with approximately 15,000 supporters nationwide.

Contact: Emma Corcoran [phone inserted]
Anne Coombs [phone inserted]

A Draft letter to Kofi Annan

from Ian Rintoul
Refugee Action Coalition
16 December 2004


Some people have asked about a text for a letter to Kofi Annan. I have drafted the following text that people might like to use for letters that can be signed on stalls over the next few days.

___________________________

To: Kofi Annan email: sg(at)un.org
   (replace (at) with @
Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters,
First Avenue 46th Street,
New York, NY 10017

___________________________

Urgent Action needed to assist asylum seekers in Australia refuge emergency at Baxter detention centre

Dear Secretary-General,

We are writing to draw your urgent attention to the circumstances of asylum seekers in Baxter detention centre in South Australia and other immigration detention centres in Australia.

A number of Iranian detainees are presently on hunger strike in protest at the conditions at Baxter detention Centre.. The Australian government policy of mandatory and unreviewable detention violates important principles of the Refugee Convention, 1951, to which Australia is a signatory. Many have been held in detention for three and longer with no hope of a solution - a situation which has drastic consequences for the physical and mental well-being of these asylum seekers and their families.

We appeal to you and other departments of the United Nations to draw international attention to the plight of asylum seekers in Australia and to urge the Australian government to constructively intervene to find a compassionate solution to this humanitarian crisis.

Signed:

__________________

This weekend's actions

Conform with the wishes of the Iranians in the Baxter detention centre, the following schedule is valid for all of Australia: they made the "timetable":

Dear Respected Australian Nation & Human Rights Defenders


A loge with greeting Christmas, we wish a prosperous new year for all of you, we: refugees are going to Christmas and new year in bad situation, many of our friends are in hunger struck for long time, other are living On the roof in such a rainy and stormy weather, others who did not find Listening ear have stitched their mouth. So many years we have been forgotten and detained in stressful and disappointed detention centers, so we requested you to take us seriously and reflex our situation to international organization.

1. - A protest on Friday 17/12/04 in front of DIMIA offices in all cities or states.

2. - A hunger strike on Saturday 18/12/04 demonstrate our strike (depends on your wish).

19:40pm - Arnold Zable just phoned. He's joining Corinne Grant on the hunger strike in Melbourne. And in an update (17/12), they're joined by artist Kate Durham, acclaimed singer and songwriter Kavisha Mazella and artist Diana Greentree.

3. - Sunday 19/12/04 will be media release we request all free-minded Journalists, all human rights defenders and all the churches around Australia (in regard to Jesus toll the bells and remember that Jesus Christ also was a stranger refugee in Egypt) announce our situation to people worldwide.

4. - An E-mail or a letter to the Hon. Kofi Annan [e-mail: sg(at)un.org], United Nation of High Commission for Refugees requesting for a pressure to the Australian Government for our FREEDOM.

For above-mentioned actions, please organize yourselves. As you all are in our mind and heart, we shake your kind and warm hands.

Family First for asylum seekers' summit

The Age
December 16, 2004 - 5:24PM


Australia's newest political party Family First called on the federal government to convene an urgent summit to address the plight of asylum seekers.

Family First federal chairman Peter Harris said Australia's treatment of asylum seekers was wrong and needed to be redressed.

"Family First is calling for (an) urgent summit to be convened to seek public comment to allow for all views to be expressed and then for action to be taken," he said.

"We support tight border security to protect every Australian but I am appealing to the government that compassion and greater consideration can be shown in these circumstances.

"It is time for serious action to be taken and Family First will not let up until change occurs."

Mr Harris said he had contacted the government about convening a summit.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone was returning from a ministerial forum in Papua New Guinea on Thursday and was unavailable for immediate comment.

Meanwhile, refugee advocates said most of the 200 asylum seekers at the Baxter detention centre would have their fourth of fifth Christmas in detention this year.

To highlight their plight, members of Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) said they would hold Christmas vigils in up to 90 rural and regional towns.

RAR spokeswoman Emma Corcoran said 25 Iranian asylum seekers at Baxter were staging a hunger strike to raise public awareness of their years in detention.

"People who are mentally healthy and in control of their lives do not self-harm or go on hunger strikes," she said.

"These are the actions of powerless and despairing people.

"They are so desperate to have a normal life.

"All they want is freedom, but they have all spent four or five years in detention.

"The government could stop the terrible suffering of these people, and save the Australian people millions of dollars, by giving these asylum seekers freedom."

© 2004 AAP

Link to the article in The Age

Calare's Peter Andren: concerned

Dear Senator Vanstone,

I believe many many Australians will spend this Christmas ashamed at our treatment of detainees in Baxter Detention Centre, and the continued detention of children. I have received many messages from ordinary unaligned non-activist people within my electorate who are very concerned at the events occurring at the detention centre. I realise we have people in detention who have been denied refugee status and who are now facing indefinite incarceration. I realise they may be illegal arrivals under the law, but I am alarmed at comments from the Australian and NZ College of Psychiatrists who say the hunger strike is predictable given the severe mental distress of the detainees.

In fact I cannot disagree with the assessment of the Association that Baxter is a de facto psychiatric hospital without the psychiatric staff.I also agree with the Assocaition that the fact these people have exhausted avenues of legal appeal is no justification for inhumane treatment.

As with the Iraki and Afghan asylum seekers, many of whom you have recently granted visas, surely the Iranian detainees have fled regimes they feared. If we argue that we are trying to democratise and 'liberate' such peoples, how tragically ironic is it that we lock up these people and offer them no hope of tasting the freedom they sought in this land.

Peter Andren
Member for Calare
Bathurst NSW

Three men off Baxter roof as Corinne Grant and Arnold Zable prepare for strike

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Friday December 17 2004 8:45am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


Reports have come in that the three men, who have been on the roof of the Baxter gymnasium for almost two weeks, have come down after police negotiators were successful in persuading the men to do so yesterday evening. No reports have come in that the men who have protested inside the buildings - on last count still more than 20 Iranians - have given up their protest, apart from the fact that one of the men who had stitched his lips, has removed them. The three men have been hospitalized in the Port Augusta hospital.

The end to the 11-day hunger strike on the roof - the only place from where detainees have direct visual contact with anything outside the detention centre - comes as supporters, advocates and activists mobilize for actions and events around Australia.

High profile writer Arnold Zable and comedienne Corinne Grant will embark on a public hunger strike in Melbourne tomorrow, while they expect to be joined by other high profile members of the Melbourne arts community. Activists in several capital cities will protest today in front of city offices of DIMIA, the Department of Immigration, and other hunger strikes and vigils are scheduled in various cities and towns right around Australia.

"The end of the roof strike however, does not end the fury of refugee advocates around Australia", Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit comments. "It seems that it is clear that every common Australian who cares to take note, knows that all Iranians currently still detained in Baxter, have a well-founded fear of persecution."

"This is exactly the definition of the Refugee Convention. With the appalling record of refugee assessment, where 3/4 of the initial assessments by the Department of Immigration were found to be wrong on subsequent appeals, Project SafeCom retains its intense fury with the Minister for Immigration and the Department of Immigration, and demands a full re-opening of all Iranian asylum cases."

"It's clear that the government cannot be trusted that it attempts to approve asylum cases wherever it can, but that, reversely, it has a determination to try and deny asylum wherever it can, when asylum claimants have arrived unannounced, and by boat."

Baxter detainees end rooftop protest

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Friday, December 17, 2004. 1:28pm (AEDT)


The Immigration Department has confirmed that three men have ended a rooftop protest at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia's far north.

A spokesman says the men came down from the roof voluntarily last night.

They have been treated at the Port Augusta Hospital.

The spokesman says no undertakings have been given to the three men about their cases.

Another detainee has removed stitches which he had sewn into his lips.

A number of other detainees have been on a hunger strike.

Meanwhile, the group Rural Australians for Refugees plans to hold a carols by candlelight vigil for the Baxter detainees.

Group spokeswoman Kathy Verran says singers will gather outside the fence of the detention centre tomorrow night.

She hopes the carols will help to reassure detainees that they are not forgotten by the local community.

"When we talked about having a carols by candlelight outside Baxter, part of that was that those people that are inside there don't get to often attend things like that, and so we wanted to take a bit of Christmas to them," she said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1267456.htm

Messages from Baxter, 17/12

One: (11.00am) Just had a call from the guys. All are back from hospital and in the compound. They say they had a visit from Adelaide Police and from GSL Management in Canberra, who threatened to move them all into Management Unit (ie: solitary confinement) if they don't break the hunger strike.

They're determined to go on with it, claiming it was their right to do with their body as they wish and that they had not committed an offence or hurt anybody, so no reason to move them to management. Personally, I'm surprised it hasn't already happened.

Two: (11.15am) I just had a phone call from one of the Baxter hunger-strikers. The police have moved into Baxter and GSL is threatening to use them to break the strike and put individuals into isolation, if they continue with the protest. I was asked to pass this news on.

Three: (7.00am, Sat 18/12) There has been an Iranian man, visiting with a GSL person on Thursday and Friday; he said he was a policeman from the South Australian police and had been brought to talk to the guys. Now they are very worried that he's connected to the Iranian government, as he had no ID and they have told him things including their names. He said he had lived in Australia since he was six. His Farsi was very good indeed. His name is Mehrdad Yazrlu.

Bartlett joins hunger strike over asylum seekers

DEMOCRATS MEDIA
17 Dec 2004


The Australian Democrats Immigration spokesperson Senator Andrew Bartlett, will go on a hunger strike tomorrow in support of the asylum seekers in Baxter who are asking the Immigration Minister to reconsider their cases.

"Some of these asylum seekers are Christians who would face persecution if they return to Iran. It is extraordinary that the Government still insists they go back or remain locked up forever in detention camps," Senator Bartlett said.

"Those asylum seekers on a hunger strike have been locked up for years and they feel they have no other options left. It is important for them to know that many people in the Australian community support them in their struggle for justice."

"Hunger strikes are a sign of the desperation of the situation while the Government just stonewalls. Over many years the Democrats have tried reasoning with the Government, moving amendments, and appealing to their sense of decency. In the cases of those still in Baxter, nothing seems to have worked."

Senator Bartlett visited hunger strikers on Nauru again early this year and recently became one of the only MPs to visit detainees on Christmas Island. He has visited Baxter a number of times.

"Australia's detention centres are a continuing litany of disasters. Despite costing Australian taxpayers billions of dollars, the Government is happy to let the situation continue to fester.

"Many Australians who oppose the Government's policy are taking action tomorrow, either protesting or joining the hunger strike," concluded Senator Bartlett.

Bartlett plans hunger strike over Baxter detainees

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Friday, December 17, 2004. 4:14pm (AEDT)


Queensland Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett will begin a hunger strike this weekend to protest the conditions of detainees in the Baxter detention centre.

Mr Bartlett says he wants to show support for the asylum seekers and raise awareness of their condition.

He says the detainees' situation is becoming more desperate.

"I've always encouraged people not to engage in hunger strikes in the past, and I still don't encourage them to do so," he said.

"I'd have to say they're really at the stage where they simply have no alternative."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1267877.htm

Australian Party Leader to Join Hunger Strike

Reuters News
Fri Dec 17, 2004 02:10 AM ET


CANBERRA (Reuters) - The leader of a small Australian political party will begin a hunger strike on Saturday in support of about 20 Iranian asylum seekers held at a rural immigration detention center who have refused food for almost two weeks.

Andrew Bartlett, leader of the Australian Democrats which have seven members of the national parliament's upper house, said he would remain fasting until the men held at the remote Baxter detention center in South Australia state ended their protest.

Several of the Baxter group have stitched their lips shut as part of the protest against Canberra's refusal to grant them sanctuary. Three men, who had been protesting on the roof of the center, agreed to come down on Friday and were taken to hospital.

"Those asylum seekers on a hunger strike have been locked up for years and they feel they have no other options left," Bartlett said in a statement on Friday.

"It is important for them to know that many people in the Australian community support them in their struggle for justice."

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

Refugee activists Project Safecom said there were about 20 men still on hunger strike inside Baxter, but a spokesman for the Immigration Department said the figure was less than that.

"It needs to be emphasized that no undertakings have been given to those withdrawing from the protest," the spokesman said.

There are 252 people detained at Baxter, 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.

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 Reuters article

No Room at the Aussie Inn for Forgotten Asylum Seekers

Newcastle Greens
Media Release
17 December 2004


About thirty people gathered in Civic Park on Thursday 16 December for a couple of hours to stand quietly in solidarity with the Baxter detainees on hunger strike in Port Augusta.

Standing with home made placards as the late afternoon traffic passed was one simple way to remember the struggle of these asylum seekers since arriving in Australia.

"Many people have waved and honked their car horns in support, a few passers-by have been negative, but people do care. We just want our government to care as well and release these detainees into the community pending their future," said Anne McLaughlin, Newcastle Greens Spokesperson on Refugee Issues.

"Many of the protesters have been detained (imprisoned) for four years or more.

"Why? - Because they didn't enter Australia correctly. They left their homes in Iran, a place we consider part of the Axis of Evil, in fear of their lives. They arrived here and asked for asylum, which has been so far denied. They have been imprisoned indefinitely in conditions regarded internationally as cruel and inhumane.

"And they are so desperate at being locked away and forgotten that they will get onto a hot rooftop in desert conditions in summer and go on a hunger strike to protest."

Further vigils to draw attention to the plight of these people are planned for the near future, with Rural Australians for Refugees, calling for local vigils across Australia in the next few days.

Contact: Anne McLaughlin [phone inserted]

Photos: One | Two | Three | Four | Five

Actors, artists, & musicians respond to plea for help from Baxter hunger strikers

Refugee Action Collective, Victoria
MEDIA RELEASE
Friday, 17 December 2004
(for immediate release)
Attention: Chiefs of staff, Radio Producers, Editors


Over 20 Iranian asylum seekers inside Baxter Detention Centre are currently involved in a hunger strike, and their numbers are increasing daily. A broad coalition of refugee advocates are planning to hold a public fast on Saturday December 18 in support of these desperate people.

In Melbourne supporters will fast from midnight tonight until midnight tomorrow, and will join together outside the GPO (corner Bourke & Elizabeth Streets) from 10am-5pm to call for freedom and justice for the people incarcerated at Baxter.

A range of well known Melbourne identities will join the public fast, which organisers say will be a colourful and vibrant show of solidarity for the people inside Baxter.

Arnold Zable, author and spokesperson for the Melbourne Centre of PEN International, says we cannot afford to remain silent when confronted by the horrifying reality of the Howard government's mandatory detention regime. He describes the conditions under which people are detained as cruel and barbaric.

Artist and convenor of Spare Rooms for Refugees, Kate Durham, comedian Corrine Grant, actor and vice-president of Actors for Refugees, Diana Greentree, and musician Kavisha Mazzella, are also planning to join the public fast.

Together they reject the suggestion that attempting to publicise the plight of the Baxter hunger strikers amounts to encouraging behaviour which may lead to grave physical injury or death. 'My first concern is for the health of the refugees', Durham said. 'But since they have decided to take this action, I feel obliged to do everything within my power to call attention to the conditions which have forced them to take such drastic measures'.

Diana Greentree accused the government of imprisoning people who have done nothing but seek freedom 'in a country they foolishly believed to be a freedom-loving democracy'.

'Our Government's callous disregard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which it is a signatory) demonstrates its mean-spirited hypocrisy when it espouses its adherence to Christian principles', Greentree said.

• Arnold Zable, Kate Durham, Corrine Grant, Diana Greentree, and Kavisha Mazzella will be available for media interviews & photos between 2&3 pm at the GPO, Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, this Saturday 18 December.

• For more information contact Refugee Action Collective spokesperson, Emma Larking: [phone contacts inserted] on Saturday.

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

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 39°C is expected on Thursday, and a max of 41°C 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 Lê with the view to ask her, whether she would be available as an independent negotiator with the hunger strikers. Ms Lê 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 Lê 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 Lê 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 Lê 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
First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

Monday, December 13, 2004

Undermining Civil Rights in the USA - and in Australia?

G'day all

I picked up the material below by chance, at an Australian e-group, the Hopecaravan list. Although it's from the US, it shows how alert and alarmed we should be Down Under as well, with a government which has its hands in the pockets of the Bush government. It's a good idea to keep in touch with the folks of the Civil Rights Network a group in Melbourne that keeps track of the Australian situation.

I'll be entering more information in this section at a later stage.

Jack

News Gathering Is Illegal Under New Patriot Act ll

SECTION 102 of the new Patriot Act ll states clearly that any information gathering, regardless of whether or not those activities are illegal, can be considered to be clandestine intelligence activities for a foreign power. This makes news gathering illegal.

A Brief Analysis of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act 2003 - Also Known as USA Patriot Act II

Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex) told the Washington Times that no member of Congress was allowed to read the first Patriot Act that was passed by the House on October 27, 2001.

The first Patriot Act was universally decried by civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars from across the political spectrum. William Safire, while writing for the New York Times, described the first Patriot Act's powers by saying that President Bush was "seizing dictatorial control."

On February 7, 2003 the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan public interest think-tank in DC, revealed the full text of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. The classified document had been leaked to them by an unnamed source inside the Federal government.

The document consisted of a 33 page section by section analysis of the accompanying 87 page bill.

The bill itself is stamped "Confidential - Not for Distribution." Upon reading the analysis and bill, I was stunned by the scientifically crafted tyranny contained in the legislation.

The Justice Department Office of Legislative Affairs admits that they had indeed covertly transmitted a copy of the legislation to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, (R-Il) and the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney as well as the executive heads of federal law enforcement agencies.

It is important to note that no member of Congress was allowed to see the first Patriot Act before its passage, and that no debate was tolerate by the House and Senate leadership. The intentions of the White House and Speaker Hastert concerning Patriot Act II appear to be a carbon copy replay of the events that led to the unprecedented passage of the first Patriot Act.

There are two glaring areas that need to be looked at concerning this new legislation:

1. The secretive tactics being used by the White House and Speaker Hastert to keep even the existence of this legislation secret would be more at home in Communist China than in the United States. The fact that Dick Cheney publicly managed the steamroller passage of the first Patriot Act, ensuring that no one was allowed to read it and publicly threatening members of Congress that if they didn't vote in favor of it that they would be blamed for the next terrorist attack, is by the White House's own definition terrorism. The move to clandestinely craft and then bully passage of any legislation by the Executive Branch is clearly an impeachable offense.

2. The second Patriot Act is a mirror image of powers that Julius Caesar and Adolf Hitler gave themselves. Whereas the First Patriot Act only gutted the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and seriously damaged the Seventh and the Tenth, the Second Patriot Act reorganizes the entire Federal government as well as many areas of state government under the dictatorial control of the Justice Department, the Office of Homeland Security and the FEMA NORTHCOM military command. The Domestic Security Enhancement Act 2003, also known as the Second Patriot Act is by its very structure the definition of dictatorship.

I challenge all Americans to study the new Patriot Act and to compare it to the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Ninety percent of the act has nothing to do with terrorism and is instead a giant Federal power-grab with tentacles reaching into every facet of our society. It strips American citizens of all of their rights and grants the government and its private agents total immunity. Here is a quick thumbnail sketch of just some of the draconian measures encapsulated within this tyrannical legislation:

SECTION 501 (Expatriation of Terrorists) expands the Bush administration's "enemy combatant" definition to all American citizens who "may" have violated any provision of Section 802 of the first Patriot Act. (Section 802 is the new definition of domestic terrorism, and the definition is "any action that endangers human life that is a violation of any Federal or State law.")

Section 501 of the second Patriot Act directly connects to Section 125 of the same act. The Justice Department boldly claims that the incredibly broad Section 802 of the First USA Patriot Act isn't broad enough and that a new, unlimited definition of terrorism is needed.

Under Section 501 a US citizen engaging in lawful activities can be grabbed off the street and thrown into a van never to be seen again. The Justice Department states that they can do this because the person "had inferred from conduct" that they were not a US citizen. Remember Section 802 of the First USA Patriot Act states that any violation of Federal or State law can result in the "enemy combatant" terrorist designation.

SECTION 201 of the second Patriot Act makes it a criminal act for any member of the government or any citizen to release any information concerning the incarceration or whereabouts of detainees. It also states that law enforcement does not even have to tell the press who they have arrested and they never have to release the names.

SECTION 301 and 306 (Terrorist Identification Database) set up a national database of "suspected terrorists" and radically expand the database to include anyone associated with suspected terrorist groups and anyone involved in crimes or having supported any group designated as "terrorist." These sections also set up a national DNA database for anyone on probation or who has been on probation for any crime, and orders State governments to collect the DNA for the Federal government.

SECTION 312 gives immunity to law enforcement engaging in spying operations against the American people and would place substantial restrictions on court injunctions against Federal violations of civil rights across the board.

SECTION 101 will designate individual terrorists as foreign powers and again strip them of all rights under the "enemy combatant" designation. SECTION 102 states clearly that any information gathering, regardless of whether or not those activities are illegal, can be considered to be clandestine intelligence activities for a foreign power. This makes news gathering illegal.

SECTION 103 allows the Federal government to use wartime martial law powers domestically and internationally without Congress declaring that a state of war exists.

SECTION 106 is bone-chilling in its straightforwardness. It states that broad general warrants by the secret FSIA court (a panel of secret judges set up in a star chamber system that convenes in an undisclosed location) granted under the first Patriot Act are not good enough. It states that government agents must be given immunity for carrying out searches with no prior court approval. This section throws out the entire Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.

SECTION 109 allows secret star chamber courts to issue contempt charges against any individual or corporation who refuses to incriminate themselves or others. This sections annihilate the last vestiges of the Fifth Amendment.

SECTION 110 restates that key police state clauses in the first Patriot Act were not sunsetted and removes the five year sunset clause from other subsections of the first Patriot Act. After all, the media has told us: "This is the New America. Get used to it. This is forever."

SECTION 111 expands the definition of the "enemy combatant" designation.

SECTION 122 restates the government's newly announced power of "surveillance without a court order."

SECTION 123 restates that the government no longer needs warrants and that the investigations can be a giant dragnet-style sweep described in press reports about the Total Information Awareness Network. One passage reads, "thus the focus of domestic surveillance may be less precise than that directed against more conventional types of crime."

*Note: Over and over again, in subsection after subsection, the second Patriot Act states that its new Soviet-type powers will be used to fight international terrorism, domestic terrorism and other types of crimes. Of course the government has already announced in Section 802 of the first USA Patriot act that any crime is considered domestic terrorism.

SECTION 126 grants the government the right to mine the entire spectrum of public and private sector information from bank records to educational and medical records. This is the enacting law to allow ECHELON and the Total Information Awareness Network to break down any and all walls of privacy. The government states that they must look at everything to "determine" if individuals or groups might have a connection to terrorist groups. As you can now see, you are guilty until proven innocent.

SECTION 127 allows the government to takeover coroners' and medical examiners' operations whenever they see fit. See how this is like Bill Clinton's special medical examiner he had in Arkansas that ruled that people had committed suicide when their arms and legs had been cut off.

SECTION 128 allows the Federal government to place gag orders on Federal and State Grand Juries and to take over the proceedings. It also disallows individuals or organizations to even try to quash a Federal subpoena. So now defending yourself will be a terrorist action.

SECTION 129 destroys any remaining whistle blower protection for Federal agents.

SECTION 202 allows corporations to keep secret their activities with toxic biological, chemical or radiological materials.

SECTION 205 allows top Federal officials to keep all their financial dealings secret, and anyone investigating them can be considered a terrorist.

SECTION 303 sets up national DNA database of suspected terrorists. The database will also be used to "stop other unlawful activities." It will share the information with state, local and foreign agencies for the same purposes.

SECTION 311 federalizes your local police department in the area of information sharing.

SECTION 313 provides liability protection for businesses, especially big businesses that spy on their customers for Homeland Security, violating their privacy agreements. It goes on to say that these are all preventative measures - has anyone seen Minority Report? This is the access hub for the Total Information Awareness Network.

SECTION 321 authorizes foreign governments to spy on the American people and to share information with foreign governments.

SECTION 322 removes Congress from the extradition process and allows officers of the Homeland Security complex to extradite American citizens anywhere they wish. It also allows Homeland Security to secretly take individuals out of foreign countries.

SECTION 402 is titled "Providing Material Support to Terrorism." The section reads that there is no requirement to show that the individual even had the intent to aid terrorists.

SECTION 403 expands the definition of weapons of mass destruction to include any activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce.

SECTION 404 makes it a crime for a terrorist or "other criminals" to use encryption in the commission of a crime.

SECTION 408 creates "lifetime parole" (basically, slavery) for a whole host of crimes.

SECTION 410 creates no statute of limitations for anyone that engages in terrorist actions or supports terrorists. Remember: any crime is now considered terrorism under the first Patriot Act.

SECTION 411 expands crimes that are punishable by death. Again, they point to Section 802 of the first Patriot Act and state that any terrorist act or support of terrorist act can result in the death penalty.

SECTION 421 increases penalties for terrorist financing. This section states that any type of financial activity connected to terrorism will result to time in prison and $10-50,000 fines per violation.

SECTION 427 sets up asset forfeiture provisions for anyone engaging in terrorist activities. There are many other sections that I did not cover in the interest of time. The American people were shocked by the despotic nature of the first Patriot Act. The second Patriot Act dwarfs all police state legislation in modern world history.

There are many other sections that I did not cover in the interest of time. The American people were shocked by the despotic nature of the first Patriot Act. The second Patriot Act dwarfs all police state legislation in modern world history.

Usually, corrupt governments allow their citizens lots of wonderful rights on paper, while carrying out their jackbooted oppression covertly. From snatch and grab operations to warantless searches, Patriot Act II is an Adolf Hitler wish list.

You can understand why President Bush/Dick Cheney & Dennis Hastert want to keep this legislation secret not just from Congress, but the American people as well. Bill Allison, Managing Editor of the Center for Public Integrity, the group that broke this story, stated on my radio show that it was obvious that they were just waiting for another terrorist attack to opportunistically get this new bill through. He then shocked me with an insightful comment about how the Federal government was crafting this so that they could go after the American people in general. He also agreed that the FBI has been quietly demonizing patriots and Christians and those who carry around pocket Constitutions.

I have produced two documentary films and written a book about what really happened on September 11th. The bottom line is this: the military-industrial complex carried the attacks out as a pretext for control. Anyone who doubts this just hasn?t looked at the mountains of hard evidence.

Of course, the current group of white collar criminals in the White House might not care that were finding out the details of their next phase. Because, after all, when smallpox gets released, or more buildings start blowing up, the President can stand up there at his lectern suppressing a smirk, squeeze out a tear or two, and tell us that See I was right. I had to take away your rights to keep you safe. And now it's your fault that all of these children are dead. From that point on, if anyone criticizes tyranny they will be shouted down by the paid talking head government mouthpieces in the mainstream media.

You have to admit, its a beautiful script. Unfortunately, it's being played out in the real world. If we don't get the word out that government is using terror to control our lives while doing nothing to stop the terrorists, we will deserve what we get - tyranny. But our children won't deserve it.

HOW THE PATRIOT ACT COMPARES TO HITLERS ERMÄCHTIGUNGSGESETZ (ENABLING ACT)

See http://www.furnitureforthepeople.com/actpat.htm

you can read the following 4 Articles:

1) How Patriot Act Compares to Hitler's Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act)

2) A 21st Century Comparison of The Enabling Act and The Patriot Act

3) Ten Key Dangers of The Patriot Act that Every American Should Know

4) Bill Moyers' NOW Comments on the Patriot Act

Patriot Act 2 is the most vile obtrusive document to ever go before the Legislative branch of our Government.

Get ready for the Concentration Camp, because that's where all free-thinking and freedom-loving Americans' destinies are vested under the Jack-boot of Puppet Act-2.

Found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hopecaravan/message/6092
Read more ...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Baxter Iranians start second week of hungerstrike

A Hunger striker on the roof of the Baxter detention centreThe hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre has entered its second week, and as the Iranians slowly loose their mind and their physical strength, Project SafeCom remains adamant that the reasons for this hunger strike point squarely at the feet of the Immigration Minister, the Howard government and its "deals" with the Iranian Mullahs and the explicit policies of trying to forget the fact that the Iranians are human beings within the Australian territories, and as such subject to the minimum standards of Duty of Care within Australia as a democracy. Even more than this, the Howard government is trying to forget its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. 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 in the first report).

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.

We have written to all our supporters, all people in our database, and we have repeated our call through all known and functioning e-lists of refugee groups around Australia.

Baxter Vigil Report-back

Friday 10 December 2004
by a participant


The first Iranian man went up on to the gym roof on Sunday night. the two others joined him on Tuesday. On Tuesday night the three of them endured some of the fiercest storms known to this region. Storms have been a problem ever since...

Today (10/12) we held a "prayer vigil" outside the centre. This was organised within 24 hours! We got approval from the police for 10am-1pm and 4pm-9pm. The SA police arrived at approximately 7:30pm and wrote down all the registration numbers of cars present. They said this was to show back at the station "they had done something"!!! At approximately 8pm another patrol car arrived and stopped about 100 metres away from all of us. The patrol car sat there for approximately twenty minutes and then left the area. This same patrol car returned at 8:55pm, cruised past all of us to a distance of about 300 metres and did a u-turn. When the vehicle had completed the u-turn the vehicle stopped. I can only assume it sat at that distance to observe us leaving the area.

The vigil attracted approximately sixty people in total during the day. Everybody thought this was great given the remote location and short notice. We are hoping to continue with the vigils over the next few days (police will obviously be a problem!).

There was obviously not enough happening in Pt Augusta on a Friday night for two patrols involving three officers, to do except for them to attend a "prayer vigil"...

Recent Statements from the Iranians

Statement from a Baxter detainee, written by "a recent arrival" who has befriended the Iranians
11 December 2004


"Let us die or give us freedom" - is what I hear constantly from The Iranian people at Baxter. I have been here about three weeks and all I see is people suffering from "the DIMIA's blondes". By what I have seen in this short time, is Iranian people are getting lied to time after time.

And the people are getting frustrated and desperate. There is incident after incident here nearly every day; detainees go on hunger strikes. I have been told from the Iranian people that they would rather die than live in here for much longer. These are desperate people just wanting happiness which to them is freedom, which isn't much to ask for, all people deserve freedom.

They were the victims of the Iranian government until they tried to find freedom here. By what I see they are now victims of DIMIA policies, By what I have experienced my self and heard from the Iranian people, DIMIA is NOT dealing with their cases properly, because there is a language at culture barrier, the care offices only write what they want to write, in the Iranian people applications and reports for visas. They have also been magnifying small issues and sending report off to head office which are not totally true.

GSL and DIMIA don't like to let the community and some government department know what is actually happen here. I have never in my life seen so much desperation and loss of hope than in Iranian people that I have met in my short stay here. They are good decent people just wanting an answer. They ask time and time again and DO NOT get answer good or bad from nobody.

I was out in the community and all I knew of the Iranian detainees was that they were only here for a short proud of time. I was absolutely shocked hearing that 99% of the Iranian people have been here a very long times about 5 or 6 years, this is a jail and they done nothing wrong but try to escape their government policies, people in Australia that break the law with horrendous crimes don't never to us long as these people have in detention (jail).

What is wrong with this and how can we change it? In jail people get a release date but the Iranian people are just still here in jail without a release date and the knowing and not getting told anything is taking it's toll an these descent people. "Freedom or let us die" will ring in my ears for a long time after I leave here...

A statement from one of the Iranians who is not participating in hunger strike, speaking to Ms Jane Keogh in Canberra ACT by phone:

"I don't think the men can help themselves any more. You know most of these men Jane; you knew them when they were not so sick and still had some hope. You know they are good people."

"They know the Minister and DIMIA will not respond to pressure but they have no control left to listen to any arguments or reason. They are at the end of their coping and they feel a great powerlessness. Most are affected by the new regulations where the nurses and management are cutting back and not giving everyone their medication."

"These men cannot sleep without their medication and they are nervy and cannot be still. It is like GSL are trying to upset everyone and create trouble. You can see it on the faces of the guards - they are getting ready to take the men off the roof and everyone is on edge wondering when it will happen."

"Most of the men have been here for about four years now and their patience has run out. They are desperate and cannot take any more. Little things set them off, like last week reading in the newspaper about the short sentence given in Australia for someone who deliberately murdered someone and got nine years in gaol. Yet we get indefinite years just for asking for asylum from persecution. The sense of injustice in us is strong. We are every day degraded and humiliated by being locked up and treated like criminals and in the end we will all crumble."

From the Iranians at Baxter
10 December 2004

Note for Hon. Alexander Downer:
Some of the DIMIA officials including the people worked in [the Baxter detention centre] management in the past, especially with very short time of working experience in departmental and dealing with refugee matters, not having gone through a proper character checks and have not been providing correct information to the head department, now are working in foreign countries like Iran (Tehran) & Fiji and some other places for Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It's important for Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to check their occupational history and the personal records and to investigate about their reports - again, due to lot of errors in the reports to the head department while they were working. And it's also important to Australian Affairs.

Baxter protest from the rooftops

The Sunday Age
By Russell Skelton
December 12, 2004


The detainee on the roof of the Baxter detention centre shouts into his mobile phone: "I am a Christian, and I cannot go back to Iran."

Along with two other Iranian detainees, the man, 30, has been staging a four-day rooftop protest at Australia's second-largest detention centre, near Port Augusta.

"I am a Christian convert, if I am deported to Iran I will be killed," he told The Sunday Age. "I have been in detention for five years. I cannot take it any more."

Inside Baxter another 22 detainees have been on a hunger strike for close to a week, and five have stitched their lips as the protest spreads through the group of 66 Iranians being held in long-term detention.

About 40 of the men are believed to be Christian converts who fear that they will be charged with apostasy - renouncing Islam - if they are forced back to Tehran. Apostasy is a capital offence in the Islamic republic.

Others are members of an Arab minority who claim to be discriminated against in Iran.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said the rooftop protest was the only way they could make their plight known to the Australian public.

"We want to be released or sent to a third country so we can apply for asylum there," he said. "Five years in detention is longer sentence that most criminals get in Australia. But we have committed no crime."

He said the protest had been difficult because of heavy rain and thunderstorms.

Immigration officials have declined to comment, but it is believed members of the Federal Government's Immigration Detention Advisory Group will fly to Baxter early this week.

Link to article in The Age

Call for help from Port Augusta RAR

One of the Iranians stiched up his lipsThe Iranian hunger strike at Baxter is continuing, and escalating daily. There are twenty-five men on hunger strike, including three still on the gym roof, despite heavy rain and heat over the last seven days. Five men have sewn their lips together, one is now having medical treatment.

These are the key messages that they and refugee advocates have identified:

• They want the Australian people to know of their long-term detention and lack of clear, fair and transparent asylum process.

• They ask for a review of Iranian asylum claims - based on new information on their original claims, the deteriorating political situation in Iran, and their changed personal circumstances since arriving in Australia (eg becoming Christian/getting married/deterioration in mental health).
• This will be the fifth or sixth Christmas in detention for most detainees.
• "Let us die or give us freedom" - the men are powerless, voiceless and desperate.

Although refugee advocates didn't encourage or instigate the current protest, we recognise the desperation that these men feel and that their actions are a plea for help. One concern many refugee advocates have, is that the broader Australian community often feels repelled by what it sees as extreme and gruesome actions such as lip-sewing.

Our role, as their friends and supporters, is to explain to the public WHY the Iranians have taken these drastic measures.

Our friends in detention need your support and would like us to begin a campaign stretching from now until Christmas Eve raising public awareness and lobbying politicians. With the numbers of friends we can do it!!


Firstly - we want you to help raise public awareness by:

• Ringing talkback radio
• Letters to the editor
• Contributions to local newspapers and group newsletters (eg Church/human rights action groups)

Below are phone numbers for Talkback Radio, and email addresses for and tips for letters to the editor.

Talk Back Radio

SYDNEY
2GB

Alan Jones 9am Openline/Talkback 13 18 73. Outside NSW (02) 9269 0669
John Laws 9am to 12 noon. Open line/Talkback 13 13 32
John Stanley 12:30pm to 3pm Open line/Talkback 13 13 32
Andrew Harwood 8pm to 12 midnight. Open line/Talkback 13 13 32
702 ABC Talkback: (02) 9333 1000. Email: 702@your.abc.net.au

NORTHERN TERRITORY
ABC Northern Territory
Talkback 1800 801 840 Studio/Talkback (08) 8943 3113

BRISBANE
4BC Talk Radio
1116 AM (07) 3833 0000 Email: feedback@4bc.com.au

TASMANIA
TTT
Tasmania Talkback 1300 36 1700

MELBOURNE
3AW Talkback (03) 9696 1278 Email: contact@3aw.com.au.
Neil Mitchell 8.30am to Midday
Ernie Sigley Midday to 4pm
Keith McGowan 12am to 5.30am
3CR 855AM Talkback (03) 9419 0155 Email: staff3cr@vicnet.net.au

3AK Derryn Hinch 8am to 11am. Talkback: (03) 9866 8666

774 ABC. Breakfast with Red Symons. Talkback (03) 9414 1774
Mornings with Jon Faine Talkback (03) 9414 1774
Afternoons with Lyn Haultain Talkback (03) 9414 1774
Drive with Virginia Trioli Talkback (03) 9414 1774
Evening Show Derek Guille Talkback (03) 9414 1774
Sunday Show Peter Clarke Talkback (03) 9414 1774

ADELAIDE
5DN Jeremy Cordeaux
on (08) 8305 1323

5AA (08) 8224 0000 http://www.5aa.com.au

891 ABC local radio: Soapbox 11am-12pm is (08) 8343 4891

Radio Adelaide (08) 8303 5000 http://www.radio.adelaide.edu.au/

PERTH
6PR
Talkback (08) 9221 1233. Fax (08) 9325 4553. Email: news@6pr.com.au

6NR Curtin Radio 927AM. Talkback (08) 9484 1927

Tips on writing letters to the editor:

• Keep it short. 200 words is the absolute maximum. 100 words is good. 50 words is very likely to be printed and can be very powerful if you have a good point. If it is too long and it gets printed anyway they are likely to lop off paragraphs and that may make your letter look pretty silly to people who know the background.
• Stick to one central point. You can not cover every base in a complicated issue in 200 words.
• Keep sentences as short as possible.
• Keep the language plain and simple. Only use long words if you need the precision.
• Statistics often impress some letters editors so throw in some big numbers or percentages but make sure they are accurate.
• Be economical with your words. Go over the letter and take anything out that is repetitive.

LETTERS:

National

The Australian Letters to the Editor: letters@theaustralian.com.au
Australian Financial Review web: http://afr.com/

Victoria
The Age - Letters to the Editor: letters@theage.com.au
Herald Sun - Letters to the Editor: hsletters@heraldsun.com.au
Sunday Herald Sun - Letters to the Editor: shsletters@heraldsun.com.au

New South Wales
Sydney Morning Herald - Letters to the Editor: letters@smh.fairfax.com.au
The Daily Telegraph - Letters to the Editor: dtmletr@matp.newsltd.com.au

Queensland
The Courier Mail - Letters to the Editor: cmletters@qnp.newsltd.com.au

South Australia
The Advertiser - Letters to the Editor: advedit@adv.newsltd.com.au
Sunday Mail - Letters to the Editor: mailedit@adv.newsltd.com.au

Western Australia
The West Australian - Letters to the Editor: letters@wanews.com.au

Tasmania
The Mercury - Letters to the Editor: mercuryedletter@dbl.newsltd.com.au

Australian Capital Territory
The Canberra Times - Letters to the Editor: letters.editor@canberratimes.com.au

Newspaper links: Australian newspapers by State AND overseas newspapers: this Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) website has links to Australian newspapers by State and links to the major overseas newspapers. See http://www.alia.org.au/links/newspapers.html Very helpful!

QUOTES FROM BAXTER DETAINEES

We are all the Iranian detainees' residents of Baxter detention center are worried for our lives, we are seeking a safe place to live, and we are all victims of Iranian's radical government.

Some of us have been detained for five to six years indefinitely, aren't we deserved to be free after spending so many years in detention? Each person has his own story that hasn't seriously been considered. Now we want from immigration minister have compassion for this people who are suffering and are in extreme stress and frustration we would love your individual support as we are scared and all have Individual needs/concerns.

From RAR Port Augusta
Sunday 13 December 2004

Immigration Dept won't be swayed by hunger strikes

ABC NEWS ONLINE
Monday, December 13, 2004. 9:31am (AEDT)


The Department of Immigration has again warned that hunger strikes at South Australia's Baxter detention centre will not influence its decisions on granting visas to asylum seekers.

A hunger strike at the detention centre is entering its second week, with about 25 Iranian men taking part.

Department of Immigration spokeswoman Sarah Crichton says the detainees have been encouraged to end their action as soon as possible.

"The detainees would be mistaken to believe that this action will assist them to remain in Australia," Ms Crichton said.

"It won't change the outcome of their cases and the department isn't influenced by the course of action that the detainees are taking but detention facility staff are closely monitoring the detainees."

Three men have been on the roof of the centre's gymnasium since last week, while it is believed a handful of others have sewn their lips shut.

Ms Crichton says the protesters, including the group who sewed their lips shut on Friday, have so far refused medical treatment.

"There is a small group who've placed two stitches in their lips and detention facility staff are closely monitoring the detainees and urging them to end their protest," she said.

Rural Australians for Refugees is calling for an independent negotiator be brought in and advocates for the refugees say at least one of the men says he would rather die than continue in detention.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1263551.htm

Medical Care Standards for Hunger strikers seriously breached

Project SafeCom Inc.
Narrogin/Fremantle WA
Media Release
Monday December 13 2004 11:00am WST


"Refugee group Project SafeCom says that the Baxter detention centre operator GSL, is in serious breach of medical standards, especially in relation to the management of a hunger strike, not only, but also as laid down by the Declaration of Malta."

Under the declaration of Malta, wrote WA lawyer and Senior lecturer at Murdoch University Mary-Ann Kenny recently in the Medical Journal of Australia,

"....if called upon to treat hunger strikers, medical practitioners should be aware of their ethical and legal responsibilities, and that they should act independently of government or institutional interests."

"At the background of the current hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre, if not leading to it, is the fact that Detention Centre Operator GSL suddenly changed the way medication is dispensed at the Baxter centre."

"A few weeks ago it suddenly announced that medication would no longer be handed out in the compounds, but that detainees had to board a bus to a central location within the Baxter detention centre - once a day - to collect the medication. Although GSL has now reverted to its "pre-bustrip" method of dispensing medication, two question remain:

"1) whether medication, which includes anti-depressants such as Zoloft, is handed out by medically qualified staff or just by GSL staff without the proper qualifications and training, and

"2) whether the apparent change to regularity of times at which medication is handed out has an effect on detainees: you cannot suddenly change times and or frequency of administering medication without expecting major side-effects on the part of clients."

"Reports received overnight indicate that GSL staff have, from 4pm yesterday afternoon (Sunday 12/12), expressly forbidden detainees who wanted to assist, from climbing on the roof to hand bottles of water to the three hunger strikers. This seems to indicate that GSL likes to promote and advance the death of the three hunger strikers who have been on the roof since last week."

Reports have also been received, that GSL staff have "banged on the roof with broom sticks or something" all night on Sunday 12 December to disturb the three hunger strikers on the roof. "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".

"It seems clear, that a company that protects its accountability under a veil of "commercial-in-confidence" is more interested in whatever its own agenda may be, than in putting the physical and psychological well-being of its clients first, in this case asylum seekers, and especially within this context, long-term detainees on a hunger strike, all of them showing advanced signs of Port Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"It's more than time for an immediate trip to the Baxter detention centre of a team of medically qualified investigators, in addition to an independent negotiator."

Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers

For information on the situation of hunger strikers and medical intervention, see
• Medical and Ethical Aspects of Hunger Strikes in Custody and the Issue of Torture
and
• Legal and ethical implications of medically enforced feeding of detained asylum seekers on hunger strike

Baxter protesters 'being denied water, sleep'

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Monday, December 13, 2004. 1:00pm (AEDT)


Refugee advocates say a group of protesting Baxter detainees are being denied water and sleep by centre guards.

One of the three Iranian men has been on the roof of the gymnasium since Sunday last week, with two others joining him on Tuesday.

Rural Australians for Refugees says guards have now stopped other detainees from bringing the protesters water and are throwing basketballs at the roof of the gym to prevent the group sleeping.

Spokeswoman Kathy Verran says the protesters' health is rapidly deteriorating but they are too afraid of being punished to come down.

"I hope that they are hospitalised [and] they have independent psychiatric assessment because if they're sent to management where they're in solitary confinement, that would just be disastrous for these guys who've already endured four years of detention and are severely depressed because of that detention," she said.

The Immigration Department is yet to respond to the claims.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1263848.htm

Detainees have access to food, water: Immigration Dept

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Monday, December 13, 2004. 3:34pm (AEDT)


The Immigration Department has rejected as false claims that a group of Baxter detention centre detainees staging a rooftop protest are being denied water and sleep.

One Iranian man has been on the roof of the gymnasium since Sunday of last week. The two other detainees joined him on Tuesday.

Rural Australians for Refugees says guards are not allowing other detainees to bring the men water and are stopping the group from sleeping by throwing basketballs onto the roof.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department says the claims are untrue and that both food and water are being regularly offered to the detainees on the roof.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1264102.htm

Refugee advocates 'incite detainees'

news.com.au
December 13, 2004


THE immigration department today accused refugee advocates of inciting incidents within the Baxter detention centre by exaggerating reports of a detainee hunger strike.

Refugee support group Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) today said 27 Iranians within the South Australian centre were participating in the hunger strike, now into its second week.

Among those were five men who had sewn their lips together and three who were staging a protest on the centre's gymnasium roof, RAR spokeswoman Kathy Verran said.

She said those on the roof had been denied water since last night, after guards stopped other detainees bringing water to the men.

Ms Verran said detainees had also reported the guards were bouncing balls against the ceiling of the gym, underneath the detainees, to prevent them from sleeping.

An immigration department spokeswoman today said food and water were regularly offered to the detainees on the roof.

Claims that balls were being thrown at the gym's ceiling were not true, she said.

The spokeswoman would not detail how many detainees were participating in the hunger strike but said it was fewer than 25.

"This sort of misinformation (from refugee advocates) does not help the detainees," she said.

"Inflammatory, exaggerated remarks have the potential to incite incidents, which is not in anybody's interest."

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

Hunger strikers sew lips together

CNN World
Monday, December 13, 2004
Posted: 0448 GMT (1248 HKT)

CANBERRA, Australia (Reuters)
-- A hunger strike at an outback Australian detention centre has escalated as it enters its second week with 27 detainees now refusing food -- six of whom have sewn their lips shut -- refugee advocates said on Monday.

A spokesman for refugee group Project Safecom said three of the 27 Iranian men protesting against Australia's refusal to grant them sanctuary were staging their hunger strike on the roof of the Baxter detention centre in South Australia state.

"They have had enough. What is the use of living in a detention centre for up to five years without having any purpose or future? They just want to die and if they do it will be on the government's hands," the Project Safecom spokesman 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.

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

A spokesman for the Immigration Department would not say exactly how many detainees were refusing food at Baxter but said there was less than the 27 quoted by refugee groups.

"A small group have placed two stitches in their lips," the spokesman said.

Australia has one of the world's most strict 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 CNN World article
Also published in The China Post

Vanstone urged to stop hunger strike

news.com.au
December 13, 2004


LABOR has called on Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to appoint an independent negotiator to intervene and stop a hunger strike by asylum seekers at the Baxter detention centre.

ALP national president Carmen Lawrence said up to 15 [sic] asylum seekers were participating in the hunger strike, three [sic] of whom had sewn their lips together and three who were staging a roof-top protest on the centre's gymnasium.

She said such instances of self-harm were an inevitable consequence of keeping people in detention without hope of release.

Dr Lawrence said Senator Vanstone remained completely silent about the hunger strike and had made no comment about the wellbeing of detainees for which she had a duty of care.

"Nor, apparently, has she sought to intervene to resolve the problem," she said.

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

"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."

Senator Vanstone was unavailable for comment but the Immigration Department accused refugee advocates of inciting incidents by exaggerating reports of the hunger strike.

The department said all protesters had received decisions on their refugee status and had failed in their claims.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

UNPO Action Call: Ahwazi in hunger strike

Unrepresented Nations
and Peoples Organisation (UNPO)
>>HOME PAGE >> Ahwazi

URGENT ACTION


Ten indigenous Arab-Iranian asylum seekers in Australia (Baxter Detention Center) have been on "Hunger Strike to Death" for the past 4 days. The Hunger strikers have sewn their lips and refuse to take any food or water. Latest report as of Sunday Dec. 12 indicate that they are getting rather sick and weak.

These political refugees are Arab-Iranian human rights and political activists. They have been detained for nearly 5 years in Australia.

The Indigenous Arab minority in the southwestern province of Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz or Arabistan) has been fighting for the right of self-determination since the annexation and incorporation of their land into the nation state of Iran.

All the asylum-seekers are suffering from severe depression and stress.

The detention centers are high-security prisons, which offer fewer services than ordinary prisons. The asylum seekers are kept in corrugated cages surrounded by monitoring cameras, 9000-volt fences and motion sensors. The United Nations Human Rights Commission described the detention of these asylum seekers as "imprisonment".

The main issue is: They cannot return - but they cannot endure imprisonment any longer.

What alternative is there?

The Australian Department of Immigration should accept the evidence provided by the detainees and their lawyers and REVIEW THEIR CASES IN LIGHT OF THIS EVIDENCE.

We urge all human rights organization around the world to call the Australian Minster of Immigration and/or Australian Embassies or other diplomatic posts to express their disapproval of the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers and for the immediate release of Arab-Iranian political refugees.

http://www.unpo.org/news_detail.php?arg=06&par=1629

Desperate act

The Transcontinental, Port Augusta
Darelle Tasker
Friday, 10 December 2004


In sweltering heat and under the gaze of the world, an Iranian man, believed to be a long term detainee under Australia's border protection policy, is conducting a silent protest on the roof of the gymnasium at Baxter Detention Centre, threatening to end his life rather than be deported to Iran.

The man climbed onto the roof on Sunday night and refused to come down amid the sweltering heat on Monday.

At the time of publication on Tuesday, the man was still perched on the roof.

Local friends of the man, who wished to remain anonymous, stood outside Baxter in support as he carried out his grim protest reminiscent of the scenes at Woomera Detention Centre where detainees jumped from the tops of buildings in protest to their detention.

They said that the man has been detained for about four years, two of which they have been visiting him.

They said the man had been on anti depressant medication and has wanted to cause self-harm for a few years.

"They are all getting really desperate...they're deteriorating in there and they're just getting worse.

"They are all depressed... it's not just this man."

The department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs refused to comment on speculation the man had a history of attempted self-harm or whether he had been given food or water by Baxter guards, despite reports that staff had tried to help the man.

The department also refused to comment on whether the man would be conveyed to a separate facility for mental health treatment, or whether he was facing deportation after failing to receive a temporary protection visa.

Link to The Transcontinental article

Plea to end hunger strike

The Age
By Meaghan Shaw
December 14, 2004


An independent negotiator and psychiatrist are needed to help end the hunger strike at South Australia's Baxter immigration detention centre, now entering its 10th day.

Rural Australians for Refugees spokeswoman Bernadette Wauchope made the call for help, saying advocates were not endorsing detainees' actions but understood their desperation.

At Baxter, three Iranian men are staging a rooftop protest, five men have sewn their lips together and another 16 are refusing food. Three detainees at the Perth detention centre have joined the protest.

Ms Wauchope said the men on the centre's gym roof had told supporters that friends were no longer allowed to bring them water, while guards had been throwing balls at the gym's ceiling to stop the men sleeping.

But an Immigration Department spokesman said the claims were untrue. "Food and water is being regularly offered to those on the roof, while they are on the roof," he said. He also said there were fewer detainees protesting than claimed. The department said the detainees were not found to be refugees and they were refusing to co-operate with plans for their departure.

Ms Wauchope said: "They cannot return to their homeland as they face torture and death."

Link to article in The Age

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Internet freedom threatened: the Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004

Government curbs debate on trade deal bill - Internet freedom threatened

Press Release
Kerry Nettle
Senator for NSW (Greens)
6th December 2004


Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has condemned a government decision to curb debate on legislation implementing further negotiations on the US free trade agreement.

A government motion to allow the Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 to be passed this week was forced through the Senate today.

The Greens share industry concerns that the bill will have a big impact on freedom of speech and media diversity on the internet.

"This bill will have a big impact on the Australian IT industry and ordinary internet users", said Senator Nettle.

"We are hearing concerns from a wide range of the community interests, including Australian companies such as OPTUS, universities and libraries as well as internet users."

"The bill will mean internet companies will be forced to take down websites and hosting services merely on the basis of a claim they are infringing copyright. This has caused big problems in the US."

"Such claims should have to be tested in the courts; otherwise we open up Australia's internet companies to thousands of untested claims that inevitably lead to a reduction in internet diversity and freedoms."

"This bill will have an impact on anyone who uses the internet and should be given proper scrutiny and debate in Parliament and not rushed through before Christmas."

The Parliament is due to begin debate on the bill at 12.30 pm on Tuesday, December 7.

From Senator Kerry Nettle's website

Speech by Kerry Nettle
From SENATE HANSARD

Senator NETTLE (New South Wales) (7.46 p.m.)--
The US-Australia free trade agreement is a disaster for Australia's economy, culture and society. The impact of the agreement is even clearer with this Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004, which will further transform Australia's intellectual property law to align it with the worst aspects of the US copyright law. It was clear from the beginning of the negotiations that, despite government claims, any agreement reached on the trade agreement would benefit US corporations at the expense of Australian industry, workers and consumers. The final deal was a dud for Australian agriculture and manufacturing industry and traded away important regulation of access to cheap medicines and intellectual property.

Earlier this year the government, with the support of the opposition, rammed through the implementing legislation for the deal, despite widespread public opposition to the agreement. We now know that even the weak amendments passed by the Senate regarding the evergreening of pharmaceutical patents are likely to be challenged by the United States. US Trade Ambassador Zoellick, in his recent letter to the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, released by the government last week, states: If subsequent practice reveals problems with the full exercise of US rights I have discussed above, Australia should expect that we will take appropriate remedial action.

This is exactly the danger the Greens and other critics of the trade agreement warned of. The US will use the agreement as a stick with which to break open the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, undermine generics and force up the price of medicines for sick Australians --all this so that big US pharmaceutical corporations can boost their profits.

While there has been a lot of debate about the PBS and the cultural components of the free trade agreement, in many ways some of the key issues in the agreement have not been properly explored yet. While the government claims the agreement is about free trade, this intellectual property component of the trade agreement--the harmonising of our laws with the US intellectual property laws--means less free trade and more government enforcement of private monopoly rights. Chapter 17 of the free trade agreement covers trademarks, patents and copyright. Most of the clauses on intellectual property reproduce those in the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 and those in the Singapore and Chile free trade agreements.

They are part of an ongoing agenda of the United States to push through bilateral trade agreements that enhance the control and ownership of US corporations in the IT and entertainment industry.

The US wanted these changes, because according to a new book by trade experts Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mattews: The intellectual property protected sector is now by some accounts the largest sector of the entire US economy. Everything from life forms to movies is covered in this sector. Its exports now exceed the exports of automobile, automobile parts, agricultural and aircraft industries combined. This is the real reason for the US concern to extend and strengthen IP rights. The copyright-protected sector on its own-- covering films, TV programs, home video, digital videodiscs, business and entertainment software--was estimated to be worth 5.2 per cent of US GDP in 2001, US$535 billion. In the same year, this sector achieved foreign sales of US$89 billion, making it the leading export sector in the United States ... Thus in the area of intellectual property, the US has a very definite agenda backed by very real economic interests.

The US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

2004 implemented this agenda in Australian law: for example, extending the life of copyright from 50 to 70 years, the so-called 'Disney' clause. The Greens opposed this legislation and the IP component of this legislation not only because it increased the powers of US corporations but also because it did not even include some of the few protections that do exist in the United States for users and consumers in the form of fair use and the free speech provisions that exist in the US constitution.

The Australian Libraries Copyright Committee explained at the time: The detrimental consequences of this will be felt broadly amongst educational, consumer, cultural and research institutions. Without expansion of the fair dealing provisions to balance the stronger copyright owner rights, institutions functioning for the benefit of the public, will bear the burden of a longer copyright term, more stringent copyright owner rights, and tougher penalties for incidental, minor and noncommercial breaches of Copyright. This will expose institutions to greater costs and greater risks. Ultimately this will adversely affect the end users of these institutions, who will not be able to access the same level of knowledge via copyrighted material.

The agreement in the legislation also went well beyond what Australia had even signed on to in the highly criticised WTO agreement on trade related aspects of intellectual property rights, known as TRIPS. Australia and Australians will not benefit from these laws if they come into force on 1 July next year. Australia already has a balance of payments deficit when it comes to intellectual property. We are a net importer of ideas and technology and our payments of royalties to foreign companies exceed our income in 2002 by more than $A1 billion. Thanks to the Howard government we now have some of the most unbalanced and restrictive intellectual property laws in the world, with holders or owners of copyright--that is, primarily big business-- holding all of the cards at the expense of users and consumers such as libraries, universities, Australian industry and ordinary consumers.

But post the election in United States the US has come back for more. The Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, has caved in yet again, agreeing to changes to Australia's intellectual property law that go even further than international agreements and even further than the US law in protecting the US corporate owners of intellectual property at the expense of users and consumers. Why? The US are going to do whatever they can get away with in terms of furthering their own agenda, and it seems that the Howard government are all too willing to cooperate. The clauses contained in the bill--and the US has managed to get the Australian government to agree to them--will go far further than international agreements. They will set a new benchmark for the United States when it comes to their negotiations either with bilateral agreements or with multilateral agreements.

The government claim that the changes contained in this bill are merely technical or minor. But that is not what the industry groups or consumer groups are saying. Groups as diverse as Optus, Telstra, libraries, universities and the Australian Consumers Association are all very concerned by the proposals put forward in this legislation. In particular, changes which will effectively remove the safe harbour provisions that were introduced in the earlier legislation, the implementing bill, mean that diversity on the Internet will be threatened. The bill includes provisions which will do a range of different things. They will broaden the scope of offences to which criminal provisions apply to commercial piracy that does not occur in a trade context and strengthen the criminal regime for business end-user piracy, increase the obligation of copyright users to go behind the person or corporation named on the item to find out if there are additional copyright owners, narrow the scope of the incidental copies exception to temporary copies made as a necessary part of using a copy of the work and limit the transition period in which copyright users can claim compensation due to the extension of copyright from 50 to 70 years. But the provisions that the Greens and community groups are particularly concerned about regard the liabilities of Internet service providers, and these are complainants whom we believe can have the greatest impact. However, other industry groups have been pointing out concerns about other parts of this legislation as well.

Changes to copyright law forced by the US free trade agreement made earlier in the year imported from the US the so-called safe harbour scheme for Internet service providers. This scheme meant that ISPs, the Internet service providers, that operated within the guidelines and the requirements of the safe harbour would not be subject to liability for infringing copyright from materials through the hosting of a user's web sites or services. This included the transmission of infringing material, the caching of material, the hosting of web sites with infringing material and the linking to infringing material.

Internet service providers under the existing legislation must still remove infringing material if they have actual knowledge of an infringement, but they are not required to monitor their web sites and servers for infringing material. For example, if they receive a court order requiring them take down material, they need to comply. But they do not need to go looking for that material on their sites. However, items 11 and 13 contained in this bill will mean that the safe harbour provisions will go out the window. Item 11 and item 13 of the bill will have a significant and detrimental effect on the Australian IT industry and, more importantly, on ordinary consumers and users of the Internet. Item 11, which is the same as item 13, states: The carriage service provider must act expeditiously to remove or disable access to a reference residing on its system or network if the carriage service provider:

(a) becomes aware that the copyright material to which it refers is infringing; or --and this is particularly concerning--

(b) becomes aware of facts or circumstances that make it apparent that the copyright material to which it refers is likely to be infringing.

Similar clauses in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 in the United States have led to a burgeoning industry of take-down notices and claims which have meant that Internet service providers are forced into taking off line web sites and services rather than risking potential legal action.

The key problem with these items is that they force ISPs to take action regardless of the substance of the claim, or risk legal action. Claims can be spurious and unfounded yet, because they are not tested in a court prior to the ISP needing to take action, they are wide open to abuse. Some ISPs have been served with tens of thousands of take-down notices. Often these notices are automatically generated by software, which searches the Internet for potential infringements. According to the Internet Industry Association, which represents a range of industry players including Optus and Telstra through to the smaller IT companies, this bill will cause huge problems. They say, 'Internet service providers will be caught between a "rock and a hard place"--liable to copyright owners if we don't act, liable to customers if we do.' The careful balance of the rights of copyright owners, users and ISPs is severely undermined.

The Electronic Frontiers Foundation, EFF, a leading advocate for organising Internet rights and freedoms, have compiled a list of examples of some of the abuses that have occurred under similar provisions in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This has meant that information in the public domain has been taken down. For example, Wal-Mart have used take-down provisions to stop web sites occurring that compare their prices to the prices of their competitors, the Church of Scientology have served take-downs on web sites that host articles critical of the Church of Scientology and the owners of trade marks have tried to use take-downs against their competitors.

The number of notices served on one company can often, as I said before, number in the thousands or, indeed, the tens of thousands. A conference was held at the University of New South Wales in April this year, at which a woman called Sarah Deutsch, who is from Verizon, a major American ISP, told the symposium: A US ISP received from January to today-- that is, from January until the end of April this year-- over 30,000 notices, only two of them actually related to materials that were on its system of network. So these were all non-compliant notices and in the past 12 months the same ISP-- which received 30,000 notices from January to April-- received over 90,000 notices.

So this is the number of notices that we are talking about being automatically or otherwise--but predominantly automatically--generated. The Australian Consumers Association has described this proposed regime as a 'recipe for disaster'. They say it 'turns Internet service providers into a policeman of other people's copyright, solely based on some sort of assertion of ownership'. The Australian Digital Alliance, which represents libraries and universities, say that a scheme such as that contained in this bill 'has to address the potential for owners to send out spurious take-down notices without reasonable claim to a copyright breach', and they have called for these clauses to be removed--something that the Greens will address in amendments.

The problem, of course, is that ISPs have no real way of testing the claims of take-down notices and will always err on the side of caution and immediately remove material subject to notification. They will always do this regardless of the rights or wrongs of the claim, because they do not want to risk the big legal battles that we have seen recently in cases such as the music industry's pursuit of Kazaa, the Internet file-sharing software company. Of course, such take-down notices could also be used politically with, for example, a takedown notice being served on the ISP of a political opponent's web site. The result, even if only temporary, could mean that the web site would be off line for weeks. It could, for example, be at a crucial or important point in an election campaign. The effect is a reduction in diversity and freedom of speech on the Internet and a huge impost on Australian IT's small and large business.

The Greens' amendments will remove from the bill the provisions which would effectively shut down the safe harbour for Internet service providers in Australia. Those are items 11 and 13 of the bill. The effect of removing these items will not prevent the enactment of alternative provisions in the future, so the government would be able to do so by regulation, as was originally envisaged in the legislation--certainly in the consultations that occurred with the industry. Hopefully, it means that government will consult further with industry and address the problems these items will cause. This legislation is unnecessary and unwelcome. It will take us even further down the path of the US monopoly copyright law without the protections. In the cases I am talking about, it will be worse than the US law. It is not about protecting Australian consumers and the IT industry but everything about helping giant US media and IT corporations. The Greens opposed the US free trade agreement implementing legislation, and we will also be opposing this bill today as well as moving the amendments I have outlined and others that are yet to be circulated. We will continue to campaign in support of genuine fair trade rather than free trade. We will also campaign for a better deal for Australian industry and ordinary people who are affected by such agreements, not just in the IP component of the legislation that we are talking about today but also more generally.

Democrats: Our Internet Industry Sold Out

Press Release, Senator Aden Ridgeway
Democrats Senator for New South Wales
08 December 2004

Copyright and USFTA - Our Internet Industry Sold Out


The Australian Democrats have condemned the ALP's support for the Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004, which passed the Senate last night.

"This bill not only goes far beyond what is required by the FTA, but also goes far beyond the USA's own copyright system and makes internet service providers in Australia liable for material hosted on their network," said Democrats Trade spokesperson, Senator Aden Ridgeway.

"The Government were desperate to tie up all loose ends associated with the Free Trade Agreement and applied intense pressure to the Senate to pass the bill quickly.

"The text of the bill was released only last week; regulations that will explain how the system will work in practice have not yet been drafted; and a hastily convened two hour Senate Inquiry was held for two hours on Monday evening.

"At the inquiry, I questioned representatives from the internet industry and heard their grave concerns with the bill.

"Irrespective of the commitments our Executive may or may not have entered into with the USA regarding the Free Trade Agreement, we have an obligation to ensure Australian industry's interests are protected.

"The ALP allowed themselves to be bullied into passing this seriously flawed and potentially devastating piece of legislation," concluded Senator Ridgeway.

Source: http://www.democrats.org.au/news/index.htm?press_id=4302

See also Electronic Frontiers Australia | Creative Commons
Read more ...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Baxter Iranians: Acts of extreme distress

Hunger strikers on the roof of the Baxter detention centre"More than many other countries, the fact that Iran, under the control of the Religious Council, reserves more than 70 forms of torture for dissenters, for people who run away, for people who declare themselves to be Christians, should be grounds for the immediate protection by Australia. But the Howard government, which does not want to loose trade with Iran, puts their commercial interests above Australia's obligations to protect refugees. Mr John Howard and Immigration Minister Vanstone, and all of those in the government who are complicit with this barbarity by omission, should be condemned for this."

Acts of extreme distress spread amongst Iranians in Baxter IDC

MEDIA RELEASE
Project SafeCom Inc.
Wednesday December 8 2004 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

Summary of events:


Acts of distress are widening at the Baxter detention centre, with now three Iranians on the roof, two more having joined the man who started this action last Monday. All three men are refusing to come down and stay out at night time in the cold.

Photos: On the Roof One | On the Roof Two | On the Roof Three | On the Roof Four | On the Roof Five

Another three Iranians in the detention centre have now sewn their lips together, having started a hunger strike. They are said to be joined soon by many others.

In a separate development, 10 Arab Ahwazian Iranians (also called "Indigenous" Iranians) have issued their own declaration and are all part of a hunger strike. They have sent their "last will and testament" to advocates, indicating explicitly that the decision to proceed with their hunger strike until death is pre-determined and that this is a collective decision by the ten men. The statement of the ten Arab Ahwazian is included in this release as item 1. Further information about this group is provided as item 4, while a letter from the men to Kaye Kennis, DIMIA Manager at the Baxter detention centre is included as item 5.

Last month, a letter on behalf of the ten men written to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights appeared on the internet website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation in the Netherlands. All their names and Baxter ID numbers were printed under this letter - but intervention by Project SafeCom had these names removed. It is widely regarded as extremely dangerous to identify Iranians who fled the country by name, because representatives of the religious council in Iran are known to travel to other countries to try and identify them, contact them and "list them" on behalf of Iranian authorities. The letter to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has been reproduced in this release as item 3.

A Statement was released by the about seventy Iranians at the Baxter detention centre, explaining their actions. This statement has been included in this release as item 2.

Project SafeCom has been highlighting the plight of the Iranians for a long time on its website. The list of articles and information about the Iranian asylum seekers is listed below as item 6.

Reports have also been received that IDAG, the Immigration Detention Advisory Group, will visit the Baxter Detention Centre this coming Friday.

Project SafeCom comment:

"It is clear that the Iranians, who are fearing persecution, who are denied protection by the Australian government, came to us for protection. The fact that we keep denying them that protection, is a scandal that should be known around the world."

"More than many other countries, the fact that Iran, under the control of the Religious Council, reserves more than 70 forms of torture for dissenters, for people who run away, for people who declare themselves to be Christians, should be grounds for the immediate protection by Australia. But the Howard government, which does not want to loose trade with Iran, puts their commercial interests above Australia's obligations to protect refugees. Mr John Howard and Immigration Minister Vanstone, and all of those in the government who are complicit with this barbarity by omission, should be condemned for this."

1. Ten Arab Ahwazian Iranians start hunger strike

From a supporter: "This is extremely difficult for me to write. I have lived in fear of this day. A very dear friend of mine called me from Baxter tonight. He and nine other Arab Ahwazians started a hunger strike today. His words resonate in my head: "I, we, now choose death. We will strike to our deaths. In a few days we will stop taking water. There is nothing to live for anymore"."

"Arab Awazians. Persecuted in Iran. Persecuted in Australia. Their lives, and deaths, are in the hands of DIMIA."

"They are forwarding their last will and testiments on, to be published. They have requested that all of their personal details be published despite the obvious risks."

2. Statement from 70 Iranians in Baxter detention centre

9pm Tuesday,
7th December, 2004


This is a statement and plea from the 70 Iranians still held in Baxter.

"Today three Iranian men in W2 have sewn their lips together and are on hunger-strike. Three others are hunger-striking on the roof of the gym and will stay there indefinitely. Many others will join the strike in the coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved. We are taking this extreme action because we have so few options left. This is a desperate plea to draw the attention of the Australian people to our situation."

"Many of us have been here for 4 or 5 years and we are tired, frustrated and extremely depressed. We have been used for political purposes by the Australian Government and have lost our freedom, our dignity, our hope, even our individual personalities. We simply ask that our cases be reviewed. This has been done for all other national groups of long-term detainees. We simply ask to be recognized as genuine refugees and to be granted protection so that we can get on with our lives."

"We call on all Australians of good heart to support us by contacting the media about our situation and by writing, phoning, faxing and emailing your local and federal politicians. In particular, please ask Senator Vanstone to review our cases, to show compassion and to let us be free. Please ask that there be no more deportations of Iranians. It is not safe for any of us to return to our country."

"We are peaceful people and will harm nobody but ourselves in our quest for freedom. Please stand with us to achieve justice."

3. Letter to UN High Commissioner of Human Rights: Protection needed for Ahwaz Refugees

To Louise Arbour,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Dear Mrs. Arbour,


Re: Arab-Iranian Asylum Seekers in Australia

My name is Karim Banisaid-Abdian. I am the executive director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organization in the USA. I had the pleasure of meeting you in Geneva during the 22nd session of working group on Indigenous Populations in July 2004 where I delivered a paper on the current situation of the Indigenous Ahwazi- Arab Iranians of Southwestern Iran

Today I am writing to you to seek your urgent help for the indigenous Ahwazi men who currently held in detention in Australia. Independent of each other, the men arrived in Australia by boat seeking political asylum only to be placed in high-security prisons in the Australian desert. Most have suffered there for 4 - 5 years without any hope of release other than on the occasion of their forced deportation to Iran.

You would be aware that 4.5 million indigenous Ahwazi Arab-Iranians in the province of Khuzestan in Iran are an oppressed ethnic minority. This has been confirmed by the UN on numerous occasions. For example, the 2001 report by the United Nation?s Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Iran found,

"However, it is also possible to conclude that breaches of human rights are in large part as egregious today as they were five years ago. The jailing of journalists and political dissidents, and the general denial of fair trial continues unabated. The equality rights, that is, those of gender and those to which minorities, both ethnic and religious, are entitled are by and large unrecognized..."

In his interim report to the General Assembly, the Special Representative urged the Government to adopt a national minorities policy.

It is self-evident, on the one hand, that certain minorities are among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country and, on the other, that most minorities are not enjoying the rights set out in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nor indeed even the limited rights set out in the Constitution.

In Iran, the status of minorities remains a neglected area of human rights. There are some initial glimmers of change, but there is a long way to go in terms of achieving a more forthcoming approach to the concerns of the minorities, both ethnic and religious. The Special Representative urges the Government to address this matter in an open manner, with the full involvement of the minorities themselves.

In 1994, the United Nations Economic and social council resolved that it was

"Shocked by the systematic repression of the Baha'i community and at the situation of the Iranian Kurds and the Arab minority in Iran..."

The situation has not improved since. To the contrary, information from reliable sources confirms that the situation is, in fact, worsening. Human Rights Watch in its recent report "Like the Dead in Their Coffins: Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran" states inter alia:

"The Iranian government has intensified its campaign of torture, arbitrary arrests, and detentions against political critics."

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division is quoted as saying: "Claims that reforms in Iran have put an end to torture are simply false." See the Human Rights Watch website.

The Indigenous Arab minority in the south-western province of Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz or Arabistan) has been fighting for the right of self determination since the annexation and incorporation of their land into the nation state of Iran. The relationship between the Ahwazi Arabs and the Islamic Republic of Iran's government is therefore strained. Political motivation is attributed to the slightest sign of discontent or minor offence by indigenous Arabs and is brutally suppressed. Many of our people have died in Iranian prisons or simply disappeared.

The Ahwazi Arab men in Australian detention fled Iran for various reasons. Their persecution by Iranian authorities in each case, however, can be traced back to their ethnicity. Unfortunately, the Australian authorities deny the fact that Ahwazi Arabs suffer discrimination and persecution in Iran and insist on refusing them protection.

Australia has limited the right of review of an unfavorable decision by its Refugee Review Tribunal to such an extent that even where asylum seekers present documentary evidence verifying their claim under the Convention, it will not be taken into account. This leads to the continued incarceration of 11 Ahwazis at the notorious Baxter Detention Facility, where their physical and psychological health deteriorates by the day.

In late 2002 or early 2003, Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, which, amongst other matters, provides for the voluntary or involuntary return of asylum seekers to Iran. Following the signing of this agreement, Australian authorities passed personal and identifying information to Iranian embassy staff and permitted them "consular visits" with direct access to the detainees in contravention of both domestic and international law. This further jeopardizes the safety of detainees should they be returned to Iran.

The reliance on diplomatic assurances by Western governments when deporting asylum seekers or "terrorist suspects" has been found to be unwarranted and was criticized by Britain's Highest Court. Human Rights Watch reported on October 6, 2004

The British government has said it is seeking "diplomatic assurances" that terrorism suspects deported to their home countries will not be tortured there. It argues that, on receipt of such assurances, the men ... could safely be deported. But experience shows that these assurances are an ineffective safeguard against torture...

"...The British position is moral abdication - there is a real risk that the men will be tortured if they are returned, whatever promises their home governments may offer". (Holly Cartner, Executive Director Europe and Central Asia Division)

I am writing to respectfully request that you intervene with the Australian government on behalf of these Indigenous Arab-Iranian men. They cannot return to Iran without facing torture, imprisonment and, in some cases, death for either trumped-up charges or "crimes" not recognized by any jurisdiction outside the Islamic Republic.

If Australia sees herself unable to grant protection to those men, I beseech you to include them in the UNHCR resettlement program to give them the opportunity to find safety in a third country.

I attach the names and Australian identification numbers of the Ahwazi Arabs for your information, but ask that they are treated with the utmost confidentiality out of concern for the men's safety. If you require further information, please don't hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to provide you with whatever case details you may require.

I thank you in anticipation of your help.

Yours sincerely
Karim Banisaid-Abdian

[12 names of Ahwazi Arabs deleted from the website on the request of Project SafeCom and others]

This document can be found at the website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation.

4. Background information about the ten Ahwazi Arabs

Note: a letter from the ten men is also printed below as item 5.

(From a supporter) The guys are absolutely resolved to go the end with their hungers strike. I understand that other Iranians and people of different nationalities are striking too, but the group of Ahvazi have decided to make this a group action to highlight their special situation in Iran. The crux is that, even though we have provided overwhelming information that verifies the guys claim that they are a persecuted minority, their cases are not being reviewed.

This in spite of the fact that RRT previously acknowledged their situation. See below:

1) Ahvazi men's case 13/8/02 Tribunal Member Philippa McIntosh said:

"...the independent sources do not indicate that there is any government policy to disadvantage or discriminate against the Arab population because of their race or a political opinion imputed to them generally. I am not satisfied that such a policy exists in Iran."

Yet in RRT reference N01/40727 [4/2/02] the same Tribunal Member Philippa McIntosh said (to reject a visa for a non-Arab Iranian who stated that an Arab Iranian had harassed the female applicant)
"Arabs are subject to discrimination in Iran.... Indeed in 1994 the UN Human Rights Commission documented severe human rights violations and denounced Iran's treatment of Arab and other minorities (1995, Iran, Anti-semitism World Report, pp.257-260, CX24206), and its treatment of Arab and other minorities was again heavily criticised by human rights agencies in 1996 (1997, Iran, Anti-semitism World Report, p.318-321, CX26159).

"According to a UNHCR overview, using sources including Human Rights Watch and the U.K.-based Minority Rights Group, while attempts to attain autonomy in 1979 gave way to support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, Arab activists allege that the government is trying to stamp out their culture, and many reportedly live in "exceptionally depressed conditions" holding lower-paying jobs than non-Arabs in the oil industry and agribusiness." (1998, Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Iran, UNHCR, Centre for Documentation and Research, Geneva, September, section. 2.4).

2) Excerpt from an RRT hearing of an Arab-Iranian in April 04 (reference No. 4/48379)

'In the circumstances, I accept that there is a real chance that the applicant could be detained on return to Iran. If the Iranian authorities did detain the applicant, the independent evidence suggests that he could suffer significant physical harassment or ill-treatment. In addition, it is possible that the applicant would be subjected to worse treatment in detention because he is an Arab.

There is independent evidence before me which indicates that Arab Iranians (as well as members of other ethnic minorities) are liable to be discriminated against, (see for example, pdf file on internet site here. The nation and it's minorities: Ethnicity, unity state policy in Iran, 30 June 2000 CX 79589)

5. Letter from the ten Ahwazi Arabs

Date: 7 December 2004
From: The Arab-Iranian Detainees
To: Kaye Kennis, DIMIA Manager Baxter IDF

You are aware that we are Arab-Iranians. It means we do not belong to the Persian majority in Iran but are different from other Iranians back home and in the detention centre.  We speak a different language and have different traditions, clothes and food. Therefore our situation as asylum seekers is different. Our individual cases vary but what is common to all of us is that we had to flee our country because we either did or are suspected of struggling for our rights.

Our country is Arabistan. The Persians invaded our country about 70 years ago and joined it to the state of what is now Iran. They gave it the new name of Khuzestan. Ever since, we have been struggling to get our basic rights back. We have been completely unsuccessful and disappointed, because the result of this struggle forced some of us to flee to other countries, including Australia to escape punishment from the Iranian authorities for asking for our rights.

Since the invasion, our Arab minority has always been discriminated against and oppressed by the Iranian regime. This fact was conceded by two members of the Refugee Review Tribunal in Australia.

As early as 2002, Tribunal member Philippa Maclntosh made reference to the treatment of Arab-Iranians in her decision of February 2002 (Ref.01/40727): "Arabs are subject to discrimination in Iran..."

Another Tribunal member has acknowledged our situation on April 2004 (Ref. 04/48379) when she ruled:

'It is possible that the applicant would be subjected to worse treatment in detention because he is an Arab.

There is independent evidence before me which indicates that Arab-iranians (as well as member of other ethnic minorities) are liable to be discriminated against, (see for example, pdf file on internet site here. The nation and it's minorities: Ethnicity, unity state policy in Iran, 30 June 2000 CX 79589)'

Apart from the above-mentioned information, there are lots of other independent sources who have researched information about the Arab-Iranian's condition in Iran. For example:

* Human Right Watch World Report 2003: Iran;
* US Department of State, Country report on Human Rights Practices, Iran;
* UK Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Country Assessment - Iran, October 2002,
* UK Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Country Assessment - Iran, 2002,
* Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa, Canada August 2002
* AFP 31/12/02: Riots, arrests as tensions mount in southwestern Iranian city.
* AFP 27/12/02: Iran police arrest more then 400 in clampdown on foreign films, broadcasts.
* Radio Farda 31/12/02 police arrest 300 in Ahwaz riots.
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 27, 30/6/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 24, 9/6/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 10, 10/3/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 3, 20/1/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 2, 13/1/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 1, 6/1/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline 3/1/03
* Ahwazi-Arabs for Freedom and Democracy-USA  (al-ahwaz.com)
* Democratic Popular Front For the Ahwazi Arab Nation (UK) (www.alahwaz.com)

Our friends in Europe, America and Canada as well as our good friends in Australia have provided the Department with this information more than a year ago. Many informed people have given information and tried to make you understand our situation. On 16 June 2004, Senator the Hon John Faulkner requested the Minister for Immigration to exercise her public interest power under section 48B of the Migration Act 1958.

We have also personally discussed our issue with Mr Meackal (our former case manager) and have given him all this information about four months ago. In response, we received letters in November 2004 from Department of Immigration in Perth saying that we would be advised of the outcome of our request in due course.

As you see we informed the Department about the information, which has been available in the past and also new country information a long time ago through many different sources, including ourselves, but still there is no sign of an answer!

We cannot return to Iran because we have a genuine and well-founded fear, which we have tried to communicate many times. Please believe us, if it were possible for us to return, we would have returned years ago instead of suffering psychological, mental and emotional damage in Detention.

We cannot return, but we can also no longer endure our imprisonment. What shall we do? We have lost everything: Our families, our country, our health and our hope. We have nothing to lose anymore except the little what is left of our lives. We cannot endure Detention anymore, hence it's time that we should get an answer from DIMIA otherwise we shall die.

In fact we have decided not to take any more food until the death of our bodies, because our souls have died a long time ago. Unless you release us from this hell, we have no will to live any longer and will refuse eating until we die.

This is the truth. We are determined to go on hunger strike until death because we rather die than stay in Detention or return to Iran. You have left us with no other option.

We are not interested in making our situation public through the media in Australia and overseas. We will just go quietly and allow God and history to judge your actions in driving us to our death.

However, we cannot make the same promise for our friends who care for us.  If we cannot report to them that there is an answer to our continued requests to consider our situation, we cannot stop them from saying whatever they want in public or in private.

We make this honest and last request to you. Please don't give us any more explanations, which have no meaning for us only to stop us from our action. We have listened to them too many times already.

We will wait until Friday the 10 December 2004. If you will not answer this letter by then, we will know that you want to see us dead and will oblige you willingly.

Sincerely yours
[names of Iranians inserted here]

6. Website resources

Our own custom-made Evin Prison at Baxter
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)
3CR: Two NADA News broadcasts about forced deportations
Government torture: indefinite incarceration and deportation
Details about the Al Masri ruling
Human Rights Watch: Like the dead in their coffins
Suspected refugee-spies worked for Iran (from Svenska Dagbladet)

Lips sewn in refugee hunger strike

The Australian/AAP
By Lauren Ahwan
December 08, 2004


THREE Iranian men have sewn their lips together and a further 13 started a hunger strike in the latest protest by detainees aimed at forcing a review of their asylum claims.

Refugee advocates today warned that the men, held at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia, were prepared to die as a result of their protest, with the hunger strikers declaring they had few options left.

"Many others will join the strike in coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved," the detainees said in a statement issued by refugee advocates.

"Many of us have been here (in detention) for four or five years and we are tired, frustrated and extremely depressed.

"We are peaceful people and will harm nobody but ourselves in our quest for freedom.

"We simply ask to be recognised as genuine refugees and to be granted protection so that we can get on with our lives."

Refugee advocate Jack Smit said three of the hunger strikers had climbed on a roof at the detention centre and were vowing to stay there indefinitely.

He said many hunger strikers had sent their "last will and testaments" to friends in the belief they would die.

"They will definitely hunger-strike until they die - they have nothing to lose," Mr Smit said.

The latest protest follows a decision by 11 Sri Lankan detainees on Friday to end their 10-day hunger strike, after refugee groups claimed their cases would be reviewed.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has denied the reviews were linked to the hunger strike.

The Australian Democrats today blamed the Government's mandatory detention system for forcing asylum seekers to take such extreme protest measures.

"When you put people in a situation where they have no hope, when the live in fear over months and months and months, it is inevitable that you will get not only severe psychological damage but it's inevitable you will get these acts of desperation like hunger strikes," Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett told parliament.

An immigration department spokesman blamed misinformation spread by refugee advocates in relation to the Sri Lankans' hunger strike for the latest, similar action.

"The misinformation is encouraging harmful behaviour among some detainees," he said.

"Several detainees have placed two stitches in their lips and detention facility staff are closely monitoring the detainees."

Detainees on the centre roof were "being handled carefully by centre staff", the spokesman said.

He refused to elaborate on what actions had been taken.

Link to The Australian

Baxter detainees sew lips together

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Wednesday, December 8, 2004. 4:19pm (AEDT)


Refugee advocates say three Baxter detainees staging a rooftop protest weathered strong winds and heavy downpours overnight, while three others have sewn their lips together.

Rural Australians for Refugees says one of the men climbed onto the roof of the gymnasium three days ago and two others joined him yesterday.

Kathy Verran, a spokeswoman for the group, says the protest is one of many under way in Baxter.

Three other detainees have sewn their lips together and another are 19 are hunger striking.

She says the three on the roof were at serious risk during last night's storms.

"There was thunder and lightning and it was just terrible," Ms Verran said.

Click for Port Augusta, South Australia Forecast"Just after the storm finished and the person we know really well stood up and waved to us and it was quite frightening really seeing as the storm had just gone through.

"It's quite a steep roof but he was just letting us know that he was okay."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1260676.htm

Frustrated detainees sew their mouths shut

Independent Online, South Africa
December 08 2004 at 07:44AM

Canberra -
Several asylum-seekers held in an Outback detention centre have sewn their lips shut as part of a hunger strike called in protest against Australia's refusal to grant them sanctuary, government officials said on Wednesday.

An Immigration Department spokesperson said "several" detainees of the remote Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia state had put two stitches through their lips. He would not say exactly how many detainees had done so or where they were from.

"A group of detainees are claiming that they are choosing not to eat and the detainees are encouraged to end their action as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.

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

Refugee advocates Project Safecom said in a statement that three men had sewn their lips shut, while another three men were on a hunger strike on the roof of the centre's gym. It said its statement was issued on behalf of 70 Iranian men held in Baxter.

"Many others will join the strike in the coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved," the men said.

"We are taking this extreme action because we have so few options left. This is a desperate plea. We simply ask to be recognised as genuine refugees and to be granted protection so that we can get on with our lives," they said.

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

The spokesperson said refugee advocates were wrongly claiming the Immigration Department had agreed to review the cases of a group of Sri Lankan men who refused to eat last week, but the department would not say how many had protested or for how long.

"The misinformation is encouraging harmful behaviour among some detainees and is falsely raising the hopes of these vulnerable people," the spokesperson said.

In 2001, Australia's conservative government strengthened its stance against illegal immigration by deploying the navy to intercept and divert boats.

There are five onshore and one offshore Australian detention centres as well as Australian-funded detention centres 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.

In January, 35 Afghan men launched a hunger strike and stitched their lips together.

Link to South Africa Online

Also published in Navhind Times, India | Manawatu Standard, New Zealand

Iranian detainees on hunger strike

Sydney Morning Herald
December 8, 2004 - 2:24PM


Several Iranian men at the Baxter detention centre started a hunger strike today in an attempt to have their bid for asylum reviewed.

Three of the six men also sewed their lips together and many others are expected to join the protest.

A statement from 70 Iranian men at Baxter, issued by refugee advocates, said the action was a "desperate plea to draw the attention of the Australian people to our situation".

"Today three Iranian men in W2 (compound) have sewn their lips together and are on hunger strike," the statement said.

"Three others are hunger striking on the roof of the gym and will stay there indefinitely.

"Many others will join the strike in the coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved.

"We are peaceful people and will harm nobody but ourselves in our quest for freedom."

Refugee advocate Jack Smit said the hunger strikers were determined to die unless their cases were reviewed.

He said some detainees had sent their wills to refugee advocates.

"They will definitely hunger strike until they die - they all have nothing to lose," he said.

A group of Sri Lankan detainees at Baxter ended a 10-day hunger strike on Friday, with refugee advocates announcing the immigration department had agreed to review their cases.

But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said suggestions that hunger strikes could prompt the immigration department to treat detainees' more favourably were dangerous as they raised false hopes and encouraged harmful behaviour.

An immigration department spokesman confirmed several detainees had sewn their lips together and were refusing to eat, while others remained on a roof at the compound.

"Several detainees have placed two stitches on their lips and detention facility staff are closely monitoring the detainees," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the situation of detainees on the roof was also being handled carefully by centre staff, although he refused to elaborate on what actions were being taken.

He said the protests by detainees showed the department was right to be concerned about comments made by refugee advocates when the hunger strike by the Sri Lankan detainees ended.

"The ongoing incidents at Baxter confirm the department's concerns about the consequences of misinformation being spread by advocates," he said.

"The misinformation is encouraging harmful behaviour among some detainees."

© 2004 AAP

Link to The Sydney Morning Herald

Detainee in rooftop protest at Australian centre

IranMania
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
©2004 IranMania.com

LONDON, Dec 7 (IranMania)
- An Iranian asylum-seeker was conducting a lone protest Tuesday on the rooftop of an immigration detention centre in the South Australian Outback, authorities said, according to Agence France Press (AFP) reported.

An immigration department spokesman said the man climbed onto a roof at the Baxter detention centre on Monday and refused to come down overnight.

Refugee advocates said the man had been held in detention for four years and was suffering from depression, the report added.

According to the immigration depatment, a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers ended a 10-day hunger strike at the centre last Friday. The Baxter detention centre was opened in late 2002 after international criticism of asylum-seekers' treatment at another centre, Woomera, which has now closed.

"The latest protests showed the Baxter facility was also facing serious problems," a spokesman for the refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, Jack Smit, said.

"It should be ample evidence of the fact that the culture inside the Baxter detention centre has now deteriorated to a Woomera level prior to its closure," Smit said.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers who arrive in the territory illegally, arguing it is the only way to forbid people-smugglers sending boatloads of refugees into its territorial waters.

The policy has been criticised by organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Link to Iran Mania

Detainee spends night on roof

news.com.au
December 7, 2004


An Iranian asylum seeker spent the night on a roof at South Australia's Baxter detention centre as advocates warned the culture at the facility had slipped to the disastrous levels of Woomera.

The four-year detainee climbed on to a roof at the detention centre in the state's north yesterday afternoon and refused to come down, advocates said.

He remained on the roof today in an apparent state of mental distress, Jack Smit, from the refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, said.

On Friday, a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers ended a 10-day hunger strike at Baxter and last week a Turkish detainee climbed naked on to a roof at the facility on the outskirts of Port Augusta and remained there for hours.

Mr Smit said the recent disturbances rekindled memories of the Woomera detention centre, also in SA's north, which closed in April 2003 after a four year history of riots, violence, self-mutilation and escapes.

"It should be ample evidence of the fact that the culture inside the Baxter detention centre has now deteriorated to a Woomera level prior to its closure," Mr Smit said.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

Asylum-seeker 'denied medication'

news.com.au
December 9, 2004


AN Iranian asylum seeker staging a rooftop hunger strike at a South Australian detention centre said today he had been denied anti-depressant medication in the lead-up to his protest.

Saeed Shams, 33, said he was protesting at the Baxter centre in SA's north because he had been in detention in Australia for five years since coming by boat from Iran and could no longer put up with the situation.

"I'm tired, I'm sick of this situation," said Mr Shams, who has been on hunger strike since Monday.

"I've lost five golden years of my life in here without any crime and we ask the Australian government to please pay attention."

Two other men were on the roof with Mr Shams, while another 13 Iranians were hunger striking elsewhere in the centre.

Mr Shams said he had been taking anti-depressant medication Zoloft daily, but centre staff recently changed the way medication was administered to detainees.

Medication had been handed out by nurses but was now administered by detention centre officers, he said.

Mr Shams said last Thursday the officers had told him his medication was unavailable.

"Until last Thursday they gave me Zoloft, every day I had to take two Zolofts," he said.

"I asked the officers to bring me medication, but they told me it's not ready, not from Thursday to Monday."

On Monday, Mr Shams climbed onto the roof and has stayed there despite inclement weather, including rainstorms on Tuesday night, when he said he was shielded only by garbage bags provided by fellow detainees.

However, Mr Shams said his protest was sparked by a lack of freedom, not a lack of medication.

"I am doing this protest because I'm tired of this situation and I'm tired of being in detention," he said.

"I did nothing wrong to Australia.

"I want to stay here (on the roof) until they do something for us."

Mr Shams said he had been told the government wanted to send Iranian detainees home, but he was certain for him that would mean imprisonment or death, based on his political views and his Christianity.

He said only an offer of freedom in Australia or another country would persuade him to climb down.

Asylum seeker resource centre spokeswoman Pamela Curr said it was likely the changes to the way medication was administered had exacerbated problems at Baxter.

"Christmas is coming and it's like the ticking off of another year and they just don't see any future, I think that's the main thing, no future," Ms Curr said.

"But then overlay the switching off of medication, and let's face it, the system is run on medication, they wouldn't be able to keep control without it."

An immigration department spokesman confirmed there had been changes to the way medication was dispensed.

He refused to say when the changes took place or what they were, but said they complied with required immigration detention standards.

He said no detainees had been denied medication.

The situation of detainees on the roof was "being handled carefully by centre staff", he said.

He said there were no current plans to deport any Iranian detainees.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

Baxter hunger strike worsens, Perth detainees follow suit

Project SafeCom Inc.
Narrogin/Fremantle WA
MEDIA NOTE
10 December 2004 - 12:00 WST


The number of Iranians on a hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre has now increased to 25 men. While they are still taking water, and the three men on the roof have also been taking some dates, reports suggest that they are weakening. For those on the roof, today is the sixth day of their hungerstrike.

Advocates have reported that a detainee, who climbed on the roof to share his concern with the three hunger strikers, and to persuade the men to call off their action, was apprehended by the detention centre operator GSL when he came down, and "thrown into the management unit for six weeks" for climbing on the roof without permission.

The temperatures are expected to increase to 'hot' this weekend - earlier in the week storms and heavy showers were a part of the weather pattern at the Baxter facility outside Port Augusta.

Detainees also report that they have been told that "a government delegation, including an Iraqi doctor" is planning to visit today, while previous reports have suggested that this may be a delegation of the Immigration Detention Advisory Group (IDAG).

A delegation of refugee supporters is present outside the gates of the Baxter detention centre, in a silent protest gathering and prayer vigil. The group intends to remain at their current location throughout the weekend.

Six detainees at the Perth detention centre have also started a hunger strike this morning. Spokesperson Mr "R" reports that he started the hunger strike because "....while the election weas coming, DIMIA and the government make some little promises, but now that the election is over, they just don't seem to know how our case is going, they don't tel you anything at all."

More hunger strikers at Baxter

The Herald Sun
10dec04


THE number of Iranian hunger strikers at the Baxter detention centre had risen to 25 men, refugee advocates said today.

An additional six Iranians joined the hunger strike today, Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said.

Some of the men have sewn their lips together in a hunger strike which some of the group began on Monday at the facility in South Australia's north.

The Catholic Church today expressed concern at the continuing protest, saying the situation must be resolved.

"There must be a better way of handling the cases of asylum seekers than the current arrangements," Catholic Bishops' committee for migrants and refugees chairman Bishop Joseph Grech said today.

"I pray for those suffering at Baxter and I hope that the situation can be resolved with urgency and compassion."

Link to the Herald Sun

Catholic body calls for end to Baxter protest

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Friday, December 10, 2004. 7:46pm (AEDT)


The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has called for an end to a protest by asylum seekers at South Australia's Baxter detention centre.

A number of detainees have climbed on to the roof of the centre and others have sewn their lips together in protest over the time they have spent in detention.

Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugees Office, Father John Murphy, says the detainees need to consider their own well-being.

He says the Federal Government should also act to end the deadlock.

"If they haven't got any chance of being accepted in Australia not to keep them here," Fr Murphy said.

"If they can be repatriated or if they can't, let them out on bridging visas or whatever, rather than just have them in a hopeless situation."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1262680.htm

More detainees join Baxter hunger strike

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Saturday, December 11, 2004. 8:00am (AEDT)


Up to 20 asylum seekers at the Baxter Detention Centre are now taking part in a hunger strike, in protest over the amount of time they have spent in detention.

The detainees, including three who are maintaining a roof top protest, say they are prepared to continue the protest until death.

The protesters have been without food for three days and say they are weak, but they will not end the hunger strike.

Six people have sewn their lips together as part of the protest.

One of the detainees, who has been in detention for five years, says the protest is an attempt to make people aware of their situation.

"We need to free people from the prison of detention centre like us," the detainee said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration says the situation is being monitored closely.

She says the detainees are being encouraged to end their action, and food and water is available to them at all times.

One of the Arab-Iranian detainees says they are frustrated by the delays in having their refugee status assessed.

"Death is better than life - anymore in here and we would prefer to die rather than continue this hard situation," the detainee said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1262811.htm

What do we think?

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.

We have written to all our supporters, all people in our database, and we have repeated our call through all known and functioning e-lists of refugee groups around Australia.

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)
Read more ...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Palm Island: will Indigenous people get justice for Doomadgee?

"Cameron Doomadgee was found to have suffered four fractured ribs, a ruptured liver and torn protal vein. He died from these injuries he sustained while in police custody on Palm Island. Apparently he sustained these injuries when he fell off a table. Yeah, sure he did." (from Margo Kingston's Webdiary, by James Woodcock)

It is the New Zealand media which reports that a massive Maori contingent is to be expected this week at the time that Mr Doomadgee's funeral will take place:

"Around 3000 Maori are expected to fly to Australia this week to join rallies for Aboriginal human rights. Aboriginal leaders from throughout Australia are planning nationwide protests on Saturday to demand indigenous rights. The protests follow a spate of maltreatment and death of Aborigines in police custody. A group of Maori, led by Tuhoe activist Tame Iti, are said to be flying over to offer support. Aboriginal leader Bert Button said 3000 Maori were flying over to join the nationwide rallies to demand an end to discrimination."

One of the best reports on the Palm Island issue, one that also offers a clear overview of the reporting on the issue in the Australian media - comes from Sarah Stephen, in Green Left Weekly. See below for this report.

The "local" MP for Herbert, Liberal Peter Lindsay, addressed Parliament on 29 November - see the Hansard - but while his speech shows commitment to his local constituents, it fades in significance because he's using it as a selling point for the Howard government's new policy platforms about a new land tenure model - thuis further fuelling the fire of conflict, also within Australia's indigenous people - even more so since Warren Mundine came out and backed the Howard government's new policies.

Mr Doomadgee's funeral may well become the centrepiece for expression of Aboriginal dissent with the handling of this issue, and the fact that 19 Palm Islanders who stand accused were granted bail may not be enough: one of the many bail conditions imposed is that the men not return to Palm Island and attend the funeral. Forbidding friends and relatives to attend a funeral will no doubt gripe deep within the cultural resistance of the 19 men, and it's not a good omen. As Mark Todd in The Age reports, Queensland Chief Magistrate Marshall Irwin was note going to play into the hands of the police when he granted bail to all 19 men charged over the riot: "[Aboriginal leader Mr Murrandoo] Yanner, a cousin of Mr Doomadgee, welcomed the release of the men but was disappointed at the "almost cruel" conditions. He said the direction not to attend the funeral was likely to further harden attitudes."

"In our culture it brings great shame and is a lack of respect to miss the funeral," he said outside the Townsville courthouse."

"Mr Yanner criticised Aboriginal leaders for not speaking out more stridently about Mr Doomadgee's death. "Shame, shame, shame," he said. "Where the hell is the Aboriginal leadership of Australia?"

"If they can't get off their arse and get to Townsville and Palm Island then at least they can pick up the phone and do some interviews. It's pathetic." Mr Yanner would not identify anyone but said there were "clearly 10 or 20 big shots missing in action here"."

FAIRA, the Foundation for Aboriginal & Islander Research Action, issued a press release, and referred to The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody - one of the best Royal Commissions ever conducted, but alas, its more than 300 Recommendations have not been acted upon.

The Palm Island Aboriginal Council wrote to Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, who clearly acted over the heads of the Council when he went in with an attitude of absolute "American Overkill", imposing a State of Emergency and shipping more than 80 SERT Officers on to the Island. Both the FAIRA press release, and the letter from the Council are reprinted below.

STOP BLACK DEATHS IN CUSTODY

Foundation for Aboriginal & Islander Research Action (FAIRA)
Media Release
28 November 2004


The Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) calls upon the Crimes and Misconduct Commission (CMC) to establish why the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment, and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, have not improved since 1991.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody spent over $30 million to provide more than 300 proposals, mostly to State Governments, to reduce the number of Aboriginal deaths.

More than ten years ago the evidence showed that Aboriginal people were being imprisoned at more than ten times the rate of the Australian population, and that this discriminatory outcome was due to bad laws, biased justice systems, racist policing practices and poverty of the Aboriginal people.

The Queensland Government said that it would address the problems. It has clearly failed to do so.

If the Queensland Government were ATSIC, John Howard would have sacked it, and replaced it with a committee of advisors.

The statistics show that the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment is higher than in 1990 and the rate of deaths in custody continues unabated.

In 1990 Aboriginal people comprised over 20% of the prison population even though we are only 2.5% of the total population in Queensland. In Year 2003, the rate of imprisonment is even higher at 24%.

The Aboriginal people are entitled to answers.

Why are so many of our people being imprisoned, and why are our people dying in jails? Are the laws on peace, order and safety targetting Aboriginal people, particularly our youth? Why is alcoholism being treated as a crime instead of a health and social ailment?

FAIRA welcomes the action by the Commissioner for Police to use the powers of the Crime and Misconduct Commission to expose the Palm Island incident.

We believe this step will help the family of the deceased, and the community, to cope with the tragic event.

The Commission must give a timely report on the incident including the circumstances of the death and the exercise of the duty of care of the police.

But the Commission has an obligation to examine this case in the context of human rights law, and to also find if responsibilities have been upheld by policy and law makers.

We call upon the Commission to provide a thorough report and not just a convenient and short-term media show for the public.

FAIRA Spokesperson
Les Malezer
0419 710 720

Open Letter from Palm Island Aboriginal Council to the Premier

Sunday 28 November 2004

CC: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Policy Minister Liddy Clark, Police Minister Judy Spence, Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson & Media


Dear Mr Beattie

The Palm Island Aboriginal Council, with the support of the Aboriginal Local Government Association of Queensland, would like to express their deep disappointment at the criticisms which have been levelled at our Councillors and community over the past 24 hours.

As you may be aware the Council has sent a response to your statement, "Premier calls for Palm Island Council to show leadership", to the media late yesterday.

The Council has been frustrated you have not seen fit to communicate with us directly on these matters before now.

Our hands have been tied for these past few days by the "State of Emergency" imposed upon us and our people are feeling under siege after seeing the various - and some incorrectly reported media items yesterday on radio, television and print news.

A man has died in police custody. Our people are angry. We are all affected by this, including our Council members.

The following issues need to be resolved immediately:

1. The removal of these services from the island has been extreme and unnecessary.

There has been a mass exodus of services from the island. Of immediate concern is the lack of medical staff at the hospital. Negotiations to re-staff and restore full medical services to the island are of utmost priority.

For reasons it is difficult to understand teachers from our schools Have also been evacuated from the island and we are concerned that our children will miss schooling as a result of this evacuation. What arrangements will be put in place to cater for our children between now and the end of the school year?

No fresh bread or milk has been delivered to the island since Friday morning which has been of great concern to parents on the island - when will these deliveries be restored?

2. The police have been more than heavy-handed in their dealings with the community and community people, including our children, are feeling terrorised. The heavily armed presence of 80 police is not necessary at this time and those extra police should leave the island as soon as possible so real order can be restored by the Council and the people they serve.

To date 13 people, including a minor, have been removed from the island and taken into police custody. Late last night three of those people were on suicide prevention watch. Yesterday the police systematically raided the homes of those they believe to be suspect over yesterday's events - we have had many reports of both children and old people being unnecessarily frightened and mistreated by the police while these raids have taken place.

We have had one report of a man who already had a broken bone being thrown to the ground in front of children and stomped on by police officers this is terrorising our community people. Council has also had reports that Task Force officers are "running the streets" in full armoured uniform including balaclavas, and fully armed in some areas of our community. The island is otherwise calm, and has been for the past 24 hours, other than where these raids have taken place. The raids are scaring our people and adding to feelings of fear and uncertainty.

At no time have these heavily armed and numerous police ever had need to "fear for their lives", as reported by one media outlet. Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson should clarify and retract his statements to the contrary as soon as possible.

Despite the numbers of police currently on the island, the police have drawn Council's attention to a weapon missing from the police station and asked the Council to investigate this matter themselves.

The only description they have offered is that the missing weapon is 'high powered'. No explanation has been offered as to how or why this weapon was able to be removed from the police station by a member of our community.

The Council would like a guarantee there will be no police presence, or evidence of a police presence, at the funeral service of the young man who died when it occurs.

3. Alcohol has not played a role in any of the events of the past three days after the Palm Island Canteen was closed by the Palm Island Council on Tuesday. Statements by the Police Minister to the contrary should be retracted.

4. The declared State of Emergency has prevented our Council from taking up a leadership role.

Three members of our Council have not been able to return to the island as a result of the State of Emergency declared on the island. Council also understands more than 50 people were left stranded in Townsville on Friday evening after ferry services to the island were unnecessarily suspended and further concern has been caused by the inability of people to either get to or leave the island since then. When will our normal transportation services be resumed and what compensation will the government offer the innocent people who were affected by the suspension?

Why were the police told to evacuate all white people and "any decent blacks" from the island?

The current status of the State of Emergency has not been communicated to the Council - no officer in charge has been identified and no certificate, as per the Public Safety Preservation Act (1986), has been issued.

5. The inability of Council to communicate directly with yourselves and/or the people able to make decisions about the issues outlined here has prevented us from taking on the leadership role you have accused us of lacking.

There were published (Townsville Bulletin, 23 Nov) calls for police and government representatives to come to the island to allay the concerns of our community about the death in custody as early as Tuesday this week which were ignored. Had the government heeded these calls and accepted the leadership of those who made these calls the events of later in the week would have been averted.

In regards to the bigger issues - the reasons for these current events - Council would like to make the following statements:

1. The young man this community has lost was know to be reliable and jovial, although generally of a quietly spoken and calm disposition. This young man was a hunter for the community and had never been in trouble with the law or the community. He was a fine example for our young people and admired for his character by our elders. His loss will be felt keenly by many of our people, particularly his family. Our people feel strongly that a grave injustice has occurred.

2. Deaths in Custody have been an issue in all our communities for many years - two deaths have occurred on DOGIT communities in the past two years and the systems in place for preventing these preventable deaths are inadequate. For 13 years there have been 297 recommendations for preventing deaths in custody, not nearly enough of them have been implemented.

Regardless of the causes of those injuries to the young man it is inexcusable that he was left unattended in the watch house until it was too late - the government and the police must accept blame for the current situation.

The Palm Island Council and community and all the Aboriginal people of Queensland call on the government yet again to re-visit the recommendations and implement all of them as soon as possible so the events of the past week never happen again.

3. Council has received reports that this is not the first time Police Sergeant Chris Hurley has had to be removed from a community because a similar series of incidents. If this is the case Council would like to know why Officer Hurley was re-assigned to another Aboriginal community without consideration.

3. There were no deaths or injuries as a result of events on Friday.

4. The Council is in no way to blame for the events of the past week.

In terms of a way forward Council would like to state that the people who make the decisions need to be coordinating with the Council to put processes in place to resolve these issues.

The way forward over the coming weeks and months will be difficult. Trust has been broken and needs to be restored. The people of Palm Island must be able to live in peace and with confidence there will be never be a repeat of the events of past week.

The way the government and authorities deal with the Council and the community in future should be respectful and on equal terms so all parties are able to take on their appropriate responsibilities with all lines of communication remaining open regardless of circumstance.

Erykah Kyle, Palm Island Mayor, and Vince Mundraby, Interim President, Aboriginal Local Government Association of Qld

GLW's Sarah Stephen's report:

Palm Island: Police terror follows death in custody

Sarah Stephen
Green Left Weekly
December 8 2004


At 11.20am on November 19, a 36-year-old Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee, died in the police watch-house on Palm Island, 70km north of Townsville. An hour earlier he was very much alive, singing along the street. He was arrested for public drunkenness and locked up as a "public nuisance".

The first autopsy found that he had four broken ribs and a ruptured liver and spleen, and had died from internal bleeding. The state coroner released a statement to the media on November 26, which said "the forensic pathologist is of the opinion that [Doomadgee's injuries] are consistent with the deceased - and the policeman with whom he was known to have been struggling - falling on to a hard surface, such as the steps outside the watch-house".

Brad Foster, chief executive of the Carpentaria Land Council and spokesperson for the Palm Island community, told the media that people "just don't believe it was an accident. They think it was murder." Palm Island mayor Erykah Kyle told the November 29 Brisbane Courier-Mail that she had seen the full autopsy report and it mentioned that heavy pressure or a weight might have been placed on Doomadgee's chest.

On November 30, Sister Christina McGlynn, a pastoral carer at the Palm Island hospital, told Tony Koch from The Australian: "It is a tragedy this gentle man died in custody. But to say that four broken ribs and a ruptured liver is a consequence of a fall is something I, as a trained nurse, find hard to accept."

Koch wrote in The Australian on November 29: "Two Aboriginal men who were in the cells at the time have given statements that they saw [Doomadgee] being punched and beaten by Chris Hurley, a senior sergeant."

Many questions remain unanswered, such as why, following the alleged scuffle, was Doomadgee left in a cell without medical attention? Kenny Georgetown, manager of the Brisbane Murri Watch program, doesn't believe that Doomadgee should have been taken into custody in the first place. Georgetown asked Brisbane's November 30 Courier-Mail why, if Doomadgee had been picked up drunk, he was not taken to a "safe place" as the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act requires. "This policy is supposed to be operating right around the state and came out of the Royal Commission" into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

The coroner's report into Doomadgee's death was read to a community meeting on Palm Island on November 26. Anger at the report's findings boiled over and 300 people marched to the police station 100 metres away, demanding that the police officers come out. The court house, police station and police barracks were set on fire.

In a complete overreaction, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie immediately declared a state of emergency, evacuated teachers and medical staff from the island, and sent in 80 Tactical Response Group commandos on the night of November 26, armed with riot shields, balaclavas, helmets with face-masks and semi-automatic weapons. They took over the local school to use it as a command post. They roamed the streets, arresting unarmed and unresisting members of the Aboriginal community. They even used Tasers, paralysing electric-shock weapons, on at least three people.

Looking for what they called the "ringleaders" of the "riot", they stormed people's houses, forced children face-down onto the ground and pointed guns at their heads. Koch, who was present at one such arrest, recounted how a young man who refused to supply a signed statement was handcuffed and taken to the airport to be flown to Townsville and locked in the watch-house. "No admissions, no statement, no legal representative on the island, so a convenient 'holding' charge gets this suspected villain off the island."

There was widespread condemnation of the heavy-handed tactics, but Beattie defended the use of force as "appropriate". "I don't expect police to deal with these matters with one hand tied behind their backs", he said.

Foster was furious at the police's actions. He told Koch on November 28: "They deliberately closed off the island while they practised their terrorist drills on unarmed Palm Islanders. If they asked the council and put up the list of people they wanted to speak to, they would have been presented to them without the arrests being made at gunpoint and women and children being terrorised in their homes." He said it was "appalling" that no-one from Aboriginal Legal Aid was allowed on Palm Island to help those being arrested.

Aboriginal activist Murrandoo Yanner, Doomadgee's cousin, told ABC's PM on November 29: "A couple of blokes burned down the police station [and] they're immediately caught and charged by the largest armed contingent since we sent soldiers over to Iraq. It's ridiculous."

Eighteen people were immediately arrested, among them a 14-year-old boy. By December 2, police had charged 28 people with 64 offences. Charges included riot, arson, going armed with intent to cause fear, serious assault on police, burglary, wilful damage, unlawful assembly, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and possession of a drug utensil. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service solicitor Kevin Rose told ABC News on November 30 that the rioting charges could be particularly serious. "Riot simplistically is three years, but if it involves with it the destruction of a building, it's life imprisonment maximum."

In a statement released on November 29, state coroner Michael Barnes said: "Given the sensitivities around the man's death, and [the fact] that medical evidence will be crucial to establishing how the man died, it is important that I have a second opinion." A second autopsy was performed by a different pathologist on November 30. The results won't be known until the second week of December, after which time Doomadgee's funeral will take place.

With just 48 hours' notice, 130 members of the Murri community attended a meeting in Brisbane on December 1 to plan action. Green Left Weekly spoke to Sam Watson, a Murri activist and one of the meeting's organisers, about the mood among the community in Brisbane.

"Indigenous people are so angry and hurt about this latest death in custody, and the fact that the police who committed this horrific act of violence on Cameron Doomadgee are still walking around at large. We're angry that the police are being held up as martyrs, and that radio stations and newspapers are running appeals for people to donate furniture and whitegoods! Not a cent has been offered to the family to help with funeral expenses.

"Already, the mindset is that we're going to blame the victims - attack, dehumanise and terrorise the Aboriginal community in the wake of the latest outrage, and continue to absolve the police of any blame."

The media and the Beattie government ignored Doomadgee's death when it happened on November 19. Yet two days after the Palm Island police station burnt down, journalists jumped on planes to get on-the-spot reports, Beattie visited the island and it became an international news story. Yet the cause - the death of an Aboriginal man in custody in extremely suspicious circumstances - continues to be ignored.

The "dangerous" situation on Palm Island was greatly exaggerated. The police were cast as martyrs, fearful for their lives and apparently too scared to ever return to the island. The Queensland Police Union launched an appeal for police who lost their belongings in the fire and Beattie was quick to assure the QPU that no officers would be left out of pocket. He hasn't been so forthcoming in expressing sympathy for Doomadgee's family.

In a November 28 Herald Sun article titled "Palm rioters almost killed us: police", QPU acting president Denis Fitzpatrick made the ridiculous and inflammatory comment that he expected rioters to be investigated for attempted murder. The November 28 Queensland Sunday Mail reported that there were "fears that hidden weapons and a large supply of alcohol could fuel more riots". It quoted police minister Judy Spence saying, "that is why we are very concerned about the next 24 hours, in case people start drinking again and tensions flare up".

Beattie presented a five-point "peace plan" to the Palm Island council when he visited on November 28. A key proposal was for an alcohol management plan, yet alcohol had nothing to do with the protest. Tony Koch confirmed that sales of alcohol stopped on November 23, so there was nothing more than anger and grief fuelling the protesters' actions. "Beattie and his five-point plan can go take a running jump", Watson commented.

Yanner told ABC News on November 27: "If the system works we'll respect it. The system not only is not working for us, it has never worked for us or delivered justice. What is going on on Palm Island is a genuine reflection of how all Aboriginal people are feeling at this stage across Aboriginal Australia."

The Crime and Misconduct Commission is investigating the death, and deciding whether any charges should be laid. Watson said: "The Aboriginal community has no confidence in the CMC. We see it as a rubber stamp for police brutality and terrorism. Neither the Criminal Justice Commission nor the CMC [which replaced it a few years ago] have ever recommended criminal proceedings against any police officer. In every situation, the Aboriginal person is the wrongdoer and the police are the good guys."

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/609/609p6.htm

Green Left Weekly also includes a post-rally statement from Socialist Alliance:
The brutal imposition of martial law and the use of armed Tactical Response Group officers against the Aboriginal community on Palm Island has shocked many Australians. Yet another Indigenous person has died in police custody. Yet another community must mourn the loss of one of its sons.

Instead of treating this horrific death with sympathy or consideration, the Premier and the Queensland police have completely bypassed the local Indigenous authorities on the island's council and have chosen instead to invade the island, treating it as a legitimate target for state terror. Children, pregnant women and the elderly have been forced to bury their faces in the dirt by police officers toting laser-guided machine guns.

The island has been isolated, its services cut off, its residents stranded and the desire of the community to mourn its loss has been thwarted by the determination of the state to vigorously impose the rule of law on a people who have been so poorly served by it. Palm Island is a creature engineered by the chronic racism of successive state governments. This is an undeniable historical fact. The guilty aren?t those young men incarcerated in Townsville jail and the victims are not the Queensland police.

Any comment contrary to that expressed by the Queensland Police Union or Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson is denigrated out of hand. Is Queensland now run by its police force? As Murri Indigenous leader and Socialist Alliance activist Sam Watson says, the Queensland Crime Misconduct Commission "is just a rubber stamp for a vicious corps of armed, violent and racist thugs who act with impunity to terrorise our communities. Neither the CMC nor its predecessor [the Criminal Justice Commission] have ever recommended a single criminal charge against any police officer for alleged violence against an Aboriginal person."

This state's Indigenous community has suffered much at the hands of those who would displace them. With the brutal events of the past week, the Indigenous community must feel that they are under siege and that their struggle for justice has reached a low ebb.

Human Rights Day Townsville: 2000 Aboriginal marchers hail charged 'warrior'

The Age
By Mark Todd
Townsville
December 10, 2004


Elizabeth Doomadgee ran across the street and, gently sobbing, buried her face in the shoulder of her brother's best friend. "You are my warrior," she said as she embraced Lex Wotton on the steps of the Townsville police headquarters.

Cheers erupted from 2000 protesters. It was clear that Wotton, the alleged ringleader of last month's riots on Queensland's Palm Island, had become a powerful folk hero.

Banned under the conditions of his bail from taking part in yesterday's protest march through the streets of Townsville, Wotton had waited in the baking sun for the march to come to him.

A broad smile spread across his face as he recognised Ms Doomadgee, whose brother Cameron died in police cus-tody on Palm Island on November 19.

Wotton, who police say led the mob that set the Palm Island police station alight with as many as 19 people inside, raised his arms to the sky, fists clenched, and the marchers cheered louder. Aboriginal dancers rushed up the steps outside the police station for their most emotion-charged performance of the day.

"This is a warm-up dance," said Ashley Saltner, 14. "It is for the spirits as we get ready for battle."

Reporters asked Wotton if he felt proud. "Yes," he replied. What was he proud of, then? "Everything," he said.

The march was peaceful, with black and white walking side by side.

"Whether Lex is right or wrong, people are looking at him," one protester said as the march moved on.

"Sometimes it takes something tragic for something beautiful to emerge. This has sparked people into action."

One of the white walkers, Heather Bond, said Townsville was a racist place. You only had to look at the swastikas painted on walls.

"I'm terrified this whole issue could become very divisive," she said. "To some people you're either in one camp or the other. I don't know what could happen if this isn't handled properly."

It was certainly a mixed gathering, with signs both for and against the police.

One young boy held a placard with the slogan - "Deaths in custody: legal genocide".

He shook his head when asked what the sign meant. "He doesn't know the big words," said his nan, Lilian Willis. "But this is all about justice and it's about people coming together."

Link to article in The Age

Rebel yell

Townsville Bulletin
By VIKKI CAMPION
10dec04


ABORIGINAL activist Murrandoo Yanner has delivered a fiery speech urging people to heckle politicians and "if you go to jail, go for something honourable''.

Speaking to the large crowd that rallied in Central Park yesterday, Mr Yanner demanded to know where Member for Herbert Peter Lindsay, Townsville Mayor Tony Mooney and Member for Towns ville Mike Reynolds were. "Where the hell are they?'' he asked. "Do they only support white people or what?''

Mr Yanner urged people to challenge politicians on their silence in the wake of Cameron Doomadgee's death in custody on Palm Island and the following riot.

"If you can't get into a boardroom because you aren't dressed the right way, when they leave for lunch heckle them, up them. Spit on them if you have to. It don't take much you know.''

Mr Reynolds did march and attend the rally. Mr Lindsay was in Canberra and Cr Mooney had a prior engagement.

Mr Yanner urged Aborigines to resist. "Stop using that stupid white fella word 'riot'. "It's resistance, something honourable. "If you go to jail, go for something honourable.

"Deck that policeman hurting your brother, burn that police station hiding a murderer. "Stop bashing wives, start bashing racist coppers."

He said what happened on Palm Island was a joyous occasion of heroic acts of resistance, where the community finally felt free.

Mr Yanner asked the rally: "Is Lexy Wotton a criminal?" The crowd shouted, "No." "Is he a hero?" Mr Yanner asked. The crowd yelled, "Yes." "Is Beattie a criminal?" "Yes." "Well, I hope that was heard in Brisbane," he said.

"Peaceful day today, passive resistance is totally useless without people turning up the heat. We have got to turn up the heat until they come begging us for a bit of peace."

"We have been talking peace for a long, long time and they are still killing us."

Mr Yanner called for a "proper Royal Commission, one run by us this time".

"We need to draw a line in the sand and send a clear message. No one should have been charged." Australia's leaders were dehumanising indigenous people, he said.

He said the rioters who were not allowed back to Palm Island for Cameron Doomadgee's funeral were being dehumanised.

"It's very bad they can't go to the funeral, (it's) gonna haunt them for a long time."

Mr Yanner said politicians pushed indigenous people around. "One bloke gets drunk, none of us can drink; if they sniff fuel, they take it all away and we can't drive motorcars. Today, right around us, Howard and Beattie are pushing all these stupid ideas. We will continue to resist and riot until they sit back and listen - listen for once in their lives."

Link to article in Townsville Bulletin
Read more ...

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Tony Kevin: Howard in Vientiane - another own goal

Here we go again - another avoidable Australian failure of regional diplomacy, but spun to a credulous media at home as a success; even the spurious backgrounding argument that "we were ambushed by ASEAN over this" and that we were somehow clever and tough not to be caught in their trap. Howard gets away with this schoolboy stuff, because few commentators do their homework and challenge his arguments. Australia is the loser. TK 01-12-2004

This is a transcript of an interview with Tony Kevin on SBS Radio, "Asian leaders press Australia on security pact", Worldview, 30 November 12.26 pm - and working notes.

SBS interview: (transcript by Tony Kevin)

Tony Kevin: Howard's diplomacy over the last few days has surpassed all previous limits of ineptitude. He has taken a situation where we are a guest at a meeting, a one-off guest - an invitation that may not be renewed again - and he sat down and proceeded to define the agenda - of what he is there for, what he is going to talk about, what he is not going to talk about, what is important, what isn't important - in a way that is grossly insulting to his hosts.

It was not his place to demean the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which is something that ASEAN regards as one of their most important achievements. Everything that Howard and Downer have said over the last few days to try and justify their refusal to do what everyone else [around the Asian region] is doing except the United States and Australia - namely, signing this Treaty - has made matters worse. Because he has been saying - "Oh, the Treaty is just a set of motherhood statements". That is simply rude, because ASEAN sees it as a lot more than that.

Announcer: But he does say, though, that it would jeopardise our relationship with the United States, and that it would restrict our ability to criticise human rights in those Asian nations. Surely that is important?

Tony Kevin: Both those propositions are nonsense. Let's take them one by one. The first proposition: countries like Japan and South Korea, and within ASEAN, Singapore - all strong allies of the US - if they had this problem, none of them would be supporting this Treaty, and yet they all are.

The second question, that it interferes with an ability to criticise human rights - that is nonsense also, because in fact Australia as a guest at the post-ASEAN summit has no right or position in courtesy to criticise human rights violations within that forum. One of the strongest beliefs of ASEAN is that domestic matters stay at home and are not discussed in ASEAN. In the ASEAN summit taking place now - the one that doesn't involve guests - the Thai Prime Minister has already made it clear that he will not allow the human rights violations in southern Thailand to be discussed in that forum. The right place to take up human rights violations is bilaterally with the governments concerned.

Announcer: But if Australia doesn't sign this Treaty, which it looks like it definitely won't, citing those reasons you discredit, and if New Zealand does, where does that leave Australia and the region?

Tony Kevin: It leaves us looking very isolated and foolish. It reinforces the view in the region, which is widespread, that Australia basically doesn't take seriously regional security confidence building, and doesn't take seriously the evolution of regional organisations like ASEAN. That in the end, when the chips are down, Australia is the United States' deputy sheriff, and that this is where we want to be.

Now, to think that we can go on building trade deals, while we go on going out of our way to be insulting to our region in the political and security area, is I think naive in the extreme. To say that "Oh well, we got what we wanted out of this meeting because they have agreed to set up a discussion forum to talk about a [Australia-ASEAN] trade agreement" - that means absolutely nothing. The bad smell Australia has left at the table from this brief visit to Vientiane is going, I believe, to set back our free trade hopes very seriously.

Announcer: But Prime Minister John Howard insists that the two issues, trade and this Treaty, are unrelated and should not be confused, and that in the end it is our individual relationships with these countries that really matters, and he says that the substantial agreement that will come out of this meeting on free trade will be the proof of Mr Howard's argument?

Tony Kevin: There are no free trade agreements coming out of this meeting. The only thing coming out of this meeting is a formal.agreement to set up a working group to start working on the subject. It is absolutely zero in terms of commitment.

And once again, Howard is telling ASEAN what its ground rules are. It's like saying - "I want to join a golf club but you have got to change all your rules first, otherwise I won't". It is incredibly petty and egotistical behaviour. The ASEAN governments will be too polite to say what I am saying on this broadcast. But they know this and they think it, and they will simply be laughing and saying " There goes Australia doing it again".

ENDS

I sent these working notes around to a few people yesterday; they flesh out some of the arguments in the above interview, and add some more:

It is clear from today's news (31 November) that Australia will not sign the ASEAN TAC. ASEAN will paper over the cracks politely in Vientiane - that is their style - formally welcoming the commencement of exploratory talks on a FTA. Howard flacks will call that a victory for common sense and our successful trade-focussed diplomacy.

But the reality is that ASEAN leaders will be laughing at John Howard, because his and Downer's inept diplomacy over the past few days on the TAC has blown another quiet ASEAN test for Australia - and perhaps, wounded ASEAN quite deeply.

The TAC matters to them, and everything Howard and Downer said in recent days to justify why Australia would not sign dug Australia in deeper, as the perceived deputy sheriff of the US in Asia.

Australian ministers encouraged inappropriate media use of the words - "non-aggression pact". These are not words ASEAN uses about the TAC. Non-aggression pacts are what Hitler and Stalin signed. This is discredited language and it was a crude and unsubtle insult to apply it to the ASEAN TAC.

Similarly, the claim that this treaty is just a set of "motherhood statements" that signatories, eg Japan, "do not really mean", is insulting to everyone concerned. This treaty is ASEAN's effort to keep great power military politics out of their region. ASEAN has been seeking signatures from all its neighbours in Asia. They have been successful in recent years - they now have signatures from China, Japan and India - the three neighbouring big countries that really matter most to ASEAN - and from Russia, South Korea, Pakistan and now probably NZ.

That only leaves Australia and the US out - what splendid isolation we are left in. We look very crass indeed - especially as Indonesian Foreign Minister Wirayuda made a particular point of personally foreshadowing the invitation, when Howard went to the Indonesian President's inauguration last month (as reliably reported by Mark Forbes in The Age at the time).

ASEAN extended an important gesture of friendship to Australia over this. Howard and Downer foolishly slapped it down. This was not an "ambush" of Australia - but it was an important, considered, test of the newly re-elected Howard government's approach to the region. The ASEAN diplomatic overtures were properly handled.

The TAC is a legitimate approach to international confidence building, dispute resolution and peaceful settlement of disputes at a regional level. It is philosophically respectable as an alternative to balance-of -power politics. By signing up the surrounding non-ASEAN powers, it has stabilised the potential ASEAN-China Spratley Islands territorial dispute - no mean achievement. It is controlling latent tensions involving Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam; Indonesia and Philippines; Thailand and Burma. It is a practically useful rulebook for peace in our region. Why did not DFAT advise Howard that these are the facts of TAC?

The various self-serving rationalisations from Downer and from Howard's media apologists have no merit, eg the claim that the TAC is inconsistent with ANZUS. What nonsense. If this were the case, our membership of the UN would be inconsistent with ANZUS. TAC is a voluntary (obligatory within ASEAN) code of conduct among neighbours. It is consistent with the UN Charter and with ANZUS.

ASEAN won't come out and say what they think of this - it is not their way. But I doubt there will be a future invitation to Howard to attend a post-ASEAN summit anytime soon (the next one is in Kuala Lumpur). And I doubt the FTA officials' talks will go very fast or far. We'll effectively be back on ice again with ASEAN.

Tony Kevin
Canberra
1 December 2004


From http://www.tonykevin.com/HowardVientiane.html

Howard's invite to next Asian summit in doubt

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Sunday, December 5, 2004. 10:45pm (AEDT)


Doubt has been cast over whether Prime Minister John Howard will be invited to the next summit of South-East Asia leaders, which is to be held in Kuala Lumpur next year.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who is to host the summit, says the issue has not been decided.

He has also has repeated the Association of South-East Asian Nations' (ASEAN) concern over Australia's refusal to sign a non-aggression pact.

Less than a week ago at the ASEAN summit in Laos, Mr Abdullah declared that he was looking forward to seeing Australia at the next gathering.

But Mr Abdullah appears to have cooled to that idea.

A spokesman for Mr Abdullah says a decision has not been made and when it is it will be a matter for ASEAN foreign ministers.

Mr Abdullah told the Malaysian Star newspaper that a prolonged refusal by Australia to sign the Treaty on Amity and Cooperation (TAC) could have adverse results on Australia's relations with ASEAN.

"If Australia takes actions that cause adverse results, (certainly) the relations would be affected because they consider themselves free to act since they have not signed TAC," he said.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar went further, telling national news agency Bernama that Australia's refusal to sign the non-aggression treaty was sending a negative signal.

"Australia is making us doubt whether it wants to identify itself with this region and foster closer ties," he was quoted as saying.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1258344.htm

Malaysia disappointed over Australia's refusal to sign ASEAN pact

5 December 2004
Khaleej Times
United Arab Emirates

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)
- Malaysia is disappointed with Australia's refusal to sign a Southeast Asian non-aggression pact, a move that could potentially jeopardise ties between Australia and the region, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in remarks published on Sunday.

Prime Minister John Howard has riled Australia's neighbours with tough talk of possible pre-emptive strikes against terrorist bases overseas - widely interpreted to mean Indonesia, although this has repeatedly been denied by Canberra.

The non-aggression pact commits signatory states to respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member countries.

Australia has refused to sign, fearing that would curb it from commenting on the domestic policies of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with which it might disagree, such as human rights abuses in Myanmar.

Pressure mounted on Australia to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) last week at the 10-nation group's summit in Laos after New Zealand announced plans to accede to deepen ties with the region.

The two Pacific nations, traditionally seen as more part of the West than Asia, on Tuesday signed deals to launch negotiations with ASEAN next year to create a free-trade zone within 10 years.

"I am disappointed. Australia has had relations with us for a long time and is friendly with ASEAN countries (but) still refuses to sign the TAC," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency.

Asked if there would be any impact on Australia?s relations with ASEAN, Abdullah said there was none so far.

"So far there has been no impact but if it is prolonged and if Australia takes actions that cause adverse results, (certainly) the relations would be affected because they consider themselves free to act since they have not signed TAC," he said.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Canberra's refusal to sign the treaty was sending a negative signal to countries in the region.

Bernama quoted he "Australia is making us doubt whether it wants to identify itself with this region and foster closer ties," as saying.

Seven countries outside of ASEAN, including China and India, have signed the non-aggression treaty.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Link to the Khaleej Times
Read more ...

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Escape from Australia: WWII role models mix with civil disobedience

This week refugee activists in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane had their homes raided as several were charged with passport forgery offences, allegedly committed to assist asylum seekers with their escape from Australia to countries such as Canada and New Zealand, and refugee activists, refugee advocates, refugee supporters and all other agents will need to make up their mind about supporting those charged with these offences, if these charges are proven to be true.

NOTE: see also the update on ALP's Loe Ludwig's motion below!

I'm barely two years old as I develop the habit of also exploring what's going in in De Hoogstraat, the street that starts when you turn the corner at the end of my short street. I do the dishes for the ladies in that street, in the street where the people have automobiles; I rake their garden paths, I sweep their back patios, and make a general nuisance of myself, toddling around and keeping the middle-aged ladies entertained.

I also walk into that overgrown parcel between two of the stately mansions, where between clumps of saurgrass and stinging nettle remnants of large upright stones hesitate to topple over. And back home I learn that those strange hieroglyphs on the granite uprights are the same letters as those in the bible before they translated it into a bible with Dutch letters. They are Hebrew letter signs, and the cemetery has long been abandoned, because the many Jewish people were either herded into trains all the way to Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, or returned to help re-create their Promised Land in the years following 1948. In a few years' time I will discover how the windows of the Synagogue on The Singel are covered with old cement-smeared planks taken from building sites.

As I grow up in a sunny childhood in many respects, my parents introduce me to The International Court of Justice during holiday day-trips, and my first photographs are from the Peace Palace, that grandiose building in The Hague. They give evidence of the pride of post-war parents in The Netherlands, as Europe recovers from the slaughter of the Holocaust and as the Dutch recover from being refugees in their own country, feeling proud of NATO, proud of the UN, and supporting the Refugee Convention.

And dad looks back on to the five years of oppression as he brags about the magnamanious events during Sunday coffee when there always are visitors in our home, and I watch in wonder as one of the out-of-town reputable farmers shows us the hollowed-out haystack when we go and buy our winter potatoes; and as we go on our Sunday family walks, I get a chance to see the false wall behind the entrance door into the chicken coop - the places where the locals in my village rallied to hide Jewish families.

The memories of that time come back to me this week as The Australian reports a little item in its 3 December edition:

Activists look to WWII heroes

The Australian
Friday December 3, 2004
Page 6


REFUGEE activists who allegedly broke the law to smuggle asylum seekers out of Australia will launch a campaign comparing themselves to people who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said activists would launch the campaign to explain why the laws were broken.

"People who helped Jews escape persecution in Nazi Germany are now heralded as heroes, but back then they faced persecution for breaking the law," he said.

"There's a great similarity with what refugee activists here are doing."

Federal police have laid a range of charges over an alleged fake passport racket aimed at spiriting asylum-seekers out of Australia to "safe" destinations.

Raids hit 'passport racket'

The Australian
By Patricia Karvelas and Elizabeth Colman
02dec04


FEDERAL police have cracked an alleged fake passport racket aimed at spiriting asylum-seekers out of Australia to "safe" destinations such as New Zealand and Canada.

A combined squad of Australian Federal Police and immigration officers yesterday swooped on homes in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne where asylum-seekers who had escaped from detention were believed to be "harboured".

Two people were arrested and appeared in court yesterday on charges of obtaining fake passports for illegal immigrants and operating bank accounts under false names.

A 29-year-old western Sydney man was bailed and ordered to appear in Parramatta local court next month. An illegal immigrant woman from the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe, who faces further charges of using a false name to operate a bank account, was refused bail and will appear in court again today.

Another four men, believed to be refugee activists, were ordered to appear in Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney next month.

It is understood the alleged racket involved some of the 47 refugees who escaped from Woomera detention centre during riots in 2002.

In Sydney, Refugee Action Coalition members Mark Goudkamp and John Morris said AFP officers told them they would be charged with obtaining Australian and foreign passports under false pretences.

Mr Morris yesterday told The Australian that last year he "supported" a passport application by an Iranian man who was now living safely overseas. "This person successfully left the onerous detention policy of Australia last year. He is now safe overseas; he is working and contributing to Western economy."

Mr Goudkamp, who was raided at his home in Sydney's inner-west by eight AFP and immigration officers, said he would do "anything" to assist the "desperate plight of refugees".

A spokesman for the AFP said he could not confirm the size of the alleged racket, which he claimed had been under way since 2002. However, The Australian understands activists have attempted to secure fake identification for about 10 asylum-seekers.

Refugee activists yesterday told The Australian some people might have been involved in falsifying documents because they were "desperate" to get asylum-seekers out of Australia so they could choose their destination rather than be deported to a nation where they might face torture.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul was also raided in his Brisbane home, where police took a large number of documents.

Mr Rintoul, who was not arrested, last night said it was understandable that people would break the law to get escaped asylum-seekers out of the country.

"If people were involved in this process, it's entirely understandable given the abominable treatment of refugees in Australia. Efforts like this are entirely justifiable and defensible," he said. "They are trumped up charges and are allowing the Government to attack refugee activists after the election."

Link to report in The Australian

Raids net illegal immigrants in Qld, NSW

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Wednesday December 1 2004, 5:04pm (AEDT)


Australian Federal Police (AFP) have raided homes in New South Wales and Queensland as part of inquiries into alleged identity crime offences.

Police say they have investigated people who allegedly helped illegal immigrants obtain false passports and other documents after they had escaped from immigration detention.

Four people in Sydney have been summonsed to appear in court.

Another two have been arrested, one of whom police say is an illegal immigrant.

Another illegal immigrant was taken to the Villawood detention centre.

Documents were allegedly seized at a house in Barellan Point, west of Brisbane.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1255794.htm

Homes raided in forgery probe

The Age
By Andra Jackson
December 2, 2004


Federal police and immigration officials yesterday moved against a passport forgery ring that smuggled detention centre escapees out of Australia.

They conducted early morning raids on homes in Sydney and Brisbane, resulting in the arrest of two people without valid visas.

Another four people were summonsed to appear in court on charges related to identity fraud, a federal police spokesman said.

At the same time, officials from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs questioned a Melbourne refugee activist at his home.

The raids followed an investigation that involved the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Crime Commission into the use of falsely obtained Australian and overseas passports.

The investigation centred on people who allegedly helped detention escapees obtain false passports and other identity documents, the spokesman said.

The Immigration Department confirmed that 12 escapees remained at large after break-outs from Woomera in March and June 2002.

A search of a house in Barellan Point, Queensland, resulted in the seizure of a large number of counterfeit identity documents including driving licences allegedly used to obtain the passports.

The escapees allegedly used the falsified passports to leave the country, the federal police spokesman said.

In Sydney, six search warrants were executed at homes in Ashfield, Belmore, Glebe, Hassal Grove, Westmead and Yagoona.

Many of those raided are members of the Refugee Action Collective, which supports asylum seekers on the run. They included the collective's Sydney leader, Ian Rintoul, whose house was searched for eight hours.

Four people received summonses to appear in Downing Centre Local Court on January 11 over charges relating to making false statements to obtain Australian and foreign passports.

A 29-year-old Glebe woman, who was found to be an illegal migrant, appeared in court yesterday charged with making a false statement to obtain a passport, opening a bank account with a false name and operating a bank account in a false name. She was remanded to appear in Sydney's Central Court today.

A 29-year-old man from Westmead who faced similar charges was bailed to appear in Parramatta Local Court on January 12.

A refugee whose bridging visa had expired was found by immigration staff in Glebe and transferred to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

Melbourne refugee activist Jerome Small said two immigration investigation officers visited his Carlton home at 7.45am, saying they believed an escapee had recently been living in his home. He said that for him it was a matter of why people helping desperate people were being treated as criminals. "And who are the real criminals when the Government locks up people until they are driven to starvation?" he said.

Link to report in The Age

No passport system foolproof: PM

news.com.au
December 2, 2004


PRIME Minister John Howard today conceded the Australian passport system was not foolproof but said it was better than most others in the world.

Australian Federal Police say they have cracked an alleged fake passport racket in which refugee activists used false documents to smuggle illegal immigrants to other countries.

Police raided six houses in Sydney and one in Queensland yesterday in a joint operation with the immigration department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Crime Commission.

Two people were arrested and four were summonsed to appear in court for identity crime-related offences.

"I don't know that any passport system is foolproof," Mr Howard said.

"I think overall ours stacks up very well with others around the world."

The Australian newspaper today reported that the alleged racket involved some of the 47 refugees who escaped from the Woomera detention centre during riots in 2002.

As many as 10 fake passports were obtained, the paper said.

AAP

Link to report at News Interactive

Refugee-rights activists raided

Sarah Stephen, Sydney
Green Left Weekly
December 8 2004


Early on the morning of December 1, Refugee Action Coalition activist Mark Goudkamp got a knock on his door. He opened it to find eight Australian Federal Police officers and immigration department officials.

The AFP officers had a warrant to search his home. They summonsed him to appear in court on a charge of "making a false statement in the course of supporting an application for an Australian passport", that is, helping asylum seekers to obtain false passports so they could leave Australia and avoid being deported by finding a country that could offer them asylum.

"The Howard government is attempting to go on the offensive after winning an election that had nothing to do with refugees", Goudkamp told Green Left Weekly two days after the raid. "They've been tightening the screws on those held in detention, detaining more kids, attempting to deport people back to torture, and now they think they can get away with harassing refugee activists."

Goudkamp is one of four people who have been served notices to appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on January 11 asked to enter a plea for the same offence, conviction for which carries a maximum penalty of two years' jail or a $5000 fine. The fifth person will appear at the Parramatta Local Court on January 12.

On the same day as the Sydney raid, a dozen AFP and immigration department officers raided refugee-rights activist Ian Rintoul's house in Brisbane, spending almost eight hours searching through his belongings, and taking away at least 50 bags of literature. They also searched his Sydney house. Rintoul has not been charged.

According to Goudkamp, the pretext for these police raids was the escape of some 50 asylum seekers from the Woomera detention centre in March and June 2002.

"Many of the Woomera escapees were told they weren't refugees, yet many in similar circumstances who remained in detention have since been found to be refugees", he said. "It's criminal they were ever locked up in the first place and it's understandable why anyone with a heart would do whatever it takes to support these people, whether or not it is against the law."

At the time of the escapes, an editorial in the July 1 Canberra Times pointed to the morally just cause of those who assisted the escapees. "Those involved in helping organise escapes, and later in sheltering those who have escaped, are clearly and knowingly breaking the law", it said. "But they do not see that they are doing anything wrong, even in breaking the law. A higher moral issue is involved, and for most the thought of jail or other punishment is hardly likely to deter. That they are acting, as they and many others would see it, unselfishly clearly separates their civil disobedience from ordinary criminal conduct."

Citing the latest charges, the corporate media is working to portray refugee-rights activists as "criminals" involved in a "passport racket". Articles in the corporate press have carried headlines such as "Police crack fake passport racket" and "Homes raided in forgery probe".

The Refugee Action Coalition is planning a campaign in defence of the activists. If you would like to get involved, make a donation or offer your support, phone Sarah on (02) 9690 1220.

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/609/609p3.htm

Refugee advocates condemn ALP's Joe Ludwig's Senate motion

MEDIA RELEASE
Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Narrogin
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 041 70 90 130
Web: http://www.safecom.org.au/

Refugee advocates condemn ALP's Joe Ludwig's Senate motion

Media Release
Tuesday December 7 2004 9:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


The fact that ALP Senator Joe Ludwig has scheduled a motion for today, condemning members of Refugee Action Coalition for allegedly assisting asylum seekers 'flee from Australia' even before any charges brought by the AFP have been proven, is not at all surprising given the mess the ALP is in since the November election. There is no leadership, and there clearly is not a whimper of a voice for human rights left within the ALP, and Senator Ludwig surely acts without consultation and consent from all factions within his party in disarray.

It is becoming clear that ALP has become part of Australia's one-party State to such an extend, that rather than condemning the Howard government's asylum policy that has attracted worldwide condemnation by human rights bodies as well as the wider international community, and exposing what has been named as leading to Crimes against Humanity by lawyers and QC's, Mr Ludwig seeks to undermine the voice of heroic Australians who expose the human rights abuses committed by the Howard government and who are prepared to act on it - even with acts of civil disobedience. Mr Ludwig also underestimates the broad array of people prepared to "help out" in similar situations - it extends to citizens and members of religious orders right around the country.

Retired diplomat and activist Bruce Haigh, a close alley of Project SafeCom, states that Australia can now be compared to South Africa in the days of Apartheid, and that the motion put by Senator Ludwig should unite decent Australians in their resolve to refer to the International community and international standards of human rights rather than expecting any condemnation about human rights abuses from the ALP.

The Howard government's policy as well as its treatment of asylum seekers has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UNHCR. Labor is silent about this because it does not dare to be different, and today's motion only drives the ALP further into irrelevance.

Labor is also silent about the fact that DIMIA uses false passports when it seeks to deport asylum seekers, as the Edmund Rice Centre showed in its recent "Deported to Death" report. Labor is also silent about the fact that the Department of Immigration pays members of the Taliban for language assessment of the Afghani Harara minority group.

Project SafeCom coordinator Jack H Smit says, that now even more so than during the time of the Woomera escapes in 2002, asylum seekers in the Baxter detention centre are driven insane.

"If I were to have the resources, the assistance, and the opportunities, I'd take especially all the Iranians out from Baxter in the middle of the night, I'd give them false passports, and help them flee from the barbaric regime of being permanently locked up in Australian detention centres."

"If that would be possible, we would be able to free the Iranians from the endless inhumanity, inflicted by the Canberra gang of human rights criminals."

For more information:

Jack H Smit, Project SafeCom Inc [phone number posted]
Bruce Haigh, Retired diplomat Mudgee NSW [phone number posted]

Labor wrong: refugee activists are heroes not villains

Refugee Action Coalition of NSW
MEDIA RELEASE
7 December 2004


The Refugee Action Coalition is appalled and feels betrayed by the motion the Labor Party intends to move in the Senate today against refugee supporters.

"Labor needs to get its priorities straight. The allegations made against members of the Refugee Action Coalition regarding false passport declarations are minor misdemeanours compared to the breaches of human rights and international law by the federal government against asylum seekers", said Anthea Vogl, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

"The Howard government's crimes against asylum seekers have been identified and condemned by The United Nations, Amnesty International, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and Human Rights Watch to name but a few. Where is the ALP motion condemning these crimes?

"Rather than political grandstanding with this motion, Senator Ludwig and the Labor Party should be asking why people who originally sought protection in Australia are forced to escape from persecution at the hands of our own government? "People seeking refuge in this country face indefinite detention in harsh conditions or deportation to danger or death. Assisting people to flee such a fate is not even a victimless crime, it is a heroic act.

"The Edmund Rice Centre released a report in October entitled /Deported to Death /which found that the Australian government deported people, often with false documents, into extreme danger in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Angola.

"A man deported to Iran in October must now face an Iranian court on charges of converting to Christianity - a crime punishable by death. Why isn't the Labor Party condemning the Minister for deporting this man into such a deadly situation?

"The Labor Party's motion flies in the face of the overwhelming support from thousands of its members for a more compassionate refugee policy. Labor really has lost its way if it is attacking refugee activist heroes instead of Howard for his cruel abuse of asylum seekers.

Contact: Anthea Vogl [phone number posted]
Read more ...