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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, May 27, 2005

Kim Beazley and the Georgiou Bills

Boy oh boy, what a week it was. DIMIA shaking on its foundations, the Kooyong rebels launching - after years of unhappiness with Howard's asylum policies - their trump card in the two Private Members' Bills, and Vanstone in the vice between Bill Farmer, incisive questioning by the Senate Estimates Committee and Petro Georgiou and friends.

After years of unhappiness? Come off it, you may say, but let me tell you, for the first time with a glimmer of personal political pride, that my own MP in Federal government, Judy Moylan, for Pearce, was the only parliamentarian to declare herself absent from Parliament when the Tampa Bills were rushed through in 2001 - because she refused to support them - and she told me that herself last year. And the Private Members Bills were predictable, because we had written to Petro Georgiou and others in February this year, and The Bulletin and The Australian (articles also on our website) one month later that Howard had been put on notice about the looming development.

This morning I emailed the Project SafeCom call to action to an estimates 15,000 folks throughout our database and to about 55 'refugee lists' around Australia, asking people to contact their local MP's, the Georgiou five, and those in the coalition most likely to consider supporting the two Bills.

But what about Big Kim and Labor? Will they support the two Bills when they make it into parliament?

I made myself rather angry this week, when beazley kept uttering political smartnesses directed at John Howard and yesterday I wrote a press release:

Beazley should stop playing politics with democracy and human suffering:
"Federal ALP leader Kim Beazley should stop playing politics in relation to the Liberal backbenchers' Private Members Bill or he will risk a similar revolt within his own backbench," WA refugee group Project SafeCom's spokesman Jack H Smit said this morning.

"Yesterday, Mr Beazley announced in The House as soon as he could and in reply to the Prime Minister's fury over the liberal backbenchers' Bill that the ALP would not allow a conscience vote, and with it, he played entirely on the Prime Minister's turf again."

"Beazley has clearly given evidence that he's more happy for a "me too" position on mandatory detention because of his fears that this atrocious policy, a creation by the ALP, comes unstuck, than that he cares to undo a very deep, very serious, and and ongoing human rights crisis in Australia. Beazley doesn't have the ticker when it matters."

"This week sees an opportunity for Beazley to join with the few in liberal ranks that use a desperate democratic process to address this serious crisis. While Beazley screams for a Royal Commission, he uses parliamentary quipping and playing ping-pong with John Howard instead of talking about the real issues."

"Beazley needs to state categorically that the ALP will support the Private Member's Bills brought by Petro Georgiou and his team, because the entire plan is in line with stated ALP policy, and in addition the facts have clearly shown that thousands of people, both those on TPVs and those in detention, are at mental and psychological risk because of John Howard's human rights abuses."

"If Beazley does not do this, he also risks a situation where dissent in his own ranks of backbenchers will grow to such an extent that Labor will just duplicate the coalition with own crisis of dissent. Beazley needs to ask himself whether people such as Carmen Lawrence, John Faulkner and others are also living as ticking time-bombs in relation to what we do to refugees."

In today's Sydney Morning Herald, readers voiced the same indignation in So now it's mandatory detention of political morals:
As an indication of how little the ALP has learnt over the years, Kim Beazley won't allow Labor MPs a conscience vote on mandatory detention ("Beazley rules out conscience vote on detention bill", Herald, May 26).

The ALP still hasn't figured out that what many people want is an alternative to the Howard Government, not just a poor imitation of it. Until the ALP finds the ticker to openly discuss and challenge the Government's positions on difficult issues facing us, it'll just stay in the detention of impotent opposition.

Paul Gittings
Russell Lea

I note that Kim Beazley and John Howard are not going to allow a conscience vote on asylum seeker amendments. Does that mean politicians from these parties vote against their conscience on these matters, or perhaps it's just coincidental when they don't? Why is it in Australia it's seen as being so treacherous for a politician to "cross the floor"? No such problem in Britain or the US, our other willing partners.

Peter Fraser
Lindfield

Does the refusal of both major parties to allow a conscience vote on our immigration policy confirm that both believe their policies to be unconscionable?

Tracey Carpenter
Bathurst

And Tim Dunlop in 'The Road to Surfdom' Blog (26 May 2005) says:
Again, though, Beazley played it badly. He was more keen to shore up what he imagines is his tough-on-illegals image than to consider the proposed changes on their merits. The fact is, we know pretty much what the bills contain. So while Beazley could've held off giving final endorsement until he'd seen the detail, there was plenty of room for him to signal a different approach and what's more, take a lead on the issue.

[.....]

I truly wish it was Labor pushing through changes of this nature. It perhaps doesn't go as far as I would like, but it is a brilliantly crafted compromise. The Georgiou bill actually handed Beazley an opportunity, but he has fluffed it, making baseless taunts about conscience votes and faux-macho statements about mandatory detention. It was a disgraceful performance. As commenter tim g says:

"But what about the possibility that leadership - actual leadership, not just political strategy based on exhaustive polling - might be able to lead public opinion, even create it? We've all forgotten this fact because we've seen so little of it in recent times."

Exactly. There was no better time to take a lead on this issue and Beazley didn't. To not be willing to move on this issue is to presume the sort of low opinion of Australians that John Howard has, where he believes his continued electoral success depends on this abhorent policy, something I have argued against a few times.

So - will Beazley and the Federal ALP take this opportunity to throw Howard in detention over his inhumane policies, or will Beazley again be missing in action?
Read more ...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lynton Crosby: globetrotting, spreading dirty dog whistles

Narrogin WA, April 18 2005 - If you read what everyone should have read around the 2001 Tampa election, you would know Lynton Crosby reasonably well. After all, thanks to Crosby John Howard successfully scooped up his unlikely win at that election through applying a considerable degree of wedge politics, designed by his former advisor Lynton Crosby in his role as the Liberal Party's election campaign director.

Crosby employs a particular nasty brand of politics, and it seems his consultant strategy works: since January this year he's been pottering around in the UK, helping the Tories under Michael Howard (no relation to little Johnny down here in Australia) to improve his chances to steal government from Tony Blair's Labour, and soon he's off to New Zealand.

This morning we heard that after the UK election, to be held on May 5th, Crosby's off to New Zealand - that is, if we can't stop him. We wrote a letter to Helen Clarke, the Prime Minister of Kiwiland.

On this page, a line-up of the British and Australian press about Lynton Crosby's travels and meddling in UK politics. The media is not sparing him, but he does his grubby work in a climate that seems to be befitting his approach. In March this year I wrote in the script of the forum Don't Mention the Refugees:
"Meanwhile, Howard's senior advisor Lynton Crosby is in the UK selling Australian-made refugee wedge-politics as an election platform to the threatened Tories, the Dutch announce a deportation of up to 26,000 refugees who have lived in the community for up to a decade with undecided outcomes, and in Italy's government the echo of 'shooting them out of the water' still reverberates through parliament while the European Union hopes to circumvent international law and tries to replicate Philip Ruddock's 'refugee warehousing' policy. Fortress Europe's success is built on the model introduced to the world community by Australia."

Globalisation? Well, sort-of - that is, globalisation of the politics of storing, locking up, warehousing, and banning of refugees and asylum seekers, and excluding them from the massive wealth of western countries.

Below our press release is the report we received this week from New Zealand. It's followed by media reports from January through to April. And there's more to come.

Block Lynton Crosby's visa for New Zealand, says refugee group

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Monday April 19 2005 9:00am WST
For immediate Release
No Embargoes


"John Howard's former advisor Lynton Crosby, who currently acts as the campaign director for the British Tories, and who was the campaign director during the 2001 Tampa election and beyond, should be barred from entering New Zealand on character grounds," WA Refugee group Project SafeCom stated today.

News is breaking in New Zealand (item below) that Mr Crosby will be employed by the NZ conservative party 'National' as a campaign consultant in that country's election after he finishes his role for Michael Howard's party after the May 5 UK election.

Lynton Crosby has refined 'refugee wedge politics' and 'dog whistle politics' to such an extent that he hires himself out as a campaign director to conservative parties 'around the world' in order to improve their chances to win elections. Crosby is currently the campaign director for the British Tories under Michael Howard, while New Zealanders are said to have their next election around September this year.

"Mr Crosby election tactics are deliberately designed to create a considerable degree of xenophobia and fear for 'refugee invasions', and his strategy consists of creating the most shameful and grubby tactics - spreading mis-information and uninformed but sensational opinion and debate - we have seen and experienced in Australia since the Tampa election in 2001, and we're now seeing the same phenomena developing from the conservatives in the UK," Project SafeCom spokesman Mr Smit said.

"It is vitally important that the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and her Immigration Minister Paul Swain discern his approach as an attempt to embed low gutter politics in New Zealand society. We would not wish the amount of division and animosity - divisions which are still tearing Australia apart in many ways - upon anyone, especially not on New Zealand, a country that may these days well carry, rather than Australia, the label of 'The Lucky Country' for asylum seekers."

"New Zealand has an admirable record in terms of their refugee treatment, so much so, that they've been willing to take up the 'slack' for Australia, for example in accepting many Tampa refugees, while not exposing John Howard's scandalous post-Tampa politics in a generous employ of diplomacy."

"Mr Crosby is not an honourable man, and his entry into New Zealand should be stopped on character grounds. Project SafeCom is currently developing communications with Prime Minister Helen Clark, Immigration Minister Paul Swain and his Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor."

New Zealand: National to import Australian guru

Molesworth and Featherstone's report
New Zealand
5 April 2005


(Molesworth and Featherstone's is a weekly email with politics gossip with a very good reputation. In an earlier edition there was a rumour the strategists would be arriving after the Brit election)

Negotiations are believed to be well advanced to bring a top Australian strategist to work with the National Party for two days a week.

Conservative strategists across the Tasman have produced remarkable success for John Howard's Liberal Party. British Conservative leader Michael Howard recently imported former Australian Liberal director Lynton Crosby to help organize for the UK election likely to be called in May. Mr Crosby's influence has been noticed in a reinvigorated Tory campaign and a heavy emphasis on race, immigration and asylum.

For National, the appointment of an Australian advisor will help to relieve mounting pressure on Don Brash to make changes to his strategy team. While he is resisting, particular criticism is being directed at Chief of Staff Richard Long.

Ban Tory tactician from NZ, refugee advocates say

UK Guardian
Matthew Tempest, political correspondent
Friday April 22, 2005


Refugee groups have called for the Conservative party's controversial election strategist, Lynton Crosby, to be banned from New Zealand, after it was reported that the country's centre-right National party want to hire him to fight their next election.

Mr Crosby, an Australian, is credited with targeting the Tories' message on immigration - a tactic he honed in four election successes for John Howard and the right-wing Liberal Party in Australia.

This week the Australian newspaper reported that he may leave the Tories after the May 5 election to help the New Zealand National party fight the September election to defeat Labour prime minister, Helen Clark.

Project SafeCom, an Australian group which campaigns on behalf of refugees, has called on the New Zealand government to refuse him a visa on 'character grounds'.

Spokesman Jack Smit said: "Mr Crosby's election tactics are deliberately designed to create a degree of xenophobia and fear for 'refugee invasions'. His strategy consists of creating the most shameful and grubby tactics - spreading misinformation and uninformed but sensational opinion and debate - we have seen and experienced in Australia since the Tampa election in 2001. We're now seeing the same phenomena developing from the Conservatives in the UK."

The newspaper also reported that the National party - in opposition in the Wellington parliament - is "in negotiations" with Mr Crosby.

Mr Crosby refuses to speak to the press, and no one was available at the National party headquarters to confirm the reports, but if true it would cement Mr Crosby's reputation as one of the world's foremost, if controversial, globe-trotting political fixers.

He is credited with a so-called 'dog whistle' strategy in Britain, appealing to Conservative voters on sensitive issues such as immigration and asylum under the radar of the other parties and the media.

The Tories have reduced their core messages to just five simple slogans: controlled immigration, more police, cleaner hospitals, school discipline and lower taxes. But the repeated emphasis, and the pledge to pull out of the Geneva convention on refugees to set an annual quota for the number of accepted asylum seekers, has outraged race relation campaigners and angered the other political parties.

Tony Blair today made his first keynote speech on immigration of the election, accusing the Tories of trying to stoke up public fears during the campaign.

He said leader Michael Howard had made the Tory campaign "a single issue" effort on immigration policy, and added: "Their campaign is based on the statement that it isn't racist to talk about immigration. I know of no senior politician who has ever said it was. So why do they put it like that?"

He said: "It is an attempt deliberately to exploit people's fears, to suggest that for reasons of political correctness, those in power don't dare deal with the issue.

"So that the public is left with the impression that they are being silenced in their concerns, that we are blindly ignoring them or telling them that to raise the issue is racist, when actually the opposite is true."

The National party in New Zealand has already raised immigration as an issue for the election there in five months' time. Last month their immigration spokesman, Tony Ryall, accused New Zealand's Labour government of presiding over "chaos in immigration policy".

He said: "With refugees, Labour is so keen to do the humanitarian thing that they take far too many that we can't support, and five years down the track 80% are still reliant on welfare.

"Labour's immigration policy is in disarray and it has become clear that it will not meet its targets, particularly those relating to skilled migration."

A spokeswoman at Conservative campaign headquarters said merely: "Mr Crosby does not speak to the press."

There was no immediate response from the National Party headquarters in Wellington, or its leader Don Brash.

Mr Crosby was hired at the end of last year by Michael Howard, after the Tory leader was impressed by his masterminding of John Howard's surprise re-election, coming from behind to defeat a strong challenge from the Labour opposition under Mark Latham - who then resigned.

John Howard declared after his win: "There's no better political strategist in Australia than Lynton Crosby."

However, during the 2001 election, Mr Howard and Mr Crosby used controversial tactics in a row over a refugee ship called the Tampa. False reports that asylum seekers were throwing their children overboard in an attempt to blackmail their way into Australia, prompted Mr Howard's notorious campaign slogan: "We decide who will come into this country."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/australia/story/0,12070,1466785,00.html

Detention deficit

Progress - Labour's Progressive Magazine
London, UK
January 05/February 05


Are the Tories thinking of copying Australia's hardline policy on asylum seekers, asks Sam Hardy.

There seems to be an antipodean air wafting around Conservative Central Office at present. November saw the second Australian arrival at the Tories' Victoria Street base, with Mark Textor joining Lynton Crosby in making the change from John Howard's office in Canberra to Michael Howard's in London. This mini-influx of Australians at CCO, however, may have a more sinister outcome than the sharing of electoral know-how.

Earlier this year, the Australian Liberal party won re-election on the back of a buoyant economy and an unashamedly xenophobic approach to asylum. Its hardline policy was born in 2001 after Howard and Textor realised that targeting the fears of a handful of swing voters over asylum could reap electoral benefits. The worry for Britain is that Michael Howard and his team may see this election strategy, twice successful in Australia, as the best way forward for their beleaguered electoral machine. Indeed, in 1995, before the triumvirate of Howard, Textor and Crosby reinvigorated it, the Australian Liberal party was a sinking ship, going through three leaders in a year and falling well behind Paul Keating's Labor government. Fast-forward ten years and you don't have to be a political genius to work out the parallels with today's Tories.

The approach favoured by John Howard on immigration dwarfs even the most reactionary of European measures. Unlike in the UK and the majority of Europe, refugees attempting to claim asylum in Australia are immediately detained. Under what is called the 'Pacific Solution', refugees are held on remote Pacific islands surrounding Australia such as Nauru, where they are kept in high security camps. This is not a policy directed only towards men suspected of links to terrorism: the offshore camps accommodate all asylum seekers, whether men, women or children. Conditions in the camps are difficult: a recent report by the UN Human Rights and Equal Opportunities commission recommended the immediate release of all child detainees.

The Australian approach to refugees is even more indefensible when compared to Sweden, which every year receives a similar number of refugees to Australia. Yet Sweden is only about a fifteenth of the size and detention is only used when a person's identity needs to be verified and criminal checks carried out. Detention times in Sweden are negligible in comparison to Australia: child refugees can only be detained for six days. In contrast, Australian Department of Immigration figures put the number of child detainees at 174 in February of this year alone.

Australia argues that it is forced to be more rigorous in its handling of asylum seekers because of the sheer number arriving on its shores. But this is also undermined by the facts: currently Australia hosts approximately one refugee to every 1,500 Australian citizens, compared to one to every 500 in the UK and one to 80 in tiny Tanzania. In fact, in 2000, while 300,000 refugees arrived in Europe and over a million arrived in Iran and Pakistan alone (largely from Afghanistan), the number in Australia was far smaller, with some estimates putting it as low as 4,500, or one refugee to every 1,666 square kilometres ­ an area larger than the Bahamas.

Indeed, when asylum seekers' appeals do finally come to be heard, over 90 per cent of cases are accepted as legitimate. But even if they become part of the lucky 90 per cent, an asylum seeker's path to freedom in Australia is far from smooth. Immigrants are given a Temporary Protection Visa, limiting their right to education, social services, foreign travel and family reunion. On top of this, the TPV usually runs out after three years, once again requiring refugees to justify their status.

Overall, the path John Howard has created for those seeking asylum in Australia may make good politics but it makes bad policy. However, this is unlikely to make any difference to Michael Howard.

The other Howard's way won't work here

Dividing refugees into 'good' and 'bad' won an election for John Howard. Now Michael Howard hopes to emulate him

Patrick Barkham
Tuesday January 25, 2005
The Guardian


Separated by half the world though they are, Michael Howard and John Howard have a lot in common. Both are lawyers by training and lead rightwing parties in English-speaking nations. But unlike his political cousin Michael, for whom electoral success seems elusive, John is enjoying a record-breaking regime in Australia, where his Liberal party has won four elections on the trot.

So Michael covets what John has. First he hired his campaigns guru, Lynton Crosby. Now he has popped the immigration pill, the magic ingredient that won John the election in 2001.

Our Mr Howard has taken more from Australia's Mr Howard than just the headline-grabbing ideas of immigration quotas and a points system for economic migrants - allowing the government to correct labour- market shortages and attract particularly desirable foreign workers. The immigration system pioneered by John Howard advances a more subtle argument against asylum. It also steadily undermines the ability of the persecuted to seek the protection of another nation, a right first enshrined in the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

At first glance the Australian immigration system appears a rational way to regulate the free movement of human capital and crack down on the vexing problem of people smugglers. In practice John Howard has created a regime that divides asylum seekers into good and bad.

Economic migrants and their families must apply to enter Australia through its migration programme. In 2002-03, 108,070 people entered the country this way, with 66,050 skilled workers and 40,790 family members. Compared with skilled migrants, the Howard government has set a much smaller quota for refugees: 12,525 en tered in 2002-03 under its "humanitarian programme".

However, many believe that the subtext of these economic and humanitarian categories is to divide migrants into useful human capital and charity cases. Points-scoring migrants are young, educated and fluent in English. Refugees pass no test apart from oppression, helping spread an assumption that they are an unskilled drain on society rather than the engineers or teachers they often turn out to be.

But the key division is between good and bad refugees. Formally, John Howard's government still pays lip service to the refugee convention. Australia's humanitarian programme comprises "offshore resettlement for people in humanitarian need overseas; and onshore protection for those people already in Australia who arrived on temporary visas or in an unauthorised manner". In practice, the government's policy may be seen to stigmatise those who reach Australia independently.

Good refugees patiently wait in a "queue" in UN camps, according to the Howard government. They have the authentic stamp of the refugee: they are assessed by the UNHCR and can be seen, suffering, in their temporary tents. Bad refugees "jump the queue" by paying people smugglers to help them reach another country where they can claim asylum. At best they are wealthy middle-class refugees who can afford to pay thousands to be taken to the destination of their choice: Australia, rich in benefits and sunshine. At worst they are terrorist conmen who fake their identities and hold beliefs that are dangerous to western democracies.

When setting a cap on the number of refugees admitted each year, John Howard explicitly said that every "queue-jumper" given refugee status is denying those waiting in camps for the Australian government to pluck them to safety. And so it was with electoral backing that John Howard virtually halted the trickle of the "bad" refugees who arrived on Australia's shores independently: 5,577 arrived in 2000-01 compared with 869 in 2002-03 and a projected 750 for 2003-04.

As Michael Howard has spotted, John Howard's immigration policy is virtually bulletproof to criticisms that it is racist. How can it be argued that the government does not embrace a vision of Australia as a skilled and multicultural immigrant nation when it increased its admissions of skilled migrants and their family members from 70,200 in 1999-2000 to 108,070 in 2002-03? How can it be suggested the government does not allow the right to claim asylum when it admits 12,000 people a year under its humanitarian programme?

In reality it is not the asylum seekers who are choosing their safe haven but the country that is cherry-picking its refugees. The Australian government notes it has the "discretion" to choose its own refugees. Last week it welcomed 376 from Sierra Leone and Liberia, pointing out that 60% were Christian and many were young women taken under a "Woman at Risk" visa programme helping those who lack the protection of a male relative. To fearful voters these are a far more reassuring kind of refugee than the Muslim men who arrive under their own steam.

Any popular anxiety about male, Muslim refugees remains unchallenged, despite a recent government report finding that the biggest influx of "illegals" last year came not from Asia or the Middle East but from Britain and the US.

John Howard's way is now Michael Howard's way too. With Tony Blair desperate not to be seen as soft on immigration during this election, a Dutch auction could see it become the British government's way as well.

The only - big - proviso for desperate politicians is that John Howard's policy of division is unlikely to work so well in Britain. When the Australian prime minister declared his unofficial war on unauthorised asylum seekers, he was aiming to repel 5,000 each year, far fewer than reach British air and sea ports. It could be much harder for a UK government to shut the door quite so firmly on persecuted people arriving to claim their right to asylum.

• Patrick Barkham is the Guardian's former Australia correspondent

Lynton Crosby's shameful British wedge

Crikey
By Martin Suiteach
Crikey Westminster Correspondent

(and nervous expat)

Britain's Howard plays the cheap and easy card Aussie John style - with more than a little help from Lynton Crosby. And read on for Christian Kerr's analysis as well.

25 January 2005

Well, it's official. Britain is being overrun by foreigners. So much so that Tory leader Michael Howard felt obliged to run a full page ad in The Sunday Telegraph (natural readership - retired military types who love huntin', shootin' and fishin' and hate immigrants) saying the UK can't cope with the influx.

I one had a conversation with someone who said they were depressed about "all these immigrants". This person lived in a nice house, in a nice area, had a secure job and I reckon the only immigrant that had crossed her path in the previous six months was me.

This is exactly the constituency Michael Howard is aiming at. By playing the cheap and easy race card he knows he can push a few buttons in the electorate because his economic plans won't stand up to scrutiny and other policies are either have no meat on the bones or disappear without trace. The issue of immigration figures large in opinion polls surveying people's concerns about their daily life. Yet like the person I mentioned before, most of them can come up with nothing better than: "Well there's too many of 'em, isn't there?" Even the United Kingdom Independence Party -- which wants controls on immigration -- called the Tories' plan as "irresponsible".

You don't have to be Einstein to detect the hand of Lynton Crosby behind this latest piece of garbage from a political "leader" who wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Britain's historical willingness to take in refugees. The parallels with Australia are being used widely by the media here. An Associated Press reporter told me AAP picked up his story on Howard's stunt within minutes of it hitting the AP wire.

Of course Howard denies he is being racist, adding that his system will make the asylum system fairer for genuine claimants, but under his plans, refugees would have to apply outside the UK. So the oppressed will have no option but to find their way to a British Embassy (if there is one) and pray they A). Aren't picked up by the people oppressing them or B). That Howard's proposed quota hasn't been filled and they are turned away.

He also wants to use the points system employed by Australia on issuing work permits.

It's hard to work out what's more depressing. The fact that John Howard got away with this kind of crap in 2001 (and we should all be ashamed at that). The fact that the Conservatives are so lacking in ideas they have to rip one off from the Liberals or the fact that the Tony Blair has not condemned the Tories on the grounds of bigotry, but that the plans don't stack up in terms of cost.

There is a skills shortage in this country. Last year Blair made no apology for luring South African nurses away from their homeland because Britain could not recruit enough locally to work in the UK's filthy hospitals. His own spokesman said there are currently 600,000 jobs going begging across the country.

Immigration works in cycles. People arrive with skills and do a job, or they arrive with no skills and do the jobs the locals don't want to do. That's how dishes get washed in restaurants and floors cleaned in factories. Australia was built in this way and is culturally richer for it - despite the undercurrent of bigotry that lurks not too far beneath the surface. Britain is no different and there is no evidence the economy or population is suffering major difficulty. As the Labour peer Lord Desai (also known as Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai) reportedly once said, if there were no immigrants, who would clean the toilets?

Michael Howard claims 160,000 immigrants come to the UK each year. What he doesn't say is that most of them come from the EU, Australia, New Zealand, the US and South Africa.

As for that last lot, you can ship them out straight away. They're taking London bar jobs off Australians.

The Tories' troubles with the hired help

Political correspondent Christian Kerr writes:

Perhaps the Conservative Party is only used to Australian nannies - or Aussie bar staff at the Palace of Westminster and the nearby watering holes.

The latest Lynton Crosby stories have that Barry McKenzie touch once again. They tell of an innocent Austral lad stumbling into trouble amongst the great and good of Pommyland, months out from an election.

Look at what The Times had to say yesterday abut the former Liberal Party federal director:

"Michael Howard's election guru has told him that the Conservatives have no hope of winning the next general election.

"The crushing blow from Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaign expert hired by Mr Howard at great expense to bring about a surprise Tory victory, came as Mr Howard attempted yesterday to put immigration and asylum at the heart of the party's election campaign?"

Poor Lynton was stung into action. "The Conservatives' campaign director has denied a report claiming he warned Michael Howard the party could not win the next general election," the Beeb reported.

"The Times on Monday said Australian Lynton Crosby told the party leader to focus on trying to increase the Tories' Commons presence by 25 to 30 seats.

"But Mr Crosby said in a statement: 'I have never had any such conversation... and I do not hold that view.'

"Mr Howard later added there was not 'one iota' of truth in the report."

You can read a wrap of the whole feeding frenzy in The Guardian, but this is the second time Crosby has got into trouble for this sort of thing.

He is fast becoming a household name in Britain, largely for all the wrong reasons. That isn't really the British way.

Michael Howard has made much of his refugee past, of his family's suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

The Tories have been squeezed off the middle ground by New Labour - a tarnished brand, but one with an irrepressible salesman in Tony Blair - and are under threat from the right from the anti-European Union and soi distant racists of the UK Independence Party.

Crosby is clearly trying to win back these latter voters by programming his boss up with sub-Tampa lines.

Does he realise that he's making the British Howard look like an utter hypocrite, or can't he look beyond his wedge obsessions?

Lynton Crosby's big weekend

Christian Kerr
Crikey's political correspondent


British media laps up Lynton

31 January 2005

His tactics mightn't be pretty - but they're pretty effective. Former Liberal party federal director Lynton Crosby has had a big run in the British meeja for his work for the Conservative Party as an election draws ever closer.

The Labor leaning Daily Mirror tabloid managed to turn a few pars from The Guardian profile on Thursday into an "EXCLUSIVE" on Saturday.

"TORY GURU 'EXPLOITED' TEEN KILLING," it screamed.

"A sinister new election guru hired by Tory leader Michael Howard exploited the murder of a teenage girl to win votes in his native Australia.

"Lynton Crosby sparked a huge outcry after using the horrific stabbing of Cheree Richardson in the 1992 TV advertising blitz.

"The Liberal Party campaign said Australia's Labour Party had 'the blood of the victim on their hands'.

"It had to be abandoned after complaints from her family.

"Mr Crosby, 48, has been blasted for his hard-hitting campaigns on race and crime..."

There were High Tory sneers at Crosby's positioning of Conservative leader Michael Howard - the son of Jewish refugees from the Nazis - on race and immigration over at The Sunday Telegraph, the party's paper of choice.

"Howard is no racist. But this was an error," Matthew d'Ancona wrote.

"Does Lynton Crosby exist? There are certainly those at Conservative Party headquarters, jealous of his influence, who wish that he did not, and were hoping that Michael Howard's General Election Campaign Director would not return from his Christmas visit to his native Australia. The name Lynton Crosby always makes me think of a minor and infrequently serviced village station in Yorkshire, as in: 'This service will not stop at Lynton Crosby. All passengers for Lynton Crosby should alight at Scarborough, and take the special bus provided...

"The Australian strategist insists fiercely that he believes that the Tories can win. But his prescription suggests a conviction that damage limitation is the best Mr Howard can hope for now."

D'Ancona was writing after a Telegraph/ICM poll put support for Labour on 37 per cent, five per cent ahead of the Conservatives on 32 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent. The survey put the Tories up one point and Labour down one since the last ICM poll, taken before Howard's promise to limit immigration last week.

The left-leaning quality Independent on Sunday, however, suggested Crosby's tactic had left Tony Blair rattled.

"Labour plays its own race card to trump Tory migration plan," Andy McSmith and Francis Elliott wrote on its front page.

"Tony Blair will steal Michael Howard's key policy when he launches Labour's own crackdown on illegal immigration next week, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

"The Prime Minister has insisted that an Australian-style points system to grade would-be migrants seeking a new life in Britain is included in a raft of measures. The deportation of thousands of failed asylum-seekers will also be made a top priority. Labour fears that Mr Howard scored a direct hit with the electorate when he launched the Conservatives' policies on asylum and immigration last week.

"Mr Blair's nervousness over the issue will increase today as a poll conducted for this newspaper shows two-fifths of voters could switch allegiance over the issue..."

The Independent's poll had Labour up one on 40 per cent, the Conservatives down two on 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats up one to 20 per cent, with support for other parties - including the "I'm not racist, but..." UK Independence Party and the overtly anti-immigrant British National Party - unchanged on eight per cent.

Still, it warned of volatility in the electorate - 37 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement: "I would vote for the Liberal Democrats if they had a realistic chance of winning in my constituency". Under Britain's first past the post electoral system, that would give the LibDems a shot to form their first government since World War I.

A third poll, in The Observer, claims Howard is "the most unpopular opposition leader approaching a general election since Michael Foot," the Worzel Gummidge look-alike who lead Labour to disaster in 1983.

As we have observed before, New Labour is a tarnished brand - but Blair remains a master salesman and an expert in claiming the middle ground.

Lynton Crosby, however, is a down and dirty fighter.

Throw in UKIP, throw in the LibDems and we are looking at the most interesting British elections since John Major confounded the pundits back in 1992.

Our PM's key role in the UK election

The Daily Telegraph
Sydney, Australia
by David Penberthy
February 9, 2005


"WE will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come." - John Howard, 2001

And so will the English, who are in the middle of a political brawl over the asylum question which is every bit as heated as the debate in Australia in 2001.

Oddly, we're starring in it. It is impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television in London without hearing a reference to the Australian immigration and detention laws, and how they should (or shouldn't) be replicated in the UK.

The impetus for the debate comes from the British Conservatives who according to every poll are worse than unelectable in the lead-up to a general election expected on May 5. They hold 165 seats and need double that to form government. It is almost impossible.

In a move which at best looks politically desperate, the Tories, who have retained John Howard's tactical mastermind Lynton Crosby as campaign director, have opted for a very obvious lift of our immigration laws amid concerns here over Britain's open borders.

Now, Labour has hit back, with Tony Blair's Government announcing its own crackdown, which goes further than the Australian model by making asylum-seekers sit English language tests.

No one is disputing the level of anxiety in Britain over unchecked immigration. In many of the pre-election opinion polls, as many as 70 per cent of voters readily identify immigration as an issue of concern.

The argument, as it was in Australia, is whether the Tories are trying to pander to race prejudice by going after working-class Labor voters with a nudge-nudge campaign against an imagined foreign peril or whether, to use the above famous line from John Howard's 2001 launch, it's simply about countries reserving the right to control the integrity of their borders, especially in a post-September 11 environment.

If John Howard proved that being vilified as a dangerous racist is a path to electoral glory, his namesake, British Tory Leader Michael Howard, is off to a flying start. Indeed, Howard even went out of his way to invite debate as to whether he was racist.

Pointing to his Jewish heritage and the fact that Britain gave his Romanian parents a safe haven after World War II, Howard employed the classic straw man argument by railing against race accusations even before he'd been called a racist.

He did so before he had delivered the speech outlining the new Australian-style immigration policy, which imposes annual caps on the refugee intake, limits family reunions, and targets migrants on the basis of skill shortages in the workforce.

Tactically, it has worked. The Pavlovian response from sections of the media and Labour has been that Howard, despite his background, is a political grub, and all of a sudden he's attracting a sympathy vote.

One of the most striking things about this debate, and our starring role in it, is that it jars with the widely-held assertion on the Australian Left that our standing has been destroyed in the eyes of the world.

Rather ­ and especially in the wake of our widely-reported $1 billion commitment to Indonesia following the tsunami ­ Australia is held up as an example of how to maintain a policy which is firm but humanitarian.

The Sun, which despite its support for British Labour has given the Tories an extensive and favourable run over the asylum policy, declared in one of its editorials that no one is accusing the big-hearted Aussies of being racist, suggesting a degree of detachment from the self-loathing on the letters pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.

But while the mainstream debate is favourable towards our policies, the British Left is so addled in its fury that it has distorted our track record to suit its arguments.

On the morning radio news program on Channel 4, playwright and author Johann Hari made the extraordinary claim that John Howard had used our immigration laws to win the 2001 election by deploying the navy to blow up and murder 350-odd Iraqis off the Australian mainland.

It made for an interesting John Clancy-style reworking of Children Overboard.

But the absent feature of the debate ­ as is so often the case in Australia ­ is the infernally slow processing of asylum-seekers in mandatory detention.

In Britain, as in Australia, the slowness of the system attracts much less criticism than the overblown claims about the harshness of detention centres themselves.

Here, the likes of Johann Hari have swallowed the concentration camp rhetoric misrepresenting our detention centres, which to my knowledge still remain free of gas chambers.

But in a week when it emerged that a mentally ill Australian woman has been held at Baxter for four months, neither the Brits nor Australians should be blase about the time our system takes to assess peoples' bona fides.

It's perfectly fair to detain people who arrive without any documentation but there's no reason why it should take two, three, four, more than five years to do so.

Lynton Crosby: Maestro of the dark arts

The Independent, UK
By Andrew Grice
26 March 2005


Two weeks ago, the grandees of the Conservative Party gathered for a late-night champagne reception in suite 120 of The Grand hotel in Brighton, where the party was holding its spring conference. The man most in demand among the fundraisers and wealthy donors present was Lynton Crosby, the shadowy Australian credited with transforming the Tories' morale and prospects since being appointed their general election campaign director last October.

In his dark pin-striped suit, a smiling and relaxed-looking Crosby could, at first glance, have been mistaken for a senior Tory MP. But when he spoke, Crosby's unmistakable drawl - and his tendency to call people "mate" - marked him out as an outsider. As he sipped vintage Pol Roget, Crosby confessed that he couldn't understand why anyone would go to Brighton for a holiday because there were no sandy beaches - and, typically, cracked a joke about the consequences of sunbathing nude on its shingle beach.

Yet there is much more to 48-year-old Crosby than his one-dimensional public image as a crude, red-necked Aussie who has taken the Conservative Party by the scruff of the neck and enabled it to claw its way back into an apparently lost game by raising issues such as asylum, immigration, illegal Gypsy camps, abortion, burglary and individual cases such as Margaret Dixon, the 69-year-old woman whose shoulder operation had been cancelled several times.

Labour claims that Crosby has imported "dog-whistle politics" into Britain. Used by the Australian Liberals, the Tories' sister party, it means sending a message which - the way a dog whistle is inaudible to humans - is heard only by the people at which it is aimed. Labour also accuses him of running a "wedge" campaign - dividing the support base of the rival party by targeting specific groups with messages on emotional issues such as abortion or immigration.

However the tactics are labelled, there is no doubt that Crosby has got under Labour's skin. Since the pre-election campaign began in January, he has helped the Tories to set the political agenda for a sustained period for the first time since Black Wednesday in 1992. He is credited with turning a rusty party machine into the Rolls-Royce it was in Margaret Thatcher's heyday.

Indeed, Labour has paid Crosby the ultimate back-handed compliment by calling for him to be sent back to Australia. It is also attacking Mark Textor, Crosby's partner in a market research and strategic consultancy, who arrived in Britain this week to lend a hand at Tory HQ, where he is known as "Text". Textor is said to be an advocate of "push polling" - telephoning voters on the pretext of conducting an opinion poll and then implanting damaging rumours about a rival candidate. Textor and two others had to pay £33,000 damages to Susan Robinson, Australian Labor Party candidate in a 1995 by-election, after a survey suggested she favoured abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy. The Tories say Textor is not being paid and insist that all their polling is carried out within the rules.

A 1992 advert bearing Crosby's name, later withdrawn, said the Australian Labor government had "the blood of victims" such as murdered Cheree Richardson on its hands because of its early release scheme for prisoners. Then there was the damaging controversy over the Tampa, a Norwegian ship carrying 430 refugees, which John Howard turned away during the 2001 election amid claims that the passengers were throwing children overboard in a desperate attempt to gain entry to Australia. The claims were later shown to be wrong - but not until the saga had destabilised Labor and helped Howard to retain power.

The youngest of three children, Crosby was intent on escaping the cereal farming community of Kadina in South Australia in which he grew up. Following a degree at Adelaide University, he had planned a career in the Treasury but, after several jobs, stood for the Liberals in Queensland in 1982. He lost, decided to become a backroom boy, and rose to become the party's state secretary.

Married with two grown-up children, in 1996 he became the Liberals' deputy campaign director, helping John Howard to a surprise victory over Paul Keating, the Labor prime minister. John Howard has said: "There's no better political strategist in Australia." A commentator added: "If the word apparatchik did not exist, it would have to have been invented to describe Lynton Crosby." It is easy to see why Michael Howard wanted to recruit the man who helped his namesake to four successive victories. The Tory leader was deeply impressed by Crosby when he visited Australia as shadow foreign secretary after the 1997 election. They kept in touch and met up when Crosby made occasional visits to Britain. He gave informal advice to the Tories on an ad hoc basis. Last autumn, Mr Howard persuaded Crosby to come on board full time for the election.

His arrival put some noses out of joint - notably those of Lord (Maurice) Saatchi and Liam Fox, the party's co-chairmen, who thought they were running the election show. The early rivalries now seem to have cooled. The stuffy rabbit warren at Conservative Central Office in Smith Square, Westminster, well suited to cabals and plots, has symbolically been replaced by an open-plan office in nearby Victoria Street which Crosby has renamed "Conservative Campaign Headquarters".

Although initially viewed with caution by some new colleagues, Crosby soon won their confidence, giving the staffer who writes the best press release of the day a public herogram. His first priority was to inject some much-needed discipline. He was appalled that Tory frontbenchers ploughed their own furrow and floated policy ideas without thinking them through. With the party apparently heading for a third crushing defeat, Howard suspected that some shadow cabinet members were thinking more about the next Tory leadership election than the general election.

Crosby ordered such indiscipline to stop, and for all announcements to be properly road-tested, approved centrally and to be part of a coherent strategy. He will be appalled by the lack of discipline shown by Howard Flight, the Tory deputy chairman sacked on Thursday for suggesting that the party would opt for deeper spending cuts than it admits.

"Crosby is the perfect man for the job," says one close ally of Howard. "He has no agenda of his own. He is only interested in one thing - winning. He's not thinking about what happens after the election. He'll head back to Australia as soon as it's over."

Crosby is good at raising morale. With no sign of a breakthrough, staff members were gloomy as Christmas approached. He gave an impressive pep talk, telling them to ignore newspaper reports that the Tories could not win, have a good break and to "kick and kick hard" when they returned.

They kicked, and it seems to have worked. The Tories have a spring in their step. Confidence creates a virtuous circle and many Tories now believe they have a fighting chance of achieving a hung Parliament. True, the party has not yet made a breakthrough in the opinion polls. But its private polling in the 160-odd marginal seats where it is concentrating its fire is much more optimistic. "We can win," Crosby told Tory MPs during a Powerpoint presentation on Tuesday. "We have a strategy. This is it. We are sticking to it." Some commentators believe that Crosby knows the Tories cannot win in one go and is putting their energy into winning a smaller number of target seats on 5 May. This could explain the recent emphasis on issues more likely to appeal to natural Tories, in the hope that they turn out in greater numbers than Labour supporters.

When The Times claimed that Crosby had advised Howard the election could not be won, he started legal proceedings. Crosby told the paper that "second place" was not a phrase that entered his vocabulary. It eventually published a correction.

"What makes Lynton tick is winning," says a member of Howard's inner circle. "He has a very good feel for what is happening out there in the country. His instincts are very similar to Michael's. This is not Lynton Crosby's strategy. It is Michael Howard's strategy being executed by Lynton Crosby."

Crosby has won over all sections of the party, not just the right-wingers who are more inclined to preach to the Tory core vote. Alan Duncan, a moderniser and the shadow International Development Secretary, says: "I would be happy to go into the jungle with him. He's entirely a positive influence, a force for good. He has drawn all the elements together into a formidable team. People have found it invigorating."

Some moderates fear the "guerrilla tactics" adopted by Crosby may reinforce the Tories' image as the "nasty party", saying the Tories have left it very late to spell out a positive vision of what they are for. One former minister says: "There are things some of us would do differently. It's not perfect. But it's infinitely better than what we had before - which was no strategy at all. Lynton has been terrific in bringing a proper focus to what we are doing. For the first time for 15 years, we have a serious strategy."

To Westminster journalists used to trading gossip with political apparatchiks, Crosby is an elusive, even reclusive figure. He stands in the shadows at the back of the room during Tory press conferences, and does not do interviews. Friends say he is determined not to "become the story" like Alastair Campbell, his opposite number, recalled to Labour's colours for the election.

Crosby took a risk in signing up for the Tories when their prospects were at a low ebb. But he should now emerge from the election with his reputation intact: even if the Tories don't deprive Labour of its majority, they may yet "win" the campaign - and enough seats to give them hope of returning to power in 2009. Crosby, of course, has not given up hope for 2005. After all, in 1996 he helped an unfancied, apparently dull leader of the opposition unseat a clever, smiling Labor prime minister who was apparently on course for a comfortable victory. Sound familiar?

A LIFE IN BRIEF

Born: 1957, Kadina, South Australia.

Family: Married to Dawn Crosby. Two daughters.

Education: Economics degree, University of Adelaide.

Career: 1982: Official with the Liberal Party in Queensland, after unsuccessful attempt to stand for a seat in the state parliament; 1996; deputy campaign director for Liberals; 1998: campaign director for Liberals and credited with John Howard's second victory; 2001: campaign director for Liberals; 2002: co-founded Crosby-Textor political consultancy; 2004: consultant to John Howard's election campaign.

He says...: "If that's your attitude I suggest you piss off right now." - to a young Tory who suggested Michael Howard's hopes of victory were doomed

They say...: "I would be happy to go into the jungle with him. He's entirely a positive influence, a force for good." - Alan Duncan, shadow International Development Secretary

Playing the fear card

In The Observer on April 3, Nick Cohen writes in Playing the fear card:

[Michael] Howard has acknowledged the power of the global movement by bringing Lynton Crosby from Australia to run his campaign. In the language of the Daily Mail, Crosby is an economic migrant who has sneaked into Britain and taken bread from the mouths of our own snake-oil salesmen. Yet Howard and, indeed, the Mail make an exception in Crosby's case because there isn't a huckster in the land who can match his special skills.

He's won election after election ever since he organised the victory of the Australian conservatives - who call themselves Liberals, but aren't - over an apparently invincible Labour Prime Minister a decade ago. Last time around, he played up a report that boat-people refugees from Saddam's Iraq were throwing their babies into the ocean and forcing the Australian navy to fish them out and give them asylum. It was only after the election was won on a wave of public revulsion against the barbaric aliens that the story was revealed to be - how to put this gently? - a lie.

As an Australian Labour leader warned The Guardian's Sydney correspondent, Crosby and his team 'will play to the basest of opinions in the coming weeks. There's a dark underside to any human being and they pander to people's fears'. His prediction was spot on and the pandering will continue until 5 May.

The standard response to the well-bred contempt that Crosby and his kind arouse is that democrats can't complain if they give the public what it wants. The excuse doesn't wash because, like the media, the world's Crosbys are caught in the paradox of populism. On the one hand, they know that fear sells better than sex and that if you are a newspaper, political party or television channel, the best thing you can do is present yourself as the friend of the common man, ready to take on the 'elitists' who are threatening his way of life. On the other, falling turn-outs, readerships and viewing figures across the developed democracies prove that the more populist politics and the media become, the less popular they are with the common people.

There's no way out of the paradox for the media which are everywhere caught in spirals of decline. What's chilling about Howard is that for politicians of his type falling turn-outs can be a bonus.

The Liberal Democrats, being shot by both sides in this campaign, pointed me to a gigantic study of American elections in the 1990s to explain how. Going Negative by Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar showed how Crosby-style negative campaigning can help you to victory exactly because it depresses turn-out. The trick works like this. You attack your opponent with a ruthless disregard for the truth - Tony Blair is organising the rape of the voters' daughters or whatever. Potential Labour supporters may not vote Tory as a result. But the Labour vote will be depressed if they believe there's a grain of truth in the charge and decide to sit the election out.

Alternatively, voters may not believe a word of the attack propaganda but decide it confirms what they had always suspected: all politicians are vicious creeps and there's no reason to vote for any party. Again, Howard is happy because parties of the right are supported by the wealthy who are most likely to vote. The lower the turnout, the better they do.

At about the same time as Ansolabehere and Iyengar were conducting their study, Christopher Hitchens was interviewing Pat Caddell for an essay on the dismal effects of professional manipulators on democratic life. Caddell, one of the best pollsters in the business, had been hired to run the re-election campaign of a clapped-out Californian senator who was faced with a challenge by a smart, young rival. It seemed an impossible task, but Caddell realised that his man had the advantages of a stronger party machine and core vote. He also noticed that much of the electorate was mildly alienated and hated negative campaigning.

'So I told them, "Run the most negative campaign you can. Drive the voters away. Piss them off with politics."' It worked and the senator won against the odds. 'The day after, I realised what I had done and got out of the business.'

Many - far too many - stay in and they're getting more cunning by the day. New Labour, of course, had planned to run a negative campaign against Howard which might have driven away Tory supporters. But Crosby showed his genius by stopping it when he successfully branded New Labour as anti-semitic. We're now in the situation where Howard plays the race card two or three times a week against gypsies, asylum seekers and immigrants from every country except Australia. Yet when you attack him for it, the race card is played back at you and you are accused of being an anti-semite. This is the racial politics of the politically correct age. As I said, nothing like it has been seen before.

The chief constables complained that Howard was misleading the public about the true level of crime. They were right but won't get anywhere because the media have as much of an interest in exaggerating crime as the Tories.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told all parties: 'Despite the best of intentions, election campaigns can quickly turn into a competition about who can most effectively frighten voters.'

As a well-meaning man, he assumed that operators such as Crosby had good intentions which were momentarily lost in the heat of battle when the truth is that they have spent years calmly and cold-bloodedly refining their techniques. Don't forgive them, your grace, for they know precisely what they do.

Lynton's legacy reaches London

By Christian Kerr
Crikey's political correspondent
April 4, 2005


[....]

Lynton Crosby should do well out of the Tory campaign. They'll most likely get a swing which will, as happens with campaign managers, be interpreted as evidence of Lynton's genius...

But will the Tories find this John Howard dog-whistle stuff returning to haunt them? It's one thing to do it and succeed: winners are grinners... But if the Tories lose, the court of public opinion will be seen to have repudiated 'grubby politics' and there might be some harsh judgment. Crosby can always bugger off back to Australia, where a fawning media still treats him as a hero... but poor [Conservative leader] Michael Howard will remain in England.

[....]

Westminster watchers point out that the huge difference between John Howard in 2001 and Michael Howard in 2005 is that John Howard was in government. As prime minister, he was able to define the national interest in a way that opposition leader Michael Howard will never be able to do in 18 months.

John Howard was able to prevent the public service, especially Defence, offering alternative sources of opinion over the Tampa episode and the entire illegals imbroglio in 2001. Michael Howard can't come up with his own 'Pacific solution' to deal with the sensitive issue of asylum in Britain because the Blair Government will be able to wheel out plenty of 'independent' civil service experts to say "you can't do that".
Read more ...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Finding Anna: when Immigration gets it really, really wrong

A shower in the infamous Baxter detention centre's isolation unitNarrogin WA, 7 February 2005 - Astounding is the word, but I guess the story is familiar by now. 'Anna', or as we know now, Cornelia, an Australian citizen, went missing, and based on the fact that she was disoriented, spoke some German, and could not be identified, she ends up in Baxter's punishment block, after 'having been assigned' to DIMIA, the Department of Immigration, for being an alleged 'illegal immigrant'.

PHOTO: Shower cell in Baxter's Isolation compound

Pamela Curr, the campaign coordinator at Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, did not let up on the story after it first came to light - thank you, Pamela! - she alerted me in the first week of January. I made some phone calls, but the story was dismissed by some others, and I was told "it was an old story", and that Anna had already been deported.

In the third week of January I posted Anna's story to the Project SafeCom website. A few days later I added information as it came to hand. Here it is. The several messages are followed first by Andra Jackson's report we managed to get into the press, in The Age (January 31) in Melbourne. Nobody else in the media was interested or got the point. Immediately upon reading Andra Jackson's report, Chris Rau, Anna's sister - who herself is a journalist - got in touch and we discovered how we had locked up an Australian citizen in isolation in Baxter.

No doubt the inevitable inquiry will become a whitewash, but it was an opportunity for all of the media to focus on what goes on inside the Baxter detention centre, and a few million Australians were able to glimpse into the stupidity of Australia's immigration strategies, and just for a second, we could shiver by the thought that this could happen to anyone.

Incommunicado, in isolation, in Baxter, and at the Minister's pleasure

Mentally ill and locked up in a RED ONE isolation cell in Baxter

Anna No. BX8311 - The mystery girl
January 19, 2005


Anna is not an asylum-seeking girl, but the story of how we treat children and human beings is deplorably illustrated through this report. It was posted here on January 19, 2004 when it had been received.

The treatment of this psychotic girl reveals the dark side of Australia's gulags. Unless a person detained signs a form giving permission for a lawyer to act on their behalf, NO-ONE can help. There is no mechanism to assist someone in detention who is not mentally capable of acting in their own best interests.

Anna, a German-speaking girl, has been locked up in Baxter since the 29th November. Baxter is a detention camp in the desert, surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and sensors. Anna is held in Red One compound where she is locked in an isolation cell for 18 hours per day. She is allowed out into the open air for 6 hours per day. Such is her terror of being put back into this cell that it takes 6 guards in full riot gear to manhandle her back into the room and close the heavy door. We have reports from witnesses that the guards are enjoying this aspect of Anna's behaviour.

Other detainees have repeatedly expressed concern about this young girl. They believe that she is mentally ill. Her unpredictable and bizarre behaviour, lack of communication and distress continue to worry fellow detainees. She exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell.

Anna has refused to sign a form requesting legal help so no-one is allowed to assist or assess her. We are worried that she may not be mentally competent to act in her best interests. However under the Migration Act no one is allowed to act on her behalf unless she requests this in writing.

The German Consulate have been advised of her situation and condition at least 8 times. Initially they acknowledged that they were aware of her but that she had refused assistance. When it was explained that her mental state might lessen her ability to seek help, they promised to act.

When asked if they have been to see her after a month, they said, no - it is too far and that they have not enough staff! Instead they are waiting for confirmation of her nationality from Germany! This could easily be confirmed by Australian Immigration who will have either her passport or the computer record of her entry into the country with nationality recorded. A five-minute phone call could elicit this information if Australia would provide it.

Now the German consulate say that they do not believe that she is a German citizen. They do not know who she is and have been unable to get information on her from police sources in Germany but say that she is not German!

Who is prepared act on behalf of Anna? She is in danger, alone in Baxter. She is clearly mentally ill and needs care, not incarceration and brute physical force.

All attempts to get a medical or psychiatric opinion or asking the ministers office to intervene have failed.

Please email/fax the Ministers Office demanding that Anna be given the help she needs.

Jan 24, 2005 17:43 PST

We now have a situation where there is one female detainee in Red One. She seems to be very, very sick. She takes her clothes off and wanders around in this all-male compound. Screams obscenities, throws food at other detainees and smashes things. If I didn't know better, I would have thought she was put in Red 1 as a sexual provocation...

She was in the family compound previously.

The male detainees are treating her with respect but it is making their already difficult lives that much harder.

She speaks English.

More on Anna

Mon, 24 Jan 2005 11:01

Despite calls and letters to every agency, Anna is still locked up in Red One without psychiatric care. DIMIA dont know who she is so are keeping her there until they have "established her identity". Now another indignity .... a report from inside.

Some of the guys told me that the guards all gather round to watch a video monitor of Anna taking a shower - there are no curtains. (I don't know how they know this - maybe the guards tell them?) I suppose this is the least of her problems, but another insult to injury.

Anna is the only girl in Red One - the isolation compound. This would be highly inappropriate if she were sane and able to advocate for herself, it is wicked to put a psychotic, mentally unstable girl in the care of bozo guards whose morality and ethics sees nothing wrong with treating Anna as a voyeurs delight- what else are they doing to her to keep themselves amused? We know that excessive force is used to push her back into her cell after the allowed fresh air time is up.

We do not know what circumstances have driven this girl into mental illness. We do not know if she has been trafficked into the country. All we know is that she has now been locked up in Baxter for two months AND NO ONE CARES!!!

Please ring your local member and Peter Mc Gauran's office expressing your concern and outrage at this treatment of a young girl.

Speaking to Anna

Note from a Red One detainee

I write this letter with shocking mind. I just return from Church service. There I met Anna. Initially I scared to talk to her hoping that she would ignore and misbehave due to her condition.

In the Church service, she behaves very strangely very similar to downed mentally. I was worried that no one wanted to consult her or need to company her. Lately, I went and introduce myself and talk to her. She very gently asked to sit down in a bench and talk to me. Actually, she very nicely welcomed me. Then I understood that she need friends to talk and pass time. This treatment makes her situation worse. It is not hard me to understand how much pressure GSL put on her. There she talk lot about India and told that she happy to watch Indian movie. Further, about Indian culture.

One of my friend told me that they have signed a letter her to get lawyer assistance. I suppose what you wanted to do have already happened. Her memory also not bad but it seems this detention treatment made her worse. When we return from Church service, Van has come to bring her back to compound. She restricted to get in saying that she too need to walk like others and with them. I felt it is very fair and genuine request as human. We do the same when GSL restricted our moments. That was the point I understood she need company. I don?t know what to do but felt very bad as human. We also not in good mentality but when we see worsen than us hard to bear. Still feel sympathy on them, which has remained with us yet.

Mystery woman held at Baxter could be ill

The Age
By Andra Jackson
January 31, 2005


International efforts are being made to establish the identity of a young German woman held at Baxter detention centre in circumstances that have angered refugee advocates.

Other Baxter detainees drew attention to the woman after becoming concerned about her welfare. They believe she may be mentally ill.

"Anna" has been at Baxter, in South Australia, for nearly three months after north Queensland police handed her over to immigration officials in November.

It is believed she would not communicate and had no passport or identifying documents. Police were left with several possible names for the woman, believed to be aged about 18.

She has been locked in a Baxter isolation cell for 18 hours a day, according to refugee advocates. "They (detainees) believe that she is mentally ill. Her unpredictable and bizarre behaviour, lack of communication and distress continue to worry them," said Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.

"She exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times, and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell."

The woman is allowed out for six hours a day. "Such is her terror of being put back into this cell that it takes six guards in full riot gear to manhandle her back into the room and close the heavy door," Ms Curr said.

Visitors have been unable to get a response from her.

Refugee advocates say the woman clearly needs psychiatric care rather than incarceration.

But under the Migration Act no one is allowed to act on her behalf unless she requests it in writing. She has now been persuaded to do this.

Refugee advocates have asked Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to arrange an independent assessment of the woman.

The German consul-general in Melbourne, Thomas Kessler, said a representative of the honorary German consul in Queensland visited her when she was in police custody but was unable to verify that she was German. The consulate was given an alias and an address to check in Germany, but these proved dead ends.

"We have been trying for three months now to verify that she is German," Mr Kessler said.

The consulate is in a bind: on one hand, while it may feel "a humanitarian impetus" to try and help the woman, "according to international law, we can only intervene if it is established that she is German . . . but proof of that is not available".

Ms Curr said this left her fate in the hands of the Immigration Department and Baxter's management, GSL.

A spokeswoman for acting Immigration Minister Peter McGauran said the minister could not comment on individual cases.

Jack Smit, a spokesman for refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, condemned her treatment. "This is about someone being held incommunicado and it is a breach of medical standards because she should be in a psychiatric hospital rather than in Baxter."

He has put the case on his website and has already had one query from Germany.

A newspaper appeal is to be made in Germany to anyone who has a missing relative or friend matching the woman's description.

Link to the article in The Age

Project SafeCom News & Updates

For more news see also our newsletters:
• News & Updates 6 February 2005 | • News & Updates 7 February 2005

• News & Updates 7 February 2005 (2) | • News & Updates 8 February 2005

• News & Updates 8 February 2005 (2) | • News & Updates 9 February 2005

• News & Updates 10 February 2005 (1) | • News & Updates 10 February 2005 (2)

• News & Updates 11 February 2005 | • News & Updates 12 February 2005 (1)

• News & Updates 12 February 2005 (2)

My sister lost her mind, and Australia lost its heart

Sydney Morning Herald
February 7, 2005


Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill Australian woman, spent months locked in an immigration detention centre. Her sister, Chris Rau, and brother-in-law, John MacDonald, describe her living hell.

For the past 10 months Cornelia has been locked up - for six in a Brisbane prison and four in South Australia's Baxter detention centre for illegal immigrants. Her crimes: having a mental illness, giving authorities false identities and speaking a foreign language.

She had discharged herself from Manly Hospital's psychiatric unit last March and disappeared. The NSW police had been looking for her since August. We feared her dead, and the worst part was not knowing how, where or why. On Thursday night we learnt she was in Baxter. Parts of the mystery were solved, only to raise more questions.

John Howard promised an inquiry yesterday but refused to apologise, citing legal reasons. But one question we can answer for the Government is the litigation one: our parents definitely do not intend to sue and will write privately to the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone. Now it is the Government's turn to provide some answers.

Before Cornelia became mentally ill she was a vibrant, gregarious, empathetic person who loved her work as a Qantas flight attendant because it fulfilled her restless nature. People who met her commented on her talents: multilingual, artistic, tertiary-educated, beautiful. She seemed to have it all.

In 1998 she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but could still function well enough to work for several years before she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Eleven months ago we had already lost much of the old Cornelia, but no matter how dire the circumstances, she always knew who she was and contacted us when she was in trouble.

But that has changed. Where once she would seek hugs and reassurance from us, now she is telling nurses at Glenside, the Royal Adelaide Hospital's psychiatric wing, that she would rather go back to Baxter than be hospitalised. She is very determined her name is Anna Schmidt and that her passport is in Baxter, a senior nurse told us at the weekend.

The nurse said she could understand how Cornelia could be mistaken for a German because she spoke English with an accent (not usually the case) and insisted she wanted to return to Germany.

We are guided by Glenside staff's advice, which is to wait and see how her condition changes before we can go and see her. She has obviously lost all touch with reality, and what might have started out as subterfuge in Queensland last April has morphed into a dissociative state. Over the past seven years we and our parents, Eddie and Veronika, have helplessly watched Cornelia deteriorate into a secretive, suspicious, frightened and unpredictable person whose behaviour was at times bizarre. She has been in and out of hospitals to manage her condition, which she exacerbated because, perversely, she is health-conscious and refuses medication due to its side effects.

Our greatest fear is that these months of incarceration - any restrictions on freedom are anathema to her - have irretrievably tipped her over the edge and we'll never find her again.

But John Howard can rest easy: we are not litigious and are not yet so Americanised that we would jump at the chance to sue anyone for squillions. We don't blame him, Amanda Vanstone, assorted officials or anyone individually for the damage done to Cornelia, incalculable damage beyond price. (It would be nice, though, if there were an apology, financial assistance with accommodation in Adelaide and follow-up treatment for Cornelia.)

Our parents want to emphasise how helpful, beyond the call of duty, they found the Manly detectives investigating her missing-persons case and the administrators in South Australia's mental health system who organised her transfer to Glenside.

No one is immune from mistakes. With hindsight, our greatest mistake was not registering her with the police until August. There were several reasons for this, one of which was that my parents had already reported her as missing several months before her stay in the Manly psychiatric unit, after which she was found within two days. We did not want to be alarmist this time. The police are overburdened with mental health cases, which they are often untrained to handle, and we thought Cornelia would contact us as she had in the past.

Also, Veronika's mother in Germany died during that time.

Again, with hindsight, the improbable idea that she could have been in an immigration detention centre slipped under everyone's radar, ours included.

But now we move on to the real questions: How could the system allow Cornelia to suffer such horror? Are there others who have similarly suffered? And what must be done to ensure it never happens again?

Mr Howard has promised the inquiry but the portents aren't promising. Not when the Immigration Department's responses have been evasive and misleading. The media were told on Friday that the department was assisting us in being reunited with Cornelia. No one from the department has contacted us.

Then there are the Government's claims that Cornelia had been receiving medical treatment. An assessment of her (by whom?) is said to have been made (when?) in Brisbane in a psychiatric facility (which one?) where she was deemed as not meeting the criteria for mental illness (what criteria?). One can only assume that when Immigration assesses detention centre inmates its criteria for mental illness are tougher than those at Glenside, where doctors promptly put her in the intensive care, high-dependency ward under heavy sedation.

Which brings us to the shameful double standard Cornelia's case illustrates. While she was an unnamed illegal immigrant, the only treatment she received for mental illness was longer periods in lock-up as punishment for bad behaviour. From the information coming out of Baxter, the lock-ups led to a worsening of her condition and worse behaviour.

Yet, magic! As soon as she became an Australian resident she was whisked away to a teaching hospital, seen by consultant psychiatrists and medicated. During which leg of her flight from Baxter to Adelaide did she suddenly gain the basic human right to medical treatment?

Over the years we have heard of immigration detainees being denied access to psychiatric care, some with horrific mental illnesses and suicidal tendencies. How many cases like Cornelia's will it take until they receive the care they deserve, or more importantly, are taken out of conditions which in themselves lead to mental illnesses?

Another point. It has been the kindness of strangers that has allowed Cornelia to survive and ultimately be identified. First, the Cape York Aboriginal community took her in. In the past few months it has been asylum seekers in Baxter, who agitated on her behalf until the story appeared in the Herald last week, which led to her identification.

Amanda Vanstone is right. Authorities are in a difficult position when someone refuses to identify themselves and even gives false aliases. Luckily, we still live in a country where we are not held down while information is beaten or drugged out of us.

There are no simple answers, just as there is no simplistic question of blame or a scapegoat.

But one logical area to address - as the South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, pointed out - is the lack of co-ordination in our federal system. When Cornelia was registered as a missing person we had no idea this information was limited to NSW. We assumed there was a federal register linked to every police database in the country.

We also assumed she would be automatically picked up if she entered the prison system, as she did apparently for six months in Brisbane without being charged with a crime. Also, how did her age, 39, come to be estimated at only 18?

Our nightmare, which is only just beginning, is that we might get Cornelia back physically but, through the events of the past 10 months, the person we love may be lost to us forever.

Chris Rau is a former journalist with The Age. John MacDonald, her husband, is a reporter with Fairfax Community Newspapers.

Link to the article in The Sydney Morning Herald

The flawed system that failed 'Anna'

The Age
Federal politics
Michelle Grattan
February 6, 2005


Australia's detention regime is endless in its ability to shock. And the same goes for federal immigration ministers.

Amanda Vanstone's response to the revelation that a seriously mentally ill woman, Cornelia Rau, had been incarcerated in Baxter and elsewhere for months, on suspicion that she was an illegal immigrant, is extraordinary. Vanstone knows the Government is on the back foot. But she is defiant.

Let us consider what the minister says about the case of "Anna" as she called herself, before her identity was established (no thanks to the Government).

Anticipating attacks, Vanstone condemns in advance as "opportunistic" criticism of those who "have worked to care for the woman and determine her identity".

Presumably she means that critics will use the case to back up earlier reflections on the detention system or to make a political point. That's irrelevant - strong criticism of the handling of this case is called for. The failure to identify the woman quickly, or to properly diagnose her condition, is an appalling indictment of the system.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, alerted by Baxter detainees that the woman was behaving in a highly disturbed way, contacted Vanstone's office in December. She was given the answer she has become used to - "we don't discuss individual cases". In January she made another call, talking to Paul Giles, one of Vanstone's advisers, to get the same response.

It was only after the story was reported by The Age's Andra Jackson last week that the identity of the woman was established - by her own family realising that this was probably the relative for whom they had been searching for months.

Jackson's story reported the woman appeared to be mentally ill and quoted Curr saying "she exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times, and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell". A spokeswoman for acting immigration minister Peter McGauran said - you've guessed it - that he could not comment on individual cases.

Vanstone has a duty of care over everyone who is in detention. Her office had also been alerted, in a way that should have led to immediate intensive investigation and identification of the woman. It has been a monumental failure.

Vanstone urges us "to consider the difficulties facing authorities in establishing the identity of someone who provides false information, provides no documentation and is either unwilling or unable to assist in confirming identity".

Really? What, one might ask, are police facing all the time, when confronted by criminals who won't tell them what they've done or, sometimes, who they are? Police and Immigration Department officials are supposed to have investigative skills.

The Queensland police interviewed this woman soon after she escaped from hospital last March. Local Aborigines who found her in North Queensland were concerned by her strange behaviour, and took her to the police. The police referred her to Immigration in early April after, Vanstone says, she told them she was a German citizen here on a temporary visa. Her story was that she had arrived in Melbourne around mid-March. She gave false names and history.

Vanstone says Immigration talked with Commonwealth and state agencies, had consular representatives visit her, and made "contact with the governments of several countries". Australian representatives overseas made "checks".

Why then, did Immigration miss picking her up from the missing persons list? Rau was reported missing around August and the NSW police appealed for help late last year.

We read all sorts of great stories about how missing people are traced. Here is someone who was on a list (obviously under a different name but there were photos and a mental health history filed with the police), and detained by the Commonwealth. Yet in all the checking that Vanstone claims was done, the listing and the detainee were never connected, until the family contacted police last week and police contacted Immigration at Baxter.

Then we have the issue of the medical assessment of Rau and her treatment while in the care of the Immigration Department.

Vanstone declares: "From the moment she came into Immigration detention she was provided with medical care, including psychiatric care which ultimately led to her admission to a psychiatric facility in Brisbane for assessment. This found that, while having some behavioural problems, she did not meet the criteria for a mental illness."

A group of Aborigines who had limited contact with the woman recognised she had problems that were serious enough to hand her over to the police. The detainees in Baxter knew she was in a bad way.

Yet the doctor or doctors who saw her under the aegis of the Immigration Department diagnosed her as just having "some behavioural problems". Maybe Immigration needs new doctors. It is alarming that serious mental illness can't be distinguished from "behavioural problems" - perhaps those looking at these things are too conditioned to people in detention being driven to strange behaviour.

Vanstone says Cornelia Rau's "is a tragic case, but one that has been resolved, giving comfort to the woman's family".

It doesn't give much comfort to her family however, to know that Cornelia has suffered months of anguish that should have been avoided. Nor can it give comfort to the community to know that someone can be "lost", Kafka-like, in the system, or that when a minister's office is alerted to a problem, nothing much seems to happen.

In her statement Vanstone notably makes no reference to the contacts made with her office, and this is the first of many questions that she should answer, before or when parliament resumes this week.

Just for starters: Was the minister personally alerted after Curr rang in December and January? Did she get regular updates on the case - if so, when and from whom? Why wasn't Cornelia identified from the missing persons list? How many doctors examined her in Brisbane and Baxter and what is their explanation for apparently misdiagnosing her mental state? Has the minister called for a report on alleged mistreatment of Cornelia while she was held in the Brisbane women's prison, which Immigration uses because it has no facility in that city? The claims, made by a group which advocates for women in prison, are that she was restrained in body belts and handcuffs, and put in a rubber room.

One of the most frightening aspects of this affair is that, according to Curr, everything the Immigration Department did was lawful. The system has failed totally, but lawfully. The law requires a person to prove that he or she is a citizen or resident: Cornelia did not do so, presumably because of fear of being taken back to the psychiatric hospital from which she had escaped or because she was not in fit mind.

One of the difficulties for refugee advocates in this case was that a lawyer could not become involved until Cornelia signed a form allowing that, which she did only recently. Things are loaded against someone who is helpless, for one reason or another.

The Rau case brings back under scrutiny a detention system in which many injustices have been done.

A most obvious current one is the treatment of failed asylum-seeker Peter Qasim, a Kashmiri from Indian-occupied territory who has been detained for more than six years. He has suffered depression and has spent some time in psychiatric care. He has said he is willing to be repatriated but he doesn't have papers and the Indian Government will not accept him. Vanstone's spokesman says there are "still identity issues" with Qasim and efforts continue to be made to secure his "genuine" co-operation on these. The Government is within its legal rights in keeping him incarcerated. But on any grounds of morality or decency this man should be let out and allowed to stay in Australia. He has no security or character issues that can be raised against this. The case is a scandal. As Adele Horin, writing recently in The Sydney Morning Herald says, "Qasim should be a household name in Australia".

There has been a lot of talk recently about how, now that the Government has control of the Senate, it will be the back bench that puts pressure on Howard over a variety of issues. There is already a ginger group on tax. It is time that some of those who have been deeply troubled over the years by the Government's policy on asylum seekers, children in detention, temporary protection visas and the like took up the Qasim case. In the past, the pressure of MPs such as Petro Georgiou, John Forrest and others has led to some limited wins. They should familiarise themselves with the Qasim case, raise the issue in the party room, and press for his release. If the dreadful experience of Cornelia Rau refocuses attention on what else is happening at Baxter, it will have achieved something positive.

Link to the article in The Age

Nobody cared

The Advertiser
By Laura Anderson and Paul Starick
07feb05


The state's mental health chief threatened to personally assess Cornelia Rau's medical state after the Immigration Department resisted his calls for appropriate evaluation.

Mental Health Services director Jonathan Phillips pushed unsuccessfully for two weeks for a psychiatric assessment of Ms Rau - an Australian woman who was improperly kept in detention for 10 months.

As condemnation of Ms Rau's treatment grew yesterday, Dr Phillips said he first demanded federal authorities assess Ms Rau's mental state two weeks ago - almost a fortnight before she was released from Port Augusta's Baxter Detention Centre.

Department officials resisted his calls for an additional psychiatric assessment, forcing an angry Dr Phillips to threaten last Thursday to personally conduct the medical check if it was not done immediately.

But immigration officials transferred Ms Rau, 39, to Port Augusta Hospital later that day. She was taken to Glenside Hospital the next day for treatment for schizophrenia.

"I was so concerned on Thursday last week that I made it clear to the Rural and Remote Mental Health Service that I would do it myself if necessary," Dr Phillips said.

"I made the point that the assessment had to be done in keeping with protocol. That is very unusual for me.

"And obviously the person was assessed that afternoon."

Dr Phillips said that based on Ms Rau's behaviour, he was extremely concerned she was not diagnosed as having a mental illness. The Immigration Department has said that medical assessments of Ms Rau had been conducted at Baxter by doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists.

"I am a psychiatrist and that degree of disturbance ... would have alerted me as a psychiatrist that she would have been likely to have a psychotic mental illness," Dr Phillips said. "My concern was apparently the woman had been assessed by people within the Baxter centre and had been thought to have a personality problem, rather than a definable psychotic disorder.

"I was not not happy to accept that."

Prime Minister John Howard has ordered an inquiry into the situation, branding it "unsatisfactory" and "regrettable".

Ms Rau was listed as missing for 10 months after leaving the psychiatric unit at Sydney's Manly Hospital.

She was released from Baxter on Friday after being held there and at a Brisbane women's correctional centre since suffering a psychotic episode in Queensland in April.

She is being treated at Glenside Hospital, where her family says she remains "completely out of touch with reality" and is continuing to insist she is a German woman called Anna Schmidt.

Premier Mike Rann yesterday said Ms Rau deserved an apology, while refugee advocates demanded the resignation of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. In a written statement, Senator Vanstone said the inquiry would involve "all aspects of the case" Ms Rau's sister, Christine Rau, said her family was still concerned for her, despite her treatment at Glenside.

"She is completely out of touch with reality," she said.

"She is still insisting her name is Anna Schmidt and that her passport is in Baxter and that she wants to return to Germany.

"We are concerned about her. She is refusing to see us."

Dr Phillips said he wanted assurances that the situation would not be repeated.

"No matter where a person is, if they are a citizen or non-citizen, an assessment needs to be timely, thorough and carried out by a person with the necessary skills," he said.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said Ms Rau's situation illustrated that "once people are in Baxter, they stand outside all human rights, laws and protections".

The Advertiser understands there have been concerns about Ms Rau within the SA Health Department since early December. A Central Northern Adelaide Health Service spokesman last night confirmed that her case file would be reviewed today.

British resident Eric Upton, detained in Baxter after overstaying his visa, was in a cell next to Ms Rau for three weeks and said he was appalled at her treatment. Staff, he said, would "laugh at her".

"They thought it was quite funny," he said.

Link to the article in The Australian

Cornelia Rau case shows need for independent psychiatrists' Baxter access

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Monday February 7 2005 6:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"This week, the Minister responsible for asylum seekers and detainees as well as for Australian Indigenous people, should bow her head in shame if not in disgrace: it was exactly those two population groups she is supposed to serve on behalf of Australians, who brought Cornelia Rau's case out of the secrecy of the government-run dungeons into the public arena."

First, it was Aboriginal people in Queensland who could spot 'a mile away' that Cornelia had a mental condition, while detainees in the Baxter detention centre carried oversize t-shirts that covered up a Cornelia who took her clothes off when she was let out of her maximum isolation cell for a few hours each day".

"The statement issued this weekend by Senator Amanda Vanstone for the Immigration Department, declaring that Cornelia Rau underwent psychiatric assessment while held in the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre and was not suffering a mental illness is an indictment on the Minister: Cornelia was in the care of DIMIA while this assessment was conducted."

"It seems that Indigenous people as well as the long-term detainees, many of whom are on the verge of a mental breakdown themselves, have more sense of what constitutes a mental illness than Vanstone's so-called 'experts'."

"The events surrounding Cornelia Rau confirm that the repeated calls for independent medical access and psychiatric assessments by for example Dr Louise Newman, spokesperson for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, assessments made by professionals who are unencumbered by government interests or the agenda of covering up the shocking conditions in detention centres such as Baxter that lead to mental breakdowns in the first place, are sorely needed."

"This government stops the United Nations from having a look-in at its detention centres. It forbids Amnesty International from 'uncontrolled' visits. It forbids journalists, who serve "the public's right to know", from freely entering its hell-holes, unless it can 'sanitize' those visits. Now, the public had another opportunity of piecing a story together about what shonky affairs go on inside its detention centres".

"There have been nine deaths as a result of Australia's detention centre policies in the last couple of years. Dozens of detainees, many of them Iranians, hover on the verge of mental illness. In December, during the Iranians' hunger strikes, Dr Louise Newman called Baxter a de facto psychiatric hospital."

"Time has come for the Minister and the government to hand over the key of the hell holes to doctors and psychiatrists who are qualified, and to those who are not interested in cover-ups."

"We may then also find other people we don't know anything about, such as overseas and Asian students with limited English language skills, who innocently breached their visa conditions, and who have been thrown into these dungeons by the Minister, and we would like to know how many there are, and how long they are there, and in what conditions they are held."

Mentally ill Aussie in detention centre

The Australian
Andrew McGarry
February 05, 2005


A MENTALLY ill Australian woman spent 10 months in immigration detention, including extended periods in an isolation cell, after authorities failed to identify her as a missing person.

Cornelia Rau, a 39-year-old former Qantas flight attendant, was placed in detention last April after she was found by Queensland police in a psychotic state, apparently speaking German.

Ms Rau was released yesterday from Baxter detention centre, near Port Augusta in South Australia, and taken to Glenside psychiatric hospital in Adelaide after being identified by her family from photos of her in detention.

Refugee advocates claimed Ms Rau had been held in Baxter's Red One isolation compound, where her psychotic behaviour had distressed other detainees.

Her sister Chris said yesterday Cornelia had been a patient at the psychiatric unit at Manly Hospital in Sydney when she disappeared last March. "The thing she hated was being in hospital," Ms Rau said.

"I can only suppose she didn't identify herself because she didn't want to be put in a mental health facility, but she ended up being locked up in a far worse place."

Ms Rau, who came to Australia from Germany when she was 18 months old, was found by a group of Aborigines at Coen in north Queensland on March 31 last year.

They were concerned about her disturbed, psychotic state and took her to the police for her own safety.

She did not identify herself to police and spoke only in German. The police assumed she was an illegal immigrant and handed her over to immigration officials on April 5.

She was held at the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre for several months. She was transferred to Baxter four months ago.

The Immigration Department said it had gone to great lengths to establish the identity of Ms Rau.

"All the information provided by the woman led the department to believe she was an unlawful non-citizen," a departmental spokesman said. "At no time did she state she was a permanent (Australian) citizen."

The spokesman said the department contacted the police missing persons registry in Queensland, but not in NSW.

The governments of several countries where it was believed Ms Rau might have lived were also contacted, the spokesman said.

Her family declared her missing in August last year after she failed to make contact.

In November, NSW police appealed for help in locating Cornelia, saying she had been missing since March 17 last year.

About the same time, detainees in Baxter raised the alarm, sending messages to advocates that there was a woman in the centre who was very sick and needed help.

They believed she was being locked in for 18-20 hours a day and that she was constantly crying and calling to be let out.

One message from a fellow detainee posted on the refugee advocate website safecom.org [transferred from another page to this Blog post] on January 24, said Ms Rau appeared to be "very, very sick".

"She takes her clothes off and wanders around in this all-male compound," the account read. "She screams obscenities, throws food at other detainees and smashes things."

It took until Thursday night for her family to identify her.

Chris Rau said her family didn't want to seek scapegoats for what had happened to her sister -- they hoped only that people could learn from the story.

"The two groups who were kind to Cornelia in all this time were the two most downtrodden groups in society -- the Aboriginal people in Cairns and the refugees in Baxter," she said. "There's an irony in that".

The Immigration Department claimed yesterday Ms Rau had been under mental supervision at all times.

"A number of medical assessments were conducted by healthcare professionals, including doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists," the departmental spokesman said.

Labor immigration spokesman Laurie Ferguson said the matter was of great concern and called for an inquiry.

"It's pretty dangerous if you have Alzheimer's disease or you speak a second language right now," Mr Ferguson said, adding that Queensland Police and the federal Government had questions to answer.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr, who spoke to Ms Rau at Baxter last month, said authorities should have been alerted earlier.

"Her English was fine," Ms Curr said.

"She told me then she really wasn't in touch with reality, but there was a moment of clarity when she just wanted to get out of Baxter.

"I spoke to a detainee two days ago and he said her English was so good he thought she was an Aussie girl."

Link to the article in The Australian

This could happen to you: warning

The Age
By Andra Jackson
February 7, 2005


Permanent residents face the nightmare of detention if they have no proof of identity.

Cornelia Rau's nightmare entrapment in the immigration detention system could easily happen to someone else, refugee advocates have warned.

Pamela Curr, co-ordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, who tried to help Cornelia, said her fate could befall Australia residents who could not confirm their identity, whether ill or not.

It highlights that section 189 of the Immigration Act is open to abuse with its proviso that "an officer may require a person they reasonably suspect to be a non-citizen to prove who they are and their visa's status, and if they don't produce evidence of that, they can then be detained".

An immigration department spokesman confirmed that someone believed to be "an unlawful citizen" could be required to produce records of identity such as passports, birth or marriage certificates.

"If they are not co-operative, it is possible they may be detained," he said.

According to the 2003 census 950,000 permanent residents who have not taken out citizenship are potentially in this category.

What Ms Rau's case highlights is that measures meant to prevent someone simply "disappearing" without trace in Australia do not work.

A new national missing persons unit operating from Canberra did not have comprehensive records that included all reported missing cases with state police. There seemed to be no cross-referencing between state police.

Perhaps even worse, a story and photograph of the missing Ms Rau ran in an Adelaide newspaper in November but was not spotted by the Baxter and Immigration authorities. Lawyers and refugee groups are now asking whether anyone else is wrongfully "lost" in immigration detention.

The Kafkaesque aspect to the "Anna" case is that for 10 months alarm bells that were meant to bring about intervention against wrongful detention and treatment were rung. But those who should have been listening were not.

Ms Curr details calling the immigration department, Senator Vanstone's office, the federal Ombudsman office and writing to the Immigration Detention Advisory group in Canberra in December and January.

The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Surgeons, Helen Newman, the South Australia Health Authority, and QC Gordon Barrett from the Refugees Advisory Service in South Australia were all blocked by the department when they tried to get access to "Anna".

Under the Immigration Act, a detainee has to sign a written request authorising such interventions and, even with a psychiatrist's recommendation, the department has final say in whether a detainee receives hospital treatment.

David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said he had a number of detained clients with psychiatric problems who had been refused independent pro bono psychiatric assessment by a regime in which medication is administered by non-professionals.

He points out that under the Immigration Act "Anna" was liable for the cost of her treatment, which he estimates would run at $50,000 to $100,000.

The department has so far kept quiet on this aspect, perhaps mindful that Australian compensation cases for wrongful imprisonment have reached $75,000.

Ms Curr said the whole episode was "a bureaucratic nightmare" in which "police were very quick to jump to the conclusion that she is an asylum seeker, so let's lock her up" while all the immigration department had to do was to go to the missing person's folder.

Link to the article in The Age

Clues to woman's identity 'missed'

The Advertiser
06feb05


WHILE Cornelia Rau languished in the Baxter Detention Centre as a suspected illegal immigrant, bureaucrats only had to pick up their newspaper for a clue to her identity.

The Sunday Mail, Sydney's Daily Telegraph and Melbourne's The Age ran detailed descriptions of Ms Rau last November following a public plea by New South Wales police to help find her.

The description in the statewide edition of the Sunday Mail on November 21 Ms Rau's 39th birthday included her name, age, height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, and that she had a distinguishing brown mole on her left cheek.

Despite these clues, no one in authority thought to check if the mystery woman matching the description being held in detention was Ms Rau.

Instead, after already being held in detention for eight months first in prison in Queensland, then in Baxter Ms Rau was left in detention limbo for another two.

It was only when her sister in Sydney saw a newspaper report about a mystery woman at Baxter and asked police to have Baxter officials fax a photograph that the truth emerged.

Immigration officials had previously organised an international search to identify the mystery woman, with appeals in several European nations and publication of the story in German newspapers.

They also checked with Queensland police but not with police in NSW where Ms Rau was registered as a missing person.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone defended her department's handling of the case, including efforts to establish Ms Rau's identity.

"From the moment she came into immigration detention she was provided with medical care, including psychiatric care which ultimately led to her admission to a psychiatric facility in Brisbane for assessment," Senator Vanstone said.

"This found that, while having some behavioural problems, she did not meet the criteria for a mental illness." Senator Vanstone said officials had gone to great lengths to establish the woman's identity.

"The woman maintained in interviews with Immigration that she was a German citizen who was in Australia temporarily," Senator Vanstone said.

She has called for a full report on the case which she would consider before deciding whether to hold an inquiry.

SA Premier Mike Rann said an inquiry was needed to ensure it never happened again, while the Australian Democrats and Greens also called for an inquiry.

"This is an extraordinary human tragedy that you would think could not happen in 21st century Australia," Mr Rann said.

"To have an Australian citizen who has lived here virtually all her life arrested in one state, listed as a missing person in another and put in a Commonwealth detention centre in a third is incredible. There must be a full inquiry to ensure this tragedy never happens again.

"We also need better co-operation between state and federal authorities to identify missing persons."

Mr Rann said reports Ms Rau spoke perfect English in a broad Australian accent when she was not speaking German added to his concern.

"If those reports are true it is even more bizarre that she was kept locked up for 10 months as a suspected illegal immigrant," he said. "There are millions of Australians who have accents, but we don't ask them to carry their passports.

"We need an inquiry to look at all circumstances of this case and how the system works because clearly there are flaws."

Ms Rau is now being treated at Glenside Mental Health Service.

Royal Adelaide Hospital CEO Kaye Challinger, who oversees Glenside, said Ms Rau was likely to need treatment for some time.

Director of Mental Health in SA Jonathan Phillips said mental health services for immigration detainees were inadequate.

"The issue is ensuring medical services are equivalent across the state and that includes detention centres," Mr Phillips said.

"We're working with immigration officials to develop a pathway for assessment of people in detention, to make sure people are assessed in a timely manner. It is in the final stages and we're waiting for Commonwealth and state officials to sign it off."

Mr Phillips said there were more people in Baxter who would require help for mental illness.

"Obviously in a group of 200 or so there will be people who will need assistance," he said.

"In the conditions of Baxter that number may be even higher."

Link to the article in The Advertiser
Read more ...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Ardeshir Gholipour: how we torture a distinguished Iranian

Ardeshir Gholipour's painting Peace, created in the Port Hedland detention centreNarrogin WA, 21 January 2005 - It really is astounding that Ardeshir Gholipour has spent the last five years in an Australian detention centre. He's been left to dry in Australian detention centres since 1999; he's been in the Port Hedland detention centre and now he's in Baxter. Astounding, because he also spent two years in Evin Prison (read also this), "the world's largest prison for journalists".

If anything is evidence that Australia's asylum assessment is a joke, stacked against those who have the temerity to seek asylum without being invited, arriving in boats and thereby "breaching Australia's asylum borders" as if that is an illegal activity, then it is Ardeshir's case. The Refugee Review Tribunal, the Howard government's one-man show (just one person constitutes such a Tribunal!) simply concluded they did not believe his story.

But - help is on the way. PEN International, the organisation publishing the cases of "writers in prison" has him on the list. And, who knows, we may even hear from some writers with worldwide acclaim. We may hear from some Nobel Prize winners. We may even have writers on the case who are known around the world, because they were also working for openness, democracy in the context of oppressive regimes in the same way as Ardeshir worked. One of the letters sent to the Minister for Immigration is printed below.

Personally, I will not take "no" for an answer in the case of Ardeshir, and I have told him so. So has Arnold Zable of PEN Melbourne. So has Justine, who's with us at Project SafeCom, and who has five paintings by Ardeshir in her house, also the one in the picture, "Freedom Song". Sing, Ardeshir, because we're all waiting for the day you get out. We will not allow the disgrace of the Howard government's asylum policies to live forever. And - you have our commitment for a grandiose party in celebration of you.

Jack

Working for the samizdat newspaper Khaber Nemeh

Faraj Sarkoohi
Eysseneckstr. 52
D-60322 Frankfurt am Main
Germany

To:
Senator Amanda Vanstone
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia


January 18th, 2005

Re: Asylum for Ardeshir Gholipour

Dear Senator Vanstone,

Allow me to first introduce myself. I am an Iranian writer and former editor of the literary journal Adineh. For many years in prison under the Shah, I was again imprisoned in 1996 and sentenced to death in 1997 in a secret trial, the sentence was later reduced to one year.

I was tortured and forced to make false public statements before television cameras at Tehran airport, while in fact I was still in detention. Due to worldwide pressure, including from governments and the European Union, I was finally released and allowed to travel to Germany, where I have been living in exile since May 1998. I was immediately accepted into the City of Refuge Program of the International Parliament of Writers, and since 2000 am a participant of German PEN's Writers Exile Program which is funded by the German government.

While I was in jail, letters of mine were smuggled out of prison, published by the samizdat newspaper Khaber Nemeh and circulated in over 10.000 copies throughout the country thanks to the initiative of Pirooz Davani and his colleagues at Khaber Nemeh, one of whom was Ardeshir Gholipour. While I knew Pirooz Davani personally through his association with Adineh and while, to my knowledge, I have never met Ardeshir Gholipour in person, I can confirm that he was an active and well-respected member of the Khaber Nemeh team. The publication of my letters in Khaber Nemeh was the direct cause for the abduction and murder of my friend Pirooz Davani in 1998 as well as for the hunt for his associates and retributions to many of them. Anyone connected with Khaber Nemeh is still in great danger in Iran, even now, as the Islamic authorities never forget.

Like every Iranian intellectual in exile, I would love to be able to return to my country, my friends, my culture, my language. But the situation in Iran is becoming ever more precarious. The regime is fully in the hands of the clerics; the reformers, including President Khatami, are powerless and even losing what little influence they had via clan and family ties.

Over 200 papers and journals have been closed, numerous writers and activists are held as political prisoners, including the eminent lawyer and writer Dr. Naser Zarafshan who defended the families of some of those who fell victim to the so-called serial murders of 1998 having demanded full investigation into the murders. Daily, news reaches me of further detentions, assaults and repressions in Iran. Dissident writers and intellectuals known for their democratic leanings are particularly targeted. Those who at any one time courageously defended the right to publish their views, and that includes Mr. Ardeshir Gholipour,
will have to fear the wrath of the mullahs as long as these remain in power.

Please grant Ardeshir Gholipour a safe refuge in Australia. If he were returned to Iran, his life would be at risk. Please spare him experiences like mine or, worse still, Pirooz Davani's fate.

Signed: (Faraj Sarkoohi)

Immigration Department plans sending UN refugee to his death

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Wednesday January 19 2005 8:45am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"Iranian writer Ardeshir Gholipour, recognised by PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, not only as a writer in prison, but as someone who needs Australia's protection from persecution, is scheduled to be deported by the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.

"Not only PEN International is convinced of Mr Gholipour's need to be protected, but he is also recognised by the United Nations as having been imprisoned in Iran's notorious "world's largest prison for journalists" - Evin Prison - as a prisoner 'for Convention reasons'.

"The highly acclaimed artist Ardeshir Gholipour should have been immediately gained asylum and protection when he arrived in Australia five years ago", Project SafeCom's spokesman Jack Smit argued today.

"Instead, and solely because he had "the audacity" to arrive on Australian shores, unannounced and uninvited, Australia detained him in the just as notorious Curtin detention centre."

"Now, through Departmental blindness and stupidity, the Minister for Immigration Amanda Vanstone has announced and informed him that he is to start packing his bags because she intends to deport him, either willingly or forcibly."

"In the planned deportation of Mr Gholipour, Australia's treatment of unannounced asylum claimants finds its culmination of ridiculousness and blind arrogance, where DIMIA seeks to make a point of sending people to their certain deaths while attempting to claim it is protecting its borders."

"Mr Gholipour, if deported, certainly awaits reprisals, if not immediate killing by the Mullahs for his eloquent work as a writer for the democracy movement in Iran, but this consideration has been "bureaucratically eliminated" in his assessment. Project SafeCom as well as hundreds of his friends and supporters fail to grasp the logic and reasoning for this astounding decision by the Immigration Minister."

"Mr Gholipour has established himself a highly respected status in Australia as an Award-winning visual artist, even while he was in detention centres, and he has been a guiding light for countless children in detention."

"In the Port Hedland detention centre, he was the driving force behind the painting of murals around the outside walls of the compounds, and he inspired and taught many children who he guided to take up painting and to start expressing himself."

"Australia's asylum policies are bankrupt and they have so far cost nine lives as a result of detention since Tampa. As the Edmund Rice Centre has reported, we have deported many people into danger zones and others have disappeared, but the case of Mr Gholipour certainly must be the most blatant example of how we trample on the UN Refugee Convention."

Iranian asylum seeker faces deportation

ABC South Australia
Wednesday, 19 January 2005


The Federal Government is being called on to intervene in the case of an Iranian journalist who has been trying to gain asylum in Australia for five years.

Refugee advocates say the man could die if he is sent back to Iran.

Iranian pro-democracy campaigner and writer Ardeshir Gholipour has spent the past five years in immigration detention in Australia.

Refugee advocate Jack Smit says the asylum seeker has previously been jailed for his activities in Iran and the consequences of deportation could be fatal.

"This man is being sent to his death, I have no doubt about it," Mr Smit said.

Human rights lawyer Natalie Bugalski says Mr Gholipour was hospitalised after trying to take his life on Friday when his requests for a humanitarian visa were rejected by the Government.

"He's scared that his life will be in danger or he'll be tortured and he can't bear the thought of going through any of that again and would rather take his own life rather than go through that," she said.

Ms Bugalski says Mr Gholipour's supporters are determined to keep up pressure on the Federal Government to grant him a protection visa.

"All we can do is keep submitting these letters and this evidence and these applications and hope that someone there will make the right decision," Ms Bugalski said.

The Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, last week refused to intervene in the case.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department confirms that deportation is an option.

http://abc.net.au/sa/news/200501/s1285072.htm

Links to other internet sites

Asylum seeker in imminent danger

PRESS RELEASE
Australian Centres of International PEN
Arnold Zable, Melbourne
[phone no inserted]


Ardeshir Gholipour is an Iranian asylum seeker who has been in Australian immigration detention since March, 2000, having fled Iran earlier that year.

Between 1985 and 2000, Ardeshir exhibited great courage as an outspoken supporter of democratic reform in Iran. International PEN, an organization representing writers in 99 countries, has confirmed that Ardeshir was indeed an active member of the Iran freedom movement, and that "he has a real reason to fear persecution for his legitimate and peaceful activism should he be returned to Iran."

On Friday, January 14, 2005, Ardeshir Gholipour learnt that the Minister of Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, had refused his request for a 417 humanitarian visa. In effect, this means that Gholipour is in danger of imminent deportation to Iran.

Gholipour's case is significant for a number of reasons. First, for his great courage in campaigning for democracy in Iran. In 1987 Gholipour was arrested and spent over 21 months in Iran's notorious Evin prison for distributing pamphlets on behalf of the Iran Freedom Movement. As a writer and designer for a number of provincial papers he produced articles on social reform matters.

Gholipour also wrote articles on behalf of the Left Union for Democracy in Iran, and participated in the student demonstrations of July 1999. He fled Iran in fear of his life.

Gholipour's case is also significant for the humanity and generosity of spirit he has displayed whilst in Australian immigration detention. He has gained many supporters in Australia because of his tireless work on behalf of other detainees, and also because as an artist, he painted numerous murals in the Port Hedland detention centre. These included uplifting scenes for children then held in detention. He was dubbed "The Michelangelo of Port Hedland."

He has since been shifted from Port Hedland to the maximum security Baxter detention centre and has continued to paint, and to donate his works for fund raising appeals, and to his friends and supporters. Ardeshir is an extraordinary person, a Sufi by religion, a universalist in spirit, a democrat by example, and a man of peace who has won many admirers and touched many people's lives.

International PEN and Australian PEN centres are extremely concerned about Gholipour's predicament. We fear for his safety, and for his fragile state of mind. After 5 years in detention, a resilient and courageous man has been finally driven to despair. On January 14, Ardeshir took an overdose of sleeping tablets. He was admitted to Port Augusta hospital and is now back in Baxter, but remains fearful and vulnerable. A man who has selflessly supported so many others, now deserves our support.

Further information:

Arnold Zable [phone no inserted]
Natalie Bugalski [phone no inserted]
Melissa Miller [phone no inserted]
Rosie Scott [phone no inserted]

Writer may face forced deportation to Iran

DEMOCRATS MEDIA
19 January 2005


The Australian Democrats have supported the concerns of the Writers in Prison Committee of International (PEN), about the possible deportation from Australia of an Iranian writer, given the appalling lack of freedom of expression in Iran.

Democrat spokesperson for Immigration Senator Andrew Bartlett said, "There are grave concerns that Iranian writer Ardeshir Gholipour, who is detained at Baxter Detention Centre, could be forcibly deported.

"According to PEN's records, there are at least 13 writers currently detained in Iran, serving lengthy sentences for reasons which have been condemned internationally as clear breaches of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

"Mr Gholipour's case has been thoroughly investigated by PEN who believe that he has real reason to fear persecution should he be returned to Iran.

"It would be negligence on Australia's part to forcible repatriate Mr Gholipour.

"In Australia we value freedom of speech and if an Australian writer was jailed for their ideas we would be marching in the streets.

"I am alarmed by the prospect of Mr Gholipour's forced return and call on the Immigration Minister Senator Vanstone to exercise her discretion by not ordering his repatriation.

Vanstone negligent over farcical and dangerous deportations

The Greens - Kerry Nettle
Media Release
19.01.05


Senator Kerry Nettle today accused Minister Vanstone of dangerous incompetence over the handling of section 417 ministerial intervention process and recent deportations.

"The Greens are deeply concerned that the Minster has bungled the section 417 humanitarian application of an Iranian journalist and writer, Ardeshir Gholipour, who now faces deportation," said Senator Nettle.

"The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International has written a very strong letter expressing its concern for Mr Gholipour should he be deported to Iran. It seems the Minister has failed to take into account the PEN letter when making this decision.

Mr Gholipour spent 21 months in Iran's notorious Evin Political Prison for distributing pamphlets for the Iran Freedom Movement. His work as a dissident journalist and writer forced him to flee Iran for fear of his life.

"I understand that when Mr Gholipour heard about the rejection he took an overdose and was taken to hospital. Does the Minister really think this is how Australia should be treating the brave people who fight for democracy in Iran and seek our protection?

This latest failure to manage the humanitarian visa application process fairly comes hard on the heels of the Bakhtiari deportation fiasco.

"The Bakhtiari family which the Minister deported to Pakistan have now gone back to Afghanistan were they always claimed to be from.

"The government has effectively sent a family, including small children, back to a place where they face persecution," said Senator Nettle.

"The Minister should be held responsible for their safety and an inquiry should be held into why she has made such a grave error, particularly when there was so much evidence, and she was warned by so many Australians that the Bakhtiaris were indeed Afghani and in need of protection.

"I am also very concerned by reports that the Minister has handed the decision making process over section 417 applications to her junior Minister, who is apparently rejecting them at a rapid rate.

"People's lives hang in the balance with section 417 applications and the Minister should treat them with appropriate respect or she is not fit for the job. Whether she is making the decisions or not, she is ultimately responsible for the results."

Iranian author faces death when deported from Australia: advocate

Channel News Asia
Singapore
Posted: 19 January 2005 1635 hrs


SYDNEY: An Iranian artist and democracy campaigner facing deportation from Australia as an illegal immigrant is likely to be killed if he is returned to his native country, a refugee advocacy group said.

The group, Project SafeCom, said Ardeshir Gholipour, who has been in Australian detention centres for almost five years, attempted suicide after learning his bid for a humanitarian visa had been refused by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.

SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said Gholipour was taken to hospital last Friday after overdosing on sleeping tablets at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia, but had since been returned to Baxter.

Gholipour, an author for democracy movements in Iran, arrived in Australia in March 2000 and was initially held at the Port Hedland detention centre in Western Australia.

Smit said Gholipour had been imprisoned for 21 months from 1987 at the notorious Evin Prison in northern Tehran for distributing pamphlets on behalf of the Iran Freedom Movement, and also wrote articles for the Left Union for Democracy in Iran.

He had participated in student demonstrations in Iran in July 1999 and subsequently fled the country in fear of his life.

"Mr Gholipour should have immediately gained asylum and protection when he arrived in Australia five years ago," Smit said.

"Instead, and solely because he had the audacity to arrive on Australian shores unannounced and uninvited, Australia detained him.

"Now, through departmental blindness and stupidity, Amanda Vanstone has announced and informed him that he is to start packing his bags because she intends to deport him -- either willingly or forcibly.

"Mr Gholipour, if deported, certainly awaits reprisals, if not immediate killing, by the Mullahs for his eloquent work as a writer for the democracy movement in Iran."

The minor Australian Democrats party also appealed to Vanstone to exercise her discretion by not ordering the deportation of Gholipour who, it said, was recognised by the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee as being at risk if deported to Iran.

Democrats immigration spokesman Senator Andrew Bartlett said Gholipour's case has been investigated by PEN, which believed he had a real reason to fear persecution should he be repatriated.

"It would be negligence on Australia's part to forcibly repatriate Mr Gholipour," Bartlett said.

A spokesman for Vanstone refused to discuss the Gholipour case, saying: "We don't comment on individual cases."

- AFP

Link to Channel News Asia

Iranian asylum seeker faces deportation

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Wednesday, January 19, 2005. 7:00pm (AEDT)


Refugee advocates say the Federal Government will put an Iranian man's life in danger if it follows through with plans to deport him.

The man has been in detention in Australia since March 2000.

Human rights lawyer Natalie Bugalski says democracy campaigner Ardeshir Gholipour fled Iran for Australia five years ago, after being jailed for pro-democracy activities.

Ms Bugalski says Mr Gholipour was hospitalised after trying to take his life on Friday when his requests for a humanitarian visa were rejected by the Government.

"He's scared that his life will be in danger or he'll be tortured and he can't bear the thought of going through any of that again and would rather take his own life rather than go through that," she said.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department has confirmed Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone will not intervene in the case and deportation is an option.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200501/s1285072.htm

Rebel writer faces extradition to Iran

The Age
By Meaghan Shaw
Canberra
January 21, 2005


An Iranian writer, once detained in his home country for distributing pamphlets on behalf of the Iran Freedom Movement, faces deportation from South Australia's Baxter immigration detention centre.

The imminent return of Ardeshir Gholipour has alarmed an international writers group that campaigns for writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views.

The group, International PEN, believes he has a real fear of persecution for his political activism if he is sent back to Iran.

"His involvement in the Iran Freedom Movement and the Left Union for Democracy in Iran makes him particularly vulnerable to repression," the chairwoman of PEN's writers in prison committee, Karin Clark, said in a letter to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.

"PEN has on its records at least 13 writers currently detained in Iran, serving lengthy sentences for reasons which have been condemned internationally as clear breaches of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights."

Gholipour was an outspoken supporter of democratic reform in Iran between 1985 and 2000.

In 1987 he was arrested and spent more than 21 months in Iran's notorious Evin prison for distributing freedom pamphlets.

He also wrote articles for a newspaper that criticised the Iranian Government and called for constitutional change. A colleague at the paper was murdered in 1998.

Gholipour fled Iran in 1999 after taking part in student demonstrations and has been detained in Australia since 2000.

He gained many supporters in Australia because of his work on behalf of other detainees and after he painted murals at the Port Hedland detention centre to raise the spirits of child detainees.

Melbourne writer Arnold Zable said Gholipour tried to commit suicide last Friday when the detainee learned that Senator Vanstone had decided not to intervene to grant him a visa.

Australian Democrats deputy leader Andrew Bartlett said it would be "negligence" on Australia's part to forcibly return Gholipour.

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone said if Gholipour's supporters had any new information on his case, it would be considered by the Immigration Department.

Link to the article in The Age

Artist in the frame for visa

The Sunday Times
23 January 2005
By Paul Lampathakis
page 30 (not online)


Ardeshir Gholipour in front of some of his Award-winning paintings while in the Port Hedland detention centreA man dubbed the Michelangelo of Port Hedland Detention Centre has been given a second chance to stay in Australia.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone is reconsidering whether the Iranian asylum seeker, who spent about two years at the centre, should be deported.

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone told The Sunday Times yesterday that the Department of Immigration had received new information about pro-democracy activist Ardeshir Gholipour. A journalist, Gholipour was due to be sent back to Iran after the department refused his application for a visa on humanitarian grounds.

He attempted suicide last week when he received the news. But the spokesman said the department would consider the new information and make a recommendation to Senator Vanstone, probably next week.

Gholipour, 37, painted many murals at the centre, including Disney characters designed to cheer up child detainees. When the Port Hedland centre closed last year, he was sent to South Australia's Baxter detention centre.

Human rights lawyer Natalie Bugalski said that Gholipour, who came to Australia in 2000, faced death or torture if he returned to Iran. She said his case for asylum was one of the strongest she had come across. When he was 19, Gholipour was imprisoned and tortured for more than a year for pro-democracy activities such as writing and distributing pamphlets, she said.

He has left Iran secretly in March 2000 after being targeted by the government for writing pro-democracy articles and for being a member of pro-freedom groups.

New information about the case came in a letter from the London-based International PEN organisation. Headed by controversial author Salmon Rushdie, it investigates and defends jailed writers worldwide.

"He has real reason to fear persecution for his legitimate and peaceful activism should he be returned to Iran," the letter said.
Read more ...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The man with the gag: witnessing a forced deportation

Are you flying deportation class?Narrogin WA, 12 Jan 2005, 9:25pm - It had to happen sooner or later: someone on a flight, bound, gagged and muffled, moved under the highest secrecy, deported by force, not only with duct tape over his mouth, but the entire story covered up. Using the Christmas holidays, the absence of the lawyers, the expected silence of those advocates that can block their work - and, as we saw this week, using the cover of the tsunami, that not only flooded the coastline of ten countries, but that also seems to flood the media channels. First the Bakhtiaris, then Iranians, today a Sudanese man. Sonia Chirgwin was there, becoming the "accidental reporter". Thank you, Sonia. We owe you a debt. And note, that while there are AAP reports, they are online-only or wire-only reports. In the "official print versions" we're unlikely to find the story of the Iranian man we deported yesterday - I had to find it at the Jerusalem Post tonight.

Jack
Sonia Chirgwin, an environmental consultant working in Tonga and Laos, told the story below to me. It occurred when she was flying home to Mount Gambier to spend Christmas with her family.

I believe it is an important glimpse into the reality of deportation and I would like to distribute it as widely as possible - to the media, to refugee advocacy groups and indeed to anyone prepared to read it. Sonia has agreed to this as she feels strongly her responsibility to this voiceless nameless man she met so briefly.

Pam O'Connor
Coordinator
Rural Australians for Refugees
Mount Gambier
On the 13th of December, I flew from Bangkok to Australia on Thai Airways. After a long flight there was a stopover in Sydney for one hour prior to completing the flight in Melbourne - arriving at approximately midnight. The plane was then returning to Bangkok. I was seated at the very back of the plane. On re-boarding the plane in Sydney, a very officious looking man bustled in and cleared some space in the overhead luggage compartments, reassuring passengers that disturbance would be minimal.

Not understanding what was happening I speculated to my neighbouring passenger that maybe they were bringing on someone in a wheelchair. But then there was an alarming sound - metal scraping on metal, banging and clattering. We exchanged a nervous glance, and then our fellow passenger was on the plane.

Squeezed between two security officers I can only define as goons, the man was handcuffed, with a chain leading to a restraint at his waist, and to cuffs at his ankles. But perhaps the most shocking was the gag. The man had layers of black gaffer tape around his mouth, bound so tightly that it was cutting into his face. Above the tape, his eyes were wildly panicked. They locked on to mine briefly before he was manhandled into the seat, and a blindfold placed over his eyes.

It's funny the things that come out of your mouth when you are wildly searching for a way to understand what is happening. "Is this man alright?" I asked the guard closest to me, even though it was quite clear that he was not all right. The guard was sweating, short of breath, and somewhat adrenalin filled after physically dragging the man onto the plane. "Look I can't tell you anything OK," he answered with a barely repressed anger. I asked what the man had done to be treated in this way. He again snapped at me that he was unable to tell me a thing. "Welcome back to Australia" I said, shocked at this being my first experience after being away for a year. Then a third official entered the plane, a smaller man, who unlike the other two didn't look like he belonged at the door of a bad-ass nightclub to keep the clientele in order. I recommenced my line of questioning with him.

Seeing my obvious agitation, his voice was deliberately calm, seeking to avoid any sort of fuss. He was telling me they had no choice that some people are "bad" and simply will not co-operate. I asked why he was being treated in this manner on a public flight, and he said that the choice is either this or to charter a plane for a quarter or a half a million dollars of taxpayers money. He felt that as they had a responsibility to the taxpayer, the choices were limited.

Sitting in the silence my discomfort grew. The fact that I was seeing this wasn't the problem. Maybe all Australians should be exposed to the hard reality of what refugee deportation can look like. The public flight was not something I should have complained about. My distress was stemming from the man's treatment, and from his obvious fear and distress and my helplessness. Nothing I could say or do would get the flight stopped, get the tape removed from the man's mouth, get his bonds released or have his voice heard.

So I recommenced my dialogue with the more reasonable of the man's guards. I asked whether what I was witnessing was the inevitable outcome of Howard's refugee policy. The man spent a lot of time, again in this carefully composed and reasonable voice, assuring me that although he could not tell me any details of this particular case there were simply no options. I wondered whether his crimes were speaking out against his government, or if his crimes were real but the level of punishment unjust. Of course I do not have any answers, as the official was careful to reveal nothing..

Changing tack I asked about the guards' work, acknowledging that it looked really difficult, and asking where the three officials went from here. He told me they were flying to Bangkok, then accompanying the asylum seeker back to his country of origin, before having a stopover in Bangkok and returning to Australia. He would not tell me what the country of origin was.

In asking about the deportee's treatment, and voicing my concern about the lack of dignity leaving in this manner, the official, again in reassuring tones, told me the difficulties they faced. They had been negotiating with the man for 8 hours and he would not stop screaming. He had the choice to be taken on the plane reasonably, but he would not comply. He stressed it was one of the worse cases he had faced as a negotiator, although they had tried everything to make him cooperate. He also told me they were not allowed to use chemical restraint but only physical means to force him to comply.

He also could not help but give me a spiel on Australia's rights to protect its borders, our rights to determine who comes into our country. I did not engage in this debate, seeing that it was obvious that we came from very different perspectives, and the 'we' that he was talking about somehow did not include Australians that thought or felt as I do. He seemed uncomfortable at my use of the term human rights, his voice taking on an even more calming and rational tone.

He asked me about my life, my work, and we conversed fairly pleasantly about what I did and where I lived. All the time my mind was racing for ways to find out more, the image of the deported man's panicked eyes burnt into my mind.

However I was not able to assist him in any way. I left the plane in Melbourne wondering if they would remove the deportee's gag to allow him to eat or drink any time over the 12-hour flight back to Bangkok. I could not see how it would be possible, as they would not want him to scream again. Through the tape he could not utter a single sound, an image that so sums up the voiceless state of the people that 'we' determine to be unfit for our country. All I can do is tell his story. But it is with sadness, as I do not know his name, or where he is from although I can say he is of Middle Eastern origin. All I can do for him is give a glimpse of his story, as I have no idea of what other horrors he has endured. I need to tell this brief chapter of his story as it is also our story. It is a story of what our nation sees as a reasonable measure to protect our borders.

28 December 2004
Sonia Chirgwin
Mount Gambier SA

Refugee groups condemn sedation of deported asylum seekers

REFUGEE ACTION COALITION
PRESS RELEASE
January 12, 2005, 3:00pm EST


Refugee advocates have reacted strongly to the news that two asylum seekers deported from Villawood detention centre on Tuesday night were injected with sedatives before being deported.

The news comes after shocking eye-witness revelations of the forced deportation from Sydney by Thai airlines last December.

The two asylum seekers accompanied by 8 guards were both on the Emirates flight that left Sydney on Tuesday night.

Australia's longest-help asylum seeker, Abdul Khogali, was also given a further injection at Dubai.

"It is typical of the inhuman activity of the government that Mr Khogali's family were not told of his whereabouts until Thursday. The family has been through hell," said Ian Rintoul spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. "We only have the immigration department's word. There is no confirmation that Mr Khogali is in Khartoum and we are still not sure that Mr Khogali has not been detained in Sudan."

The minister cannot hide behind the department. The deported men were shown letters signed by the Minister for Immigration before they were deported.

"Emirates have made themselves complicit in the brutal policies of the federal government. The refugee movement will be calling for a boycott of Emirates. At a time when there have been widespread calls for corporate responsibility over asbestos and the tsunami, Emirates actions will be widely condemned," said Ian Rintoul.

"The use of injections to sedate deportees confirms that the government has no concern for human rights or the safety or asylum seekers. There have been a number of deaths in Europe as a result of forced deportation procedures themselves," he said.

"The use of medical procedures has been condemned by the medical profession as well as international human rights bodies.

"We will be approaching airline unions to inform them of what has taken place and requesting union support for action against forced deportations," said Ian Rintoul.

Sharan Burrow, president of the ACTU has already requested that union members not cooperate with forced deportations. There will be a protest in Melbourne, Friday, against the government policies of deportation. The rally will march to Emirate offices.

For more information, contact Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul [phone inserted].

A transcript of Mr Khogali's description of his attempted deportation in 1999 reveals the shocking details of this brutal procedure - available on request.

Refugee groups campaign against Emirates

Sydney Morning Herald
January 13, 2005 - 12:39PM


International flights from Australia could be disrupted by refugee activists protesting the forced deportation of failed asylum seekers.

The Refugee Action Collective said it was urging passengers to boycott Dubai-based Emirates Airline and would hold demonstrations highlighting its involvement in removing unsuccessful asylum seekers from Australia.

Activists were considering buying tickets on Emirates flights so that they could stage on-board protests, group spokesman Ian Rintoul said.

Mr Rintoul said Emirates was the main airline involved in deporting people from Australia, although others had also been involved.

The Immigration Department uses several airlines to return asylum seekers who have failed in their applications for refugee status.

Mr Rintoul pledged to continue the campaign, which will include handing out leaflets to passengers, until Emirates announces it will stop taking deportees on its flights.

Protesters would not try to stop passengers from boarding flights but they wanted to raise awareness about the issue, he said.

"If passengers put up sufficient concern the captain or the company will actually remove the refugee from the flight," he said.

"We're considering actions of actually purchasing tickets on Emirates flights in order to stage protests.

"It then becomes a very simple measure for the airline - it's a matter of removing someone who poses a security risk."

Mr Rintoul said four passengers boarding an Emirates flight this week remonstrated with airline staff after protesters told them a man was being deported to Iran on that flight.

Passengers might refuse to take their seats upon boarding, or could chant slogans, causing costly disruptions and delays to the airline, he said.

Activists will protest outside Emirates offices in Melbourne on Friday and are planning further demonstrations in other cities.

Emirates was vulnerable to a campaign because it had gone to great lengths to convey a clean corporate image by sponsoring Australian sporting events and promoting itself as tourist-friendly, Mr Rintoul said.

The refugee movement was seeking support from unions in campaigning against airlines that deported failed asylum seekers from Australia.

Comment has been sought from Emirates.

© 2005 AAP

Link to The Sydney Morning Herald

Deportation jet's space wasted

Courier-Mail
By Tuck Thompson
13jan05


THE Federal Government missed an opportunity to deliver relief aid to tsunami victims and bring Australians home last month when it flew a chartered jet to Bangkok to deport the Bakhtiyari family.

A four-engine RJ-70 jet, large enough to carry 70-80 passengers and cargo, was practically empty, but cost the Government an estimated $150,000.

"I'm not going into details about that," a spokesman for the Immigration Department said, when asked if the agency had notified other agencies that the jet was heading to South-East Asia.

In a media release, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the eight-member Bakhtiyari family flew to Bangkok from Port Augusta on December 31 and transferred to commercial flights to Pakistan.

The Courier-Mail has learned the plane flew over tsunami-devastated areas and stopped in Indonesia on its journey, but the department declined to confirm the information.

"It's our general policy with removal operations not to discuss details of operational matters," the Immigration spokesman said.

Asked if the minister had violated that policy through her media statement, he said he didn't want to discuss what constituted details.

The flight - five days after the tsunami struck - occurred during a period when the Howard Government was being criticised for not doing enough to get Australians out of affected countries.

With dozens of empty seats, a near-empty hold and overhead storage, the jet could have delivered two to four tonnes of life-saving supplies. The RJ-70 could have operated on shorter runways closer to devastated towns and villages.

After the delivery, the crew could have rested while the plane was made available to Australians needing a free ride home.

Shadow Immigration Minister Laurie Ferguson was checking with sources yesterday to find out why the plane did not support tsunami efforts.

"If it was feasible, it should have been done," he said. "I've been advised that approaches were made to the Defence Department and, on both occasions, it was knocked back, which is disturbing."

A Defence Department spokeswoman said C-130 transport planes were operating during the period but she didn't know anything about the Immigration-chartered plane.

A government official said the Bakhtiyari family were deported on the flight not because they were considered dangerous but because of concern they would create a scene on an Australian commercial flight.

They lost a five-year battle to stay in Australia following an investigation that indicated family members were not Afghani refugees, but Pakistani nationals.

In her media release, Senator Vanstone said the Government expected to spend more than $3 million to deport the family, including $600,000 in legal costs and more than $1 million in detention centre costs.

The Immigration Department would not disclose how much of the $1.4 million in removal expenses went towards the Bangkok flight, but an aviation source indicated the plane leased at about $8500 an hour.

The charter company, National Jet Systems based in Perth, did not return repeated calls for comment.

A week ago, the Bakhtiyari family were reportedly heading for Quetta on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border after avoiding questioning by Pakistani authorities.

Link to the Courier Mail

Australia deports Iranian man to Tehran

The Jerusalem Post
Jan. 12, 2005 9:46

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
SYDNEY, Australia


An Iranian man who sought asylum in Australia after converting from Islam to Christianity has been deported to Tehran, where rights activists say his change of religion could endanger his life, a refugee advocacy group said Wednesday.

The man, in his 30s, was placed on a flight late Tuesday from Sydney to Dubai, from where he would be transported to Iran, said Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Rintoul said the man, whose identity was not released due to fears for his safety, had a "high likelihood" of being killed in Iran, where activists say Christian converts are routinely persecuted and often put to death.

"There are documented cases of people not getting out of Tehran airport after they've landed," Rintoul said. "So we have very serious concerns about this guy."

London-based Amnesty International said persecution of Christian converts was common in Iran, and that many Western countries consider this when assessing asylum requests.

"It's pretty much universally accepted in most countries that converts will face persecution if their conversion is discovered when they return to Iran," said Amnesty's refugee coordinator in Australia, Graham Thom.

The man arrived in Australia by boat four years ago, and was held at detention centers.

The Department of Immigration declined to confirm if he had been removed from Australia.

A department spokesman said on condition of anonymity the claims all asylum seekers' claims were carefully assessed on their merits, and that no asylum seekers would be deported unless the government was satisfied they would not face persecution.

Such decisions "do not rely on sweeping and superficial generalizations that particular countries are either safe or unsafe for own nationals," the spokesman said.

Link to the Jerusalem Post

"Glossy promotions lady" Minister Vanstone belies hideousness of new Deportation

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Wednesday January 12 2005 12:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"WA Refugee group Project SafeCom expresses its deep dismay with what is likely to become "today's deportation" of Sudanese man Abdul Khogali."

"While Australia's longest serving "no rights at all" prisoner was snatched from the Villawood detention centre yesterday, the Immigration Minister, who does not get told about the dirty work of her own department, gets the job of telling DIMIA's glossy story - how great Australia's refugee and immigrant intake is. Her words still ring in Australians' ears, telling them last year what good citizens we are with our tremendous numbers of refugee intakes from Sudan."

"Meanshile the Department of Immigration seems to work overtime while every lawyer is still on their Christmas holiday, as now may well become clear: first it was the Bakhtiari family, then it was for the Iranians terrified of returning to torture, once, twice, three times, and then by force, and as we are convinced, with drugging - thereby compromising the ethics of the Nursing profession - and now it's Mr Khogali's turn."

"Once again, Australia deports an asylum seeker who has half of his family living as residents in our country, and who in addition fears repercussions if he returns to his country, because he fled when he refused to obey Sharia Law by complying with a demand to kill someone in Sudan."

"The ethics of Australian asylum applications may now also become clear again: if you're too innocent during your very first application interview with a single DIMIA officer, you seal your fate as an asylum seeker. Additions to the original line-up of persecution facts are, under Australia's approval system, highly unlikely to succeed. This deportation case is another one in a long line-up of cases of which the government says that they have failed because the person is not a refugee, while lawyers and migration agents, as well as thousands of Australians who know the person through their contact and friendships, know what the truth is. Today we have again been guilty of refouling an asylum seeker, perhaps even to his death."

Australia's longest detained asylum seeker faces deportation

Refugee Action Coalition of NSW
MEDIA RELEASE
January 12, 2005


A Sudanese asylum seeker, Abdul Khogali, who has been in detention for seven years was forcibly removed from Sydney's Villawood detention centre last night (Tuesday night).

The man is Australia's longest detained asylum seeker.

He was placed on a charter flight from Sydney to Perth from where it is expected the government will attempt to deport him to Sudan.

The man had been a police officer in Sudan and fled after he refused to enforce Islamic sharia law which includes the amputation of limbs and public execution.

Detainees at Villawood report that the man was beaten when officers unexpectedly came to remove him from his cell in Villawood last night.

The man's uncle and the uncle's extended family have been accepted as refugees in Australia.

"We are extremely concerned," his uncle, Mr Elmalki, said speaking from his home in Perth. "It is too dangerous for him to be returned to Sudan. It is unthinkable."

"We are very worried about his welfare here and for him in Sudan," he said.

Three years ago, an attempt to deport the man failed when he resisted being sedated prior to deportation.

The Sudanese man was the second asylum seeker to be taken from Villawood last night. An Iranian man was put on an Emirates flight after three previous attempts to deport him through Melbourne failed after the Iranian asylum seeker resisted. There were scuffles when police were called to remove refugee supporters who were leafleting Emirates staff and embarking passengers.

In December 2003, a Sudanese asylum seeker was returned from Tanzania, en route to Sudan, after Sudanese authorities refused to recognise travel documents issued by the Department of Immigration.

Refugee supporters are concerned that there is about to be a wave of forcible deportations. An Iranian man was deported days after the federal election last October.

"The government is using the publicity concerning aid for tsunami victims in the hope that the unsavoury aspects of its refugee policy will escape scrutiny. Its lack of compassion for refugees stands in stark contrast to its professed concern for tsunami victims," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney.

For more information, contact Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul [phone inserted]

Deport Asylum Seekers and Face Boycott: supporters

REFUGEE SUPPORTERS WARN EMIRATES AIRLINE

Perth Indymedia
by Baxter05 support alliance
2005-01-12 1:54 PM +0800


As the Federal Government persisted with its increasingly desperate efforts to deport asylum-seekers to unsafe countries, the Refugee Action Collective of Victoria (RAC Vic) and the Refugee Action Collective of NSW (RAC NSW) last night warned Emirates that assisting the Government with deportations will result in national campaign to boycott their services...

Refugee supporters received an unconfirmed tip-off that Emirates had agreed to help the Department of Immigration Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) deport an Iranian asylum-seeker from Sydney Airport last night. He is a Christian whose life will be endangered if he returns to Iran, where the punishment for conversion to Christianity (apostasy) is death.

This is the most recent in a series of attempts by DIMIA to deport this man. Originally at Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia, he was then taken to Maribyrnong Detention Centre after he resisted attempts to be deported with acts of self-harm. After he resisted further efforts to be deported from Melbourne, he was taken by road to Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney (DIMIA officials are able to bypass airport terminals at Sydney Airport).

RAC NSW last night held a hastily organised demonstration inside Sydney Airport. As many as 30 refugee supporters sought to prevent the deportation, but they were forcibly removed by the police. It is understood the deportation was successful.

It is believed a Sudanese asylum seeker was also deported via Sydney Airport last night.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Sharan Burrow has requested that union members in Australian airports not assist with any deportations.

Refugee supporters from around Australia will converge on Baxter Detention Centre this Easter to demand the federal government stop the deportation of asylum-seekers and permanently close the camp.

Despite Australia's public support for victims of the Asian tsunami, asylum seekers from tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka appear to be the next group targeted for deportation.

RAC Victoria spokesperson Tim Petterson said the boycott warning would be extended to all other international and chartered airlines.

"We are saying to Emirates and to all other airlines that when you imperil lives by helping the Government deport asylum seekers to unsafe countries, you will also imperil your bottom line.

"Expect your offices to be picketed, and t-shirts, badges and bumper stickers across Australia calling upon your customers to treat you with the contempt you deserve by no longer using your services," Mr Petterson warned.
ENDS

For information/interviews, contact:

Tim Petterson (RAC Vic) [phone number] or
Ian Rintoul (RAC NSW) [phone number]

http://perth.indymedia.org/?action=newswire&parentview=8015

Mystery surrounds asylum seeker

The Courier-Mail
12jan05


THE fate of Australia's longest-detained asylum seeker was shrouded in confusion today after his family and refugee advocates heard he was to be deported from Perth.

Abdul Khogali, 36, was to have been placed on a flight to South Africa today, after being flown to Western Australia from New South Wales last night, despite fears he faces possible death on a return to his Sudanese homeland.

But after a South African Airways official told Mr Khogali's family that he was not on the flight to Johannesburg from Perth, it was unclear exactly where Mr Khogali was being held or whether he had been deported.

A former policeman, Mr Khogali has spent seven years in the Villawood detention centre in Sydney since fleeing Sudan in 1997.

He left his home after refusing to enforce Islamic Sharia law, which includes the amputation of limbs and public execution.

Mr Khogali's uncle Ahmed Elmalkey, who lives in Perth, said it appeared his nephew was to be deported despite personal pleas to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.

"I am very worried about his situation, because we do not know where they will take him," Mr Elmalkey said.

"We don't know why they have refused his case and will not grant him a protection visa.

"It is too dangerous for him to be returned to Sudan. It is unthinkable.

"Today I have rung the immigration office about nine times, and all they have said is `We will ring you back'."

Mr Elmalkey and other members of Mr Khogali's family had been accepted as refugees in Australia.

He said Mr Khogali had become increasingly depressed during his long detention.

Supporters had even approached Senator Vanstone directly during her visit to Perth during the election campaign last year, but had not heard anything since.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said the organisation was concerned the Federal Government had initiated a wave of forcible deportations.

"The Government is using the publicity concerning aid for tsunami victims in the hope that the unsavoury aspects of its refugee policy will escape scrutiny," Mr Rintoul said.

"Its lack of compassion for refugees stands in stark contrast to its professed concern for tsunami victims."

Mr Rintoul also claimed attempts had been made to deport Mr Khogali in 1999, but the movement had to be abandoned when he resisted sedation prior to his deportation.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said the department was unable to discuss any part of Mr Khogali's case, for operational reasons.

Link to article in The Courier Mail

NSW: Christian asylum seeker deported to Iran

AAP newswire
Wednesday, 12 Jan 2005 at 2:29pm
Category: Australian General News
Low priority; Story No. 2420


Deported
By David Crawshaw

From Our Anonymous 'Wire Tap'


SYDNEY, Jan 12 AAP - An Iranian man who sought asylum in Australia after converting from Islam to Christianity has been sent back to Iran, a refugee advocacy group said today.

The man, in his 30s, was put on an Emirates flight from Sydney to Dubai last night, the Refugee Action Coalition said. He would then be taken to Iran, where he feared he would be killed, coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said.

The federal government had refused his application for asylum and he had exhausted all avenues of appeal. There has been no comment from the government on the case.

Protesters gathered at the airport terminal to try to dissuade passengers from boarding the plane by handing out leaflets and holding placards.

Security officers ejected about 18 protesters from the terminal.

Mr Rintoul said there was a "high likelihood" the man would be killed when he returned to Iran because he had been persecuted by Iranian authorities before.

Converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death in Iran. "There are documented cases of people not getting out of Tehran airport after they've landed," he said.

"Their relatives have turned up at the airport but the person never makes it through the terminal; they simply disappear and are never heard from. So we have very serious concerns about this guy."

The man, who has asked not to be named out of fear for his safety, arrived in Australia by boat four years ago and was held in the Curtin detention centre in Western Australia and later at the Baxter facility in South Australia.

Immigration authorities are believed to have tried three times to deport the man from Melbourne airport in the past eight days.

Emirates has declined to comment and comment was being sought from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs today.

AAP

Immigration Department "desperately" trying to deport asylum man

Project SafeCom Inc.
Media Release
Tuesday January 11 2005 7:05am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes


"Some officials in the Immigration Department are controlled by ruthless fanatics, who implement their cruel deportation regulations because they have the right to implement them, but they are fed by merciless torture considerations, and they prefer not to tell the Immigration Minister what they do", refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom claims today.

"It is time, that not just the Immigration Minister, but also John Howard himself, open their eyes to the fact that we deliver Iranians right into the hands of their torturers when we deport asylum seekers, who will move heaven and earth to prevent such deportations from happening, and acknowledge that this fear alone should be grounds for mercy and protection by Australia."

Yesterday evening refugee advocates in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney have been alerted to the fact that an asylum seeker had been scheduled to be deported to Iran by DIMIA more than three times in the last week, while each time the attempts to take the man have been thwarted because the man has violently resisted his deportation process.

Last week the man was taken from the Baxter detention centre by force, but his physical fight with the guards resulted in the deportation being aborted, and instead the man was brought to the Melbourne Maribyrnong detention centre.

Then on Sunday, he was taken from the Melbourne centre in another attempt to deport him, yet again he foiled the attempts by guards contracted by the Immigration Department to forcibly deport him on what is believed to have been an Emirates flight.

Next he was again taken on Monday morning from Maribyrnong - but again, through his display of fierce physical resistance, he was able to abort the attempts, and on Monday afternoon he was taken by car from the Melbourne centre, this time by car for what is believed to be a road-only trip to the Villawood Centre in Sydney.

According to advocates, the Villawood centre is chosen because they have "more experience with sedation" of deportees. It is also reported that some airlines, also Emirates Airlines, refuse embarkation of passengers or prisoners, if they are taken by force, and if they show unwillingness or resistance.

Project SafeCom has also received reports that Department of Immigration officials are deliberately trying to leave Minister Amanda Vanstone out of these operational decisions, so while possibly thousands of concerned Australians are trying to request a halt to deportations of Iranians, especially but not only Christians, by writing, faxing or phoning the Minister, either directly or via other members of the government or opposition parties, DIMIA staff use privileges available to them under 'operational matters', and they spare neither cost nor methods of cruelty to achieve their aims.

"Senior DIMIA officials would be charged with cruelty to animals if their actions would be perpetrated on horses or dogs, but they get off without scrutiny or inquiry because they operate their own torture kingdom under privilege and regulations, right here and right inside Australia."

For more information:

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom inc.
phone 0417 090 130

Ian Rintoul
Refugee Action Coalition
Sydney [phone inserted]

Mark Goudkamp
Refugee Action Coalition
Sydney [phone inserted]

Govt to deport Iranian man: advocate

The Age
January 11, 2005 - 2:04PM


The federal government will try to deport an Iranian asylum seeker from Australia after three unsuccessful attempts to force him to leave, a refugee group said.

The man, in his 30s, fled Iran for Australia four years ago after converting from Islam to Christianity - an offence punishable by death in his home country, according to the Refugee Action Collective.

But the federal government has rejected his bid for asylum and he has exhausted all possible appeals.

The group said the man, who has asked that his name not be released, forced Immigration Department officials to abandon attempts to deport him from Melbourne airport last week and early this week.

Refugee Action Collective spokeswoman Madilyn Gorman said the man began screaming uncontrollably when officials tried to force him onto flights, prompting one airline, Emirates, to refuse to carry him.

Emirates declined to confirm or deny the incidents in Melbourne, saying it could not comment on any passenger.

After a third failed attempt to deport the man on Monday, immigration officials loaded him onto a vehicle and drove him to Sydney, possibly to the Villawood detention centre, she said.

"They tried to deport him and another man last Tuesday at Melbourne but he basically said 'I refuse to go back to Iran', and he put his head down and kept shouting," she said.

"The airlines are nervous about deporting people."

Ms Gorman said the government was planning to deport the asylum seeker from Sydney airport on Tuesday night, possibly on an Emirates flight to Dubai.

She said the man arrived in Australia by boat four years ago and was held in the now-defunct Curtin detention centre in Western Australia, then at the Baxter facility in South Australia and later at the Maribyrnong centre in Melbourne.

He feared he would be killed if the government sent him back to Iran, she said.

Comment was being sought from the Immigration Department.

The case comes after Australia's highest-profile asylum seekers, the Bakhtiari family, were deported on December 30 after failing in their bid to stay in Australia.

© 2005 AAP

Link to article in The Age

Rally hears Iranian man may be persecuted if deported

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Tuesday, January 11, 2005. 4:09pm (AEDT)


Refugee activists say they have grave fears for the fate of an Iranian asylum seeker who is expected to be deported from Sydney's Villawood detention centre within days.

The Refugee Action Collective says the man fled Iran for Australia in 2000 after converting to Christianity.

They say in the last five years he has been detained at the Curtin, Baxter and Maribyrnong detention centres.

Last night he was moved to Villawood.

Ian Rintoul from the collective has told a rally today that the man fears for his life after reports that another Iranian Christian deported to Iran was interrogated for three days and told he would be charged with converting to Christianity.

"Our fears are that today they will attempt to sedate him in Villawood and make yet another attempt to deport him," he said.

"That man has stood up three times against the threat of deportation because he knows what going back to Iran really means."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200501/s1280140.htm
Read more ...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The manipulated US Presidential Election of 2004

Narrogin WA, 8 January 2004, 11:15am - The US election in 2004 was rigged. So they say. Sloppy security safeguards - or lack of any security systems whatsoever, that should have governed the system of computer voting, led to an introduced bias and stacking of votes for the Bush camp, or so the claimants claimed. Below is the report of the investigation, as well as the contents of several other reports relating to this issue. It's all in the public domain, but an email after the Congressional showdown on last Thursday, January 6, summarised 'the lot' for us. Thanks Bridget!

Read on, because this should have led to the election in the USA being declared invalid. Regrettably it didn't.

On this bLog page you'll find information through links (the full report is placed on our website proper, because of the size of it!) that bring you to the sections: the Report's Executive Summary, followed by "20 Amazing facts about voting in USA", a great summation of how it all came about through Bush connections. Below that line-up, there's an article by the Rev. Jesse Jackson (Seven Key Reasons why the vote must be challenge at the Electoral College), then a write-up by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman (The "Crime of November 2"), and right down you'll find affadavits and statements to the House Judiciary Committee, neatly categorised in 46 sections.

Preserving Democracy: What went wrong in Ohio

Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff

TruthOut;
Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Executive Summary

Representative John Conyers Jr., the Ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, asked the Democratic staff to conduct an investigation into irregularities reported in the Ohio presidential election and to prepare a Status Report concerning the same prior to the Joint Meeting of Congress scheduled for January 6, 2005, to receive and consider the votes of the electoral college for president. The following Report includes a brief chronology of the events; summarizes the relevant background law; provides detailed findings (including factual findings and legal analysis); and describes various recommendations for acting on this Report going forward.

We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.

This report, therefore, makes three recommendations:
  1. consistent with the requirements of the United States Constitution concerning the counting of electoral votes by Congress and Federal law implementing these requirements, there are ample grounds for challenging the electors from the State of Ohio;
  2. Congress should engage in further hearings into the widespread irregularities reported in Ohio; we believe the problems are serious enough to warrant the appointment of a joint select Committee of the House and Senate to investigate and report back to the Members; and
  3. Congress needs to enact election reform to restore our people's trust in our democracy. These changes should include putting in place more specific federal protections for federal elections, particularly in the areas of audit capability for electronic voting machines and casting and counting of provisional ballots, as well as other needed changes to federal and state election laws.
With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

First, in the run up to election day, the following actions by Mr. Blackwell, the Republican Party and election officials disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens, predominantly minority and Democratic voters:
  • The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters. This was illustrated by the fact that the Washington Post reported that in Franklin County, "27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush. At the other end of the spectrum, six of the seven wards with the fewest machines delivered large margins for Kerry." (See Powell and Slevin, supra). Among other things, the conscious failure to provide sufficient voting machinery violates the Ohio Revised Code which requires the Boards of Elections to "provide adequate facilities at each polling place for conducting the election."
  • Mr. Blackwell's decision to restrict provisional ballots resulted in the disenfranchisement of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of voters, again predominantly minority and Democratic voters. Mr. Blackwell's decision departed from past Ohio law on provisional ballots, and there is no evidence that a broader construction would have led to any significant disruption at the polling places, and did not do so in other states.
  • Mr. Blackwell's widely reviled decision to reject voter registration applications based on paper weight may have resulted in thousands of new voters not being registered in time for the 2004 election.
  • The Ohio Republican Party's decision to engage in preelection "caging" tactics, selectively targeting 35,000 predominantly minority voters for intimidation had a negative impact on voter turnout. The Third Circuit found these activities to be illegal and in direct violation of consent decrees barring the Republican Party from targeting minority voters for poll challenges.
  • The Ohio Republican Party's decision to utilize thousands of partisan challengers concentrated in minority and Democratic areas likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of legal voters, who were not only intimidated, but became discouraged by the long lines. Shockingly, these disruptions were publicly predicted and acknowledged by Republican officials: Mark Weaver, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, admitted the challenges "can't help but create chaos, longer lines and frustration."
  • Mr. Blackwell's decision to prevent voters who requested absentee ballots but did not receive them on a timely basis from being able to receive provisional ballots 6 likely disenfranchised thousands, if not tens of thousands, of voters, particularly seniors. A federal court found Mr. Blackwell's order to be illegal and in violation of HAVA.
Second, on election day, there were numerous unexplained anomalies and irregularities involving hundreds of thousands of votes that have yet to be accounted for:
  • There were widespread instances of intimidation and misinformation in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Equal Protection, Due Process and the Ohio right to vote. Mr. Blackwell's apparent failure to institute a single investigation into these many serious allegations represents a violation of his statutory duty under Ohio law to investigate election irregularities.
  • We learned of improper purging and other registration errors by election officials that likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide. The Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition projects that in Cuyahoga County alone over 10,000 Ohio citizens lost their right to vote as a result of official registration errors.
  • There were 93,000 spoiled ballots where no vote was cast for president, the vast majority of which have yet to be inspected. The problem was particularly acute in two precincts in Montgomery County which had an undervote rate of over 25% each - accounting for nearly 6,000 voters who stood in line to vote, but purportedly declined to vote for president.
  • There were numerous, significant unexplained irregularities in other counties throughout the state:
    1. in Mahoning county at least 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column;
    2. Warren County locked out public observers from vote counting citing an FBI warning about a potential terrorist threat, yet the FBI states that it issued no such warning;
    3. the voting records of Perry county show significantly more votes than voters in some precincts, significantly less ballots than voters in other precincts, and voters casting more than one ballot;
    4. in Butler county a down ballot and underfunded Democratic State Supreme Court candidate implausibly received more votes than the best funded Democratic Presidential candidate in history;
    5. in Cuyahoga county, poll worker error may have led to little known thirdparty candidates receiving twenty times more votes than such candidates had ever received in otherwise reliably Democratic leaning areas;
    6. in Miami county, voter turnout was an improbable and highly suspect 98.55 percent, and after 100 percent of the precincts were reported, an additional 19,000 extra votes were recorded for President Bush.
Third, in the post-election period we learned of numerous irregularities in tallying provisional ballots and conducting and completing the recount that disenfanchised thousands of voters and call the entire recount procedure into question (as of this date the recount is still not complete):
  • Mr. Blackwell's failure to articulate clear and consistent standards for the counting of provisional ballots resulted in the loss of thousands of predominantly minority votes. In Cuyahoga County alone, the lack of guidance and the ultimate narrow and arbitrary review standards significantly contributed to the fact that 8,099 out of 24,472 provisional ballots were ruled invalid, the highest proportion in the state.
  • Mr. Blackwell's failure to issue specific standards for the recount contributed to a lack of uniformity in violation of both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clauses. We found innumerable irregularities in the recount in violation of Ohio law, including
    1. counties which did not randomly select the precinct samples;
    2. counties which did not conduct a full hand court after the 3% hand and machine counts did not match;
    3. counties which allowed for irregular marking of ballots and failed to secure and store ballots and machinery; and
    4. counties which prevented witnesses for candidates from observing the various aspects of the recount.
  • The voting computer company Triad has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide "cheat sheets" to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law.
Full report: http://www.safecom.org.au/us2004election.htm
Read more ...

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)
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