Suicide of Deported asylum seeker shows Ministerial Intervention Farce

Project SafeCom Inc.
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Western Australia 6312
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Suicide of Deported asylum seeker shows Ministerial Intervention Farce

Media Release
Monday June 16, 2008 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"The fact that an asylum seeker who feared persecution upon deportation from Australia suicided after having "no luck" with his primary assessment (by one single Department of Immigration (DIAC) Officer) and no luck with the Refugee Review Tribunal (by one single RRT Member) and no luck with attempts for Ministerial Intervention by successive Immigration Ministers, shows how broke, politically polluted and bankrupt Australia's refugee determination system really is," WA Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.

"Moreover, the case of Mr Zhang, as reported by the ABC (report below), shows how the Minister has absolutely no idea about decisions made by his own Ministerial Intervention, handled by the Immigration Department's "Ministerial Intervention Unit" since this Unit was created by previous Immigration Ministers," spokesman Jack H Smit said.

"Australia, even after the furore in recent years over the goings-on inside the Immigration Department, still deports people to places where they fear persecution, and this is, because the DIAC officers do not understand the human rights convention criteria by which they are supposed to act, and it's highly likely that they make decisions based on which way the wind of International Trade Relations blows in relation to countries people originate from."

"Repeatedly advocates have stresses that the Ministerial Intervention Unit has an obligation determined by not only the UN Refugee Convention, but also the Convention Against Torture. Because Australia does not have complementary protection instruments that assure that people who do not fit within the narrow Refugee Convention guidelines are protected, the role of Ministerial Intervention is essential as a last defence against torture and persecution, and this Unit, working at armslength from the Minister, should really be housed with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission," Mr Smit said.

"The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission does not act upon "Australia's trade winds" but on human rights criteria. They should get a major role in Australia's refugee determination system, and this should happen as soon as possible, before there are more accidents where human lives are at stake."

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

China dissident commits suicide after forcible deportation

Posted Mon Jun 16, 2008 7:14am AEST
Updated Mon Jun 16, 2008 8:45am AEST

The suicide of a man who was forcibly returned to China by Australian immigration authorities has prompted calls by refugee advocates for better treatment of people seeking protection visas.

The man, known as Mr Zhang, was beaten and tortured when he was deported to China a year ago.

He spent almost a decade arguing his case for asylum, repeatedly telling Australian authorities he was at risk because of his involvement with pro-democracy groups in China.

But immigration advocates say that after being denied asylum on numerous occasions, in the end he lost hope and committed suicide.

When he spoke to the ABC's AM program just over a year ago Mr Zhang described how he was beaten up and tortured by Chinese police after being deported from Australia.

"And the two PSB (Public Safety Bureau) police men, they pushed me down on the ground, One PSB stamped on me and one, my hand, was broken, the left hand my middle finger," Mr Zhang said at the time through an interpreter.

Refugee advocate Frances Milne worked on Mr Zhang's case and kept in touch with him after he was deported.

"To find that he has now committed suicide to avoid further persecution and torture is very, very disappointing and upsetting," Ms Milne said.

She says numerous letters sent on Mr Zhang's behalf to both the present Immigration Minister, Senator Chris Evans, and his predecessor, Kevin Andrews, seem to have been ignored.

"If there is any decency in our government then having a policy of giving protection to people that we've wrongly determined not to be refugees is absolutely crucial. They must do it," she said.

Evans concerned

Senator Evans says he will be seeking more information on the fate of Mr Zhang.

"It sounds quite tragic, but as to the circumstances as to what occurred on his return I have no information on that," he said.

"The immigration system relies on us being able to remove people who are not here legally if that's warranted.

"Clearly when we do that, it's under international law and on the understanding that they won't suffer persecution on their return.

"Any suggestion that someone has suffered persecution would be something that will be looked at quite seriously."

Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties says Mr Zhang's case is a tragic example of how the system is flawed.

"He was removed from Australia in breach of Australia's obligations under the Convention Against Torture," he said.

"He immediately faced torture on his return to China and evidence of that was presented to the Australian Government and we have been pleading with the Australian Government to find a way to bring him back and there has just been inaction."

Mr Blanks says there has been improvement with the present Government but some areas need reform.

"Addressing the big issue policy issues like detention centres and TPVs (temporary protection visas) is only part of the story," he said.

"There must be wholesale change to the immigration system to give asylum seekers proper access to justice."

A spokesman for the Immigration Department says it regrets that Mr Zhang may have committed suicide but that it would not comment on details of his case.

- Adapted from an AM report by Michael Edwards

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