Human rights advocates, psychiatrists call for immediate NAURU closure

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Narrogin
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 0417 090 130
Web: http://www.safecom.org.au/

Human rights advocates, psychiatrists call for immediate NAURU closure

· UNHCR delegation to fly into Nauru today
· Vardalis issues false imprisonment writ in NSW Supreme Court
· Reports: Nauru returnees disappeared and murdered
· Attempted suicide: a CRIME on Nauru

Media Release
Wednesday December 17 2003 12:30pm WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

Additional Media Contacts BELOW this release

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Human rights advocates, psychiatrists call for immediate NAURU closure
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· UNHCR delegation to fly into Nauru today
· Vardalis issues false imprisonment writ in NSW Supreme Court
· Reports: Nauru returnees disappeared and murdered
· Attempted suicide: a CRIME on Nauru

Refugee advocates from a broad cross-spectrum across Australia have called for the immediate closure of the Nauru detention centre and demand the immediate relocation of all refugees on the island to the Australian mainland.

Renowned psychiatrist Dr Louise Newman as well as Hazara society president Hassan Ghulam, who had earlier this week commented that 'they are all genuine refugees' supported this call today, while at the time of release of this statement comments are likely to have been received from Dutch psychiatrist and former IOM (International Organisation for Migration) employee on Nauru Dr Maarten Dormaar.

Dormaar wrote a scathing article on the treatment of refugees on Nauru in a national Dutch Newspaper upon his return to the Netherlands earlier this year, and also spoke on Australian media during the year. Dormaar stated at the time:

"[...] On Nauru, where refugees are treated like prisoners, the mental health problems are much greater and deteriorate much more quickly because people are locked up for longer. Twenty to thirty per cent of adult men have acute complaints, especially depression and anxiety. People complain of sleeping problems, they worry about their future and the lot of their family back in Afghanistan. They become listless and fall into lethargy. That is also no wonder, given that there is scarcely opportunity to be purposefully busy. They aren't even allowed to cook their own meals, they stay close together in container-like barracks with tin roofs, in tropical temperatures and they are not permitted to leave the camp. They are forced to do nothing."

Jack H Smit, spokesperson for WA based Project SafeCom, joined in this call, quoting Jesuit priest Fr Frank Brennan who quoted from research, showing that DIMIA got it wrong 62% of the time, when they assessed Afghani refugee claims, and they got it wrong 87% of the time for Iraqi refugees.

"This combines with the PM - "Honest John" - having lied to the Australian electorate in several extremely serious instances. We have absolutely no reason to trust DIMIA and the Howard government in any statements they issue about refugees who have been banned from the scrutiny of human rights agents and the Australian media on Nauru. We demand that they be brought to Australian mainland for a blanket amnesty of whatever status their refugee claim amounts to, and that they be given permanent residency in Australia", Mr Smit said.

The 2003 Human Rights Medal Winner and Migration Agent Ms Marion Lê, who called the Nauru Camp "an abomination" - and called for all Nauru detainees to immediately be transported to Australia, also backed up Mr Smit's call. Detainees from Nauru, contacting human rights advocates in Australia, called for Ms Lê to be appointed as their mediator in a letter handed to the IOM Camp Manager - as well as for Mr Hassan Ghulam to represent their issues.

Earlier on, Spare Rooms for Refugees spokeswoman Kate Durham had stated in conversations with journalists: "unless the Federal Government intervened to grant the [hunger strikers] refugee status they were sure to die. She said several of the men had converted to Christianity, which spelled certain death if they returned to their homeland. (News Interactive 16/12)"

· UNHCR delegation to fly into Nauru today

Through the mediation and lobbying of Ms Margaret Reynolds, President of the United Nations Association of Australia, it has just been confirmed that the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, is flying in a delegation into Nauru today. Ms Reynolds commented to refugee advocates: " We have to focus on the immediate health threat and Australian Govt responsibility. The government doesn't want deaths on their collective consciences."

· Vardalis issues false imprisonment writ in NSW Supreme Court

Prominent lawyer Eric Vardalis yesterday afternoon lodged a writ in the NSW Supreme Court for "false imprisonment" on behalf of the 325 detainees taken to Nauru by Australian authorities over the past two years.

Mr Smit commented that "....this writ will test whether the Howard government has the legal right to dump asylum seekers in a foreign nation, where they are answerable to a foreign legal system, and shirk its responsibility both as a nation and as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. No matter what the outcome of this test, the moral accountability of the Howard administration is well and truly corrupt in its dealings with asylum seekers. If prison sentences for moral corruption were handed down, the whole of the Howard Ministry may well find themselves in a prison for a very long time."

"Minister Amanda Vanstone's comments in today's press, stating that the detainees on Nauru 'are not Australia's problem', is a clear example of this extremist moral corruption, entrenched in the Howard government: the main reason for the existence of the Nauru camp, is so that the Howard government and its immigration ministers can cart around this line into the media. Vanstone, in a healthy democracy, would be sacked and perhaps prosecuted for this type of spin and this type of strategy."

· Reports: Nauru returnees disappeared and murdered

Refugee supporter Lynne Murphy claimed to have received reports that many of those who recently returned "voluntarily" from the Nauru camp to Afghanistan, have reportedly been killed in a marketplace in Mazar-i-Sharif "because they were from Australia". Reportedly these returnees were from those aboard a flight that left Nauru as recently as December 1 this year. See full report below.

· Attempted suicide a CRIME on Nauru

Hassan Ghulam, the President of the Hazara Ethnic Society in Brisbane, commented that detainees participating in the hungerstrike, once they come into contact with agents of the Nauruan government, can be called "criminals" - because attempted suicide is a crime in the Nauruan constitution. As a result the Nauruan government could well move to cancel their access to internet and phone and fax facilities, thus stripping them even further from their life line with human rights advocates in Australia. Ghulam also called for the immediate closure of the Nauru camp. See the complete report below.

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FULL REPORTS:
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· Attempted suicide a CRIME on Nauru

Hassan Ghulam, the President of the Hazara Ethnic Society in Brisbane, made the following comments after reports were received from Nauruan detainees: "A telephone call from a detainee on Tuesday morning reported that two men in a bad way were being taken to hospital. Three have discharged themselves from hospital and a total of nine men have been hospitalised at some time. Those leaving hospital after treatment are returning to the hunger strike."

"The position taken by the hunger strikers remains constant. After waiting patiently for more than two years they want a decision- a resolution of their situation. For them it is freedom or death. If one man dies, another will take his place."

"The current crisis must be considered against the background of nine deaths in Australian immigration detention, and particularly the death of a young Hazara man on Nauru last year shortly after he received his refusal decision and the suicide of a Hazara man in Murray Bridge after receiving the DIMIA decision that he should go back to Afghanistan."

"A new tension is developing with Nauruan staff. The Nauru Constitution defines suicide as a crime. An attempted suicide can therefore lead to criminal charges and jail. The Australian Minister for Immigration has authority under the Migration Act to intervene and have hunger strikers force fed to prevent them dying. Presumably this authority cannot be exercised in a Nauru, a foreign jurisdiction. What are the Minister's responsibilities in this situation, given that the asylum seekers are ultimately in Australia's care, merely parked on Nauru under contract?"

"The hunger strikers have delivered a letter to the IOM Camp Manager yesterday (4pm Monday) asking that Marion Lê, prominent human rights advocate and Migration Agent, be immediately appointed by DIMIA to mediate in this situation. They do not trust anyone on Nauru. They have also advised the Camp Manager that they want Hassan Ghulam, President, Hazara Ethnic Society in Australia, to represent their issues and speak for them. The Post Office fax machine however was not working, and Mr Ghulam is still waiting to receive the written authorisation. (Electricity and communications services are again intermittent and unreliable. Infrastructure on Nauru appears to be breaking down)."

"Amnesty International has indicated its readiness to negotiate with Senator Vanstone on the life threatening situation with the hunger strikers. They are expected to call for immediate mediation and intervention. The immediate appointment of an independent committee of experts to visit Nauru to monitor the situation and report is needed. The Committee should include Eric Vardalis, the lawyer who has issued a writ on behalf of 325 asylum seekers I the Supreme Court of Victoria today, as well as doctors and psychologists."

· Reports: Nauru returnees disappeared and murdered

Auburn (NSW) refugee supporter Lynne Murphy reports: "Reports have come through that several people recently sent back to Afghanistan from Nauru - we think on the first of December 2003 - have been killed BECAUSE they came from Australia. The report that follows comes to me third or fourth hand - the story came to Australian TPV holders by satellite phone calls from Pakistan, and from Mazar and Kabul in Afghanistan."

"Three people were reportedly slaughtered in Mazar-i-Sharif, possibly in a marketplace. They had been pointed out to gunmen who stopped and searched our "voluntarily" repatriated asylum seekers. When they could find no money on the Hazara men, they were shot dead. The reportedly between seven and ten Hazaras from the same flight from Nauru on 1 December 2003 were killed in the Kabul area. They also were stopped by gunmen, searched and killed. We don't know if they were together or separate when this happened."

"Not so certain" is that all the men from the recent flight from Nauru have been killed in Kabul and Mazar. I have faith in the people who have sent me this information. An immediate investigation by the United Nations should be demanded."

"The recent death of Mussa Nazari at the hands of the Taliban to my knowledge has still not been investigated, reported nor acknowledged by the Australian government nor the United Nations. This is in spite of the murder a few weeks later of a United Nations worker in the same area under the same circumstances. Her death led to the withdrawal of United Nations services to returnees and the cessation of all returns from Pakistan. Mohammed Mussa Nazari's death should have been a warning to both the United Nations and Australia however the flights from detention through "voluntarily" repatriation have been vigorously promoted by the Australian government. More information on http://members.optusnet.com.au/hazara/mussa.htm"

"We should demand that the country information used by Australia to support its claim that Afghanistan is safe for the repatriation of asylum seekers be subject to immediate external inquiry and review, and that the Australian government explain why it insisted on returning a planeload of asylum seekers on 1 December 2003 from Nauru to Afghanistan. Many representatives of the Australian community begged the Australian government to stop the flight drawing attention to the obvious peril awaiting the refugees."

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ONLINE RESOURCES:
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Statement by detainees and photos:
http://www.safecom.org/nauru-dec03.htm

Six hunger strikers go to hospital
By Meaghan Shaw, The Age, December 16, 2003
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/12/15/1071336887571.html

Lawyers bid for detainees' freedom
By Meaghan Shaw, The Age, December 17, 2003
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/12/16/1071336966302.html

Asylum seekers 'not our problem'
By Steve Larkin, AAP, December 17, 2003
http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,8191230%255E1702,00.html

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For more information:
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Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
Narrogin/Fremantle WA
[phone number posted]

Pamela Curr National Greens Spokesperson for Refugees Brunswick VIC [phone number posted]

Marion Lê
HREOC Human Rights Medal Winner 2003
Belconnen ACT
[phone number posted]

Dr Maarten Dormaar
Psychiatrist
Ysbrechtum
The Netherlands
Contact details available on request

Kate Durham
Artist and refugee advocate
Spare Rooms for Refugees
Melbourne
[phone number posted]

Hassan Ghulam
President, Hazara Ethnic Society
Brisbane
[phone number posted]

Lynne Murphy
Refugee Supporter
Auburn, NSW
[phone number posted]

Dr Louise Newman
Spokesperson
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
Paramatta NSW
[phone number posted]

Margaret Reynolds
National President
United Nations Association of Australia
[phone number posted]

Elaine Smith
Nauru detainees contact person
West Haven NSW
[phone number posted]

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