Tuesday August 19 2003 11:30am WST
For Immediate Release
At extraordinary cost - and for unknown reasons, the Manus Island detention centre is being kept open for just one single asylum seeker.
Name of detainee: [full name posted]
Number: ID# posted
[more details below]
This Wednesday 20/8, the magazine 'Green Left Weekly' publishes an article about an asylum seeker, held on his own on MANUS ISLAND - arcicle printed with GLW permission below.
In the article, GLW describes how DIMIA's Steve Ingram attempted to lie about the presence as well as the status of a Palestinian asylum seeker on MANUS Island, while the Australian public has been told Manus is now empty.
The article raises new concern about the denial and attempts of applying 'spin', this time even evading or attempting to lie to the Australian public, by the Minister of Immigration's most senior spokesperson of the status of asylum seekers, the presence of asylum seekers.
"Here is a senior public servant who tries to lie. In most other cases, in most other western countries, such lying would spark an outrage. It seems that DIMIA has now an entrenched method of hiding the facts from the Australian public."
"At Project SafeCom we can see similarities to the context of Mr Sisalem's situation and the STATELESS Palestinian asylum seeker Akram Al Masri. We can only guess, that the Australian government's real reason for hiding this person on Manus Island, and trying to lie aboout it, is based on their fear, that Mr Mr Sisalem's claim may well be immediately successful if he sets foot on the Australian mainland."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Green Left Weekly
phone: 0421 326 987
To contact Sisalem by email: <email@example.com>
International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
Lombrum processing centre
Phone 675 470 1064 or 675 470 1072
Horror on Manus Island
20 August 2003
Green Left Weekly
By Sarah Stephen
The Australian-funded detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island first opened on October 21, 2001. The first group of Iraqi asylum seekers to arrive there were dismayed to find they had been tricked into thinking they were being taken to Australia. Two years later, more lies have surrounded the closure of the remote prison.
A July 28 immigration department press release announced the wind-down of the centre, noting that it would be maintained in order to be ready to reactivate at short notice. "Of the last three residents, two adult males from Iraq have been granted refugee status and are being resettled in Australia, while the other man has been moved to Australia for medical treatment", the release stated.
But the assertion that the camp was empty from July 28 is a lie. A young Palestinian, Aladin [sic] Sisalem, has been detained on Manus Island ever since he tried to reach Australia from PNG in December.
I asked immigration minister Philip Ruddock's spin-doctor, Steve Ingram, why the Australian government had written Sisalem out of existence. Ingram told me it was because Sisalem was the responsibility of the PNG government.
Ingram began to deny that Sisalem had made any attempt to get to Australia, but I explained that I had evidence - a copy of a letter from the Australian immigration department rejecting his asylum claim.
The camp was run, I also pointed out, by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on behalf of the Australian government. Ingram continued to deny that Australia had any responsibility for Sisalem, and told me that "you people" should be more worried about women and children in refugee camps in Africa.
The way the government has been able to wash its hands of Sisalem exemplifies the role that the offshore detention centres have played for the federal government. Asylum seekers there have been at the mercy of the immigration department, without access to Australia's courts or advice from lawyers.
The points made by Russell Skelton in the July 29 Australian apply as much to Manus Island as to the Nauru detention camp, which he said: "It suits the Howard government's callous purposes perfectly. The government has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Australians putting faces to those locked up in Australian detention centres. It would not do for voters to think they were normal, if desperate, human beings. On Nauru this policy is easy to enforce. Quite apart from the isolation, lawyers, human rights advocates and journalists have been denied visas to Nauru."
Only one journalist was successful in reaching the Manus Island prison. In January 2002, the Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Roberts posed as a tourist to get access to the island, and was able to report a history of suicide attempts, breakouts and hunger strikes by asylum seekers, as well as widespread, potentially fatal diseases, including malaria, typhoid fever and tuberculosis.
Sisalem is 24 years old. He was born in Kuwait to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother. In a letter explaining his story to me, he wrote: "As all Arabic countries are paternal societies, I had to carry the nationality of my father, which is Palestinian-refugee.
"Since 1991, Kuwaiti policy towards Palestinian residents has been marked by arbitrary arrests and summary deportations..."
A 1994 Human Rights Watch report pointed to: "Policies aimed at eventually expelling from Kuwait nearly all of its remaining Iraqi, Palestinian and Bedoon residents included arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, unlawful searches, heavy fines, threats, public humiliation and the denial of employment."
"Most of the Palestinians who remained in Kuwait - fewer than 25,000, down from a pre-war high of over 350,000 - were stateless refugees who came originally from the Gaza Strip but had not been allowed by Israel to return. They carried travel documents issued by Egypt, which refused to allow them to reside in its territory. Although these refugees had no place to go, Kuwaiti authorities denied them the right to remain in Kuwait until they found another country that would accept them. They were harassed, threatened with imprisonment, denied employment, and subjected to heavy fines for every day they stayed in Kuwait. Many exhausted their life savings to pay these fines.
"Most Palestinians were asked to leave Kuwait ... Those who could not leave because they did not have residency rights in any country, like myself, were either interned in a deportation prison, or the lucky few who managed to find a Kuwaiti sponsor and obtained a residence permit, had to put up with humiliation and insults and assaults."
Upon turning 21, Sisalem had to find a Kuwaiti citizen to sponsor him (employ him or find him a job) in order to maintain his right to residency. Widespread discrimination against Kuwaiti Palestinians made this difficult. Fed up with the abuse, Sisalem applied for Egyptian residency but was knocked back. He decided to flee and seek asylum.
"I flew to Indonesia [in November 2000] where I applied for asylum with the UNHCR in Jakarta. I waited one year for their decision or for some financial help but nothing happened ... On January 31, 2002, and after a very risky journey [through the] jungle by myself, I arrived at the Fly River in PNG."
When he arrived in the border town of Kiunga and requested asylum, Mataio Rabura, PNG's immigration director-general, asked the Kiunga police commander to send Sisalem back to the jungle, telling Sisalem to walk back to Indonesia.
Sisalem was charged with illegal entry and paid a 200 kina (A$90) fine. He was terrified by what he had seen while awaiting trial, including a man who was beaten "until his blood almost covered all the floor".
After fruitlessly waiting for 10 months for a decision on his asylum application from the PNG government, Sisalem sailed to Thursday Island and asked Australian immigration officials for asylum. He was sent back to PNG to be imprisoned in the detention centre.
At the time, there were 120 asylum seekers in the camp. On the first day he arrived, he saw the PNG defence forces beating 15 young men whom the Australian government had confirmed were refugees. "Most of them stayed in the military hospital for one week because they were injured, one of them lost some teeth and others had marks on their faces and one couldn't walk good for two weeks."
In January, most of the refugees left to go to New Zealand, and in February another 15 went to Australia, leaving just a couple of people in the camp.
Sisalem's persistent requests for information about his case resulted in some harsh punishment. "They really make me feel like I did a big crime and I am a dangerous person". He explained that the PNG defence forces had hit him, with IOM approval, and put him in a hot and mosquito-ridden underground isolation cell. He was only allowed toilet access once in the two days he spent there.
Sisalem sent a letter to the PNG immigration on April 26 to withdraw his request for asylum. He explained to me that he no longer felt safe dealing with PNG authorities. When he complained about his treatment to the head of the UNHCR's PNG liaison office, Johann Siffointe, he didn't believe him. Siffointe then told the PNG government of Sisalem's claims. Sisalem believes this made his treatment worse.
Siffointe told Sisalem some months ago that it would take about three years to make a decision about his case, and that he will have to spend that time in jail unless he agreed to go back to Kuwait. Siffointe added that he didn't believe that Sisalem had been persecuted in Kuwait, and that the UNHCR office in Kuwait made sure there was no persecution there.
Sisalem has been advised that he must formally request return to Kuwait, only if he is rejected will UNHCR consider him a stateless person and take responsibility for resettling him.
The Kuwaiti embassy confirmed that Sisalem had no right to return to Kuwait. An embassy public relations officer, Mohammad, explained that Sisalem lost his residency rights after being outside the country for six months. He said: "Even if Kofi Annan asked for him to be able to return, the government would refuse."
Nevertheless, Sisalem is frightened that if he applies, the UNHCR will force the Kuwaiti authorities to accept him.
On July 26, Sisalem was met by Rabura, Australian immigration official Peter Holmes and IOM Manus Island manager Steve Hamilton. Holmes explained that when the camp closed, Sisalem would be issued with a two-month visa and left in PNG. An IOM officer took the passport Sisalem had just received from the Egyptian embassy. The PNG government has not explained why they are holding it.
Rabura told Amnesty International's refugee team in Australia that, when released, Sisalem will be again charged for entering PNG illegally. According to PNG human rights lawyer Powes Parkop, who spoke to Sisalem on August 6, this is probably intimidation because the government doesn't have a good case as Sisalem was taken to Manus Island against his will.
"What crime have I committed to deserve all this suffering?", Sisalem asked me. "Is it acceptable to [the] world's conscience and to your conscience that I spend the rest of my life with no dignity and no respect and no protection? I am a human being and I have the right to live in safety and in dignity and in freedom. I need to belong to a country that can protect me and where I can live a normal, dignified and productive life. I am fit and healthy and have a good trade, as a very experienced car mechanic. I can work in my trade and be a productive member in a good society."
If you would like to correspond with Sisalem, send an email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ARTICLE's ONLINE LOCATION: http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2003/550/550p11.htm