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    The Worst of Woomera

Dave McKay's The Worst of Woomera

The Woomera detention centre has been closed for some time, but following the 'imfamous' Easter 2002 protests, when dozens of refugees escaped from the horror of the centre in a desperate snatch of freedom, some folks stayed behind in the Woomera town in a camper van. They called themselves "The Woomera Embassy".

The stories below and on the second page, linked off this page, were written during this period by some folks in that Woomera Embassy. The publication of these stories was followed by a vicious campaign by some other refugee advocates to discredit them: it was alleged the stories were not obtained with full consent of the refugees in the camp; it was alleged that the author, because of his self-proclaimed links with a small 'religious sect or cult' had underlying agendas for the publication of these stories that dirtied its purpose.

Nevertheless, thousands of booklets were printed at the time that contained these stories. And now that Woomera has been well and truly mothballed and most - if not all - of the people written about in these stories, live in the Australian community, having gained refugee or other forms of residency status, we're publishing the stories as they were printed on our website. Why? Well, we think this horrendous period and the associated stories should not be forgotten.

In the introductory notes to the booklet author Dave McKay writes:

"Mothers who throw their babies in the ocean. Fathers who forcibly stitch the lips of their children. Deranged young men who cut themselves and engage in criminal acts. Terrorists who invade our country, and compromise the security of decent Australians. Illegal aliens who smash and demolish every thing that lies in their path.

This is the picture that our Government has given us of asylum-seekers in general, and of asylum seekers at Woomera, South Australia, in particular. Woomera is the end of the line for asylum seekers, or as Phillip Ruddock says, for criminals, because "they are obviously not asylum seekers."

Here is your chance to meet these unspeakable human beings for yourself. Up-close glimpses never before available to the general public.

Related pages:

12 March 2005: The testimony of Moira-Jane - Moira-Jane Conahan went to Woomera in March 2000. Her speaking out was one of the first witness testimonies that eventually dismantled the Woomera detention centre. "The night before I left we were watching Four Corners [...] but I laughed it off and with a minor amount of trepidation left for Woomera."

The Worst of Woomera 1

Click to go to page 2

by Dave McKay
(as related to him
by Cherry McKay and
Robin and Christine Dunn)

Woomera 2002
Refugee Embassy

My first glimpse of the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (WIRPC) came on March 29 (Good Friday), 2002.

Along with ten other people from a Newcastle group called HOPE (Hunter Organism for Peace and Equity) Ross Parry and I had journeyed to Woomera, South Australia, to participate in the Easter weekend demonstrations in support of asylum seekers. In the crowd of nearly 2,000 demonstrators, there were the usual ferals and political activists; but many were like myself... ordinary citizens who felt a deep concern for people who had apparently been imprisoned for no other reason than that they had arrived on our shores in desperate need, and seeking asylum.

But we learned shortly after arriving that the 334 people being held there were regarded as the worst of the worse asylum seekers in Australia. These were people who had either exhausted all of their appeals and were awaiting deportation as indisputable "illegals", or they had been labelled as trouble-makers and had been sent to Woomera in order to isolate them from other more co-operative asylum seekers. Obviously, our efforts would have been better spent defending someone more deserving.

That same day, when some 800 of us walked up to the fence surrounding the main compound, we discovered just what desperados these people were. Without warning, we found ourselves involved in one of the biggest escapes from custody in Australia's history.

From inside the compound, some of the asylum seekers had managed to pry apart two of the bars on the fence. Fifty prisoners poured through the hole before the guards stopped the flow. Eleven of those escapees were still at large when this publication went to press. (One is rumoured to have been accepted as a refugee in the UK!)

There is much debate in Australia over whether these are innocent victims or dangerous renegades with a potential for terror. In the months that followed that escape, with the help of my wife, Cherry, my daughter, Christine, and her husband, Robin, I had the opportunity to learn something of the background of many of the people being held at Woomera. That information forms the basis for this publication.

However, before we begin, I should state that another interesting thing happened during the first two months after Good Friday, 2002. The population of Woomera IRPC dropped from 334 to 203. To my knowledge there was not a single deportation during that time. Instead, over one-third of these people--the worst of the worse--were given temporary protection visas and allowed into Australia as bonafide refugees!

This book does not include the profiles of any of those people. Instead, it focuses on the 203 who remained, including some of the returned escapees. Assuming that the people given visas were the best of the worst of the worse, then this book could more accurately be described as an account of the worst of the worst of the worse.

Prepare yourself for some shocking revelations!

1. Hope?

On the way to Woomera, we in the HOPE caravan discussed strategies. We were pacifists, wanting only to give hope to the detainees through our presence. We had brought a huge kite with us, capable of supporting a thirty metre long banner with the word FREEDOM on it.

Visual contact with asylum seekers was impossible from the arbitrary line in the sand that the authorities had scratched, some 500 metres away from the centre. But the kite was big enough and flew high enough to be seen from inside the centre. A cheer went up, first from the demonstrators, and then from the detainees when the banner unfurled high above the desert landscape.

Then some demonstrators stepped across the line in the sand. There was no reaction from the authorities. Hundreds of people moved toward the normal camp boundary, unhindered. Our law-abiding group looked at each other, shrugged, and trudged after them. Twenty minutes later we were talking to detainees face to face, through the compound fence. Amazingly, no one had stopped us.

"You Mafia!" a detainee shouted at us in anger.

I was shocked.

"You come for fifteen minutes, then you leave. Are we animals in a cage?" he screamed.

How ungrateful! Yet, I could not escape the truth in what he was saying. Many of these people had been trapped here for more than two years. How could our holiday weekend make a difference to their miserable existence?

And then the breakout began.

Truman*

Fifty people fled the Woomera IRPC on Good Friday, 2002. Truman was number fifty-one in the queue.

"You call it Good Friday," he said. "For us it was bad Friday." Prisoners had been warned that those who remained would be punished if anyone escaped.

Guards trashed rooms, beat inmates with batons, handcuffed the men and forced them to kneel all night on the dirt floor of the compound, tear gassed people who had nowhere to run, and used pepper spray on women and children at close range.

But Truman says it was better than in Iran. There, he demonstrated against the Government, and for that he will be arrested, tortured, and possibly killed if he returns. Unfortunately, he cannot prove it with documented evidence. It's as simple as that. Deportation, he says, is inevitable without documented evidence.

I try to tell him that escape is not the answer. That he would almost certainly be arrested if he tried, that he could die of thirst in the desert, that life on the run is not the same as real freedom. But he is not listening.

"We must have another demonstration," he begs. "Next time I will make it."

Truman weighs up all that I have said against what he says awaits him back in Iran, and there is only the one option for him. He is polite, positive, appreciative of all that Australians have done for him. But for him it is escape here or death in Iran.

His only crime is that he cannot prove it.

*For security reasons, real names are not used.

2. Freedom?

"Freedom is more than escape from custody," I argued eloquently at the tribal counsel organised by demonstrators following the breakout. Some thirty escapees had made it to our camp, and they were now hiding in various tents. I was campaigning for them to be returned to custody.

"They say they'll kill themselves before they'll return!" someone argued. Nothing eloquent about it, but the truth in what was said was overwhelming.

Suicide is the last resort for someone who has exhausted all other avenues of escape. It is also the ultimate insult to a system which has tried everything it can to break the will of those who resist.

It angers those of us who live on, because there is no one we can punish for what has happened, and the last thing we want to do is to question our own role in such an apparently meaningless death. So we usually take our anger out on someone else, like the guards did to the prisoners who failed to escape.

Could the "war against terrorism" be a bit like that? We would never think of using bombs to wage a war against the common cold. So how can bombs ever wipe out terrorism? How would we ever know that such a war has been won? This supposed war has locked Australia and the West into a plan for world domination that will never be finished. Such wars have often led to genocide, as people imagine terror to be lurking almost everywhere.

Martha

Martha was transferred from the detention centre to a home in the township of Woomera in a much publicised bid to meet the Labor Party's demand for women and children to be taken out of the prison. But women and children in the township are still under constant guard, and they have to leave their husands/fathers to do it.

There is no end in sight for Martha and her family. They will be held indefinitely like this, unless they agree to return voluntarily to Iran.

The hopelessness of her situation led Martha to attempt suicide. Her 10-year-old son also tried to harm himself. Suicide attempts are commonplace at Woomera, averaging around one a week. But the Department of Immigration solution is not to give proper psychiatric care or to consider the causes of depression.

Martha and her son were, instead, returned to the source of their despair, back behind the razor wire. Worse, they were put in the punishment compound, where no TV, no telephone, and no toys are allowed. Like some Eighteenth Century insane asylum, our Government calls this a solution.

One by one families released to the town are being quietly returned to prison as punishment for various "behaviour problems". The untrained guards, some of whom would truly like to help, have only threats and punishments to use as tools in dealing with the highly complex psychological problems that these deeply traumatised people possess.

3. Illegals?

In the end, the Easter demonstrators felt that the only thing they could morally do was to help the escapees in their desperate attempts to cross the hundreds of kilometres of desert between Woomera and relative safety. Demonstrators and escapees headed off in several directions with minimal supplies, most of them almost certain to be caught and charged with escaping or with aiding and abetting escape from lawful custody.

But would their actions be any different to the escapes that these people had already made from their homelands? Was their custody any more lawful than the custody that they fled from in order to get here?

Phillip Ruddock stubbornly refers to asylum seekers as "illegals". Yet Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugee Rights, which states that any human being has the right to seek asylum in another country. They are not illegal at all. We may eventually find that some do not qualify as refugees, but even then, they are not illegals. They had a right to ask.

If anything is illegal, it is their continued forced detention.

Keeping track of people while their papers are processed is legitimate behaviour by any government. But years of punishment and humiliation in prisons that are falsely labelled "reception centres" is not justified. In trying to "make examples" of these innocent people, we have put ourselves on the same level as the regimes that they have run away from.

Marshall

Marshall's father, a former intelligence officer for Savak, was jailed in 1978, held for seventeen years for opposing the Iranian Government, and released under house arrest in 1995.

For five years, Marshall sought a way to escape, hoping to become a Christian when he was safely out of the country.

In late February, 2000, using a forged passport, and assisted by a cousin who worked for the airlines, he boarded an Iran Air flight to Malaysia, and then caught a boat to Darwin. His cousin was subsequently sacked for his part in the escape. The cousin later disappeared, and has not been heard of or from since. He is believed to have been killed for aiding in Marshall's escape.

In Australia, Marshall was refused a visa because he cannot prove beyond any doubt that the man imprisoned for 17 years is really his father, and because he did not openly convert to Christianity before leaving Iran. (Conversion to Christianity is punishable by death in Iran.)

Muslims and Christians, prisoners and wardens all sing the praises of Marshall, who spreads hope and cheer wherever he goes... a result of his faith. "Life is beautiful," he says. "I must enjoy each day here, because when I get back to Iran, I will be dead." And a silent tear forms through his brave smile.

All pleas for mercy have so far failed. Marshall will almost certainly be sent back to his death.

4. Visits

There had to be a better way to meet the needs of these imprisoned people than for them to become fugitives in Australia. Ross and I approached the other members of the HOPE caravan about a plan for the two of us to stay on in Woomera, in Ross' bus, and to become a 'refugee embassy'.

We believed that the first step in giving detainees hope was to provide sustained contact with decent, law-abiding Australians who support their cause. Contact could come through phone calls, by mail, or by approved visits. Visits would be the most beneficial, of course, but they were also the most difficult to secure. The remote location made personal visits to Woomera so rare that the Woomera IRPC did not even keep records of them at that time, nor did they have any official procedure for processing visitors.

People would arrive at the gate asking to visit, and it was the task of the guard on duty to fob them off in whatever way he or she could. "Not taking visitors today," was the most common excuse. "Cyclone warning has been issued, repairs are being carried out, the person in charge of that is on holidays, visits are only allowed on the weekend," (or on weekdays, as the case may be).

We shared with police negotiators at the demonstration campsite on Easter Sunday about our intentions to stay on and become fulltime visitors.

It was a costly mistake.

Nancy

Mae, from Adelaide, had written to Nancy, a young nurse from Iran, promising to visit her personally at Woomera. Nancy, like most Woomera detainees, had never had a visitor. She and her 7-year-old son Porter, looked forward to the visit with excitement.

Mae had obtained verbal permission from the Woomera Department of Immigration representative to make the visit, but when she got there, the guard on duty said that Nancy had changed her mind, that she did not want to see Mae. Mae showed him the letter, in which Nancy had expressed her great desire for a visit.

"Sorry, no can do," the guard smiled. "If you don't like it, you can tell it to Canberra."

Three days later, Nancy wrote to say that the visit had been cancelled "because they don't want anyone to know about our suffering in here."

The letter continued: "I've prepared something for dieing - just I tell you before ... I can't continue, I can't more ... I will die because Ruddock and Howard's dirty policy ... goodbye."

She then stationed her 7-year-old son outside their room, with instructions not to let anyone in, and she slashed the main artery in her arm. Blood sprayed all over the cell. Another prisoner, Kyle (See page 13.) sensed something was wrong and broke in.

"Go away. Leave me to die!" Nancy pleaded as she lay in a pool of her own blood, near death.

Kyle called for help and she was rushed to the hospital for treatment and a slow recovery.

5. Betrayal

The police negotiator turned her head, pretending not to see me as I was marched into the Woomera police station.

Minutes after the last busload of demonstrators had left the campsite on Easter Monday, a police car raced over to Ross and me. They said we had 20 minutes to pack up and get out of there or we would be arrested for trespassing.

We were 100 metres away from the WIRPC boundary, on a campsite that had been officially approved by the Area Administrator. Approval extended until the following Wednesday. Ross rushed to see how much of our gear he could pack in 20 minutes, but I objected, and was arrested.

The police negotiators had been nothing more than spies, trying to learn anything they could, to be used against us. Our plans would challenge the unwritten no-visitor policy of the WIRPC. But if they could arrest us on trumped up charges, they could ban us from the entire area as a condition of bail. And they could make us look like law-breakers. So that is exactly what they did.

While driving me out to the Pimba Roadhouse, six kilometres from Woomera, one of the arresting officers boasted, "You won't even get your day in court, because when you turn up, we'll just drop the charge. No one will ever hear your story."

He continued, "We don't have anything against people being different or believing whatever they like, but we don't like them coming to Woomera to do it."

I had eight weeks to wait until my day in court.

Kyle & Delilah

Kyle and his wife, Delilah, are Sabean Mandians, (followers of John the Baptist). In Iran, he and a cousin were once arrested and interrogated separately by Muslim religious police. He never saw his cousin again after that. They said that during interrogation she had "converted" to Islam and no longer wished to live with her family. Kyle later became engaged to a Sabean Mandian girl. She too was arrested and never heard from again.

Meanwhile, a Sabean neighbour, Delilah, had been told by her schoolteacher that she could get Delilah into a university if she would sign a form. She did, and the teacher secretly added a clause later, saying that Delilah wanted to be a Muslim. The religious police were informed and they came with guns to take Delilah away. (To truly convert, she had to leave her 'infidel' family.)

Kyle and his brother paid a huge bribe (2 million tumons) and succeeded in getting Delilah back. Two weeks later she and Kyle were married.

Sabean Mandians are heavily persecuted in Iran, and conversion from Islam to this sect is punishable by death. Technically Delilah had been converted from Islam to Sabeanism and so she was in grave danger. Kyle's family was in danger too, for having engineered the conversion.

Kyle, his brother, and Delilah all fled to Australia by boat. His sister fled too, but she arrived by plane and was granted citizenship. His brother had a friendly review officer and was given a temporary visa. But Kyle and Delilah, the ones in the greatest danger, were rejected, and await deportation, victims of an arbitrary and haphazard immigration policy.

6. Pimba

A shearer leaned across the roadhouse picnic table, and pointed his steak knife at me as he said, "If I came across one of them bastards wandering out there in the outback, I wouldn't care if he was eight years old. I'd slit his throat as soon as look at him, and I wouldn't miss a moment's sleep over it either."

I turned to his mate to see if he felt the same horror that I had just felt at such a naked expression of hatred.

"Yup. I'd do the same meself," he echoed. "Why should we work our asses off to pay for them, while the bloody mongrels sit out there and do nothin' but complain all day?"

I suggested that maybe we would all be better off if the refugees were just let out.

"Don't you get smart with me, you f...ing c...t!" the first one shouted. "I'd slit your bleedin' throat too if I could get away with it."

Ross and I had set up camp at the Pimba Roadhouse, and we were experiencing firsthand the amount of racism that permeates our society.

If we really care for those inside the detention centre, we must find ways to change the thinking of such people, and to defuse the hatred.

Unfortunately, people like Pauline Hanson, John Howard, and even Kim Beazley have been more successful than us, by exploiting the fear that has gripped the Western world since September 11, 2001.

The Barton Jones Family

Hatred forced the Jones family out of Iran. Sixty-year-old Barton Jones is blind in both eyes as a result of injuries he received from fundamentalist Muslims in Iran. But hatred is not peculiar to Iran. It has followed them to Australia, where it is slowly destroying their family.

Twenty-year-old Rudy Jones taught himself English by reading a dictionary, and he is now the spokesperson for the 55-strong Sabean Mandian community at Woomera. But he is an angry young man.

"My mother is in hospital. She is not doing well mentally," he said. He refused to elaborate, except to say that their whole family (his parents and two younger brothers), like so many in the concentration camp environment, is falling apart.

Everything revolves around whether or not they can win favour from the guards. If they complain, they are punished. If they harm themselves they are punished. If they disobey a rule they are punished. And the rules change as often as the guards themselves change.

Rudy is called over to a group of delegates for the various social groups. A guard is trying to organise a soccer game, but he says that returned escapees from the Good Friday breakout are still not allowed to play, months after the offence. The delegates quickly confer and decide that, in solidarity with the escapees, they will not play soccer until everyone is allowed to play, despite the fact that one of them (Marshall--See page 9) is a professional soccer player.

The question is: Will they be punished for that too?

7. Poor Communication

I was not allowed to proceed beyond Pimba, because of my bail conditions. Only Ross could enter the township of Woomera. Nevertheless, for ten days we faxed, phoned, and visited the authorities at WIRPC, trying to get permission to visit detainees. Gradually responses eased from "No visitors allowed for three weeks," (the period we had originally said that we would spend in the area) to an open door for both of us to come and talk to two of the detainees.

However, by the time that first visit had finished, official word had come through from Canberra that we were to be refused any further contact with detainees, on the grounds that we were a threat to security and to the "proper order of the centre".

Mike Hughes, the Centre Manager Designate, told us that "DIMIA Intelligence" had been intercepting all of our email, and that they had determined that we had "associated with demonstrators".

"Associated?" I shouted in disbelief. "Hell no, Mike! I AM a demonstrator! Since when is demonstrating a threat to national security?"

Mike expressed sympathy, but said that there was little that he could do about it. He promised, however, that if we would be very careful about what we wrote in our emails (and in particular, if we made no reference to him personally), the decision would be "reviewed" shortly.

Mike is one of the nicest people at the WIRPC.

Sal

When 40-year-old Sal arrived in Australia by boat 18 months ago, his hair was totally black. Today his hair and moustache are grey from worry.

He nearly died of thirst on the boat trip from Indonesia. They left Indonesia, thinking that they only needed food and water for two days. The trip took 14 days instead.

Sal's brothers had been forced to fight for the Taliban. To escape the Taliban, Sal fled for Australia, thinking that he could send for his wife and four children after settling here. Another costly mistake. Now he has lost track of them, and the Red Cross cannot find them. He fears that they may have been taken by the Taliban.

Department of Immigration representatives visited Woomera in June, to tell Afghanian* and Iranian detainees that they would be handcuffed and forcibly returned to their home countries unless they signed papers agreeing to return. If they signed, they would be given $2,000 each.

All of Sal's appeals have failed. He has lost his family and all of his savings. So he signed the papers. But he said that this time it is Ruddock who has been deceived.

"It may be safe in the cities," he said. "But I am from the country. The Taliban are still there. They only shave off their beards." Like most Afghanians, he believes the moment U.S. troops leave, their terrors will resume.

*Afghanians say that Afghans are dogs, and Afghanis are coins used in Afghanistan. So we have referred to them as they refer to themselves: as Afghanians.

8. The Making of a Dictatorship

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal told us that some decisions (such as the decision not to let Ross and myself visit detainees) are exempt from appeals. Decisions regarding national security are among them. We learned from a solicitor that intercepting mail (including email) is permissible in matters of national security. We complained repeatedly to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and three months later we are still waiting for an answer. We applied to see our files under Freedom of Information, and our request was passed on to the Department of Immigration, to be dealt with when they felt they had the time.

Everywhere we went, we found that the Department of Immigration was above the law. Lawyers, the media, the Government of South Australia, the courts, and even the United Nations found themselves locked out whenever it suited the Minister for Immigration. The worst part is that there are absolutely no avenues of appeal.

Furthermore, legislation was introduced into Parliament to make it legal for the Executive to operate under the same sort of military law that had been given to the Department of Immigration. Anti-terrorism they called it. Anti-accountability more likely.

We were (and are) working under a dictatorship, and the Australian public was (and is) either unaware or indifferent.

Sadly, few people realise that most dictators started as extremely popular elected officials.

Malcolm

Twenty-four-year-old Malcolm is also from Afghanistan, but he refused to take the bribe to leave Australia quietly. His case had been rejected by the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT), but when he went to Court, the decision was reversed. The Federal Court declared that he is a genuine refugee.

When the Taliban came, in 2000, and forced his brother to join them, Malcolm was, fortunately, not home. His brother is believed to have been killed in combat.

His father sold a portion of the family farm in order to pay for his remaining son's escape to freedom. Malcolm landed on Ashmore Reef in January, 2001.

Brought to Woomera, he waited patiently for a year and a half before being told that he had been accepted as a genuine refugee

But the victory was short-lived.

The Refugee Review Tribunal heard what the Federal Court had to say and then simply overturned it. What makes him most angry is that the decision was made without Malcolm himself even getting a chance to appear or to be heard.

"You make trouble, you get visa," he laments. "You good, no."

He has no lawyer, and yet he had personally convinced an unprejudiced court that he has a right to be in Australia. But then, with typical contempt for the judicial system, the RRT made an arbitrary (dare we say dictatorial) decision to ban Malcolm anyway.

9. An End to Diplomacy

Ross and I had decided during the Easter demonstrations to work through legal and diplomatic means to offer comfort to asylum seekers housed in Woomera. We had offered our services to teach English and music on a volunteer basis and were told that we were not needed. We had tried to visit and been banned. We eased back on any criticisms in our emails, in an effort to get our status reviewed. But nothing changed.

Finally, I told Mike, "We're paying the price, but you're not producing the goods. What's going on?" I had emailed a friend who had urged us to attack the dictatorship head-on. I said that we were not there to bring down the Government. We were there as an embassy, to bring comfort through legal channels.

"But," I had added, if we have not had a breakthrough by Monday, I'll be back in touch with you about your suggestions."

Mike had apparently read that email, like so many others that he delighted in telling me about. "I'll have a final ruling for you on Monday morning," he promised. "After that, we'll know whether we are going to be friends or enemies."

On Monday he called. "I wasn't able to get clearance for you," he said, "but if you'll give me a list of all your associates, I'll see what I can do to help them to get approval."

"Yeah, sure," I said. "So you can ban them as well. Thanks, but no thanks."

Jarvis

There is much debate amongst asylum seekers over whether it pays to complain. Some say it is only the complainers who get fair treatment; others say it is only the submissive. The rules change constantly.

Jarvis is the grandson of a former Governor of West Pakistan. His family are the leaders of the Hazara people there. Jarvis himself is a dignified and gentle leader, and would be an asset to any country.

His uncle was killed by a local terrorist group in 1997, and then Jarvis started receiving death threats. He fled to Australia in panic at the end of 2000, and has been in Woomera ever since.

Though his application has been refused, Jarvis speaks positively of his time here. He does not feel that he is a victim. He blames no one. He says he will go into hiding on return and try to apply through embassies in Pakistan this time. But definitely not the Australian Embassy

When he senses that there will be no recriminations, he speaks on behalf of other detainees: Phone cards, he says, cost 68 cents a minute for local calls and $2.20 a minute for calls overseas. The promised monthly excursions ceased after the UN visit. There is a display at the visitors entrance, advertising English classes, but the classes do not exist. It costs $3 to send an ordinary letter to Pakistan, and $4.50 to England, when the same letters cost only $1.00 and $1.50 respectively if sent from the Woomera Post Office.

But will it do any good to complain?

10. Unstitching Lips

Ross and I could not get inside ourselves, but we could help others to get inside, and we could encourage the media, human rights groups, and friendly politicians to place pressure on anyone associated with the WIRPC.

Mail from detainees to ourselves had been blocked by ACM. So we sent an email to everyone on our mailing list voicing our concerns. A few hours later, a fortnight of back mail, to us from the detainees, was raced over to the Woomera post office.

We notified Member of Parliament about the Pay-Tel charges and a question was asked in Parliament. Pay-Tel immediately dropped their overseas charges to $1.25 a minute, although they still charge 68 cents a minute for local calls.

We complained about not being able to phone in to speak with detainees, and (just before the UN delegation arrived) three mobiles were placed in the compounds. Asylum seekers could receive calls through them, but they were still not allowed to call out on them, lest Pay-Tel lose some of their fat profits.

We are fighting to end a rule against asylum seekers using free internet facilities at the town library, and we believe that detainees should be allowed to have their own mobile phones, through which they can call out, to lawyers and other supporters.

And this booklet is our effort to get their story heard by the masses of Australians who have been told so many lies about them. Obviously, there was much we could do.

The Zorro Jones Family

The Zorro Jones family is one of the worst cases of injustice that we found at Woomera. As such, it deserves more space.

Zorro has been in detention at Woomera for 11 months, along with his wife, Mazie, three-year-old daughter, Kim, and his 63-year-old mother, Camilla. The family is from Iran and is Sabean Mandean.

There is a law in Iran that if you kill someone (even by accident), you must pay "blood money" to the family. But if the victim is Sabean Mandean, the killer is exempt. Sabean Mandeans cannot go to university, employ anyone, or own a shop. They are untouchables.

A Muslim neighbour tried to have a sexual relationship with Mazie, and she refused. He threatened to kill her daughter or pour acid on her face if she did not convert to Islam and become his wife. The neighbour was of high political and social standing. He boasted that he could do whatever he liked to the family and get away with it.

One day, when Mazie and Kim were home alone, soldiers arrived demanding to know where Zorro was. Mazie, who was seven months pregnant, refused to tell. She was beaten and kicked by the soldiers, causing her to lose the baby.

The soldiers went to a shed and returned with a plastic bag containing a gun, a sachet of drugs, a Koran with pages torn out, and a graffitied picture of Ayatollah Khomeini, which they claimed to have found in the shed. Any one item could have resulted in a death sentence...

The religious police officially decreed that anyone who killed Zorro would be doing God a service.

Local children warned Zorro (who insists he was framed) and he went into hiding. He arranged to have his family smuggled out of Iran. (His first wife had 'converted' to Islam under police pressures.)

This family's visa application has been rejected by the Department of Immigration on the unbelievable grounds that they are not suffering from persecution, only from discrimination! DIMIA, ignoring the fact that Sabean Mandians can convert to Islam, argues that a Muslim would never want to marry a Sabean Mandian because Sabean Mandians are regarded as unclean in Iran.

The grandmother, Camilla, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in Iran and took medicine to keep it under control. The same medicine is available in Australia, but "not at Woomera". So the woman must make do with anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. Her agitation makes her an unreliable witness and adds to the DIMIA attempt to discredit the family.

Camilla is incontinent, A request was made by a doctor and an ACM officer on the seventh of March, 2002 for her to be moved to Maribyrnong where there are toilets in the rooms, but so far DIMIA has not seen fit to act on that request.

A psychologist's report states that all indications are that Mazie and Zorro's story about the persecution they suffered in Iran is true. But DIMIA has their own interpretation, and they are presently fighting the case in the Federal Court.

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This html version of "The Worst of Woomera" was produced by Project SafeCom, Narrogin/Fremantle WA. You can subscribe to the Project SafeCom Newsletter by exploring a subcription here.

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