2006 World Refugee Day with Pamela Curr
Media reports and pictures
World Refugee Day 2006 has passed us, and we look back at a spirited event at Kulcha Multicultural Arts of WA, with our guest Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.
Below are some pictures of what was a lively Forum, and some of the local media reports that were published around our event. If you missed our event this year, and you're not in our contact network, please leave your name and email address with us through our contact form: we want to see you next year!
20 June 2006: - Did the Cornelia Rau saga change refugee treatment? - For our event at Kulcha Multicultural Arts WA, Melbourne advocate Pamela Curr, the person who "found" her in the Baxter detention centre, asks whether the light which the Cornelia Rau case shone into the detention regime will make a difference to the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.
Photos of the forum night
The forum participants were Pamela Curr, campaign co-ordinator with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, Anne Pedersen, lecturer at the School of Psychology at Murdoch University, Sr Mary Keely of the Queens Park Mercy Sisters, Perth's Refugee Rights Action Network founding member Phil Chilton, and Jack Smit, Project SafeCom's Co-ordinator.
Click on the thumbnails to open the larger images - with apologies for the color balance of some images: the flood lights in a theatre environment at Kulcha Multicultural Arts WA make things pretty tough for a photographer!
Refugee Group aims to scuttle new laws
Pamela Curr, who found Australian citizen Cornelia Rau at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia in 2004, was the star attraction at a refugee forum in Fremantle last Tuesday.
About 70 people braved the cold, wet weather to attend, marking World Refugee Day at Kulcha, which was organised by South-Fremantle based Project SafeCom.
The refugees at Baxter had raised the alarm about Ms Rau, the Melbourne refugee advocate told The Herald. "Cornelia had been weeping and talking to herself, the detainees knew she was sick."
Despite nine weeks of badgering authorities and politicians, it was only after an article in The Sunday Age that Ms Rau was finally released.
"We knocked on every door and couldn't get anybody to listen. Finally we went to the media."
Many refugees in Australian detention camps suffer severe mental problems caused, or exacerbated, by being locked up, Ms Curr said.
"Cornelia had family [to get her out] but what about people who don't have family?"
Project SafeCom was established in the wake of the 2001 Tampa incident when 46 men, women and children (including babies) were rescued from a sinking boat off the Australian coast.
"Project SafeCom was developed ... as a voice for justice for asylum seekers," founder Jack Smit said.
The former Fremantle local, now living in Narrogin, said the organisation tackles the issues behind individual refugee stories and pressures politicians. Using the internet to raise awareness, alert media and flood MPs with emails from the group's members [sic], Mr Smit has had some remarkable successes. "One man and a computer can seriously make a difference in Canberra."
He's hoping to do the same with legislation currently being pushed through federal parliament, that will see all refugee claims processed off-shore and claimants relocated to other countries. "We can scuttle this Bill with 15,000 emails," [sic] he said.
The current split amongst liberals and Coalition MPs shows a shift in opinion amongst politicians, Ms Curr said.
World Refugee Day 2006: Introduction
Jack H Smit
Welcome to you all tonight, on this United Nations World Refugee Day event, organised by Project SafeCom with the usual terrific support from Kulcha Multicultural Arts of WA, and also with support from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne - after all, they let go of their superb community campaign co-ordinator Pamela Curr. A bit more to introduce Pamela Curr in a little while.
Those of you who were at the recent State Conference of the WA Council of Social Services, will know about my secret, because it was told to everyone through a bit PA system during two sessions: I was conceived within two weeks of the ratification of the United Nations Convention for the Status of Refugees.
It's for many reasons that the title of this Convention should be remembered by all of us. The Convention says something about the "Status" of refugees. In Australia, we have been led by several politicians who ran on an aggressive activist campaign since the orange hull of the MV Tampa was visible in Australian waters before the 2001 election campaign. They went on radio, TV, in the newspapers and in magazines, and in election pamphleteering material, telling Australians about their own manipulatice version of the Status of refugees and asylum seekers. And, let's just mention some of them, who are qualified lawyers: John Howard, Phillip Ruddock, George Brandis, Peter Costello, and so on, and so on.
All of them, those qualified lawyer politicians, peddled one of the most blatant lies in modern Australian history - the lie that asylum seekers are "illegals". They peddled the lie also, that those arriving on Australian shores by boat, coming unannounced, commit an "unlawful" act. You can read an admission of Mr Bennett QC in the Australian high Court - the case of Mr Behrooz to Justice Gummow and Justice....
Neither term has any basis in Australian law. No basis in law at all. They are both "empty" terms. John Howard and Phillip Ruddock both know this, and it is beyond my comprehension that those Universities that granted them their law degrees, have not ever come forward to speak about the reprehensible behaviour of their law school graduates.
The peddling of these lies makes the chorus of legally trained Federal Coalition party politicians into consummate liars. You and I are being consistently lied to by Australia's most distinguished leaders, especially by those with law degrees. Because if there is any substance essential as a core value of the UN Refugee Convention, it is the safeguarding of that Status of refugees. The UN Convention attempts to create a "privileged entry" status for unannounced, sea-faring people fleeing persecution and terror. Now, in my mind "privileged entry" amounts to almost the opposite of "illegal" or "unlawful" entry.
The UN Convention was drafted and saw its life against the backdrop of the bombing in May 1939 of the St Louis in the Turkish harbour of Ankara, a refugee boat filled with 760 Jews - 103 of them babies and children - bombed by Turkey with "silent permission" of the British.
The Convention was drafted because of the fate of the St Louis, a boat that was forced back to Nazi Germany because countries would not give it sanctuary. It was created because of the Patria (November 1940), and the Exodus (July 1947), boat where people were doomed to similar fate because of the inhumanity of Western Nations.
So as, finally, after five years of hard work by the thousands of refugee advocates around Australia, the Prime Minister is being wedged by his own backbenchers, I celebrate. These backbenchers have been nurtured and educated by thousands of ordinary Australians who know the facts, and who opened their hearts, both to the UN Convention and to refugees.
Just a word about Project SafeCom before we more on to other things.
Those of you who know the website, will know that we have opinions about sustainability and about environmental care for our planet as well as about what Australia does to refugees since Tampa.
There's an "intelligent design" reason for this, and as we experienced in Perth and Western Australia our coldest June night temperatures since 120 years and the driest June since rainfall recording began - or was it the other way around? - we can start on our expectations of the next HUGE wave of refugees,also expected to come to Australia.
The UN expects 50 million people going on the move to find a new country in the next four to five decades.
Tuvalu, on of the nations in our close vicinity, is sinking. In Alaska, the first village relocated itself in its entirety to another place in the State.
The Climate refugees are coming, and as they do, Project SafeCom's attention to climate upheaval and environmental displacement will come into its own. Last year we endorsed the Friends of The Earth's Climate Refugee policy - but meanwhile, while European Ministers raise their concerns for these issues, ABC Four Corners reports how John Howard gags his CSIRO scientists from ever mentioning the term "Climate Refugees" and from talking about the political implications of rising sea levels on Australia's obligations to those who need to run for their lives, because the planet cannot sustain their villages, because they are the first ones to start losing their entire islands or countries or coastal regions.
Jack H Smit is the founder and coordinator of Project SafeCom Inc. The organisation has been operating from South Fremantle for a few months. He can be contacted through www.safecom.org.au. In today's THINKING ALLOWED he argues that despite the outrage over Cornelia Rau's detention, Australia is going backwards in its treatment of refugees.
We've got to give a damn
Coming Tuesday - June 20 - will be United Nations World Refugee Day. These days I cannot help but thinking about the devastating stories that surfaced last year, when Australians learnt about Cornelia Rau. As a dogged advocate, I'm afraid that not much changed in the Immigration Department since that time.
Last weekend we heard on ABC radio that again there were reports of 26 Australian citizens who had been locked up "unlawfully" in immigration detention facilities. These were new reports, even while these citizens' cases were part of those who had been reported about to the Senate last year by the Commonwealth Ombudsman who now also has responsibility for review of the Immigration Department's lock-up strategies.
Last Sunday ABC-TV's Insiders program detailed how all these hapless victims of a government department almost devoid of accountability review mechanisms since Tampa in 2001 were also compensated. The out-of-court settlements included confidentiality agreements: bluntly speaking, that means that you and I will never know what actually happened to these people. They will never be reported in the media - never mind our Public's Right To Know, especially after the shocking stories of massive departmental bungling reached almost every household at the time of the Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon-Alvarez revelations.
Also last weekend, there were radio and TV reports of inmates raped at the Villawood immigration detention centre - in one case of a woman, while her daughter was present during the rape; and reports of a drug culture in the same detention centre. Not only is locking up of people who have not committed any crime a horrific act in itself, but the jail-culture inside our refugee jails dehumanises itself, just like prisons, into abysmal levels.
On the back of the Cornelia Rau story, things seem to start moving in a better direction. In Canberra, a Senate Inquiry into the 'wrongful detention' of Cornelia - who was almost deported to Germany as 'Anna Schmidt', an illegal immigrant - revealed more than 200 cases where the "grab 'em, lock 'em up, throw 'em out" policies of DIMA had caused untold misery and damage to the lives of Australian visitors, citizens and residents alike.
Then, a few decent small-l Liberal backbenchers under Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan MP launched their own soft-shoe-shuffle attack on this example of conservative immorality, with their two Private Members' Bills, demanding a more humane treatment, an end to indefinite compulsory jailing of asylum seekers, and a no-detention policy for children of asylum seekers. Had the end of the draconian measures doled out by Australia since the Norwegian containership MV Tampa rocked the foundations of refugee treatment at sea, to people who "dare" to arrive unannounced, fleeing terror and persecution, finally come?
It seemed so. The Department changed staff. It started a new staff training and induction regime. Some people lost their jobs. And the West Papuans who arrived in January this year, were assessed within 90 days without any secrecy or manipulation - and almost everyone was found to be a genuine refugee.
But with a furious Indonesia looking over Australia's shoulders, the Prime Minister lauched his most draconian proposal as yet since Tampa. If Mr Howard gets his way, Australia will never be able to greet any refugees arriving in boats again: they will be banned to Nauru, to never come to Australia even if they will be found to be refugees.
As I write this, a Senate Committee has condemned the proposal in its unanimous inquiry report - and it's a committee with a government majority. Next week the Senate will vote on this legislation, but it seems that some Senators will vote against the Bill. Australia is still a functioning democracy.
We will discuss these and other issues at Kulcha Multicultural Arts of WA on Tuesday evening (1st Floor, 13 South Terrace, above DOME 20/6, 7pm start) with Pamela Curr, who's coming over from Melbourne. Pamela is an appropriate choice as a speaker, because it was Pamela, who - together with Baxter detainees - found Cornelia Rau in December last year amongst the mess created by the Immigration Department in this hellhole for refugees.