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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Baxter Iranians: Acts of extreme distress

Hunger strikers on the roof of the Baxter detention centre"More than many other countries, the fact that Iran, under the control of the Religious Council, reserves more than 70 forms of torture for dissenters, for people who run away, for people who declare themselves to be Christians, should be grounds for the immediate protection by Australia. But the Howard government, which does not want to loose trade with Iran, puts their commercial interests above Australia's obligations to protect refugees. Mr John Howard and Immigration Minister Vanstone, and all of those in the government who are complicit with this barbarity by omission, should be condemned for this."

Acts of extreme distress spread amongst Iranians in Baxter IDC

MEDIA RELEASE
Project SafeCom Inc.
Wednesday December 8 2004 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

Summary of events:


Acts of distress are widening at the Baxter detention centre, with now three Iranians on the roof, two more having joined the man who started this action last Monday. All three men are refusing to come down and stay out at night time in the cold.

Photos: On the Roof One | On the Roof Two | On the Roof Three | On the Roof Four | On the Roof Five

Another three Iranians in the detention centre have now sewn their lips together, having started a hunger strike. They are said to be joined soon by many others.

In a separate development, 10 Arab Ahwazian Iranians (also called "Indigenous" Iranians) have issued their own declaration and are all part of a hunger strike. They have sent their "last will and testament" to advocates, indicating explicitly that the decision to proceed with their hunger strike until death is pre-determined and that this is a collective decision by the ten men. The statement of the ten Arab Ahwazian is included in this release as item 1. Further information about this group is provided as item 4, while a letter from the men to Kaye Kennis, DIMIA Manager at the Baxter detention centre is included as item 5.

Last month, a letter on behalf of the ten men written to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights appeared on the internet website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation in the Netherlands. All their names and Baxter ID numbers were printed under this letter - but intervention by Project SafeCom had these names removed. It is widely regarded as extremely dangerous to identify Iranians who fled the country by name, because representatives of the religious council in Iran are known to travel to other countries to try and identify them, contact them and "list them" on behalf of Iranian authorities. The letter to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has been reproduced in this release as item 3.

A Statement was released by the about seventy Iranians at the Baxter detention centre, explaining their actions. This statement has been included in this release as item 2.

Project SafeCom has been highlighting the plight of the Iranians for a long time on its website. The list of articles and information about the Iranian asylum seekers is listed below as item 6.

Reports have also been received that IDAG, the Immigration Detention Advisory Group, will visit the Baxter Detention Centre this coming Friday.

Project SafeCom comment:

"It is clear that the Iranians, who are fearing persecution, who are denied protection by the Australian government, came to us for protection. The fact that we keep denying them that protection, is a scandal that should be known around the world."

"More than many other countries, the fact that Iran, under the control of the Religious Council, reserves more than 70 forms of torture for dissenters, for people who run away, for people who declare themselves to be Christians, should be grounds for the immediate protection by Australia. But the Howard government, which does not want to loose trade with Iran, puts their commercial interests above Australia's obligations to protect refugees. Mr John Howard and Immigration Minister Vanstone, and all of those in the government who are complicit with this barbarity by omission, should be condemned for this."

1. Ten Arab Ahwazian Iranians start hunger strike

From a supporter: "This is extremely difficult for me to write. I have lived in fear of this day. A very dear friend of mine called me from Baxter tonight. He and nine other Arab Ahwazians started a hunger strike today. His words resonate in my head: "I, we, now choose death. We will strike to our deaths. In a few days we will stop taking water. There is nothing to live for anymore"."

"Arab Awazians. Persecuted in Iran. Persecuted in Australia. Their lives, and deaths, are in the hands of DIMIA."

"They are forwarding their last will and testiments on, to be published. They have requested that all of their personal details be published despite the obvious risks."

2. Statement from 70 Iranians in Baxter detention centre

9pm Tuesday,
7th December, 2004


This is a statement and plea from the 70 Iranians still held in Baxter.

"Today three Iranian men in W2 have sewn their lips together and are on hunger-strike. Three others are hunger-striking on the roof of the gym and will stay there indefinitely. Many others will join the strike in the coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved. We are taking this extreme action because we have so few options left. This is a desperate plea to draw the attention of the Australian people to our situation."

"Many of us have been here for 4 or 5 years and we are tired, frustrated and extremely depressed. We have been used for political purposes by the Australian Government and have lost our freedom, our dignity, our hope, even our individual personalities. We simply ask that our cases be reviewed. This has been done for all other national groups of long-term detainees. We simply ask to be recognized as genuine refugees and to be granted protection so that we can get on with our lives."

"We call on all Australians of good heart to support us by contacting the media about our situation and by writing, phoning, faxing and emailing your local and federal politicians. In particular, please ask Senator Vanstone to review our cases, to show compassion and to let us be free. Please ask that there be no more deportations of Iranians. It is not safe for any of us to return to our country."

"We are peaceful people and will harm nobody but ourselves in our quest for freedom. Please stand with us to achieve justice."

3. Letter to UN High Commissioner of Human Rights: Protection needed for Ahwaz Refugees

To Louise Arbour,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Dear Mrs. Arbour,


Re: Arab-Iranian Asylum Seekers in Australia

My name is Karim Banisaid-Abdian. I am the executive director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organization in the USA. I had the pleasure of meeting you in Geneva during the 22nd session of working group on Indigenous Populations in July 2004 where I delivered a paper on the current situation of the Indigenous Ahwazi- Arab Iranians of Southwestern Iran

Today I am writing to you to seek your urgent help for the indigenous Ahwazi men who currently held in detention in Australia. Independent of each other, the men arrived in Australia by boat seeking political asylum only to be placed in high-security prisons in the Australian desert. Most have suffered there for 4 - 5 years without any hope of release other than on the occasion of their forced deportation to Iran.

You would be aware that 4.5 million indigenous Ahwazi Arab-Iranians in the province of Khuzestan in Iran are an oppressed ethnic minority. This has been confirmed by the UN on numerous occasions. For example, the 2001 report by the United Nation?s Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Iran found,

"However, it is also possible to conclude that breaches of human rights are in large part as egregious today as they were five years ago. The jailing of journalists and political dissidents, and the general denial of fair trial continues unabated. The equality rights, that is, those of gender and those to which minorities, both ethnic and religious, are entitled are by and large unrecognized..."

In his interim report to the General Assembly, the Special Representative urged the Government to adopt a national minorities policy.

It is self-evident, on the one hand, that certain minorities are among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country and, on the other, that most minorities are not enjoying the rights set out in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nor indeed even the limited rights set out in the Constitution.

In Iran, the status of minorities remains a neglected area of human rights. There are some initial glimmers of change, but there is a long way to go in terms of achieving a more forthcoming approach to the concerns of the minorities, both ethnic and religious. The Special Representative urges the Government to address this matter in an open manner, with the full involvement of the minorities themselves.

In 1994, the United Nations Economic and social council resolved that it was

"Shocked by the systematic repression of the Baha'i community and at the situation of the Iranian Kurds and the Arab minority in Iran..."

The situation has not improved since. To the contrary, information from reliable sources confirms that the situation is, in fact, worsening. Human Rights Watch in its recent report "Like the Dead in Their Coffins: Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran" states inter alia:

"The Iranian government has intensified its campaign of torture, arbitrary arrests, and detentions against political critics."

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division is quoted as saying: "Claims that reforms in Iran have put an end to torture are simply false." See the Human Rights Watch website.

The Indigenous Arab minority in the south-western province of Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz or Arabistan) has been fighting for the right of self determination since the annexation and incorporation of their land into the nation state of Iran. The relationship between the Ahwazi Arabs and the Islamic Republic of Iran's government is therefore strained. Political motivation is attributed to the slightest sign of discontent or minor offence by indigenous Arabs and is brutally suppressed. Many of our people have died in Iranian prisons or simply disappeared.

The Ahwazi Arab men in Australian detention fled Iran for various reasons. Their persecution by Iranian authorities in each case, however, can be traced back to their ethnicity. Unfortunately, the Australian authorities deny the fact that Ahwazi Arabs suffer discrimination and persecution in Iran and insist on refusing them protection.

Australia has limited the right of review of an unfavorable decision by its Refugee Review Tribunal to such an extent that even where asylum seekers present documentary evidence verifying their claim under the Convention, it will not be taken into account. This leads to the continued incarceration of 11 Ahwazis at the notorious Baxter Detention Facility, where their physical and psychological health deteriorates by the day.

In late 2002 or early 2003, Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, which, amongst other matters, provides for the voluntary or involuntary return of asylum seekers to Iran. Following the signing of this agreement, Australian authorities passed personal and identifying information to Iranian embassy staff and permitted them "consular visits" with direct access to the detainees in contravention of both domestic and international law. This further jeopardizes the safety of detainees should they be returned to Iran.

The reliance on diplomatic assurances by Western governments when deporting asylum seekers or "terrorist suspects" has been found to be unwarranted and was criticized by Britain's Highest Court. Human Rights Watch reported on October 6, 2004

The British government has said it is seeking "diplomatic assurances" that terrorism suspects deported to their home countries will not be tortured there. It argues that, on receipt of such assurances, the men ... could safely be deported. But experience shows that these assurances are an ineffective safeguard against torture...

"...The British position is moral abdication - there is a real risk that the men will be tortured if they are returned, whatever promises their home governments may offer". (Holly Cartner, Executive Director Europe and Central Asia Division)

I am writing to respectfully request that you intervene with the Australian government on behalf of these Indigenous Arab-Iranian men. They cannot return to Iran without facing torture, imprisonment and, in some cases, death for either trumped-up charges or "crimes" not recognized by any jurisdiction outside the Islamic Republic.

If Australia sees herself unable to grant protection to those men, I beseech you to include them in the UNHCR resettlement program to give them the opportunity to find safety in a third country.

I attach the names and Australian identification numbers of the Ahwazi Arabs for your information, but ask that they are treated with the utmost confidentiality out of concern for the men's safety. If you require further information, please don't hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to provide you with whatever case details you may require.

I thank you in anticipation of your help.

Yours sincerely
Karim Banisaid-Abdian

[12 names of Ahwazi Arabs deleted from the website on the request of Project SafeCom and others]

This document can be found at the website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation.

4. Background information about the ten Ahwazi Arabs

Note: a letter from the ten men is also printed below as item 5.

(From a supporter) The guys are absolutely resolved to go the end with their hungers strike. I understand that other Iranians and people of different nationalities are striking too, but the group of Ahvazi have decided to make this a group action to highlight their special situation in Iran. The crux is that, even though we have provided overwhelming information that verifies the guys claim that they are a persecuted minority, their cases are not being reviewed.

This in spite of the fact that RRT previously acknowledged their situation. See below:

1) Ahvazi men's case 13/8/02 Tribunal Member Philippa McIntosh said:

"...the independent sources do not indicate that there is any government policy to disadvantage or discriminate against the Arab population because of their race or a political opinion imputed to them generally. I am not satisfied that such a policy exists in Iran."

Yet in RRT reference N01/40727 [4/2/02] the same Tribunal Member Philippa McIntosh said (to reject a visa for a non-Arab Iranian who stated that an Arab Iranian had harassed the female applicant)
"Arabs are subject to discrimination in Iran.... Indeed in 1994 the UN Human Rights Commission documented severe human rights violations and denounced Iran's treatment of Arab and other minorities (1995, Iran, Anti-semitism World Report, pp.257-260, CX24206), and its treatment of Arab and other minorities was again heavily criticised by human rights agencies in 1996 (1997, Iran, Anti-semitism World Report, p.318-321, CX26159).

"According to a UNHCR overview, using sources including Human Rights Watch and the U.K.-based Minority Rights Group, while attempts to attain autonomy in 1979 gave way to support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, Arab activists allege that the government is trying to stamp out their culture, and many reportedly live in "exceptionally depressed conditions" holding lower-paying jobs than non-Arabs in the oil industry and agribusiness." (1998, Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Iran, UNHCR, Centre for Documentation and Research, Geneva, September, section. 2.4).

2) Excerpt from an RRT hearing of an Arab-Iranian in April 04 (reference No. 4/48379)

'In the circumstances, I accept that there is a real chance that the applicant could be detained on return to Iran. If the Iranian authorities did detain the applicant, the independent evidence suggests that he could suffer significant physical harassment or ill-treatment. In addition, it is possible that the applicant would be subjected to worse treatment in detention because he is an Arab.

There is independent evidence before me which indicates that Arab Iranians (as well as members of other ethnic minorities) are liable to be discriminated against, (see for example, pdf file on internet site here. The nation and it's minorities: Ethnicity, unity state policy in Iran, 30 June 2000 CX 79589)

5. Letter from the ten Ahwazi Arabs

Date: 7 December 2004
From: The Arab-Iranian Detainees
To: Kaye Kennis, DIMIA Manager Baxter IDF

You are aware that we are Arab-Iranians. It means we do not belong to the Persian majority in Iran but are different from other Iranians back home and in the detention centre. We speak a different language and have different traditions, clothes and food. Therefore our situation as asylum seekers is different. Our individual cases vary but what is common to all of us is that we had to flee our country because we either did or are suspected of struggling for our rights.

Our country is Arabistan. The Persians invaded our country about 70 years ago and joined it to the state of what is now Iran. They gave it the new name of Khuzestan. Ever since, we have been struggling to get our basic rights back. We have been completely unsuccessful and disappointed, because the result of this struggle forced some of us to flee to other countries, including Australia to escape punishment from the Iranian authorities for asking for our rights.

Since the invasion, our Arab minority has always been discriminated against and oppressed by the Iranian regime.This fact was conceded by two members of the Refugee Review Tribunal in Australia.

As early as 2002, Tribunal member Philippa Maclntosh made reference to the treatment of Arab-Iranians in her decision of February 2002 (Ref.01/40727): "Arabs are subject to discrimination in Iran..."

Another Tribunal member has acknowledged our situation on April 2004 (Ref. 04/48379) when she ruled:

'It is possible that the applicant would be subjected to worse treatment in detention because he is an Arab.

There is independent evidence before me which indicates that Arab-iranians (as well as member of other ethnic minorities) are liable to be discriminated against, (see for example, pdf file on internet site here. The nation and it's minorities: Ethnicity, unity state policy in Iran, 30 June 2000 CX 79589)'

Apart from the above-mentioned information, there are lots of other independent sources who have researched information about the Arab-Iranian's condition in Iran. For example:

* Human Right Watch World Report 2003: Iran;
* US Department of State, Country report on Human Rights Practices, Iran;
* UK Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Country Assessment - Iran, October 2002,
* UK Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Country Assessment - Iran, 2002,
* Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa, Canada August 2002
* AFP 31/12/02: Riots, arrests as tensions mount in southwestern Iranian city.
* AFP 27/12/02: Iran police arrest more then 400 in clampdown on foreign films, broadcasts.
* Radio Farda 31/12/02 police arrest 300 in Ahwaz riots.
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 27, 30/6/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 24, 9/6/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 10, 10/3/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 3, 20/1/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 2, 13/1/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report Vol 6, No 1, 6/1/03
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline 3/1/03
* Ahwazi-Arabs for Freedom and Democracy-USA (al-ahwaz.com)
* Democratic Popular Front For the Ahwazi Arab Nation (UK) (www.alahwaz.com)

Our friends in Europe, America and Canada as well as our good friends in Australia have provided the Department with this information more than a year ago. Many informed people have given information and tried to make you understand our situation. On 16 June 2004, Senator the Hon John Faulkner requested the Minister for Immigration to exercise her public interest power under section 48B of the Migration Act 1958.

We have also personally discussed our issue with Mr Meackal (our former case manager) and have given him all this information about four months ago. In response, we received letters in November 2004 from Department of Immigration in Perth saying that we would be advised of the outcome of our request in due course.

As you see we informed the Department about the information, which has been available in the past and also new country information a long time ago through many different sources, including ourselves, but still there is no sign of an answer!

We cannot return to Iran because we have a genuine and well-founded fear, which we have tried to communicate many times. Please believe us, if it were possible for us to return, we would have returned years ago instead of suffering psychological, mental and emotional damage in Detention.

We cannot return, but we can also no longer endure our imprisonment. What shall we do? We have lost everything: Our families, our country, our health and our hope. We have nothing to lose anymore except the little what is left of our lives. We cannot endure Detention anymore, hence it's time that we should get an answer from DIMIA otherwise we shall die.

In fact we have decided not to take any more food until the death of our bodies, because our souls have died a long time ago. Unless you release us from this hell, we have no will to live any longer and will refuse eating until we die.

This is the truth. We are determined to go on hunger strike until death because we rather die than stay in Detention or return to Iran. You have left us with no other option.

We are not interested in making our situation public through the media in Australia and overseas. We will just go quietly and allow God and history to judge your actions in driving us to our death.

However, we cannot make the same promise for our friends who care for us. If we cannot report to them that there is an answer to our continued requests to consider our situation, we cannot stop them from saying whatever they want in public or in private.

We make this honest and last request to you. Please don't give us any more explanations, which have no meaning for us only to stop us from our action. We have listened to them too many times already.

We will wait until Friday the 10 December 2004. If you will not answer this letter by then, we will know that you want to see us dead and will oblige you willingly.

Sincerely yours
[names of Iranians inserted here]

6. Website resources

Our own custom-made Evin Prison at Baxter
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)
3CR: Two NADA News broadcasts about forced deportations
Government torture: indefinite incarceration and deportation
Details about the Al Masri ruling
Human Rights Watch: Like the dead in their coffins
Suspected refugee-spies worked for Iran (from Svenska Dagbladet)

Lips sewn in refugee hunger strike

The Australian/AAP
By Lauren Ahwan
December 08, 2004


THREE Iranian men have sewn their lips together and a further 13 started a hunger strike in the latest protest by detainees aimed at forcing a review of their asylum claims.

Refugee advocates today warned that the men, held at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia, were prepared to die as a result of their protest, with the hunger strikers declaring they had few options left.

"Many others will join the strike in coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved," the detainees said in a statement issued by refugee advocates.

"Many of us have been here (in detention) for four or five years and we are tired, frustrated and extremely depressed.

"We are peaceful people and will harm nobody but ourselves in our quest for freedom.

"We simply ask to be recognised as genuine refugees and to be granted protection so that we can get on with our lives."

Refugee advocate Jack Smit said three of the hunger strikers had climbed on a roof at the detention centre and were vowing to stay there indefinitely.

He said many hunger strikers had sent their "last will and testaments" to friends in the belief they would die.

"They will definitely hunger-strike until they die - they have nothing to lose," Mr Smit said.

The latest protest follows a decision by 11 Sri Lankan detainees on Friday to end their 10-day hunger strike, after refugee groups claimed their cases would be reviewed.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has denied the reviews were linked to the hunger strike.

The Australian Democrats today blamed the Government's mandatory detention system for forcing asylum seekers to take such extreme protest measures.

"When you put people in a situation where they have no hope, when the live in fear over months and months and months, it is inevitable that you will get not only severe psychological damage but it's inevitable you will get these acts of desperation like hunger strikes," Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett told parliament.

An immigration department spokesman blamed misinformation spread by refugee advocates in relation to the Sri Lankans' hunger strike for the latest, similar action.

"The misinformation is encouraging harmful behaviour among some detainees," he said.

"Several detainees have placed two stitches in their lips and detention facility staff are closely monitoring the detainees."

Detainees on the centre roof were "being handled carefully by centre staff", the spokesman said.

He refused to elaborate on what actions had been taken.

Link to The Australian

Baxter detainees sew lips together

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Wednesday, December 8, 2004. 4:19pm (AEDT)


Refugee advocates say three Baxter detainees staging a rooftop protest weathered strong winds and heavy downpours overnight, while three others have sewn their lips together.

Rural Australians for Refugees says one of the men climbed onto the roof of the gymnasium three days ago and two others joined him yesterday.

Kathy Verran, a spokeswoman for the group, says the protest is one of many under way in Baxter.

Three other detainees have sewn their lips together and another are 19 are hunger striking.

She says the three on the roof were at serious risk during last night's storms.

"There was thunder and lightning and it was just terrible," Ms Verran said.

Click for Port Augusta, South Australia Forecast"Just after the storm finished and the person we know really well stood up and waved to us and it was quite frightening really seeing as the storm had just gone through.

"It's quite a steep roof but he was just letting us know that he was okay."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1260676.htm

Frustrated detainees sew their mouths shut

Independent Online, South Africa
December 08 2004 at 07:44AM

Canberra -
Several asylum-seekers held in an Outback detention centre have sewn their lips shut as part of a hunger strike called in protest against Australia's refusal to grant them sanctuary, government officials said on Wednesday.

An Immigration Department spokesperson said "several" detainees of the remote Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia state had put two stitches through their lips. He would not say exactly how many detainees had done so or where they were from.

"A group of detainees are claiming that they are choosing not to eat and the detainees are encouraged to end their action as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.

There are currently 252 people detained in the Baxter camp, which is primarily used for boat people who arrive illegally.

Refugee advocates Project Safecom said in a statement that three men had sewn their lips shut, while another three men were on a hunger strike on the roof of the centre's gym. It said its statement was issued on behalf of 70 Iranian men held in Baxter.

"Many others will join the strike in the coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved," the men said.

"We are taking this extreme action because we have so few options left. This is a desperate plea. We simply ask to be recognised as genuine refugees and to be granted protection so that we can get on with our lives," they said.

Australia has one of the world's most strict immigration policies, detaining all asylum-seekers, illegal workers and anyone overstaying their visas in guarded camps while their cases are handled, a process which can take years.

The spokesperson said refugee advocates were wrongly claiming the Immigration Department had agreed to review the cases of a group of Sri Lankan men who refused to eat last week, but the department would not say how many had protested or for how long.

"The misinformation is encouraging harmful behaviour among some detainees and is falsely raising the hopes of these vulnerable people," the spokesperson said.

In 2001, Australia's conservative government strengthened its stance against illegal immigration by deploying the navy to intercept and divert boats.

There are five onshore and one offshore Australian detention centres as well as Australian-funded detention centres on the Pacific island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

The controversial camps, which have been condemned by international human rights groups, have been hit by a string of protests, hunger strikes, riots, escapes and suicide bids.

In January, 35 Afghan men launched a hunger strike and stitched their lips together.

Link to South Africa Online

Also published in Navhind Times, India | Manawatu Standard,New Zealand

Iranian detainees on hunger strike

Sydney Morning Herald
December 8, 2004 - 2:24PM


Several Iranian men at the Baxter detention centre started a hunger strike today in an attempt to have their bid for asylum reviewed.

Three of the six men also sewed their lips together and many others are expected to join the protest.

A statement from 70 Iranian men at Baxter, issued by refugee advocates, said the action was a "desperate plea to draw the attention of the Australian people to our situation".

"Today three Iranian men in W2 (compound) have sewn their lips together and are on hunger strike," the statement said.

"Three others are hunger striking on the roof of the gym and will stay there indefinitely.

"Many others will join the strike in the coming days and we will continue until our situation is resolved.

"We are peaceful people and will harm nobody but ourselves in our quest for freedom."

Refugee advocate Jack Smit said the hunger strikers were determined to die unless their cases were reviewed.

He said some detainees had sent their wills to refugee advocates.

"They will definitely hunger strike until they die - they all have nothing to lose," he said.

A group of Sri Lankan detainees at Baxter ended a 10-day hunger strike on Friday, with refugee advocates announcing the immigration department had agreed to review their cases.

But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said suggestions that hunger strikes could prompt the immigration department to treat detainees' more favourably were dangerous as they raised false hopes and encouraged harmful behaviour.

An immigration department spokesman confirmed several detainees had sewn their lips together and were refusing to eat, while others remained on a roof at the compound.

"Several detainees have placed two stitches on their lips and detention facility staff are closely monitoring the detainees," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the situation of detainees on the roof was also being handled carefully by centre staff, although he refused to elaborate on what actions were being taken.

He said the protests by detainees showed the department was right to be concerned about comments made by refugee advocates when the hunger strike by the Sri Lankan detainees ended.

"The ongoing incidents at Baxter confirm the department's concerns about the consequences of misinformation being spread by advocates," he said.

"The misinformation is encouraging harmful behaviour among some detainees."

2004 AAP

Link to The Sydney Morning Herald

Detainee in rooftop protest at Australian centre

IranMania
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
2004 IranMania.com

LONDON, Dec 7 (IranMania)
- An Iranian asylum-seeker was conducting a lone protest Tuesday on the rooftop of an immigration detention centre in the South Australian Outback, authorities said, according to Agence France Press (AFP) reported.

An immigration department spokesman said the man climbed onto a roof at the Baxter detention centre on Monday and refused to come down overnight.

Refugee advocates said the man had been held in detention for four years and was suffering from depression, the report added.

According to the immigration depatment, a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers ended a 10-day hunger strike at the centre last Friday. The Baxter detention centre was opened in late 2002 after international criticism of asylum-seekers' treatment at another centre, Woomera, which has now closed.

"The latest protests showed the Baxter facility was also facing serious problems," a spokesman for the refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, Jack Smit, said.

"It should be ample evidence of the fact that the culture inside the Baxter detention centre has now deteriorated to a Woomera level prior to its closure," Smit said.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers who arrive in the territory illegally, arguing it is the only way to forbid people-smugglers sending boatloads of refugees into its territorial waters.

The policy has been criticised by organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Link to Iran Mania

Detainee spends night on roof

news.com.au
December 7, 2004


An Iranian asylum seeker spent the night on a roof at South Australia's Baxter detention centre as advocates warned the culture at the facility had slipped to the disastrous levels of Woomera.

The four-year detainee climbed on to a roof at the detention centre in the state's north yesterday afternoon and refused to come down, advocates said.

He remained on the roof today in an apparent state of mental distress, Jack Smit, from the refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom, said.

On Friday, a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers ended a 10-day hunger strike at Baxter and last week a Turkish detainee climbed naked on to a roof at the facility on the outskirts of Port Augusta and remained there for hours.

Mr Smit said the recent disturbances rekindled memories of the Woomera detention centre, also in SA's north, which closed in April 2003 after a four year history of riots, violence, self-mutilation and escapes.

"It should be ample evidence of the fact that the culture inside the Baxter detention centre has now deteriorated to a Woomera level prior to its closure," Mr Smit said.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

Asylum-seeker 'denied medication'

news.com.au
December 9, 2004


AN Iranian asylum seeker staging a rooftop hunger strike at a South Australian detention centre said today he had been denied anti-depressant medication in the lead-up to his protest.

Saeed Shams, 33, said he was protesting at the Baxter centre in SA's north because he had been in detention in Australia for five years since coming by boat from Iran and could no longer put up with the situation.

"I'm tired, I'm sick of this situation," said Mr Shams, who has been on hunger strike since Monday.

"I've lost five golden years of my life in here without any crime and we ask the Australian government to please pay attention."

Two other men were on the roof with Mr Shams, while another 13 Iranians were hunger striking elsewhere in the centre.

Mr Shams said he had been taking anti-depressant medication Zoloft daily, but centre staff recently changed the way medication was administered to detainees.

Medication had been handed out by nurses but was now administered by detention centre officers, he said.

Mr Shams said last Thursday the officers had told him his medication was unavailable.

"Until last Thursday they gave me Zoloft, every day I had to take two Zolofts," he said.

"I asked the officers to bring me medication, but they told me it's not ready, not from Thursday to Monday."

On Monday, Mr Shams climbed onto the roof and has stayed there despite inclement weather, including rainstorms on Tuesday night, when he said he was shielded only by garbage bags provided by fellow detainees.

However, Mr Shams said his protest was sparked by a lack of freedom, not a lack of medication.

"I am doing this protest because I'm tired of this situation and I'm tired of being in detention," he said.

"I did nothing wrong to Australia.

"I want to stay here (on the roof) until they do something for us."

Mr Shams said he had been told the government wanted to send Iranian detainees home, but he was certain for him that would mean imprisonment or death, based on his political views and his Christianity.

He said only an offer of freedom in Australia or another country would persuade him to climb down.

Asylum seeker resource centre spokeswoman Pamela Curr said it was likely the changes to the way medication was administered had exacerbated problems at Baxter.

"Christmas is coming and it's like the ticking off of another year and they just don't see any future, I think that's the main thing, no future," Ms Curr said.

"But then overlay the switching off of medication, and let's face it, the system is run on medication, they wouldn't be able to keep control without it."

An immigration department spokesman confirmed there had been changes to the way medication was dispensed.

He refused to say when the changes took place or what they were, but said they complied with required immigration detention standards.

He said no detainees had been denied medication.

The situation of detainees on the roof was "being handled carefully by centre staff", he said.

He said there were no current plans to deport any Iranian detainees.

AAP

Link to the AAP/News Interactive article

Baxter hunger strike worsens, Perth detainees follow suit

Project SafeCom Inc.
Narrogin/Fremantle WA
MEDIA NOTE
10 December 2004 - 12:00 WST


The number of Iranians on a hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre has now increased to 25 men. While they are still taking water, and the three men on the roof have also been taking some dates, reports suggest that they are weakening. For those on the roof, today is the sixth day of their hungerstrike.

Advocates have reported that a detainee, who climbed on the roof to share his concern with the three hunger strikers, and to persuade the men to call off their action, was apprehended by the detention centre operator GSL when he came down, and "thrown into the management unit for six weeks" for climbing on the roof without permission.

The temperatures are expected to increase to 'hot' this weekend - earlier in the week storms and heavy showers were a part of the weather pattern at the Baxter facility outside Port Augusta.

Detainees also report that they have been told that "a government delegation, including an Iraqi doctor" is planning to visit today, while previous reports have suggested that this may be a delegation of the Immigration Detention Advisory Group (IDAG).

A delegation of refugee supporters is present outside the gates of the Baxter detention centre, in a silent protest gathering and prayer vigil. The group intends to remain at their current location throughout the weekend.

Six detainees at the Perth detention centre have also started a hunger strike this morning. Spokesperson Mr "R" reports that he started the hunger strike because "....while the election weas coming, DIMIA and the government make some little promises, but now that the election is over, they just don't seem to know how our case is going, they don't tel you anything at all."

More hunger strikers at Baxter

The Herald Sun
10dec04


THE number of Iranian hunger strikers at the Baxter detention centre had risen to 25 men, refugee advocates said today.

An additional six Iranians joined the hunger strike today, Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said.

Some of the men have sewn their lips together in a hunger strike which some of the group began on Monday at the facility in South Australia's north.

The Catholic Church today expressed concern at the continuing protest, saying the situation must be resolved.

"There must be a better way of handling the cases of asylum seekers than the current arrangements," Catholic Bishops' committee for migrants and refugees chairman Bishop Joseph Grech said today.

"I pray for those suffering at Baxter and I hope that the situation can be resolved with urgency and compassion."

Link to the Herald Sun

Catholic body calls for end to Baxter protest

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Friday, December 10, 2004. 7:46pm (AEDT)


The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has called for an end to a protest by asylum seekers at South Australia's Baxter detention centre.

A number of detainees have climbed on to the roof of the centre and others have sewn their lips together in protest over the time they have spent in detention.

Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugees Office, Father John Murphy, says the detainees need to consider their own well-being.

He says the Federal Government should also act to end the deadlock.

"If they haven't got any chance of being accepted in Australia not to keep them here," Fr Murphy said.

"If they can be repatriated or if they can't, let them out on bridging visas or whatever, rather than just have them in a hopeless situation."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1262680.htm

More detainees join Baxter hunger strike

ABC ONLINE NEWS
Saturday, December 11, 2004. 8:00am (AEDT)


Up to 20 asylum seekers at the Baxter Detention Centre are now taking part in a hunger strike, in protest over the amount of time they have spent in detention.

The detainees, including three who are maintaining a roof top protest, say they are prepared to continue the protest until death.

The protesters have been without food for three days and say they are weak, but they will not end the hunger strike.

Six people have sewn their lips together as part of the protest.

One of the detainees, who has been in detention for five years, says the protest is an attempt to make people aware of their situation.

"We need to free people from the prison of detention centre like us," the detainee said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration says the situation is being monitored closely.

She says the detainees are being encouraged to end their action, and food and water is available to them at all times.

One of the Arab-Iranian detainees says they are frustrated by the delays in having their refugee status assessed.

"Death is better than life - anymore in here and we would prefer to die rather than continue this hard situation," the detainee said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200412/s1262811.htm

What do we think?

Project SafeCom maintains that:

1. All Iranians currently in detention have a well-founded fear of persecution if they're returned to Iran (regardless of whether the Australian government recognises that or not) - and there are mountain-loads of corroborating evidence for this (see the web links above).

2. Consequently, none of the Iranians should be returned to Iran.

3. All of the cases of the Iranians in detention should be re-opened as a matter of the greatest urgency.

We have written to all our supporters, all people in our database, and we have repeated our call through all known and functioning e-lists of refugee groups around Australia.

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)

3 Comments:

  • At Wednesday, December 08, 2004 3:59:00 PM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

    In an update, the number of hunger strikers has now increased to 19 men.

    The three men are still on the roof, Channel Seven TV just told me that the weather is appalling, with 20 knots wind and rain gushing....

     
  • At Thursday, December 09, 2004 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

    Detainees urged to abandon rooftop protest

    ABC ONLINE NEWS
    Thursday, December 9, 2004. 12:11pm (AEDT)
    A refugee advocate has pleaded to a group of Baxter detainees to abandon their rooftop protest.

    One has been on the roof of the gymnasium since Sunday, with three more joining him on Tuesday.

    Kathy Verran from Rural Australians for Refugees, says one of the men has since come down and has been taken into the management unit.

    Ms Verran says the others are now worried that they will be punished if they come down but she fears for their safety if they stay on the roof.

    "We worry about them a lot and worry about their welfare and we really don't want to see anybody die," she said. Link

     
  • At Friday, December 10, 2004 1:03:00 PM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

    Update Friday 10 December, 12 noon WST:

    The number of hunger strikers at Baxter has increased to 25 men. They're all still taking water. The three men on the roof are still there. Reportedly they're weakening. GSL appears not to make any attempts to bring them down.

    Someone who climbed up to try and persuade them to come down, was apprehended by the detention centre operator and thrown into management for six weeks.

    Detainees report that they are expecting "a government delegation, including an Iraqi doctor", today. The weather is expected to become very hot this weekend.

    Three to five men in the Perth detention centre have reported they have started a hunger strike in solidarity with the Iranians in Baxter.

     

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