Refugee advocates are alarmed at the spate of politically motivated decisions by Immigration Department officers barring visits to detention centres.

In the last week, Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition has been barred from visiting Villawood detention centre; Senator Lee Rhiannon’s visit, today (Friday), to the residential housing compound of Villawoood was abruptly curtailed, and on Thursday night at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation a Harmony Day dinner inside the detention centre was ended and visitors asked to leave when Immigration Department officers accused visitors of being involved in a passive protest.

“Not content with policing the lives of asylum seekers, the Department of Immigration is using its powers to try to censor and control the actions of visitors to the detention centres,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“These arbitrary decisions are an outrageous assault on the democratic rights of visitors, refugee supporters and on the rights of the asylum seekers themselves to have access to community support. This is something straight out of 1984. It is a thinly disguised attempt to exclude and censor critics of mandatory detention from the detention centres.

“Serco and Immigration have long wielded arbitrary powers against asylum seekers with impunity, now they want that power to extend beyond the razor wire. These exclusions are no coincidence. It is clear that the bureaucratic exclusions have the approval of the Minister,” said Rintoul.

“In my case the Director of Detentions Operations, Steve Karras took a decision that my presumed participation in a protest at the gates of Villawood was reason enough to exclude me from the detention centre. The fact that there was no protest does not bother Mr Karras – his decision is law in the detention centre.

“Steve Karras has stated that presenting Aboriginal passports to refugees at Villawood meant the visit was ‘not for a proper purpose’. This is an arbitrary and politically driven decision and a complete violation of democratic rights.

“Today, officers of the Immigration Department manufactured phoney appointments with doctors as an excuse to cut short Senator Lee Rhiannon’s visit to the residential housing compound. Again this was thinly veiled attempt to remove a detention critic from contact with refugees.

“But ending the Harmony Day dinner, which has been sponsored by the Moreland City Council and other community groups for the second year is the height of bureaucratic shortsightedness. What better was to create distress and discontent for asylum seekers and refugees inside the detention centres than for the Immigration Department to exclude the people who support them? ”

“The Minister has to come clean – is he establishing a new detention regime by stealth or has the power of the bureaucrats controlling the detentions, gone to their heads? Either way, the punitive bureaucratic exclusions have to end.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

Spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Sandi Logan, has claimed on twitter that no children are detained behind barbed wire. The claim comes over a year after the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship promised that children would be released from detention.

Photos (see below) obtained today (Tuesday 15 May) by the Refugee Action Coalition from the Darwin Airport Lodge, where a large number of children are detained, indicate that Mr Logan’s comments are not correct and that shamefully children are still locked up behind barbed wire.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul stated, “Sandi Logan either has no idea about the reality facing children in detention or he has been caught lying. It does raise the question of where Sandi Logan gets his information. Perhaps he is spending too much time in Canberra? Children remained detained behind barbed wire and a number in Darwin have been in detention for over a year.”

“Sandi Logan is attempting to maintain the fiction that Alternate Places of Detention are not detention centres, euphemistically calling them “facilities” but these facilities are toxic. Barbed wire or not, APODs are detention centres with all the despair and self-harm that goes along with them.

“At Easter, protesters saw for themselves the evidence of self harmed bodies of children. We also received a note from a 10 year-old child saying that they had cut themselves three times in the year that they had been in detention. In late April a letter to the Australian public from a Vietnamese child revealed her suffering in detention. The Australia Medical Association has described the detention of children in immigration detention as a form of child abuse.

“Perhaps Sandi Logan can’t deal with the truth at all. The Minister should sack Sandi Logan for peddling myths; sack himself as the guardian of unaccompanied minors and act immediately to get children out of detention.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Photo of Darwin note from child available on request.

For immediate release: Tamil refugee from the Oceanic Viking attempts suicide overnight

A Tamil man who was on the Oceanic Viking has attempted suicide in Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation in Broadmeadows overnight. Jasee is the third Tamil with a negative ASIO security clearance to try and take his own life this month. Tamils in this situation face a life of indefinite detention, unable to be returned to Sri Lanka as they have been recognised as refugees, but the Immigration Department refuse to release genuine refugees if they have unappealable negative security clearances from ASIO.

These continued suicide attempts highlight the desperation and hopelessness inside detention for the tens of refugees inside the Broadmeadows detention centre. The Refugee Action Collective demands the immediate release of these refugees and for the Immigration Department to act swiftly to prevent any further suicide attempts before they succeed.

“The Australian Government is trying to kill these refugees everyday. By refusing to release these men, they are driving them to suicide,” said Benjamin Solah from the Refugee Action Collective. “Indefinite detention is killing them. They need to be removed from this fatal situation immediately. Is Chris Bowen waiting for one of them to succeed?”

Fellow detainees rescued a Tamil refugee who had attempted suicide by hanging from a roof beam at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre at 1.30 am this (Friday) morning.

The Tamil refugee, the first Tamil to receive a negative ASIO finding had been in detention for 37 months. He was taken to hospital by ambulance, unconscious and with a weak pulse. His present condition is not known. The refugee is in his early thirties.

It is the second recent suicide attempt at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre in a month by ASIO rejected refugees.

The negative ASIO security finding condemns refugees to indefinite detention. There is no right to know what evidence ASIO relies on for the negative security finding and there is no right to review or appeal negative decisions.

“It has been clear for months that the ASIO negative refugees cannot tolerate indefinite detention for much longer,” said Lucy Honan from the Refugee Action Collective.

“Chris Bowen must urgently address the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention that call for
refugees to have the same rights of review and appeal for their ASIO assessments as Australian citizens. This has become a matter of life and death.”

For more information, contact racvicmedia@gmail.com.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott is attempting to get legislation through parliament that will allow asylum seekers to be sent to third countries for processing. Oakeshott has called on both major parties to support his bill.

The Refugee Action Collective has condemned Oakeshott’s bill as being anti-humanitarian and an attempt to circumvent the High Court ruling in 2011 that ruled the Malaysian refugee swap deal as illegal.

Spokesperson Sue Bolton described “Oakeshott’s legislation as extremely dangerous” because it would allow an immigration minister to designate any nation as a suitable offshore assessment country as long as it is party to the Bali Process, a grouping of more than 50 countries aimed at combating people smuggling.

Bolton said that “Oakeshott is shifting the focus away from protecting the right of people to seek asylum and instead focusing on people smuggling as a crime.

“Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum. Criminalising the means by which people seek asylum is negating international law.

“The major parties’ and Oakeshott’s attacks on people smuggling are a hypocritical attack on right of asylum seeker to escape their countries and seek asylum.

“Some of the countries that are part of the Bali process are guilty of gross human rights violations – Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“If it is legal to seek asylum under international law, then it is legal to get help from someone to escape. Many refugees from Nazi Germany sought help from people smugglers to escape. Many of the people smugglers from that era are regarded as heroes.

“Oakeshott’s legislation is silent about protecting the human rights of asylum seekers in a third country, if his legislation were passed into law.

“Malaysia doesn’t recognise refugees and simply treats them as illegal migrants, deporting asylum seekers back to danger. Malaysia also canes asylum seekers and refugees.

“In Indonesia, the situation isn’t much better. Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN Human Rights Convention. Recently, an Afghan asylum seeker was beaten to death inside a detention centre.

“The inhumane mandatory detention regime in Australia is no justification for offshore processing. Mandatory detention has to end. Offshore processing, including on Christmas Island, also has to end.

“Australia should provide safe passage to Australia for asylum seekers, alleviating the need for asylum seekers to use the services of people smugglers.”

In a shocking example of the abuse and mismanagement of Australian detention centres, a mentally ill, Tamil refugee was bashed by Serco guards at Villawood detention centre in the early hours of Saturday morning, after being coaxed down from the top of a shipping container.

Around 20 Serco officers were involved in the incident, although it seems perhaps only five or six were directly involved in the assault.

The man who has suffered torture in Sri Lanka was left severely traumatised as well as physically injured. He was attended to by an ambulance and taken to hospital around 1.30am, daylight saving time, with injuries to his head, face, neck, his hand and legs. He is now at Liverpool hospital.

The 29 year-old Tamil refugee has been in detention for two and half years, most recently in the residential housing section of the Villawood complex.

“Coming just one day after the Parliamentary report, this incident shows why detention centres should be closed. It is bad enough that detention creates and exacerbates mental illness, it is disgraceful that a mentally ill man, should be subject to this kind of abuse, ” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Mandatory detention encourages an abusive attitude by guards, while Serco’s private management gives the government a convenient excuse for denying its responsibility for abuses in the detention system and complete lack of accountability.

“Chris Bowen should release this man from detention so he can be properly cared for. There must be a full inquiry into this man’s beating as well as Serco’s arbitrary system of punishments which allows asylum seekers to be moved to punishment sections of detention centres at a whim.

“The Parliamentary inquiry has only revealed the tip of the iceberg of the human rights’ abuse that is Australia’s detention regime.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

By Amy Bainbridge, Lateline, ABC. From http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-30/doctor-reveals-shocking-suicide-attempts2c-self-harm-in-detent/3922024.

A doctor has spoken out about the shocking instances of suicide attempts, drug overdoses and self-harm at a Darwin immigration detention centre. The doctor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has told ABC1′s Lateline that at least one person a week is trying to take their own life and many more detainees are on prescription medication for insomnia and depression.

Darwin’s Northern Immigration Detention Centre is the temporary home for up to 116 asylum seekers.

The doctor, who has worked at the centre, says there is a communal sense of helplessness among inmates.

“A lot of them say, ‘I’m depressed. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I can’t find motivation to exercise or learn English or do anything constructive.’ But a lot of them in terms of the most severe people have asked me to end their life,” he said. “After six to 12 months, most people have attempted some sort of self-harm, either due to complete loss of hope or because they hold on to the small hope that that might lead to a faster end to their detention.”

He says many detainees starve or cut themselves and many attempt hanging or to overdose on drugs. The drugs most commonly prescribed are for depression, psychosis and insomnia.

“Normally they get one week’s supply at a time. If you know other people and you’re able to ask, ‘Can I have your tablets? Can I have one of your tablets?’ In time, you can collect quite a lot,” he said.

And he has told of disturbing cases of self harm. “A gentlemen was in a room with the health staff and he stood up and apparently took out a light bulb and chewed it in front of them as a measure of desperation to show them how upset he was at his continued detention. This the second time he’s done this in a month and both times he expected to die as a result of it,” he said.

Enormous strain

As many as five detainees a day from Darwin’s three detention centres are sent to the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Paul Bauert, from the Australian Medical Association NT, says it is putting enormous strain on medical staff and resources. “Many of the patients present with some mental health problems. They may be chronic anxiety, depression and many are on anti-depressant medications,” he said. “Some are presenting with psychiatric illness and require admission to our psychiatric ward. Some are presenting with injuries from accidents, some are presenting with injuries from self-harm.”

Dr Bauert says it is a frustrating situation.

“We have a policy which is foisting unfortunate detainees onto us. The other frustration is the fact that once we recognise the mental health issues and once we’re able to exclude organic pathology, we are immediately sending these people back to exactly the same lock-up facility,” he said.

The doctor who has worked in Darwin’s detention centre says it is a situation that is doing untold damage to thousands of people every year. “Ninety per cent plus are found to be refugees and that’s after sometimes two, three years in detention,” he said. “And they bear the scars of detention, all of them. Some of them are physical, but most of them are mental scars.”

The Immigration Department has told the ABC: “We try to ensure people remain in detention for as little time as possible and ensure that they are treated humanely and have appropriate access to health and mental health care. “We have introduced new mental health policies and expanded mental health staffing. We have a psychological support (PSP) which is in operation for all people in detention.”

The latest information detailing the severe mental health issues among detainees comes on the eve of a parliamentary report into the nation’s immigration detention network. The inquiry has received more than 3,500 submissions.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is deputy chair of the inquiry. “It is a system that is inherently broken. The Government needs to act and needs to act on the recommendations in this report,” she said.

From April 6–9, refugee rights activists from around the country will be in Darwin to visit refugees detained here by the Australian government. It will mark 10 years since the refugee rights movement’s first Easter convergence at Woomera in 2002 and 20 years of mandatory detention policies.

Speakers

  • Hadi Hosseini, Afghan Hazara refugee
  • Marcus Hampson, Refugee Rights Action Network WA
  • June Mills, Larrakia activist and performer

Noon, Friday April 6, at Parliament House, Darwin

Rally will be followed by a march to DIAC and then a BBQ at Christ Church Cathedral. There will be no public transport that day, so please make other arrangements.

For more details, call Peter 0429 694 083 or visit www.dassan.org. A flyer for the event is available here.

About 60 people gathered today to protest against the private corporation Serco. The protested consisted of a number of groups across a broad variety of campaign background including but not prohibited to Occupy Perth, Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, United Voice, Save Fiona Stanley Action Group and the Refugee Rigths Action Network. Serco is the private corporation that runs and manages every single immigration detention across Australia. 7 suicides in detention have occurred as a result – among many factors – from the mismanagement of the detention centres. Serco run centres are often always understaffed and their little staff under trained.

Employees of Serco often have no training in dealing with torture and trauma victims, people with mental health issues and people from diverse cultural backgrounds – as has been demonstrated by various exposures of racist sentiments by guards towards asylum seekers in detention. A prominent circumstance of this was in September 2010 when Fijian refugee Josefa Rauluni who in an act of desperation and despair climbed a roof and threatened to jump off. Instead of reassurance, comfort and kindness the Serco guards attending the scene dragged mattresses underneath the building and taunted him to jump off, one even climbing the roof to try and pull him down. The man proceeded to jump and successfully took his own life.

Serco holds the record in the UK for the youngest death in custody in their juvenile detention facility after a 14 year old boy, Adam Rickwood, hung himself after Serco guards used illegal restraint tactics on him.