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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

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