Asylum seekers face court for alleged riot

June 25, 2010
Sydney refugee rally, June 26. Photo: Peter Boyle.

Michael Kumarasamy, one of the asylum seekers accused of being involved in a riot between Tamil and Afghan detainees at Christmas Island detention centre in November 2009, attended his trial on June 18 … about two hours late.

Kumarasamy’s lawyer, Simon Freitag, had emailed Perth Immigration Detention Centre to ensure staff there knew when the case was on. When his client was late, he again rang Perth IDC.

He was told IDC staff did not know Kumarasamy’s case was on. He told them the details again, and after waiting, eventually found his client in a truck outside the court. He was told his client had been taken to the wrong courthouse. Kumarasamy had apparently been ready for court since that morning.

Freitag told Green Left Weekly the delay prevented the case from being decided that day. The magistrate has reserved her decision till July 2.

Kumarasamy is accused of hitting an immigration officer during a fight. GLW had been told by someone who wished to remain anonymous that Kumarasamy was attacked first. He claims an immigration officer grabbed him by the neck and injured him. Freitag said no records of Kumarasamy’s visit to the Christmas Island hospital were available. But he said “what was important in this case was establishing identity”.

Freitag told GLW there were two sets of upcoming cases, listed for September and October respectively, each involving four asylum seekers. Although they will have waited for nearly a year for their trial, the wait would have occurred even if they were Australian citizens, Freitag said, as the evidence was complex.

The difference is that if they were Australian citizens, they would be free on bail. The asylum seekers all have bail but can’t are only “free” to remain in immigration detention because they don’t have visas. Freitag could not say what the implications were for their visa applications.

Some of those accused have told GLW tensions had been rising for some time before the fight in November, but that since then Tamils and Afghans in the Christmas Island detention centre had got on well. Detention centre staff should have picked up on the increased tension and taken steps to defuse the situation before it got violent, they said.

At the time, refugee advocates said the fight was caused by overcrowding in the facility and growing uncertainty about the outcomes of visa applications.

Instead of simply dealing with the repercussion of the fight, the immigration department should look into how the fight could have been prevented in the first place. For a start, keeping refugees in the community while they wait for their applications to be processed would mean they have the support of people who speak their language, and are not under the inevitable stress that comes with being locked up like criminals.

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