Deportations of refugees must end

On May 23, Hafizur Rahman, who has lived in Australia for 12 years and was working as a printer in Sydney, was told by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that he must leave the country by June 6.

His application for asylum has failed and he must return to Bangladesh, from where he fled as a political refugee 15 years ago. "They are forcing me to go home — I am almost halfway dead", the May 28 Australian quoted Rahman as saying.

Another article in the Australian that day reported that immigration minister Chris Evans, under his power to have the final say in asylum seekers' fate, is rejecting Section 417 applications (the last option for asylum in cases where visas are rejected by the Refugee Review Tribunal) at a rate of three to one.

Two asylum seekers from China, both long-term detainees in Villawood Detention Centre, staged a two-day rooftop protest at the prison camp after their cases were also rejected by the minister. One of the men is a Falun Gong practitioner and they both fear deportation to China. A May 26 statement by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) said there had already been three Chinese asylum seekers deported from Villawood in the last fortnight.

Figures from the minister suggest there are 19 people in Villawood facing deportation. Ian Rintoul from RAC reported: "Tensions are running high in Villawood ... Many of those rejected have said they would rather die in detention in Australia than be sent back ... Some of the people rejected by the minister had recommendations from the Ombudsman that they be released."

Meanwhile, at the Victorian ALP state conference on May 24, delegates unanimously supported a motion calling on the federal ALP to urgently repeal Section 209 of the Australian Government Migration Act 1958, under which asylum seekers are billed for the cost of their mandatory detention. The motion, which also called for existing Section 209 debts to be waived, states in part: "The practice of sending a bill to this most disempowered section of the community who have had no say in their detention and who have merely exercised their right under international law to seek asylum in this country is grotesque and reprehensible."