The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney released this statement on April 8.
At 2am on April 8, 28 ASIO-negative refugees — 24 Sri Lankan, two Iranian and two Rohingyas — began a hunger strike at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) detention centre. They have gathered on the playground inside the detention facility.
The hunger strike comes after a series of self-harm and attempted suicides by ASIO-negative refugees in Melbourne. These include a serious self-harm incident by a Tamil refugee on January 17, the third since Christmas, and an attempted suicide on November 15 last year.
Most of the ASIO-negative refugees have been in detention over three years, some for over four years.
Their sense of frustration has grown since their adverse ASIO assessment. Last year the High Court found that it was unlawful for the government to deny them protection visas because of an adverse ASIO assessment. Despite the court decision, successive immigration ministers have refused to act and they remain in indefinite detention.
A review of the ASIO security assessments has been initiated by retired judge Margaret Stone. Stone met with ASIO negative refugees in Melbourne on April 3 and with those in Sydney on April 5. But the meetings only confirmed that the process could still take months and that Stone can only make a recommendation. ASIO and the immigration minister will still have the final say.
The ASIO-negative refugees are denied the same appeal rights of an Australian citizen. “They are meant to receive a summary of ASIO’s reasons for the adverse finding, but the statement is a joke. It is about seven lines long, simply asserting what ASIO ‘believes’. There is no evidence provided for that ‘belief’. It is an absolute denial of natural justice,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
The Afghan and Rohingya refugees have not yet received their statement of reasons. “You can only imagine that ASIO officers are creatively working overtime, trying to make something up that could even vaguely justify its decisions. If there were substantial reasons to believe anyone was a threat to security, we would have heard about it long ago,” said Rintoul.
“The Minister has the power to end the torment and the travesty of the indefinite detention of the ASIO negative refugees. The Minister must use his discretionary power to immediately release the ASIO negative refugees.”
The refugees have released a letter explaining their protest — text below.
Letter from ASIO refugees April 6, 2013
Message from the ASIO rejected refugees:
We are 29 people here at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (25 Tamils, 2 Burmese and 2 Iranian) and 56 people all over the Australian detention. We have been here for four years and more. We cannot tolerate it any longer. We need to be released to save our lives.
At 2am today (Monday, April 8) we began a hunger strike together. All 30 of us plan to keep doing this until there is solution, one way or the other.
We will gather together in the grounds of the detention centre and stay there until we get a solution. If the Australian Government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully.
We have painted banners as part of our protest. There is one that shows many people hanging. That is what we want to happen to us if we are not released. for life here. People in here are jumping off roofs, they are going on hunger strikes, they are taking tablets, they are trying to hang themselves. It is a cruel and inhumane environment for everyone.
We plead with you, the Australian people, to help us. We are on the edge of life and don’t know how much longer we can stand it. We ask Prime Minister Gillard, Immigration Minister O’Connor, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Opposition leader Abbott and ASIO director David Irvine to stop this torture of all of us...of men, women and children, who have done nothing to warrant this cruel treatment that is destroying our minds.
We ask the authorities: You say we are a threat to this nation. So if we are such people why have they now put women and children and families in here with us? We are willing to be released into the community under strict orders if they think we are threats, which we aren’t. But whatever they want we will do. But we can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery.
We don’t want to die. We left Sri Lanka, Burmese and Iran because we fear to die. We came to Australia to live, not die. But death would be better than the life we have.
All ASIO refugees-Australia.