The hidden refugee ‘hell’ in Melbourne

Tamil Refugee Council's Niro Kandasamy at the August 5 meeting. Photo: Refugee Action Collective/twitter

Located in the suburb of Broadmeadows, Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) has been described as a "hidden hell for refugees".

Addressing a forum organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) on August 5 by video message, Iraqi refugee Ali Yousuf, who was previously in MITA and is now in an Adelaide detention centre, said MITA guards regularly provoke people, seeking any reaction as an excuse to attack them. Yousuf suffered a broken hand when assaulted by a guard.

Yousuf said that detention is a waste of money that could be spent on helping the sick and people with disabilities.

He said that among those detained are families, including a two-year-old child.

Alison Battison, a lawyer representing detainees, spoke of the case of detained Vietnamese asylum seeker Huyen and her daughter Isabella, who was born in detention.

After arriving by boat, Huyen was, for a time, allowed to live in the community. She married and became pregnant, but was then taken back into detention. She suffers from gestational diabetes.

Isabella is classified as a "guest" rather than a detainee, which the United Nations has described as an attempt to circumvent the prohibition on the detention of children. She was taken to hospital with an acute illness, but then returned to detention.

Battison said that medical treatment in MITA is "shocking" and that refugees are often assaulted by criminals who are in MITA awaiting to be deported.

The Tamil Refugee Council’s Niro Kandasamy said that thousands of Tamils fled by boat after the military victory of the Sri Lankan government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. Some of them are detained in MITA.

She said tens of thousands of Tamils had been massacred in the final stages of the war and that "structural genocide" continues. UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson has said that the use of torture is "endemic and routine" in Sri Lanka.

Nevertheless, the Australian government stopped processing asylum claims by Tamils in 2010 and many have been sent back to Sri Lanka. Australia has close military and diplomatic links with Sri Lanka.

Fifty-five Tamils who were recognised as refugees were kept in detention for years because ASIO classified them as security threats.

These decisions were later reversed, and most have now been released, but five Tamils remain in detention after 10 years. One of them has been diagnosed with leukemia.

Kandasamy also spoke about the Tamil family of Priya, Nades and their two young children who had been living in Biloela, a small town in Queensland, but were taken into detention and are now held in MITA.

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