News briefs


UN award for Tampa seafarers

Wilhelmsen Line and the crew of the MV Tampa have jointly won a $100,000 award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for rescue on the high seas.

The Tampa's crew and owner were given the award for saving 438 asylum seekers and for their courage and determination in an 11-day standoff with the Australian government last year over landing the refugees.

The award was presented by UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers and Norway's Queen Sonja. The prize money is being donated to an education program for female Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Iraqi doctor gets visa

SYDNEY — On July 1, Iraqi doctor Aamer Sultan was granted a three-year temporary protection visa and released from Villawood detention centre, where he spent almost three years. Well known for his role as a refugee advocate, Sultan appeared on a smuggled video in an ABC Four Corners report last year which revealed the plight of six-year-old Shayan Badraie.

Dr Sultan received a human rights award earlier this year for his work researching the psychological effects of detention in an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

'Anti-terror' laws threaten civil rights

BRISBANE — New "anti-terror" laws passed by federal parliament, with the support of the Labor opposition, represent a "real victory for the national security apparatus", and a "severe attack on democratic rights", civil liberties lawyer Terry Fisher told a public meeting sponsored by the Socialist Alliance on July 9.

Five pieces of legislation have already been passed. A sixth, which significantly strengthens ASIO's powers of detention will go before parliament again in August.

"The new laws are an act of intimidation, even if no one is actually charged in the short term", Fisher said. "Police harass and intimidate people under existing laws. What will an unaccountable organisation like ASIO do with these dangerous new powers?"

Woomera film screening

DARWIN — 100 people, including actor Bryan Brown, crowded into the Museum Theatrette on July 7 to view the Ska TV documentary of the protests at Woomera detention centre this Easter. Ska TV's Tim Parish who attended the protests, introduced the film, offering it as a first hand account of the experiences at the detention centre.

Parish said: "The protest at Woomera was in direct reaction to the extreme callousness and inhumanity of government policy. It was a demonstation of emotion felt by Australians who are ashamed of this neglect for human rights. Although unplanned, the breakout came from a deep sense of outrage once people were confronted with the reality of face to face contact with the asylum seekers."

Parish also reflected on the experiences of those refugees still in hiding saying "its clear that running isn't freedom, but for some it may be preferable to deportation back to a country where they fear for their life."

Hunger strike ends

Asylum seekers held in Woomera detention centre met on the night of July 9 — day 17 of their hunger strike, and decided to end their action the following morning because they had had no response from the government. During the strike, detention centre staff cut off access to incoming phone calls. Detainees are very disappointed that their desperate action received no media coverage. It was the longest hunger strike yet held to protest against mandatory detention.

When the hunger strike began, 190 detainees took part, and only six abandoned the protest before July 17. Those that did were given no choice by detention centre staff, who would administer medication only if they stopped fasting.

From Green Left Weekly, July 17, 2002.
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