Tamil refugees protests on Christmas Island: 'Why do they treat us like this?'


"We are human beings, why are we ignored?", a Tamil refugee inside the Christmas Island detention centre told Green Left Weekly on the night of January 28.

Mass protests by Tamils occurred that day at the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre, over delays in processing Tamil refugees and granting visas. With placards reading "How long do we have to wait?" and "Protection not detention", the protest coincided with a visit to the island by Family First Senator Steve Fielding and Coalition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison.

The detainee told GLW that Tamil refugees detained at Christmas Island were frustrated and angry at the immigration authorities over the fact that large numbers of Tamil refugees had not been processed, despite some being detained for up to 11 months.

Long-term and indefinite detention is inhumane. Federal Labor's promise during the 2007 election of a maximum 90-day detention period is clearly now ignored by the immigration department.

The detainee, who was one of 194 refugees on a boat intercepted on June 28, said he had been waiting for seven months. He said Tamils were frustrated that other detainees were processed much quicker, while they were left to wait indefinitely.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said: "The government has no explanation for why Tamil asylum seekers are having to wait so long."

The detainee said that immigration told the Tamils they must wait for a "security clearance".

Tamil refugees are fleeing the brutal Sri Lankan regime, which last year massacred thousands of Tamil civilians in its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been fighting for an independent Tamil state.

The Australian government has close ties with Sri Lanka's regime, which has claimed those fleeing include "LTTE terrorists".

The detainee asked why, if Australia accepts 13,000 refugees a year, were Tamils being excluded from assistance? He wanted to know whether the Australian government was planning a deal with the Sri Lankan government to send Tamil refugees who had fled the regime back to Sri Lanka.

The demonstration followed sustained protests by Tamil refugees in early January over delays in processing. The detainee told Green Left Weekly that, at the time, the authorities had sought to calm Tamil refugees down and prevent an escalation in their protests by promising action. As a result of the protests, 16 Tamils secured visas.

However, the detainee said that there had been no change in the situation, with many Tamils still left for more than six months in detention in a state of uncertainty. He said this was why the new protests were occurring.

The detainees were also angry at a new rule that banned mobile phones for those locked up at Christmas Island, and at charges brought against detainees over protests last year.

Rintoul said protests were expected to continue in the coming days and there was talk of a hunger strike being launched.

The detainee told GLW it was extremely hard to wait inside the camp for months on end. "I don't sleep at night, plenty of people are being affected.

"After we went through hardship, and then we come here, and I don't know why the government treats like this. Why doesn't it show the compassion we expect?"

He wanted to ask Australia's immigration minister, Chris Evans: "Why are the Tamil refugees not being treated fairly, why are we waiting?"

Contact immigration minister Chris Evans to support the appeal of the Tamil refugees to be treated fairly and granted visas: Phone: 02 6277 7860; Fax: 02 6273 4144;
Wmail: minister@immi.gov.au.