Jay Fletcher

More refugees confronted with a lifetime in immigration detention because of an “adverse” security check by ASIO are being driven to suicide attempts and self-harm.
Over only a few days, more than 1000 families from 60 Australian cities and towns volunteered to host asylum seekers awaiting a protection visa, under a government scheme to release more refugees from detention. From next month, the Australian Homestay Network, the Red Cross and the federal government will coordinate to place asylum seekers released from detention on bridging visas in Australian households for a six-week stay. Online campaigner GetUp! made a call-out to its members on May 3 and the Homestay network wrote to its 5000-member base asking for help.
A letter written by a 10-year-old girl in detention in Darwin drew national attention on April 24 and voiced the “sad, depressing and hopeless” lives children and young people experience in detention. The note, hand-written in Vietnamese, was given to a local community visitor from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network. It said: “As each day passes, we feel heavy-hearted and lacking any sense of hope. We have no way of knowing what our future holds for us.”
The immigration department ordered 22 asylum seekers be taken to Sydney’s Silverwater jail after protests in Villawood detention centre last Easter. But the department did not keep a complete record and failed to follow its own procedures or visit the detainees within the 24 hours required. On the advice of federal police, the Iranian and Kurdish asylum seekers were forced out of Villawood in the early hours of April 22 last year, accused of being the “ring leaders” of the spate of protests that took place over the Easter weekend.
In recent weeks, a boat with more than 120 refugees was forced back to Indonesia under Australian orders, 10 Falun Gong members from China docked at Darwin’s wharves and another boat made several distress calls to Australia before vanishing. The first boat was on its way to Christmas Island when it began taking on water. A Singapore-flagged ship rescued the 120 Afghan and Iranian refugees onboard and took them back to Merak, Indonesia.
Seven people from multiple Australian cities were arrested today while climbing a hill to make contact with refugees inside the Wickham Point detention centre outside Darwin. About 35 refugee activists from Darwin, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne were at the centre as part of several actions that took place outside the city’s three detention centres over the Easter long weekend for the annual refugee convergence.
The near-continuous introduction, change and reversal of several federal government policies on asylum seekers arriving by boat have had a severely damaging effect on refugees held in the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin. An Iranian man who arrived on Christmas Island just after the government announced it would “swap” 800 asylum seekers in Australia for 4000 refugees from Malaysia, said he was told every day he would be deported. “It was the worst two months of my life.”
About 120 refugee rights activists from multiple Australian cities gathered outside the Northern Territory’s parliament house in Darwin today to protest against mandatory detention and the three detention centres located around the region. The event kicked off protests that are taking place at the detention facilities over the Easter long weekend for the annual refugee convergence. Each year refugee activists gather at a place in Australia where refugees are held in remote or difficult-to-reach location.
A new report by an international research body has called for detention of refugee children to be outlawed and for all countries to “ensure the rights and liberty” of children affected by immigration detention. Australian immigration detention figures released on March 25 showed that even after the federal government “completes” transferring children to “community detention”, hundreds of underage asylum seekers will stay in immigration detention centres.
The federal immigration department said on March 20 that it would bring all asylum seekers under a “new single protection visa process”. From March 24, refugees that arrive by boat would be able to put their cases for refugee status to the same body — the Refugee Review Tribunal — as those who arrived by plane. Since former Liberal prime minister John Howard excised large parts of Australia’s migration zone in 2001, asylum seekers that arrived by boat were taken to the Independent Merits Review (IMR) system.
The Northern Territory’s peak doctors’ body says Darwin’s main hospital is struggling to cope with up to five refugees a day coming in for treatment for self-harm, mental illness and chronic anxiety. See also: The Northern Territory: Australia's refugee detention capital
The Northern Territory has become Australia’s refugee detention capital. The federal immigration department’s new plan is to fund extra police for NT detention centres. The immigration department, Australian Federal Police and the NT police agreed on March 12 to a two-year deal for 94 new police officers, worth $53 million. NT chief minister Paul Henderson said it was “great news for the people of Darwin”.
A new media watchdog to regulate big media corporations — but also smaller, independent and online media operations — was the key recommendation of Ray Finkelstein’s sweeping report on Australian media released on February 28.
On an oppressively hot Sunday afternoon on February 19, I visited the Villawood detention centre in Sydney’s west, a suburban prison for up to 400 refugees and asylum seekers. At the centre, in the same compound as the maximum-security “Blaxland centre” that holds male refugees, is the Sydney Immigration Residential Housing facility. Six children live with their refugee families in a small row of simple single-storey homes, replete with CCTV, ever-present guards and a spiked fence.
The federal immigration department has drawn sharp criticism from refugee advocacy groups and Amnesty International for denying that refugee children continue to be held in detention. After Perth refugee activists visited the remote Leonora detention centre and reports emerged that children had been locked up for more than 12 months, the immigration department’s media manager, Sandi Logan, said on Twitter: “Misinformation about kids in detention centres is unhelpful, disingenuous. “As you know, kids are NOT detained in centres.”
About 150 people attended a February 13 forum “Smuggled to Freedom” to hear SBS sports commentator Les Murray tell his family’s story of trying to escape political persecution in Hungary in 1956. He recently returned to find “Julius”, the so-called people smuggler who helped them cross the border to Austria. He said Julius was an unrecognised hero who helped countless families, despite the risk of the death penalty. “We demonise people who don’t deserve it,” Murray said. “My smuggler was no demon.”


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