The Perth Magistrates Court has grouped a 16-year-old boy to stand trial on charges of people smuggling with two men he has never met and who were not even on the same boat. The boy told WA-based human rights activist Gerry Georgatos he was born in 1995. From a poor family, he was hired to fish on a boat going from Indonesia to Australia. He said the immigration department insisted he was born in 1991 on the basis of a wrist x-ray. They had not contacted his mother.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard used a series of meetings with Asian leaders at the UN Regional Summit on October 30 to lobby for her government’s proposal to build a “regional” detention centre for refugees in East Timor. She met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh of Laos and President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, the October 30 Australian reported. She also met with United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, who “noted” her proposal — the only outcome reported.
On September 24, Australia took another step backwards. Hadi Ahmadi, 35, was sentenced in a Perth court to a maximum of seven and a half years for assisting 562 asylum seekers to reach Australia on two boats in 2001. He was originally charged with “smuggling” 900 people on four boats, but this number was reduced during the course of the trial. Ahmadi had been recognised as a refugee by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). After twice failing to reach Australia by boat, he turned to helping others attempt the journey.
Three of the 12 Tamil asylum seekers accused of rioting at Christmas Island detention centre in November 2009 have had their charges dismissed. The lawyers for detainee Mr Suntharalingam successfully argued that it would not be fair to use his record of interview against him, as he did not fully understand the caution given to him by the Federal Police at the start of the interview. Without the interview Commonwealth prosecutors were unable to continue the charges against him.
Hazara asylum seekers, who broke out of the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin on September 1 to hold a peaceful seven-hour protest, have been transferred to the WA Curtin detention centre. On September 3, Australian Association of Hazaras spokesperson Arif Fayazi told ABC radio he was concerned for their welfare. Fayazi said that when he was in detention in similar circumstances in 2000, many of his fellow detainees became so distressed they harmed themselves.
Prisoners detained without trial at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin have staged dramatic protests. On August 29 and 30, about 120 Indonesian detainees, accused of (but not charged with) “people smuggling”, staged protests on the jail’s roof and set fire to garbage. On September 1, about 90 Afghan Hazara refugees broke out of the jail and held a peaceful protest on the Stuart Highway. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told AAP on August 30 she believed the Indonesians were poor fisherpeople who had been conned into making the journey.
On August 23, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) reported that a 30-year-old man found unconscious in the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia had died. After his collapse on August 21, the man was taken to Derby hospital, 40 kilometres away. That night, he was transferred to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, more than 2000km south of Derby. He died the next day. DIAC would not tell Green Left Weekly the man’s name, but said it didn’t believe there were suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. A Coronial inquiry
Over the weekend of August 14-15, a “Compassion Caravan” left Perth to visit the Leonora immigration detention centre. Organised by the Refugee Rights Action Network of Western Australia (RRAN), the caravan included 22 people (including university lecturers and children) and a cargo of gifts for the 195 mothers, fathers and children in the remote Leonora detention centre.
Immigration officials accept about 99% of claims for refugee status by people who have arrived by boats in Australia. But this hasn’t stopped mainstream politicians from punishing those seeking asylum in this way. In April, the government announced it would temporarily freeze visa applications from newly arrived Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers. In June, about 70% of Afghan (mostly Hazara) claims were rejected, according to the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC). Such rejection figures have never been seen before.
As of June 25, more than 4116 people, 566 of them children, were in Australian immigration detention centres, according to figures published on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website. The site also noted an increase of 46 people in the past week. In a country of 22 million people, 46 is a minute figure. That “stopping the boats” is a key election promise of both major parties illustrates the mean-spiritedness of their campaign.