Niko Leka

Prime Minister Julia Gillard seems determined to avoid the facts on asylum seeker issues. In her address to the Lowy Institute on July 6, she claimed an updated United Nations report “confirmed the improved human rights and security situation in Sri Lanka and that displaced people continue to return to their homes”.

In fact, the report repeatedly referred to “acts of violence and human rights abuses ... abductions, disappearances, assaults, extortion, forced recruitment and extra-judicial killings continue to be committed with impunity by multiple actors”.

These poems by Iranian poet Mohsen Soltany Zand mark the chasm that has opened around and within us.

A century ago, the war poems of World War I conveyed the futility and horrors of war. By doing so, they expressed a clinging to life.

For instance, Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti wrote “lying a whole night/beside a butchered comrade/never have I clung so to life”.

This clinging and choosing of life, persisted even when it seemed the nuclear threat of “mutually assured destruction” was imminent.

Step by Step: Women of East Timor, Stories of Resistance and Survival
Edited by Jude Conway
Charles Darwin University Press, 2010
241 pages, $44

Review by Niko Leka

The title of Step by Step refers to how the Timorese gained their independence. The steps are told through the firsthand narratives of 13 women who grew up in East Timor.

When they were born it was a Portuguese colony, which in 1975 was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. It achieved victory in the quarter century-long struggle for independence in 1999.

The detention of about 150 asylum seekers in a disused mining camp at Leonora, near Kalgoorlie in remote Western Australia, is a return to the dark days of previous Coalition prime minister John Howard.

Under Howard, asylum seekers were detained at a disused defence department shooting range at Woomera in South Australia. Both cases involve refugees being detained at remote prison camps and only allowed out accompanied by detention centre staff.

Just after becoming prime minister, Julia Gillard told media on June 24 she could understand “the anxiety and indeed fears that Australians have when they see [refugee] boats”. She did not cite evidence for this claim. She said that, as PM, she would explain to the Australian people “what we are doing to manage our borders and what we are doing to manage asylum seeker flows”.

Michael Kumarasamy, one of the asylum seekers accused of being involved in a riot between Tamil and Afghan detainees at Christmas Island detention centre in November 2009, attended his trial on June 18 … about two hours late.

Kumarasamy’s lawyer, Simon Freitag, had emailed Perth Immigration Detention Centre to ensure staff there knew when the case was on. When his client was late, he again rang Perth IDC.

The federal Labor government’s freeze on processing visa applications by Afghan and Tamil asylum seekers is being challenged in many quarters.

Legal advice published by the Human Rights Law Resource Centre on May 23 said many of the factual and legal assumptions of the policy are open to “substantial challenge”.

Two Afghan and nine Tamil asylum seekers faced Christmas Island magistrates court on March 11. They pleaded not guilt to all charges related to a so-called riot in the Christmas Island detention centre last November.

On 22 February, Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne received a notice of a “code of conduct” complaint, because he’d taken part in a protest.

Green Left Weekly reported in its last issue (#828, March 3) that the immigration ombudsman was about to visit the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre, and that coincidentally, construction of a gym in the alpha compound had commenced.

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