Niko Leka

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.
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.

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