Palestinian refugee deported to death

August 10, 2008

Palestinian refugee Akram al Masri, 31, who was deported from Australia in 2002, has been shot dead in his homeland less than six months after Australian authorities allegedly refused him a visitor's visa.

Refugee rights advocate Marilyn Shepherd told the August 2 Sydney Morning Herald that she and al Masri's uncle, Solomon al Masri had applied for a visitor's visa for Akram in February. They did this after an attempt was made on Akram's life in Gaza, in November 2006, in which his 19-year-old brother, was killed. Shepherd said, "the department put the red flag up on us".

The August 5 Melbourne Age reported Solomon as saying the family had been advised that Akram, who won a 2002 case against his indefinite detention in Woomera Detention Centre, would not be granted a visa because he had previously been deported.

However, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has denied it had received a visa application on behalf of Akram. A spokesperson, quoted in the August 4 SMH, said the Australian government was not to blame for Akram's death. Federal immigration minister Senator Chris Evans said that many asylum seekers make similar claims, and Akram was deemed not to be a genuine refugee. Akram's murder would not change the government's approach to refugees' asylum claims, Evans added.

Solomon said Akram was forced to return to Gaza against his will: he had repeatedly told immigration authorities he expected to be killed. He said he blamed the former Howard government and, in particular, the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock, for his nephew's death.

Frank Brennan, refugee advocate and author of Tampering With Asylum, who knew Akram, told Cathnews on August 4 that it was clear that he, "like his brother, was a marked man".

Sydney-based refugee rights activist Rachel Evans told Green Left Weekly that Akram's deportation and death was a damning indictment of Australia's rotten refugee policies. She said the minister's July 29 announcement to partially dismantle the mandatory detention policy was a step in the right direction, but did not go far enough.
On August 7, an Indian asylum seeker in Villawood detention centre was served a deportation notice. "A compassionate refugee policy would mean ending all deportations", Evans concluded.

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