Chomsky condemns Australia's refugee policy

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
“The true measure of the moral level of a society is how it treats the most vulnerable people.”

The Tamil Refugee Council released this statement on April 18.

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Two world-renowned authors, American Noam Chomsky and Australian Thomas Keneally, have called on the Australian government to end indefinite detention of refugees after a 10-day hunger strike ended at the Broadmeadows detention centre in Melbourne.

“The true measure of the moral level of a society is how it treats the most vulnerable people,” Chomsky said in a message this week to the Tamil Refugee Council in Australia.

“Few are as vulnerable as those who have fled to Australia in terror and are locked away without charge, their terrible fate veiled in secrecy. We may not be able to do much, beyond lamenting, about North Korean prisons. But we can do a great deal about severe human rights violations right within reach.”

The hunger strike by 27 refugees who have been detained for between three and four years because of negative ASIO assessments ended late yesterday.

“We decided as a group that our bodies were too weak to go on,” one refugee said. “The Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government could not talk to us about ending our detention while we were on a hunger strike. We say to her now: We have finished, so are you willing to talk?”

Keneally, a vocal supporter of refugee rights, said it was wrong to treat refugees differently to Australians. “If any Australian citizens were treated as these people are, with detention, humiliation and denial of rights, we too would make protests to assert the justice of our cause — just as these present refugees have done,” Keneally said.

“A previous prime minister, Bob Hawke, in the late 1980s, permitted 43,000 Chinese students to stay here, if they chose, after the Tiananmen massacre.

“No detention was necessary, no years behind wire for those offered asylum by the PM. I refuse to believe therefore that the present detention and long-winded processing of Tamils and others is necessary. Some of these people are in the same, if not greater peril, as were the students of 1989.”

A spokesperson for the Tamil Refugee Council, Aran Mylvanagam, said yesterday the fight for the release of the ASIO-rejected refugees would continue. He said: “There are 56 of these people detained indefinitely by the government because of so-called adverse security assessments. They cannot see these secret reports to challenge them. It is an outrage that people can be locked away forever by government decree without any legal recourse.”

“We are proud of these brave hunger-strikers who put their lives on the line to end this unjust situation. We shall be continuing our campaign to get some justice for these people for as long as it takes the government to end its inhumanity and cruelty.”

From GLW issue 963