Carol Hucker worked on Manus Island as a counsellor for International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and as a case worker for the Salvation Army from June 2013 to July last year. She has allowed Green Left Weekly to publish her account so that people can become more aware of what is happening on Manus Island. She said: “It is my hope that through this brief account the men on Manus will not be forgotten.” This is the second part of a multi-part series and covers September 2013. * * *
The Border Force Act came into force on July 1. Under this Act, people working in immigration detention centres risk two years’ jail for disclosing evidence of the horrendous, inhumane conditions in those places.
More than 40 social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and humanitarian staff who have worked inside Australia’s detention centres have signed an open letter challenging the government to prosecute them for disclosing abuses at detention centres. They have united in a show of defiance against the Border Force Act, which came into force on July 1, the day their letter was published. The Act criminalises the disclosure or recording of information about abuse occurring at detention centres.
The Bring Back Asha campaign continues to grow. A snap rally at Sydney Town Hall on June 30, hosted by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, had 300 demonstrators making a sea of white balloons and placards, listening to speakers condemning the return of baby Asha (not her real name) and her parents to the immigration detention centre on Nauru.
Refugee activists organised a float in the Perth pride parade on November 23 to raise awareness of the discrimination queer refugees face on Manus Island. About 50 people took part in the float, dressed as prison guards and detainees in bright orange jumpsuits. The float was organised by an alliance of queer activists and refugee advocates, and attracted a broad group of people. Refugees living in detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea face a possible 14-year prison term if they disclose they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.
Having lived on the farm right next to the Northam army barracks since 1934, Eric Fox has seen a lot of people use the camp (and his farm) over the years. “The army used the farm extensively [in the early years of World War Two] as an extension of their training ground”, Fox told Green Left Weekly. “Later in the war, when the Italian prisoners of war were there, they weren’t very solidly interned — they walked over the farm as well. That didn’t worry us. They didn’t bother us.
If you relied on only mainstream media reports of the November 4 town hall meeting in Northam, you would conclude the Avon Valley town, one hour from Perth, is a seething hotbed of racism of the most vicious kind. The meeting was called to discuss the federal government’s plan to use the Northam army barracks as a detention centre for 1500 refugees seeking asylum. The reports showed women wearing shirts with the slogans “bomb their boats” and “sink their boats”.
The Refugee Advocacy Network organised a rally against mandatory detention on November 7, in response to the federal Labor government’s huge expansion of the system. About 400 people attended the protest. A keynote speaker at the rally was visiting Afghan activist Malalai Joya. She drew the link between the occupation of her country (in which Australia takes part) and Afghans becoming refugees. “Afghans are leaving because of catastrophe in their country”, she said. “You can’t bring democracy with occupation.”
An Essential Research poll released October 25, asked the question, “Do you approve or disapprove of the federal government’s decision to move children and their families out of immigration detention centres and allow them to live in the community while their cases are being processed?” Alarmingly, only 33% approved while 53% disapproved and 13% said they didn't know. Furthermore, 29% strongly disapproved, while only 11% strongly approved.
One hundred people gathered in Brisbane’s King George Square on October 22 to commemorate the tragedy of the SIEV X, an Indonesian fishing boat bound for Australia, which sank on October 19, 2001, drowning 353 asylum seekers — 146 of them children. The rally and the march through the city was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC). A RAC statement said: “The Australian government knew of this disaster and allowed these refugees, fleeing war and persecution, to die.
A “people's assembly for refugees” met in front of Parliament House on September 28 to call on the government to introduce humane policies and stop using refugees as political footballs. More than 160 people from Victoria, the ACT and NSW were joined by Greens parliamentarians Sarah Hanson-Young and Adam Bandt, and independent MP Andrew Wilkie. The rally was called by the Refugee Advocacy Network, a Melbourne-based coalition of refugee activist, advocacy and support groups. It was endorsed by 48 groups from across Australia.
A 21-year-old Tamil refugee has allegedly been the victim of an assault while in detention. Leela Krishna was recognised as a refugee by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in April this year, but is still held in Villawood detention centre. He was waiting for security clearance from ASIO before release. But, on August 21, he was allegedly assaulted in an isolation unit by a former professional kick boxer. The police are investigating the attack, and Serco — the private contractors who manage the centre — have placed Krishna in the “housing” component of Villawood.
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
Soubhi Iskander is a Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for NSW in the 2010 federal elections. He was born in Sudan and has been a socialist for more than half a century. Despite being jailed and tortured, he remains a committed and active socialist and now is the editor of Green Left Weekly’s Arabic supplement, The Flame. Iskander is furious but not surprised at the scapegoating of refugees and recent immigrants in the current federal election campaign.
A group of sixty refugee rights activists visited the Villawood Detention Centre on July 25 to take part in a planned soccer match and BBQ with refugees. It was organised by Socialist Alliance and Greens members and supported by the Construction Forestry, Energy and Mining Union (CFMEU) and Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA). We wanted to show solidarity with refugees and highlight both the ALP and the Liberal’s inhumane refugee policies. However, when we arrived we were turned away, deemed a “security threat.”
Refugee advocates have launched the “Bring them home, minister Evans!” campaign in response to the news that 92-year-old Irene Joseph, deported to Sri Lanka with her 68-year-old son on March 5, had collapsed and almost died in the village where they now live. Joseph is permanent resident of Australia and had lived here since 1979. In 1996, when she re-entered Australia after a holiday, she was mistakenly issued with a temporary visa.