refugee rights

Tamil and refugee rights groups have demanded the Rudd government reverse its suspension of refugee claims from Sri Lanka. This follows the release of an international report that provided more evidence that the decision to suspend the claims was based on a lie.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) released War Crimes in Sri Lanka on May 17, a report into the Sri Lankan Army’s assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the entire Tamil population in the country’s north and east between January and May last year.

I have been selected as the Socialist Alliance federal election candidate for the seat of Gellibrand in Melbourne’s western suburbs. I have spent much of the last 13 years as a union activist here, working in the manufacturing industry.

This is the “rust belt” — the old industrial heartland, and also one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country.

Five Australia-bound Tamil asylum seekers vanished in shark-infested waters near the Cocos Islands over May 5-9. They were seeking help for the 59 other men, women and children aboard a wooden fishing boat that had travelled from Sri Lanka and spent more than 20 days at sea.

Australian border patrol had let the boat flounder without food, fuel or water for at least eight days before the refugees were finally rescued on May 9. But the Labor federal government has refused to call an inquiry, referring the tragedy to federal police and immigration.

More than 350 people participated at the human ring in Sydney on May 8 and urged Australian government to be a lifesaver and protect refugees. They called the politicians not to score political points by punishing the most desperate of people.

Amnesty International Australia organized the human ring at Bondi Beach to show the politicians on all sides that they’ve got it wrong — Australians do care about saving lives and they won't accept punishment of people to win votes.

There were also speeches by human rights activists at the event.

It had to happen eventually. Kevin Rudd's popularity has gone into decline, and the Labor party now trail the Liberals in the latest polls.

According to a May 3 Essential Research poll, Rudd's approval rating has fallen to 46%, down from 71% a year ago. The Liberals lead Labor by 51% to 49% on a “two party preferred” basis according to polling by Newspoll published in the May 4 Australian.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Villawood detention centre. Most of what I knew came from mainstream media, which usually ignores a particular perspective: that of the refugees themselves.

“Queue-jumpers”, “expensive”, “unwelcome”, “should be sent back” are common themes. This rhetoric reduces asylum seekers and their experiences to nothing more than blood-sucking parasites looking for a warm place to nestle.

“Boat people” make up only 3% of all refugees coming to Australia. The rest arrive in planes. Where’s all the hype about “plane people”?

The conspicuous presence of barbed wire in Australian immigration detention centres, such as Rudd’s newly re-opened Curtin detention centre, is a reminder of the inhuman pedigree of these grim despair factories.

It is no accident that barbed wire — or the “devil’s rope” as the First Nations people of North America called it — has accompanied and facilitated many of the worst crimes against humanity of the modern era.

“Stop trampling rights to win votes”; “Stop breaking laws to win votes”; “Stop racist policy risking lives” and “Stop the freeze on asylum seekers' rights” were key slogans at a rally organised by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations on May 8, as part of a national day of action.

The 300 protesters heard from Chaman Shah Nasiri, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan who had suffered in the now-closed Nauru detention camp under previous Coalition prime minister John Howard's Pacific Solution policy.

In the United States, Google-owned video-sharing site YouTube has banned the video for hip hop star M.I.A.’s new single “Born Free”, citing the graphic nature of its content.

More than nine minutes long, the clip, directed by Romain Gavras, begins with heavily armed soldiers with US flags on their uniforms raiding someone’s home. The location is not known, but the setting is reminiscent of Baghdad or the Palestinian West Bank.

Forty refugee rights supporters protested outside Labor foreign minister Stephen Smith's office on April 23, demanding an end to the government's "freeze" on asylum-seeker applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Speakers included Refugee Rights Action Network members Phil Chilton and Victoria Martin-Iverson, Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth Alex Bainbridge and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

The next action planned by the Refugee Rights Action Network is an overnight vigil outside the Perth Immigration Detention Centre on May 7.

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