refugee rights

The second suicide in little more than two months took place at Villawood detention centre on the night of November 15.

Ahmad Al Akabi, 41, was found by fellow detainees hanged in a bathroom.

After spending more than a year in the Christmas Island and Villawood detention centres, his asylum application had been rejected twice under the off-shore processing system that was found to be invalid in a recent High Court decision.

In October, Kevin Harkins, a member of the Labor Left, won the ballot to become the new secretary of Unions Tasmania. Harkins was an electrician and then an organiser with the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria, before becoming ETU Tasmanian secretary in 2000. He spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Linda Seaborn.

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The recent Unions Tasmania election was the first contested ballot in years. Can you tell me about that?

A High Court decision concerning the Refugee Status Assessment (RSA) process may undermine the government's offshore processing system.

On November 11, the court upheld a case put by two Tamil asylum seekers, who'd had their claims for asylum rejected.

Known as M61 and M69, the Tamils put the case that they had been denied the right to challenge their rejected claims in court.

The current two-stage RSA "offshore" process discriminates between asylum seekers who arrive by boat, known as "irregular arrivals", and those who arrive by other means, such as by plane.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a report on the Christmas Island detention centre on October 29, and again called for an end to mandatory detention and offshore processing.

The 75-page report detailed the hostile conditions faced by asylum seekers, including the island’s remote location and limited access to essential services such as legal help, health care, torture and trauma counselling and religious support.

The report said Australia’s detention system breaches fundamental human rights.

As a former refugee, I can understand and share the concerns of the many Afghan asylum seekers currently facing deportation back to Afghanistan, the very country they had to flee from. This would send them into the hands of the very people responsible for much of the insecurity and threats to the lives and livelihoods of these asylum seekers.

It is unbelievable and preposterous.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard used a series of meetings with Asian leaders at the UN Regional Summit on October 30 to lobby for her government’s proposal to build a “regional” detention centre for refugees in East Timor.

She met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh of Laos and President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, the October 30 Australian reported. She also met with United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, who “noted” her proposal — the only outcome reported.

Federal government plans to convert vacant army housing at Inverbrackie, near the Adelaide Hills town of Woodside, for 400 asylum seekers in family groups have divided the local community.

On November 3, opposition leader Tony Abbott met with about 150 local residents, most of whom were opposed to the government plans. Abbott told those gathered that Woodside “is an open and welcoming community”.

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.

The federal Labor government has announced plans to move some children and families out of refugee detention, but will not change its policy of locking up unaccompanied children who arrive in Australia by boat.

The October 18 announcement followed a concerted campaign by refugee advocacy groups to end mandatory detention and a Greens bill to release all 738 children presently in detention.

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