refugee rights

Over the weekend of August 14-15, a “Compassion Caravan” left Perth to visit the Leonora immigration detention centre.

Organised by the Refugee Rights Action Network of Western Australia (RRAN), the caravan included 22 people (including university lecturers and children) and a cargo of gifts for the 195 mothers, fathers and children in the remote Leonora detention centre.

At dawn on August 20, the offices of Kurdish groups in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne were raided by Australian Federal Police and state police. Police alleged the groups were linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which struggles for self-determination for the oppressed Kurdish minority in Turkey.

The PKK was listed as a “terrorist organisation” by the Australian government in 2005. Kurdish leaders in Melbourne, along with the association’s lawyer Chris Ryan, questioned the timing of the raid, coming as it did the day before the federal election.

Just three days after the federal election, with the result still in the balance, the Refugee Action Coalition held a protest outside the Sydney law courts in support of a High Court case that is challenging the legality of off-shore processing of asylum seekers.

If the case fails, there will be no further legal barrier to deporting refugees currently held in detention centres.

About 500 people rallied in Melbourne on August 13 to put the Liberal and Labor parties on notice that the refugee rights movement is rebuilding, and a growing number of people are willing to stand up for refugees.

The Refugee Action Collective organised the protest under the slogan of “Stand up for Refugees” in a bid to have the treatment of asylum seekers recognized as a human rights issue.

There were contingents of Greens, socialists and the Community Public Sector Union. Protesters chanted, “East Timor no solution, let the refugees in”.

The Greens could have more power in the Australian parliament than ever before, after the federal election on August 21. Achieving the balance of power in the Senate is within reach for the Greens, meaning that the government would have to negotiate an agreement with either the opposition party or the Greens to pass legislation.

The Greens currently share balance of power with Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon.

“We have shown a responsibility that the Coalition has shunned”, said Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens.

Whichever major party wins the August 21 elections, the real job of fighting for progressive change will remain.

Not just because Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition have made this election campaign an ugly race to the right, but also because real change never comes simply through a vote.

Even an election that registered real victory, such as the defeat of the hated John Howard Coalition government in November 2007, came on the back of sustained political action by millions of ordinary people focused primarily around the campaign against Work Choices.

Most Melbourne people wouldn’t know that there is a refugee detention centre, called the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, in Broadmeadows. It is hidden away behind the Maygar army barracks on Camp Road with no sign to indicate it is there.

The Socialist Alliance organised a protest outside the centre on August 11 to publicise its existence. When the local media was notified about the protest, none of the journalists approached had heard of it.

Immigration officials accept about 99% of claims for refugee status by people who have arrived by boats in Australia. But this hasn’t stopped mainstream politicians from punishing those seeking asylum in this way.

In April, the government announced it would temporarily freeze visa applications from newly arrived Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers. In June, about 70% of Afghan (mostly Hazara) claims were rejected, according to the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC). Such rejection figures have never been seen before.

During the last three decades, Afghan people have had to leave their homeland due to civil war and foreign invasions. They began to live in camps set up for them near Peshawar.

During the recent floods in the province of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, the refugee camps in Charsada and Nowsherhra have been completely washed away. The Azakhel refugee camp that housed more than 3000 people has been annihilated by the floods.

Abdul Ramahi is a Palestinian-Australian who lives in Melbourne. A member of the Socialist Alliance, he is active in campaigns to raise awareness on the plight of the Palestinian people.

His own story, which he told Green Left Weekly, illustrates how the lives of Palestinians in the global diaspora are shaped by the ongoing injustice and resistance in their homeland.

Born in 1938, in a village called Muzeira, five kilometres from present-day Tel Aviv, he had a happy childhood. His father was a justice of the peace and owned a large amount of land — close to 100 hectares.

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