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No “Fair Go” in Visa Applications Detention Centre Conditions ...
Page 10 The New Citizen February 2002 Howard told Melbourne radio 3AW visa, asylum seekers must apply on Jan. 25. Former Australian Hu- within 45 days of being in Aus- man Rights Commissioner, Chris tralia illegally. Separation deten- Sidoti told the New Citizen on Jan. tion was “to ensure new arrivals 31 that in fact, this was an admis- do not learn, as they would from sion that the policy was illegal. “Mr other detainees, of their right to Howard’s statement in fact con- make an application for a protec- firmed what the Government, or tion visa, to request legal assist- succession of Governments, have ance and advice and to request denied for the last ten years,” he access to their consular represent- charged. “For ten years I, and oth- ative and hence to minimise the ers, have been saying that these chance of new arrivals making policies are aimed at deterrent, and such applications and requests so the Government has always denied that their expeditious removal from that, because to detain people for Australia is more likely,” Sidoti the benefit of deterrent is a clear said. violation of international law.” Beyond that first hurdle, the As a deterrent, the policy encour- great majority of protection visa ages deliberate brutality: “It is like applications are rejected. In 1999- making women’s refuges worse 2000, out of 12,713 applications than the homes where they suffered DIMA received, just 2,458 visas violence in order to stem the mul- were granted, 1,684 after normal titude of women who may seek processing, 679 upon appeal to the protection,” Paul Valent, a psychi- Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT), atrist and past president of the Aus- and 76 through ministerial discre- tralasian Society for Traumatic tion. The reasons for rejecting Stress Studies, wrote in the Feb. 1, many of these applications are in- 2002 Herald Sun. Another psychi- explicable, in the light of estab- atrist, Zachary Steel, bluntly told lished Australian foreign policy. the New Citizen, “One wonders For example, Dr. Aamer Sultan is a why they haven’t suggested gas Villawood detainee who fled Iraq chambers, because that would re- after being involved in the U.S.- ally send a deterrent message…. sponsored Shi’ite Muslim uprising Like, where do you stop?” against Saddam Hussein in south- The policy is blatantly racist. A ern Iraq, which Australia also ful- little known fact is that there are a ly supported. Dr. Sultan’s applica- Above: Woomera detainees (with one prostrate on razor wire) plead, “Release us, or send further 60,000 illegal immigrants tion was rejected in April 2000, and us back.” Woomera formerly housed our once-proud space program. Right: Former Human in Australia, outside of the 4,000 he has been at Villawood for the Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti. Photos: AAP Images. Woomera/Rob Hutchison. Sidoti/Tim Cole or so mainly Afghani, Iraqi, and Ira- past two and a half years. Because nian asylum seekers in the deten- were described to the New Citizen there six hours until about lunch- Australia has sanctions against by Maqsood Alshams: time, without access to a toilet,” tion centres. Most of these are visa Iraq, and there are no flights there overstayers, who by law are also “It’s worse than a medium secu- another Perth resident reported. “I from Australia, Sultan cannot be rity prison. I mean, in a prison, peo- knocked several times. The excuse required to be detained, and then returned, and is therefore being deported. More than 10,000 of ple have minimum rights as hu- was they looked at the camera and detained indefinitely. He cannot man beings, being punished and saw me sleeping and after that they these are British and American, yet even get word back to his family, only a fraction of those nationali- serving sentences for crimes they had escorts on and were short who have no way of knowing if he have committed. But in detention staffed.” ties are detained, and neither na- is alive. Dr. Sultan’s case featured tionality rank in the top ten nation- centres, none of the people have * The detention centres are also on ABC TV’s Four Corners pro- any rights, under the Citizenship used to detain actual criminals who alities that are detained. gram on Aug. 13, 2001. When Four The policy is also completely Act, or any other Act. People are are being deported for committing Corners asked Minister Ruddock treated like animals. No one knows crimes in Australia. These people unnecessary. In terms of national how comfortable he was sending refugee policies, the evidence clear- what crime they have committed, mix with the asylum seeker popu- someone back to “Saddam Hus- and when their sentences will end.” lation. “Criminals also stay with ly shows that Australia has the sein’s Iraq?”, Ruddock replied, “I harshest policy, for virtually the Both the Human Rights Com- us,” a Maribyrnong refugee said. charged that under ACM detention am very comfortable about send- missioner in 1999, and the federal “Management is treating even the centres have become overcrowd- least problem; in fact, the nation ing anybody back who is found ranks 41st in the world as a refugee Ombudsman in 2001, were highly refugees as criminals. They put us ed, for further profits. Maqsood under our system not to be a refu- critical of the conditions and man- in the same place. They put extra said that when he started to speak destination. The United Nations gee.” High Commission for Refugees agement of the detention centres. security here. Otherwise they do out about detention centre condi- Although quickly aware of the Their reports contain many not need it. Always they are count- tions, he was threatened by DIMA. (UNHCR) reports that in 2000, virtual hopelessness of their at- Australia hosted 16,700 refugees, firsthand and anecdotal accounts ing people.” “The security here is “When I started talking against the tempts to get a visa, asylum seek- of conditions that paint a picture for a criminal or a killer,” a Perth system, and the inhuman condi- compared to Britain’s 87,000, Ger- ers face the further frustration of many’s 180,000; Thailand’s of the conditions: detainee reported. “Detainees here tion of the detention centres, they being kept deliberately unin- are friendly people and harsh treat- asked me to pay back my deten- 217,000, the United States’ formed about the progress of their 481,500, and Pakistan’s 2,019,000. * Villawood Detention Centre in ment can really affect them.” “It’s tion cost per day, or $63,000.” application. “Immigration Deten- run like a gaol with ID number, belt There is a severe shortage of in- For this special report, the New tion” reports the consternation this Sydney, built for 72 people, con- Citizen interviewed Chris Sidoti, tains 346. Villawood “Stage 1 is when being escorted (which is hu- terpreters at detention centres, a lack of information causes detain- miliating), van with bars and uni- budget saving by ACM. Conse- the former Human Rights Commis- ees. “There is a lot of gap between so overcrowded that is has become sioner and head of the Human a chicken farm, therefore drama formed officers,” another Perth de- quently, there is a huge amount of Immigration and the community tainee said. Detainees also report- tension between detainees and Rights and Equal Opportunity here,” a Villawood detainee said. and problems happen each day,” Commission until 2000, who vis- stated a detainees’ petition in ed constant “musters”—gathering their management, solely because “There is no trust in the Depart- all detainees in one place that no of an inability to communicate. A ited detention centres many times ment. The department should brief 1998. in his Government-appointed ca- * Before May 1999, all bath- one is allowed to leave until they Perth IDC detainee reported, “A them about the process and what’s are all counted—three to six times matter that is disturbing is that pacity; Zachary Steel, a psychia- happening to them.” Another de- rooms at the Port Hedland IRPC trist with extensive involvement were unisex but there were no a day, including odd hours of the when they deport people they tainee, from the Maribyrnong de- night. don’t do it with an interpreter. They with asylum seekers at the Villa- tention centre in Melbourne said, doors on the shower cubicles. “The wood Detention Centre in Sydney; bathroom and toilets are not kept “I haven’t been into a detention come and arrest people at any time, “Things are not explained. They centre since I finished with the even in beds, like criminals. This and Maqsood Alshams, an asylum don’t say how long it will take or very clean,” a Port Hedland detain- seeker who was detained at Villa- ee said. “All the accommodation Commission in August 2000,” said is a kind of torture.” what will happen next. My lawyer Chris Sidoti, who compiled these Even more disturbing are reports wood for 16 months who fled to talks to me frequently but he is combined with men and women Australia after receiving death using the same bathrooms and toi- anecdotes. “But, having visited that detainees are subjected to the doesn’t know either what’s hap- them regularly during the 5 years personal vindictiveness of officers. threats in Bangladesh, where he pening.” lets.” “You guys are coming today was a foreign correspondent and so they cleaned the bathrooms prior to that, I have no doubt that “The ACM should not break their The September 2001 Border the situation has deteriorated since own rule and harassing the people political adviser. The purpose of Protection laws further dashed ref- three times and sprayed with per- this report is to give readers a sen- fume,” a Maribyrnong detainee then.” here. That’s drive us to lose con- ugees’ hopes by removing their trol of our emotions,” a Villawood sual insight into the brutal condi- right to appeal the decisions of the told the Human Rights Commis- tions that innocent fellow human sion. “This should be done all the Australasian Correctional detainee reported. A Port Hedland Refugee Review Tribunal to the detainee said, “ACM will treat us beings are subjected to in modern- federal court. This decision puts time.” At Villawood Stage One, 90 Management day Australia, to explode the myth men share three toilets, which was The conditions at the detention not good when they’re in a bad tem- refugees entirely at the mercy of per. It depends on the mood of the that “it can’t happen here”. DIMA, and places DIMA above reduced to two toilets for a whole centres are largely due to the fact weekend when one got blocked. that they are run “for profit”. In- officer at the time.” An independ- judicial scrutiny. The new laws ent observer, psychiatrist Zachary No “Fair Go” in Visa also mandated that the lucky refu- * Many detainees complained triguingly, DIMA describe their about the food situation, mainly $100 million contract with ACM Steel, was scathing about ACM Applications gees who did receive visas would staff behaviour. “I’ve seen this hap- Philip Ruddock’s Department of no longer be granted permanent “not good and not enough”. In as a “strategic alliance”. One of the most centres, detainees eat at conditions of the contract that is pening over and over again: indi- Immigration and Multicultural Af- residence but only temporary pro- vidual staff provoking asylum fairs (DIMA) deliberately hinders tection visas. Chris Sidoti ex- 5.30pm, and then there is no food known, and not suppressed by the for more than twelve hours until Government’s “commercial confi- seekers by name calling, or saying asylum seekers in their application plained that this status entitled ref- that they are not wanted. I’ve even for protection visas. New asylum ugees to the bare minimum of Gov- morning. Some detainees com- dentiality” excuse, is that ACM do plained about the lack of time to not incur any penalty for breach of witnessed this at Villawood … they seekers spend more than a month ernment support, and excludes are escalating a situation, rather segregated from the main detainee Medicare, English classes, and eat, as well: “Half an hour for 60 or care, but they do incur a financial 70 detainees is not enough. You penalty for every detainee who es- than trying to resolve it.” The fed- population at detention centres, family reunion. “The policy seems eral Ombudsman also expressed which DIMA claims is for “health to be deliberately designed to pre- spend 20 minutes in the queue,” capes. The Human Rights Com- said a Maribyrnong detainee. An- mission blames this “imbalance” concern about the “cultural or ati- and quarantine” reasons. During vent integration with the commu- tudinal problems with some ACM this time, detainees have no access other Maribyrnong detainee re- for the heavy-handed security at nity, to prevent people establish- staff”, including “racial abuse, in- by phone or mail to any person or ing normal productive relation- ported, “Lunch today is only the detention centres, including the third barbecue. It’s because you night musters, curfews, and soli- sensitivity and inappropriate com- group in Australia, no TV, radio, ships with the rest of Australian ments, as well as a heavy-handed newspapers, magazine or books, no society, but to keep them in a semi- guys are here. Why can’t they have tary confinement, that further it more often? Organising the bar- traumatise detainees. approach … the inappropriate use contact with other detainees, and permanent state of insecurity, un- of force, unnecessary ‘trashing’ of only one phone call, but to their certainty, and lack of family sup- becue today is deceptive, as if it’s As a former detainee, Maqsood something they do all the time.” Alshams is convinced ACM’s con- rooms for no apparent reason and home country. In his 1998-1999 port.” the alleged harassment of detain- “Immigration Detention” report, * The Human Rights Commis- tract must be highly profitable. “I sion criticised the “observation can see how they make 90 per cent ees by some ACM staff…” Human Rights Commissioner Detention Centre Conditions: Christ Sidoti charged that this prac- room” at Perth IDC. The purpose profit on everything,” he said. “Worse than Prison” of this room is solitary confine- “The facilities are provided by Medical and Psychological tice of “separation detention” was All seven of Australia’s operat- a deliberate attempt to ensure that ment. One detainee reported, “Sol- DIMA, ACM don’t have to pay rent Health Care ing detention centres are terribly itary is very bad. There is no toilet for them, they get them free and One of the Human Rights Com- new asylum seekers did not discov- overcrowded. This causes acute er the most important rule in Aus- there. To go to the toilet we have house the people there. The de- mission’s criticisms of detention problems in the management of to knock on the door. Sometime tainees are not met with their med- centres was the “possibly inappro- tralia’s refugee law, which is that these centres. The conditions in in order to qualify for a protection there is no answer. I have pissed ical, psychological, and physical one of the best centres, Villawood, myself many times.” “I was shut in needs, so there is no cost.” He Continued Page 16
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