No “Fair Go” in Visa Applications Detention Centre Conditions by lindayy


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									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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