RAR National

Newsletter                No. 15                 16.12.04


News and information from the national Rural Australians for Refugees network

This newsletter is linked to the RAR Website www.ruralaustraliansforrefugees.org By clicking on the links in the publication, you can view additional information on the items listed. At the website you can access earlier editions of bulletins and newsletters, along with a lot of other updated information about refugee issues, the RAR network and what we're about. The site also contains a lot of helpful resources such as lobbying and information materials, media reports and publications, and contacts for other advisory, advocacy or support groups. A simple search function is located in the links at the bottom of each page on the website.


[Please note: This will be the final RAR Newsletter for 2004. Events will continue to be monitored through the RAR Admin office over the Christmas period, and Action Bulletins issued as required. Regular newsletters will re-commence from mid-January. While demands on RAR supporters can't be expected to cease for the coming period, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a restful Christmas and a positive start to the New Year - Rob and Anne, RAR Admin.]

CONTENTS:

1. Campaigns and Actions

2. News
 
3. Events
  • Reminder: RAR National Gathering - Bundanoon (Southern Highlands, NSW), 19th - 20th March, 2005
  • Photographic exhibition - Melbourne, from 13 December
  • 'Something to Declare' - Toowoomba, 19 December (10.30 am)
 
4. Other Activities
5. Group News
  • Gloucester RAR (NSW)
  • Christmas Island RAR 
Appeals for Support and Assistance
7. Media Reports
8. Essays and Articles
9. Resources

1. Campaigns and Actions

RAR highly commended in HREOC awards

In recognition of RAR's exceptional work in human rights promotion and advocacy, RAR has received a 'Highly Commended' ranking in the "Human Rights Community" section of the 2004 Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission Awards. From a shortlist of three organisations, RAR shared its status in the award (appropriately enough) with ChilOut, with the Publishers and Editors Network (PEN), another organisation highly active in the cause of refugees and asylum seekers, taking out the top ranking in the section.

This highly regarded national award is a fit tribute to the work done by every RAR supporter who, over the past three years, have helped the unfortunate victims of the Howard government's 'Deter and deny' policy - by providing direct support to individuals through letters, phone calls and visits, by raising funds, by getting information to the public and keeping the issue in the political spotlight. While recognition may not be at the top of our collective agenda, it's nice to get it. Congratulations to all.

A special mention also for the HEREOC Television award which went to Helen Grasswill, Quentin Davis, Mara Blazic, Ross Byrne and Roger Carter from ABC TV’s Australian Story for The Road to Tooleybuc which featured RAR's Ian Skiller - Congratulations to ABC and a big congratulations and thank you to Ian, Shirley, Bianka, Abdul, Ros, Steve and Lara for your roles in this great Australian Story!

Visit the HEREOC web site to view the Winners of the 2004 Human Rights Medal and Awards.

The Canberra Convergence in retrospect

The Convergence attracted a committed crowd of advocates to Canberra for the opening of the new parliament, with RAR groups and supporters attending from as far afield as South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, including a representation of at least16 RAR groups. The rally was positive on a number of levels. The protest itself was vocal and determined without becoming disorderly, and was effective in getting the message across to the assembling dignitaries that the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers was still on the political agenda. It was also valuable from another point of view, in consolidating the commitment across a broad range of advocacy groups and supporters, to the common goal of changing current immigration policy.

[One interesting but less positive aspect of the Convergence was the media treatment of the event. The cameos presented on at least two channels (including the ABC) featured outbursts of anger by individuals that were at odds with the overwhelmingly orderly behaviour of the rally. Reports from the local press (reflected in other later reports) estimated the crowd at 400, a figure that manifestly varied from the minimum attendance of 1,500 estimated by a variety of other sources. Photos of the Convergence are also available on the Project Safecom website at http://www.safecom.org.au/canberra04-pics.htm.]

RAR's 'Future Directions' Survey results

Thanks to the many groups and individuals who responded to our request for feedback via the RAR "Future Directions" survey. Results of the survey have now been collated in 'raw' form and are available for viewing on the RAR website. The responses revealed no deep divisions within RAR, with general agreement that we remain focused on the primary objectives of RAR's 10-Point Plan, although there were some different views about priorities and some interesting suggestions about content, including the possibility of incorporating a reference in the charter to RARs determination to ensure that those scarred by detention are appropriately compensated. There was a widely held view that RAR should remain 'refugee-focused' rather than broadening its agenda, although there was also strong support for building stronger strategic alliances with other advocacy/support groups. Several respondents raised the matter of the formal incorporation of RAR, and there were suggestions for possible 'centralised' functions, including a media centre and a 'panel' to coordinate local projects. The network's administrative and communications functions were seen to be working well. To view the comments made by RAR groups and supporters in response to the survey, go to 'Future Directions Survey' page on the RAR website.

Petition for Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan completed and failed in his asylum applications in Australia some five years ago, despite the fact that the Refugee Review Tribunal accepted his accounts of persecution and torture. Stephen did not pursue his case in the Federal Court within the requisite 28 days (due to poor legal advice and not fully understanding his rights). After a time in detention, Stephen abandoned hope for an Australian visa and elected to cooperate fully with a life threatening return to India rather than face indefinite detention. Despite his cooperation, the Australian Government has been unable to deport Stephen to India where the authorities claim to be unable to confirm his identity. Stephen is in effect "stateless" where no country will accept him (he has applied for asylum to over 80 other countries to no avail).

After five years in detention, Stephen has been out in the Perth community since August 2003 awaiting a decision from the Federal Court regarding the lawfulness of his detention. Following a High Court decision on the legality of detention, Stephen now faces a return to indefinite detention. In fact, the Department has already commenced proceedings to re-detain him.

The petition calls on the Minister to exercise her discretionary powers in Stephen Khan's case, and allow him to remain in the Australian community. A copy of the petition is available on the WA Synod - Social Justice and Uniting International Mission website or download the petiton now. Petitions (even if only 5 names on a page) are to be returned Rosemary Miller at the Uniting Church at GPO Box M952, Perth, WA, 6843, by 24th January, 2005.

For more information about the petition and Stephen's situation, contact Anne Pedersen at A.Pedersen@murdoch.edu.au. [Note: Stephen's full name has been quoted in this e-mail with his personal permission.]

Emirates Airlines action

Further to the earlier call for action against this airline, which seems to be quite happy to cooperate with the Australian government on forced deportations, advocates have advised that the airline's website does not have the appropriate facility for complaints. This is contrary to Emirates' earlier advice to write to the website www.emirates.com. Complaints will therefore need to be made in writing to Emirate Airlines, Level 2, 257 Collins St., Melbourne City 3000.


2. News

Iranian Hunger Strike at Baxter

Around twenty-five Iranian asylum-seekers, many of whom have now been held in Australian detention for between 4 and 6 years, have commenced a hunger strike at Baxter, with several of the men sewing their lips together. The strike began several days ago when one man climbed to the roof of the gym and declared that he would not eat or come down until the Minister for Immigration agrees to review all Iranian cases. The men say they will continue their strike until their situation is resolved. "We have been here for many years" a spokesperson said "and we are tired, frustrated and extremely depressed. We have been used for political purposes by the Australian Government and have lost our freedom, our dignity, our hope, even our individual personalities. We simply want our freedom."

Recent reports on Iran from reputable sources make it clear that deporting Iranian asylum-seekers back home places them in extreme danger. Imprisonment, torture and executions are commonplace. Human Rights Watch reports that Iranian authorities have managed to virtually silence political opposition within the country through the systematic use of indefinite solitary confinement, physical torture and denial of basic rights to all those detained for the expression of dissenting views.

The hunger-strikers are calling on all Australians to show compassion and to support them by contacting the media about their situation and by writing, phoning, faxing and e-mailing your politicians, and in particular Amanda Vanstone, calling for a review of their cases and an end to deportations of Iranians until the matter is resolved. It's understood that some discussion has been held with DIMIA officials over the weekend, and that members of IDAG (the Independent Detention Advisory Group reporting to the Prime Minister) will be visiting the centre later this week.

The hunger strikers are asking friends, supporters and advocates to assist by writing letters of support, highlighting the strikers' plight and calling for a review of their cases. Letters should be sent to:

The Minister for Immigration,

Senator Amanda Vanstone,
Suite MF 40
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Telephone: (02) 6277 7860
Fax: (02) 6273 4144
E-mail:minister@immi.gov.au

Your Local MP
for contact details of local MP's visit the List of Members by Electorate

Your Local and National Media contacts
A list of media contacts is available from the RAR's Media Contacts page

For media enquiries and information regarding the strike, contact jbrown@scu.edu.au.

Acting against activists: Labor's motion to the Senate

If it achieves nothing else, the Labor Party's recent Senate motion to condemn the social activists who allegedly colluded in falsifying passport documents for asylum seekers (see Raids hit 'passport racket' by Patricia Karvelas and Elizabeth Colman; the Australian, 2 December 2004; Homes raided in forgery probe' by Andra Jackson, the Age, 2 December 2004) clearly shows where the ALP - or at least its currently dominant faction - stands on matters of principled civil disobedience. Such actions may be illegal, but they are consistent with those taken by a number of major social movements in the past - the Sanctuary network in the US, a church-based organisation which ferried El Salvadorians and Nicuraguans across America to Canada during the Reagan era; the anti-war movement during the Vietnam conflict, even the many Germans and other Europeans who harboured fugitives during World War Two.

With the benefit of a little historical perspective, the societies in which these actions took place now generally accept them for what they were: acts of conscience undertaken against policies that have come to be commonly seen as infringing basic human rights and principles. In a sense, the relationship of cause and effect has reversed: the disobedience is viewed as an understandable reaction to unjust policy, and to the refusal of governments to consider or countenance root causes in their increasingly harsh suppression of dissent.

Acting contrary to the law is a serious step; but the law is not infallible, and it does not exist for it's own sake - or if it does, then we as a society are in serious trouble. At what point do we become a nation of moral abdicants, mutely accepting the legitimacy of whatever policies the government of the day determines, until we get the chance to again cast our lot, every few years, in another frenzied political lottery? Dissent outside the electoral and parliamentary arenas is an essential part of protecting both civil liberties and human rights.

The fact that people are prepared to break the law in defence of a principle should signal very clearly to the party that an important social issue is at stake. As Anthea Vogl of the NSW Refugee Action Coalition points out, it might behove the pundits of the ruling faction of the Labor Party to put their energy into exploring the root causes of the activists' actions, and protecting the principles of humanity and fair treatment for which the party once stood, rather than blithely mimicking the government's adversarial stance. They might put their support instead behind a review of immigration and detention policy, or the establishment of a judicial commission to investigate practices under that policy. They might also look over their shoulders, and consider how history has judged those who adopted a punitive and short-sighted approach to social dissent.

[To view a copy of the ALP's Senate motion, see item 44 on the Senate notice paper 7.12.04 at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/work/notice/snpf_008.pdf. For information regarding the situation of RAC members affected by the AFP action, and plans for pending action in their support, contact Anthea Vogl on (0402) 832 260.

Leading surgeon condemns conditions on Christmas Island

Dr David Fletcher, lead surgeon at Australia's Fremantle Hospital, has appeared on Perth radio and publicly called for the Immigration Minister to alleviate the stress on Asylum Seekers held on Christmas Island for over nineteen months. Dr Fletcher, who was undertaking work on Christmas Island, was made aware of the military style management of child detainees when he witnessed two guards escort a nine-year old asylum seeker boy into the Christmas Island hospital for medical care. "This child was sick and was there for consultation," he said. "This boy did not need to be handled this way, and the large guards only served to intimidate the child."

Dr Fletcher said he was "simply amazed" at the lack of respect for human dignity shown by the authorities on the island. "These people are just like you and me and should not be subject to this type of dehumanising un-Australian mode of detention. There were presents taken to be given to the children and we were not allowed to hand them out".

After visiting the Christmas Island centre with Olympic Champion Betty Cuthbert, Dr Fletcher said he believed that the detention policy applied by Australia there is "excessive and a total waste of taxpayers' money". He pointed out that the group of families on the island was contributing to the community by supplying fresh vegetables for the local people, and said he considered it "ridiculous" that the Australian government feels the need to lock families behind razor wire for so long. Dr Fletcher challenged Minister Vanstone to "be fair" and release the detainees immediately, and called on Australians to contribute to the family fund for the Hao Kiet people. "After meeting these people and witnessing the way in which we as a country are treating them, I am compelled to assist". Contributions to the family fund can be made through Trung Doan, at doanviettrung@hotmail.com or phone 0400 466 848. For more information on the situation on Christmas Island contact Alanna Sherry; phone (0417) 177 530; Kaye Bernard on (08) 9535 6660, or Dr David Fletcher on (0404) 890 200.

Visit RAR's Christmas Island Mission page for further reports on the recent trip.

Australians Against Racism - news update

Eva Sallis from AAR reports that the "Sisters-Daughters" billboards and poster campaigns have been (and continue to be) an outstanding success, as has the appeal for Shaker and Zainab to unite their family. Eva estimates the funds received should be adequate to meet the cost of Shaker and Zainab's tickets to Iran and the return fares for the whole family once reunited, and has asked that anyone else considering sending money might consider directing it to one of the many other urgent needs. Shaker and Zainab have almost completed the visa application process for the daughters, and the details for their departure, and will leave for Iran shortly. Eva has also made a workable MP3 audio copy of the recent Young Australians Parliamentary Forum - if anyone would like a copy, a donation of $5 to AAR will cover costs, and AAR will be delighted to send you one. For more information, contact Eva at eva.sallis@adelaide.edu.au.

Numbers in detention

According to recent figures, there are currently 201 people detained in Baxter, of whom the majority are Iranian (86) and Afghani (63). 54 asylum seekers remain on Nauru, 52 on Christmas Island, and 8 in Perth. [We don't have precise figures for Villawood or Maribyrnong - if anyone can provide these, it would be greatly appreciated.] More information is available from the DIMIA website at http://www.immi.gov.au/detention/facilities.htm.

Recent statistics from ChilOut (14.12.04) indicate that at least 94 children remain in immigration detention, 94 of them in high security facilities. The highest numbers are in Villawood (45), with 14 in so-called 'Home Detention', 8 on Nauru, 10 on Christmas Island, 13 in the Port Augusta 'Residential Housing Project', 2 in Baxter and 2 in Maribyrnong. For more information visit the ChilOut website at www.chilout.org, or contact Dianne Hiles on (0425) 244 667 or Alanna Sherry on (0417) 177 530.

[Ironically, Australia has recently granted refugee status to 27 Iraqis on Nauru, after reviewing their cases, on the grounds of fears for personal safety resulting from the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, conditions apparently not met when the applications were originally lodged during Saddam Hussein's rule. Sixteen of the refugees will be resettled to Australia, with 11 others to be resettled in other countries. Children granted refugee status recently include seven Afghan children in Australia and ten Iraqi children in Nauru. The Afghan children are unaccompanied teenage boys who were detained at Woomera and Curtin in 2001-2. They were later transferred to community detention for their own safety, but were never granted visas. They have been in immigration limbo for nearly four years. The Iraqi children - three girls and seven boys aged six months to 16 - have also been detained since 2001, or for their whole lives.]


3. Events

[Most pending events, including those listed below, are also posted to the Noticeboard section of the RAR website, where they are listed in date order and contain further detail. Owing to pressure on space in the Newsletter, events listed here are not generally repeated, and it is therefore recommended that you commit any dates of interest to your diary. You can arrange to have your group's coming events and activities posted to the RAR Noticeboard by completing the on-line form from the Post a Notice section. Just fill in the details on the form provided and click on the "Post Noticeboard Item" button.]


4. Other Activities

Letter-writing action: GSL to limit taking of food into Baxter?

Local advocates have advised that GSL, the contractor managing Baxter detention centre, has recently installed a food vending machine in the visitors' centre. Visitors are now allowed to take coins to the value of $10 into the visit centre, so they can buy snack foods from the machines.

While this may seem a positive move, supporters of detainees at Baxter are concerned that the action foreshadows a ban on bringing food from outside into the centre, as it has at Melbourne's Maribyrnong detention centre. Such an action would have a number of serious impacts, including reducing detainees' access to culturally appropriate food, limiting the crucial positive effects of sharing thoughtfully prepared and well presented food, and inhibiting the quality and sociability of visits (Celebrating Eid or Christmas with a packet of chips and a can of coke!). The machines only serve 'junk food', which does nothing to contribute to the detainee's physical well-being or meet the needs of people with specific dietary requirements. Profit from purchased foods would go to GSL (instead of the local community) and Nestle, the sole supplier.

Supporters are asked to express their concerns about this matter by writing, phoning or faxing GSL and DIMIA at Baxter using the following contact details: (1) Kay Kannis, Manager Baxter IDF, DIMIA Locked Bag 1, Port Augusta SA 5700; phone (08) 8641 5715, fax (08) 8641 5720. (2) Peter Saxon, GSL General Manager Baxter IDF, PO Box 2477, Port Augusta SA 5700; phone (08) 8641 8903, fax (08) 8641 8958.

For more information on visiting people in Baxter IDF, visit the Port Augusta Rural Australians for Refugees at http://www.gulfviews.com/rar/visit.htm.

Position - Intensive Family Support Officer

The Australian Arabic Communities Council Inc. is inviting applications from suitably qualified persons to the position of Intensive Family Support Officer. The position will be responsible for providing intensive casework to Arabic families in crisis. 35 Hours F/T, on call 24/7. Salary SACS Award Grade 3. Salary package up to $46,871 depending on qualifications and experience. Closing Date Friday 17th December 2004. Information package available from Souzi Taouil of the AACC on (02) 9709 4333.

Position - Volunteer Coordinator

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is seeking to employ a Volunteer Coordinator on a part-time basis. A job description is available from Konstandinos Karapanagiotidis at homeofhumanrights@yahoo.com.au. Closing date for applications will be the end of January 2005. More information about the ASRC is available at http://www.asrc.org.au/


5. Group News

[You can read recent updates from other RAR groups in the ‘Group News’ section of the RAR Website.]

Gloucester RAR (NSW)

The group had a spectacular success with their recent "RART auction", raising over $6,000 which will go directly to support those still in detention. Organiser Deborah Brooks says that once the group recovers from its effort they will be meeting to decide where the funds will be sent [read more....]. For more information about the event or Gloucester RAR contact Deborah at akandb@bigpond.com, phone (02) 6558 4324, mobile (0418) 631 472

Christmas Island RAR

Olympic legend Betty Cuthbert joined a group of 70 visitors and local guests on the northern headland of Christmas Island on 21st November, for a moving ceremony to commemorate the third anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV X, in which 353 asylum seekers, mainly women and children, lost their lives. A 'Tree of Life' was planted by Betty Cuthbert that will bear fruit for years to come and shade the site, which will be marked with a bronze plaque. A Vietnamese-born Australian who made the treacherous crossing following the Vietnam war reflected on his own family's journey to find safety in Australia over 20 years ago. He said "my brother drowned on the way, but we were lucky and found his body and were able to bury him in Australia. We have somewhere to cry for my brother. I feel sorry for the SIEVX survivors and am glad this spot will be available to them to remember their loved ones lost at sea". Betty Cuthbert also opened the SIEVX memorial artwork project exhibition at Christmas Island CLA (Chinese Literary Association).

Visit RAR's Christmas Island Mission page for further reports on the recent trip.


6. Appeals for Support and Assistance

Christmas presents for people in detention

  • Baxter - The three RAR groups near Baxter (Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta) are again working together to ensure that everyone detained in the centre gets a gift for Christmas. Marie Kennedy from Whyalla RAR, the group coordinating this year's effort has asked if anyone might be able to assist by making a donation towards the cost of the project. If anyone can help please contact Marie Kennedy at marie.kennedy@unisa.edu.au, phone (08) 86476067.

  • Nauru - Because of the great logistical difficulties of sending parcels to Nauru now - even insured packages no longer reach the people in the detention camp - advocates are organising to send a load of parcels through an international courier to reach Nauru in the week leading up to Christmas. After exploring a number of other possible options this seemed to be the only alternative available, but it is expensive and organisers are appealing for donations to cover mailing costs. If anyone can help with a donation, please contact nauruparcel@bigpond.com, regarding details about how this can be done. Any extra money raised will go towards buying phone cards which are always in short supply. Anyone needing more information, please contact Susan Metcalfe.

  • Christmas Island - Supporters of the Vietnamese detainees on Christmas Island are requesting donations of phone cards. These cards allow the group their only contact with the outside world. For further information as to the particular type required and how to send these cards, please call Genevieve on (02) 9385 4727 or (0401) 747 478.

    Contributions to the family fund for the Hao Kiet people can be made through Trung Doan, at doanviettrung@hotmail.com or phone 0400 466 848. For more information on the situation on Christmas Island contact Alanna Sherry; phone (0417) 177 530; Kaye Bernard on (08) 9535 6660, or Dr David Fletcher on (0404) 890 200.

[Please note: There are limits on the kind of gifts that can be sent to detention centres, and there are different processing and packaging requirements at different centres. For an excellent guide to such information for all detention centres, go to the 'Gifts' Page of the ChilOut website at http://www.chilout.org/activities/gifts_for_kids.html]

Jannah - the SIEV X Memorial funding appeal

This website was founded on 2nd September 2002 by Mary Dagmar Davies. Since then, Mary has maintained the site, self-funding the associated costs with the occasional generosity of a few supporters. If this website is to continue, financial assistance is required. Donations may be made to the "Rural Australians for Refugees - Lismore Area" Account Details: BSB 802-222; Account No. 53821 Account Type- S1, Reference: JANNAH, Summerland Credit Union, Molesworth Street, Lismore, NSW.

Baxter Afghanis - a note of thanks

Gae Gray, who recently e-mailed RAR groups asking for donations towards payment of a migration lawyer to travel to Baxter to speak to Afghani asylum seekers with a view to getting them a Lawyer to represent them, has reported that the necessary money was raised, thanks to the generous help from groups and individual supporters. As a result Marion Le has written submissions for all those she saw at Baxter, and has organised for another she was not allowed to see to have a lawyer. Gae wishes to publicly express her gratitude to Marion for the work she does for all asylum seekers, and to thank all those whose generosity continues to make that work possible. For more information about the Afghani's situation, contact Gae Gray at gae10@bigpond.com.

 

7. Media Reports

[Latest media reports are posted directly to the RAR Website as they come to hand, and can viewed by month in the Media Reports and RAR Press Hits sections of the RAR website.]

December

November

Recent RAR Media Releases can be viewed from RAR's Media Release section on the RAR web site.

[Writing letters to the editor and participating in talk back radio plays an important role in community education. Now is the time to keep the refugee issue alive and ensure it remains an issue. The RAR website now has a list of contacts for those wishing to contact the media - for more information see RAR's Media Contacts. The list is in five sections: Australian Newspapers, Australian Magazines, International Papers, Talk Back Radio, and a link to ABC's national & regional TV & Radio contacts. Please let us know how you go and send a copy of your letter to News@ruralaustraliansforrefugees.org.]

Quotable quotes:

"I think history will judge him very harshly for not having seized the opportunity to embrace peace." - John Howard, in response to Yassar Arafat's death, on ABC's 7:30 Report.


8. Essays and Articles

  • Exposing the shoddy treatment of refugees; review of Alwyn Evans novel Walk in My Shoes by Annolies Truman for Green Left Weekly December 2004. Half of all royalties from sales of the book go to CARAD, the Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees

  • I am still in the water with the dying of SIEVX by Amal BasryWorld Refugees published in the AxisofLogic.com; United States - Nov 1, 2004 "(This is Amal's story in her own words as told to me. At the time of writing, we had never met, but had conversed regularly over the phone for the best part of a year. Amal Basry is a patron of JANNAH - Mary Dagmar Davies, Founder, JANNAH, THE SIEVX MEMORIAL.)"

  • The Mental Health of Moving Asylum Seekers From 'temporary' to 'permanent' Protection Visas: It's Much More Than a Quick Political Fix. Contemporary Nurse Volume 17 Number 3, (October 2004) written by Nicholas G Procter, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of South Australia.

    [You can see a full index of other available articles by visiting the 'Essays and Articles' section of our website.]


    9. Resources

    [A wide range of books, videos, CDs and other resources is available in the 'Books and Videos' section of the RAR website.]