Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras. The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they face on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness, and disinformation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The voices of the detained

By Kali Goldstone - posted Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Kali Goldstone

Kali Goldstone is a human rights lawyer who has worked with refugees, IDPs, immigrants and vulnerable groups for the last ten years in Australia, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the US. She has advocated on issues relating to gender persecution and the legal, social and policy concerns relating to fundamental human rights violations. She has a Masters of Laws from the University of Michigan and is currently completing a Masters of Journalism at UTS.

For four days, sixty male Afghan Hazara asylum seekers stood on the roof of Darwin Detention Centre, with signs made of bed sheets declaring: "We are human like you," and "We came here for peace and safety." On their shirts were written: "Will I be free one day?" and "Awaiting for your help."

While the government, advocacy and anti-immigration groups have been very vocal in the mainstream media regarding asylum issues, it is rare that we hear from the asylum seekers themselves.

During the standoff at Darwin Detention Centre, which began at 1:30am on 24th of July this year, I was contacted by a group of Hazara refugees who asked me to pass on this message to the "people of Australia - Please come and get us out of the cage."

The Afghan Hazara asylum seekers protesting on the roof told me that their protest against long delays had been "finished forcibly," at 4:30pm on 27th July. The protesters, aged 22 to 50 years old, included hunger strikers and some were self-harming.

Some of the protesters were receiving specialist torture and trauma counselling. They were concerned about being moved away from Darwin and the effect their protest would have on their refugee claims, or, in the case of those whose refugee claims had been approved, their security assessments.

On the fourth day of protests, the Hazara asylum seekers told me that "Serco officers [were] locking the protesters door[s] and collecting their properties. All the doors are now locked." The protesters were "frustrated" and felt "the officials [at] every moment threatening them."

They communicated with me about their concerns: "We respect the Immigration. We respect the people of Australia, and the Government of Australia. We came here and believed in [the] Australian people, that they of course [will] protect us."

Verse two of Australia's national anthem, Advance Australia Fair proclaims:

"For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To Advance Australia Fair."

"For those who've come across the seas," is Australia living up to its proclamation to "share" its "boundless plains" and has it the "courage [to] let us all combine?"

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently declared "asylum seekers would receive better protections in Malaysia under the Gillard government's proposed transfer deal, than being held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia."

Australia ''would fall well short of the human rights criteria demanded of Malaysia under the deal signed in July," the UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle, told a parliamentary inquiry.

The Hazara protesters in Darwin mirrored this reaction: They were seeking "justice and fair process." They emphasised that their "protest [was] peaceful and very humble" - they "just wanted their voices heard."

Australia's mandatory detention policy does not permit asylum seekers to work or live in the community, while in Malaysia they would have these rights. Australia also forbids them the right to lawful stay, and punishes those that arrive by boat.

''In the context of the Malaysian arrangements, the assurances of legal stay and community-based reception for all transferees can be seen as a more positive protection environment that protracted - and in some cases indefinite - detention that many face here in Australia, provided the assurances are carefully monitored,'' said Mr. Towle.

How ironic.

Most advocates remained opposed to the Malaysia refugee swap deal, citing the lack of basic legal protections for refugees and asylum seekers, given that Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power suggests, "the recent High Court decision provided the Gillard Government with the perfect opportunity to move on from the myopic and destructive national political debate about asylum seekers.

It's time our political leaders admitted what Australians increasingly are realising – that genuine solutions to the needs of refugees cannot be found through more hardline domestic measures against victims of persecution."

Among the 147 nations that have signed the Refugee Convention, Australia is one of the few countries that support a policy of indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive without visas.

"Detention is currently being used as the only option available, instead of a last resort for entire categories of asylum seekers," says Mr Power.

"It applies for a length of time well beyond what is necessary to meet identity, health and security checks. Without legislated time limits, immigration detention remains indefinite, often with serious consequences for the wellbeing and mental health of detainees," Mr Power said.

But none of this is new. And yet, nothing seems to change.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASCR) claims that, "the detention system in Australia is broken," - fragmented like the attitudes of the Australian people that once underpinned the spirit of Advance Australia Fair.

The recent Four Corners program exposed how Australia's current detention policy is damaging people's mental health and detention provides a re-traumatising environment.

"The fact is that detention makes people sick, it destroys the spirit and destroys the fabric of Australia through fear," says Pamela Curr, Campaign Coordinator at the ASCR.

She believes that "this is particularly the case for long term, indefinite, arbitrary detention, which is what we have in Australia."

The Hazaras protesting in Darwin detention centre have been there for more than a year, and some up to 22 months.

"We see the fences and the situation which makes the people so much disappointed. We now became fed up [with these] daily circumstances. We now want to be free. We now want to be in the community with others," said the Hazara detainees.

Some of them have been waiting for their Independent Merits Review (IMR) outcomes for over six months.

Many of them have been waiting for their security clearance to be issued, after their successful claim for asylum, so that they can be released into the community. There is no time limit or timeframe by which ASIO needs to deliver an answer on an applicant's security clearance.

"Many people in Darwin Detention Centre are not just asylum seekers, they are now genuine refugees as determined by the Australian government and they are just waiting on health and security checks. They sit and languish for up to 18 months for ASIO to make a determination," says Ms Curr.

ASIO revealed to Lateline that the security checks now take an average of 66 days to complete. The Greens say that some detainees have been waiting for security checks for 18 months, with their children also detained.

According to the ASCR, there are currently:

· 5597 people in immigration detention;

· 2035 people have been held for longer than a year in detention;

· 600 people in detention are stateless with no country for return;

· 42 people face indefinite detention with no reason given as a result of unpublicized decisions; and

· 1591 are refugees waiting for security checks

ASIO has said that, "it is not a requirement under the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 that irregular maritime arrivals remain in detention during the security assessment process."

Article 1FA of the Refugee Convention is a safeguard provision under which those who have committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity cannot claim refugee status.

"This is inherent in Australia's refugee process," notes Ms Curr. Consequently, there are already built in security protections in our legislation to weed out those not deserving of refugee status or who may be a security threat. The ASIO checks, while undoubtedly necessary, are an added form of protection.

"The costs of detention are escalating, both in the deteriorating mental health of asylum seekers and the exorbitant cost to taxpayers," says Mr Power.

In Darwin Detention Centre, Ms Curr says, "there are now 37 people, who have been found to be refugees and therefore cannot be returned to their country of origin, but who ASIO has decided are a security threat."

These genuine refugees cannot be released from detention and have been "condemned to a life of long-term, indefinite detention in Australia," says Ms Curr.

Asylum seekers who have been interviewed by ASIO were told that they were not allowed to discuss the content of their interviews. Some sought legal advice on this issue and it has been found that many of the "interviews had nothing to do with what happened in the country of origin," says Ms Curr.

ASIO was allegedly asking questions about how the refugees arrived in Australia and about people smugglers. Ms Curr asks, "How relevant is this? Isn't ASIO supposed to investigate the security threat of the person not the way they arrived to Australia."

"The Government talks endlessly about the 'people smugglers' business model' without ever acknowledging that this business model is built on the lack of effective protection of asylum seekers and refugees in many parts of South-East Asia and South Asia," Mr Power said.

Mr Power notes that, "while refugees and asylum seekers continue to live under constant threat of harassment, violence and arrest in countries where they fled to escape persecution, the need to move on to a safer country such as Australia will remain."

These are the people who ask Australians to "please keep us in your prayer and in your kind consideration. We need your love, your sympathy, your support."

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