Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Syrian refugee crisis and Australia’s response

Wednesday 1st of January 2014

As this year ends, the death due to starvation of 15 Palestinian refugees trapped with 20 000 other Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus due to the current conflict in Syria is in the news.  Before the war broke out in Syria in March 2011, Syria itself hosted thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries such as Palestine and Iraq.   According to UNHCR Syria had one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world and was one of the top 5 refugee hosting countries in the world.  According to the latest UNHCR statistics  Australia does not even make it in the top 10.

It is therefore cruel and unfair that Syria’s own nationals are now displaced by the current conflict.  The Syrian conflict has led to more than 5 million displaced people within Syria, and about 2.3 million displaced people outside Syria with more than 100,000 people killed in two and half years. Many people are still escaping from the conflict. The masses of people being forced to flee Syria daily to seek protection elsewhere is concerning.  According to UNHCR Women and children make up about three quarters (75%) of all Syrian refugees who have fled the country due to the conflict.  By the end of 2014, UNHCR estimates there will be more than 4 million Syrian refugees and there are signs that instability in the region is increasing, with very little chance that the conflict will abate soon.

Thus far no political leaders from any of the industrialised countries have come up with a globally responsible solution for displaced Syrian refugees. Instead, they have condemned oppression by the Syrian Government while being silent on the resettlement of thousands of displaced Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries.  The US for instance has taken in just 90 Syrian refugees for resettlement since the outbreak of the civil war till September 2013 while at the same time reports have leaked out that the US government and it’s proxies have helped arm some of the militants in this conflict.

Despite not being full signatories to the UN refugee convention, countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have taken over 2.1 million refugees so far.  Lebanon with a population of just over 4 million hosts about 1 million Syrian refugees. The last two weeks of August 2013 saw approximately 47,000 Syrian refugees enter Iraqi Kurdistan. Meanwhile OECD countries chose to condemn acts of violence and dictatorships as well as take to media outlets to misrepresent core issues of refugees rather than practically work for a humanitarian solution.

Recently UNHCR released a report that stated 17 countries have agreed to participate in the Syrian refugee resettlement program and capped the intake so far to about 10,000 Syrian refugees. This means approximately 600 refugees will be resettled per country. Given the current flow of refugees, it would take approximately 200 years to resettle all Syrian refugees. Under this program it is a fact that only grandchildren of the current Syrian refugees will resettle in these countries. There are also reports that those who were already registered in Damascus, Syria as refugees with UNHCR cannot get assistance from UNHCR in Malaysia until they register again.  Is this what we call a humanitarian approach by an organisation that seeks to support victims of persecution and trauma?

The current conflict in Syria will not be solved within a year, perhaps not in the next five or ten years. Syrians will remain in neighbouring countries during this time and be exposed to the psychological trauma of being torn from their homes and loved ones and minimal protection rights as non-citizens. This trauma and suffering will be an ongoing battle for Syrian refugees.

Australia is one of the countries that have agreed to be a part of the so called “resettlement program” for Syrian refugees and said they will be taking about 500 refugees during the year.  As the year has passed we have no confirmation as to whether this agreement has been fulfilled.

The Australian government has also contributed just $100 million to the Syrian crisis response since June 2011. This is supposed to help United Nations organisations deliver desperately needed basic services inside Syria. Five million dollars to the World Food Programme is being given to maintain emergency food supplies to three million people. Three million dollars to the World Health Organisation is provided to help address critical shortages in medical supplies.  Three million dollars to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is provided to assist supply safe drinking water as well as vaccination of 2.5 million children. One million dollars goes to the UN Population Fund to help fund reproductive health care and psycho-social support projects for over 1 million vulnerable women and children.

On the flipside of Australia’s “humanitarian” response, the previous Labor government and current Liberal/National coalition government has been pouring over a billion dollars into contracts with multi-million dollar private security companies like SERCO and G4S and “humanitarian” agencies like Save the Children and Salvation army to run detention centres that incarcerate over 6000 men women and children from conflict zones such as Syria who cross Australia’s borders to seek asylum. The UN reports that more than 100 international laws have been broken by Australia’s immigration detention system.  Australia has also provided millions of dollars to military/Security personnel of overseas governments such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka to stop and incarcerate refugees crossing borders to seek protection in Australia. With the introduction of the Pacific Solution Mark II by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard used to deter people arriving by boat, Amnesty international estimates that the government will spend more than half a million dollars for each asylum seeker imprisoned in the pacific islands of Manus and Nauru in sub-human conditions. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd trumped Julia Gillard and all his predecessors in the refugee cruelty stakes by introducing the current policy of not only deporting all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Pacific island detention camps but also preventing any of them who is recognised as a refugee from settling in Australia altogether; again millions of dollars will be spent unchecked, in a corrupt, non-transparent deal with the Papua New Guinea government to accept these refugees from Australia for resettlement in their country.

Australia’s current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Minister for Immigration and Border protection, Scott Morrison now label asylum seekers as “illegals”. To date they are unable to specify which law in Australia asylum seekers are breaking.  Refugees do not need to have a licence to seek protection; displaced refugees will not leave the country unless it is a last resort. People flee out of desperation and to avoid getting killed; no one should stop people seeking protection in any part of the world regardless of whether they have paperwork with them or not. Refugees who are caught in unsafe transit countries will continue to move and seek refuge; 43 million displaced refugees worldwide prove this point.

One should therefore, be mindful of the fact that Syrian refugees are forced to take extraordinary risks to flee; by foot, air or boat to other countries to seek safety and a permanent refuge. Their plight must be respected and understood. They must be given permanent protection and their situation should not be politicised or taken advantage of by anyone. We all need to take responsibility for each other and support each other. It is time for these industrialised countries to be held accountable for the very same oppressive conditions that they accuse the Syrian regime of imposing on the victims of war.  While we increase international aid for Syria we must come up with a globally responsible long term solution that is equitable and fair and protects vulnerable communities. Rather than spending billions of dollars on building fences and walls to detain refugees onshore or offshore, the Australian government should be part of this global response by providing more resettlement places for refugees and treating refugees with respect and dignity.

Racism in Australian media/Structural Racism and the Refugee issue

Monday 30 December 2013

Many in the Australian refugee advocacy movement would have read or heard of an article in the Monthly about “Why Australia hates asylum seekers” by Christos Tsiolkas. Yet very little has been said regarding the editor of this same publication, John Van Tiggelen writing an article about taking his children to a Dutch Community Christmas Party in Carnegie, a suburb in Melbourne, Australia that included Zwarte Piete (  In this article, John Van Tiggelen criticises this racist Dutch tradition but ends the piece by saying he will continue to take his children to such events.

Zwarte Piete is a racist representation of Christmas – i.e. he is a Dutch character with black-face; a legacy of the era of slavery and still part of Dutch tradition. Even the UN has warned the Netherlands that this representation “could be racist” (

Is it surprising that such ingrained racism in Dutch Society came to the surface just over a fortnight ago, when many including a left wing Dutch politician and a major Dutch Newspaper made Zwarte Piete “jokes” when Nelson Mandela died? (,

Getting back to The Monthly’s editor, John Van Tiggelan…as a POC Melbourne media commentator aptly says…his article is a classic

‘…that attempts to self-interrogate but really is just a dude who is clearly uncomfortable with this racist element of his culture but won’t actually let go of it.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that when your cultural artefact is so racist you say “You wouldn’t want to be black, I figured,” it’s time to let go.”….’

Do we need to say more to convince people that John Van Tiggelan has to be called out on his nonchalance regarding this racist tradition?  Australia’s “invisible” power structures are a legacy of racist, colonial Eurocentric-White Australia that largely excludes “visible” people of colour crossing borders as well as the original inhabitants of this land who do not merge “invisibly” with the white colonisers.  John Van Tiggelan has a significant role in these power structures as is evident in a direct quote from an interview with him where the interviewer (not John Van Tiggelan) states:

“…There are about 320.000 people of Dutch origin in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics). They all contribute to the Australian community. Many do this quietly and unobtrusively and as a group we are therefore often referred to as the ”invisible migrants”. Some, including those who write for the media, have however more influence on society than others…”

Our message therefore is simply this: To effectively address refugee issues, Human rights and refugee advocates cannot avoid addressing such issues of *structural racism and inequity that is part of the fabric of society, particularly in the media. Australia needs to confront the reality that the public who “hate refugees” are presented with information through the lens of mostly privileged white Australian media commentators and other white dominated institutions. If advocates ignore such issues and avoid actively working for structural changes then they are just using their privilege to take up space and pay lip-service to the refugee issue and are complicit in perpetuating the racist legacy of white-Australia.

*Footnote: More on structural racism here-Scott Nakagawa, The Blueprint of Structural Inequality, September 12 2013, available at:, [accessed 30 December 2013]

Daily humiliation for Women in Australian immigration Detention centres:

In some detention centres in Australia, female asylum seekers/refugees have to go to SERCO officers to ask for tampons/pads & given just 1 or 2 at a time. Keep in mind SERCO has been given millions of dollars to “service” immigration detention centres (

RISE raised concerns about this in a parliamentary submission to an enquiry panel regarding the Australian immigration detention network in 2011 (p. 17  A Chilout volunteer also raised her concerns with politicians such as Tanya Plibersek, but received an inadequate answer from then immigration minister Chris Bowen:

Sadly these humiliations have arisen regarding female detainees in other countries such as the US:

An article has been written by a Perth refugee advocate in September 2013 indicating this humiliation is ongoing in Australian detention centres:

Keep in mind, many refugee/asylum seeker women have been victims of rape, sexual abuse and other forms of torture and trauma.

Just because it happens in other countries, or has been happening all this time, doesn’t mean we should allow this to keep happening in Australia. We ask Australian women in particular to please advocate strongly around the issue of the treatment of refugee/asylum seeker women in Australia and ask them to persuade female leaders/politicians in particular to have the courage to show empathy for women of colour, women who are less socially and economically empowered and Act Now.

Urgent action: Stop UK Mass deportation today to Nigeria/Ghana

“We’ve abolished slavery & capital punishment yet we’ll let a person die for overstaying a visa”

If we in Australia do not respond to this and UK succeeds in this deportation-it is a green light to all governments including our own to continue treating asylum seekers as subhuman and conduct deportations in this manner with impunity.

One of the asylum seekers scheduled on flight is asylum seeker Isa Muaza. You may recall that he was on a hunger strike and had gone down to 50 kgs and was put on a flight to Nigeria a few weeks ago and miraculously the flight sent back to the UK with estimated cost of attempted deportation reported to be more than $100 000 :

It is therefore shocking that they are attempting to deport him once again due to sheer bloody-mindedness. Furthermore, on this flight, there is another Nigerian asylum seeker who requires dialysis. Details here:

Right now in Nigeria there is an increase in violent activities by an extreme group of militants called Boko Haram. Since a state of emergency declared in May 2013, the UN has reported that 1,200 people have been killed by this group ( The double standards of western governments is apparent when one takes into consideration that the US has declared this group as a “terrorist organisation” yet those claiming asylum due to fear of being killed by this group are being rejected.

Once OECD countries who have signed the UN refugee convention are allowed to commit these atrocities, it sends signals to other countries such as Australia that these actions are acceptable. In fact Australia has already been involved with Mass deportations of Nigerian asylum seekers. Last year a group of Nigerian asylum seekers in Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne were snatched from their room and deported without any fore-warning.

Please take action by

1. Contacting the UK Home affairs (immigration) Minister and Nigerian embassy in London:

2. Contacting the British Embassy in Canberra (or your respective countries):

High Commissioner: His Excellency Paul Madden CMG


Twitter: @ukinaustralia

RISE Action using internet on UN Human rights day (20 yr anniversary) TODAY:

“20 years working for your rights”…looks as though they haven’t done a good job. Things have got worse in the last 20 yrs with the highest number of refugees this year since 19 yrs ago!

-Post on your facebook with this hashtag #UNRightsAt20

-Post on

-Tweet with this hashtag #UNRightsAt20

A/ Expose Australia’s racist laws against asylum seekers and refugees

  1. Highlight Fact that the UN says Australia has violated about 150 UN laws while detaining refugees with adverse ASIO assessments but no action (
  2. People in community on bridging visas without the right to work (which apparently is the theme for this year).
  3. Mandatory & indefinite detention onshore & offshore
  4. PNG solution
  5. Any other facts you think are important (latest stats on immigration detention may be useful: note if you look through the stats you will see, most in detention are refugees & asylum seekers who arrived by boat and are people of colour.

B/ Expose Australia’s racist laws against indigenous people

Particularly suspension of racial discrimination act for another 10 years by Julia Gillard with bipartisan support :

Anything else you would like to add about racial discrimination & human rights abuses in Australia.

Remember you can do this in the afternoon & evening/night etc when most of Asia, Europe and North America is up.

ACT NOW : Australian government is providing boats to Sri Lankan navy to “stop refugee boats”

ACT NOW: Sri Lanka to use Aussie gift boats to stop refugee boats and Tony Abbott is going to sign a new MOU between Sri Lankan and Australian Navy .

Also on reports of alleged torture by Sri Lankan security forces, Mr Abbott told reporters that while his government “deplores the use of torture we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”.

Read more:

More than 1000 asylum seekers have been returned to Sri Lanka in a year without being allowing to apply for asylum, some within just 48 hours of arriving to Australia by boat. We have also reports now that unaccompanied minors have been deported in this way- see previous post –

Please share links to this movie to show the war crimes committed by the same Sri Lankan Military that the Australian government is making a deal with:

Also continuing disappearances in Sri Lanka (second largest no. of unsolved in the world next to Iraq):

Also continuing coverage of CHOGM by Channel 4 who produced No Fire zone:

Reports from independent Sri Lankan media group who obtained initial footage aired by Channel 4 at great risk:

Write to Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison & Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek and other local MPs, Senators ask them IF THEY HAVE WATCHED THE NO FIRE ZONE MOVIE and make sure you get an answer from them and post up here to let us know what their answer is.

UK Prime Minister confirmed to the UK public after massive campaigning that he watched it why have we not demanded the same from our own Prime Minister?

We cannot do much to change Rajapaksa, but we have to demand accountability from our own elected representatives:

Contact details of Australian Senators and MPs:

Note: Watching the movie is just the first step and is not on it’s own going to resolve matters, but we need to know if they have at least even done that-knowing how closely Australia is working with the Sri Lankan military.

Afghan MPs call on the Coalition to scrap Temporary Protection Visas

A group of 45 members of the Afghan Parliament have written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott appealing to him to reconsider the government’s proposal to re-introduce Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The translated text of the letter is below.

To: The Hon Tony Abbott, Prime Minister, Australia
Cc: the Hon Scott Morrison, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the members of Afghanistan’s parliament acknowledge, and appreciate, the collaboration and cooperation that the people, parliament and the government of Afghanistan receive from the people, parliament and the government of Australia. We are very thankful for the endless efforts make by the people and the government of Australia to bring peace and security to our country.

We are also grateful to the people and the government of Australia for hosting refugees from Afghanistan. As you know the continuing insecurity and terrorist activities in Afghanistan are taking the lives of our people and many of our people are vulnerable to these threats.

In this situation, the continuing assistance of the Australian people and the government is crucial to save our people lives. While the Afghan parliament acknowledges and appreciates your continued assistance and commitment to the right to human life, and the protection of human rights and human dignity, we would like to bring the following matters to your attention:

1) Due to the lack of security, the Australian embassy in Kabul has not been able to gather information about those areas where the largest numbers of refugees and displaced people are living. We are ready to cooperate in gathering and collecting such information with the Australian government and the Australian parliament.

2) We urge you to reconsider the introduction and implementation of Temporary Protection Visas. This policy will not solve the problems of refugees and asylum seekers. We are very thankful that Afghan people and refugees are able to consider ‘Australia’ as their second home and that while respecting Australian values and laws, they can work and live without fear of being deported. The Temporary Protection Visa will not help the legal transfer of the asylum seekers and refugees’ families. Therefore, we hope that, as in the past, the refugees and asylum seekers will be treated with care and compassion and that you will reconsider the introduction of Temporary Protection Visas.

3) Afghan refugees do not have good experiences in either our neighbouring countries (Iran & Pakistan), or in the Gulf countries hosting them, and they face serious problems.
As a friend of Afghanistan, we would expect the Australian government to pay attention to providing basic human rights for Afghan refugees and to treat them in a compassionate way.

4) We are ready to cooperate with the Australian government to prepare legal migration pathways and so prevent unauthorised migration.
Once again, while we are thankful to you, we are looking forward to your consideration to review the [Temporary Protection Visa] policy.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sajjadi (Ghazni,, +93 799345952 )
Ali Akbar Qasemi (Ghazni), MP Nasseri (Wardak), MP Raihana Azad (Uruzgan), MP Mohammad Ibrahim Qasemi (Kabul), ), Ramazan Bashardost (Kabul), Zahra Farkhnda (Kabul), Nilofar Ibrahimi (Badakhshan), Karokhe (Herat) , plus 36 others. Members of Parliament, Afghanistan

2 years ago a Tamil refugee died in Villawood IDC : (28/10/2013)

Today, a Tamil refugee attempted to hang himself in a Melbourne immigration detention (MITA) after being detained indefintiely for nearly 4 years.  It is two years after the death of “S”, another Tamil refugee in Villawood immigration detention centre in Sydney who was detained for over 2 years.

There have been hundreds of incidents of self-harm in Australia’s vast immigration detention network that holds mostly refugees and asylum seekers, under both the Labor party and the liberal party, but mandatory and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers remains legal.  Only the Australian Minister of immigration has the discretionary power to release these men, women and children from detention.

This is a media release written by RISE two years ago about the death of ‘S’ in Villawood IDC:


Fourth Death in Villawood Immigration Detention Centre

RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees Media Release

In the early hours of the morning, on Wednesday 26th October 2011, RISE was given the tragic news that “S”, a 27 year old Sri Lankan Tamil refugee from Villawood Immigration Detention centre (IDC) in the suburbs of Sydney, killed himself after drinking poison.  

This day marked 2 years and 24 days of S’s mandatory and indefinite incarceration in Australia’s Immigration detention network.  It also marked “Deepavali” (The Festival of Light) that he, as a Hindu, wished to celebrate at his friend’s house.  The day before Deepavali, S received the news that his application to visit his friend’s house with SERCO escorts had been rejected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  SERCO officers had inspected the house sometime back and had indicated to his friend that they were satisfied with the layout of the house.

With limited access to legal and other welfare support services for asylum seekers and refugees this man was among many whose application for refugee status was rejected twice in Christmas island IDC after they arrived by boat to seek asylum.  S was finally accepted in August 2011 as a refugee, after the long struggle to get through the days in a non-transparent, hostile immigration detention environment including witnessing 3 deaths of  fellow detainees who committed suicide in the space of 3 months in Villawood IDC.

All 8 who protested on the roof with “S” were subsequently recognised as refugees, but now, just three have been released with a visa, while the rest are still being held indefinitely in detention.  One of these detainees is undergoing treatment for tuberculosis after repeated requests for medical treatment for more than a year.  All of these detained refugees, including S, applied for community detention.

At the time of his death, S was held in the “housing” area.  This is the same area in which a family (including 3 children) from the boat the Oceanic Viking are being held.  Like S, they too have been detained for more than 2 years.  Refugees with adverse security assessments held in other parts of Villawood IDC were informed on 25th October 2011, that they would be transferred to the housing area.  One of these men, refused to move, with the statement that this was nothing more than “housing arrest” and did nothing to solve the problem of being detained indefinitely without any offer of a durable solution in sight.  

Throughout his time in detention, S had been quite active in asserting his rights and questioning the actions of SERCO and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that had kept him arbitrarily detained and moved haphazardly about Villawood IDC, particularly in the last 12 months of his incarceration. These actions included S’s detention in isolation as well as SERCO staff conveniently removing him and the family from the Oceanic Viking from their rooms when the Australian Human Rights Commission came to Villawood IDC to interview detainees in the “housing” area. This latter act was considerably suspect given that these two parties had been in detention much longer than the other detainees in the “housing” area.

Just after he got his refugee status, a RISE advocate took down some notes in the faint hope that S would have his visa and soon be able to access our settlement program.  He had years of work experience in Welding (including Gas cutting and X-ray welding) and had worked in the construction industry. Sadly, S’s hope to settle and start a new life in Australia will now never come to pass.

To quote a refugee from Villawood detention centre: “Detention in Australia is like tying a person’s hands and putting food in front of him, which he cannot eat; after some time he loses his appetite and he doesn’t feel like eating it anymore.  That is how we feel about life after we have been in detention.”

RISE call to action (15/10/2013)

Suicide Attempt yesterday (14/10/2013) in Melbourne immigration transit accommodation: Refugee, M47, a father and husband, separated from his family for more than 6 years, detained administratively in transition countries and now indefinitely detained in Australia for 4 years due to an adverse ASIO security assessment.

Why should he (and other refugees in his position) be free and given a protection visa by Scott Morrison?

*He has been recognised as a refugee by UNHCR when he was in transit countries and again when assessed by the Australian government and during this assessment it was also found that he had not committed any serious crime that should exclude him from being recognised as a refugee.

*ASIO assessment does NOT show him to be a risk within Australia, to the Australian community. The state (NOT Australia) that he poses a risk to has been accused to have committed crimes against humanity, and these allegations have been found to be credible by a UN expert panel and the panel have asked that an independent investigation be carried out. Unlike M47 all state actors accused of these crimes are free and hold influential positions and no independent investigation has been carried out. The state is Sri Lanka.

*Australia’s High court last year ruled that the ASIO assessment should not be used to prevent M47 from being granted a protection visa because the reasons for the ASIO security risk assessment does not fall within the criteria of risk assessment under the migration act.

*He and all the other refugees in detention with adverse assessments like him have never committed or been charged with a crime in Australia. ASIO’s assessment of all these refugees is predictive and therefore flawed, similar to assessments used by the ‘Department of pre-crime’ in the movie “Minority report”:

*The Australian government by keeping all these refugees in prolonged and indefinite administrative detention without being charged and convicted through the court system, has been found guilty by the UN human rights committee of almost 150 violations of International law.

Also see RISE’s open letter to the Minister of immigration to which we never received a reply:


Contact Immigration Minister: Scott Morrison


@ScottMorrisonMP (#refugees#freeM47)

Contact Prime Minister: Tony Abbott

Contact: Tony Abbott


@TonyAbbottMHR (#refugees#freeM47)

Your local MPs/Senators:

RISE Alert (22/9/2013): Stop mass deportations of Vietnamese asylum seekers by the Australian government

Vietnamese asylum seekers in Australia’s immigration detention centres are in danger of being deported without being allowed to apply for asylum (“screened out”).

Reports surfaced last month that Vietnamese immigration police officers were allowed into Yongah hill by the Australian department of immigration to interview the asylum seekers and the officers asked them to fill forms to allow them to be repatriated to Vietnam.  Reports say that after this five Vietnamese asylum seekers escaped from the detention centre out of fear and were caught later and re-detained  (

Human rights watch reports that trend-lines show a worsening situation in Vietnam. In the first few months of 2013, more people have been convicted in political trials than in the whole of last year (


  • Contact UNHCR ( and ask them to take action on this matter as well as the issue of all mass deportations by the Australian government.  For example more than 1000 Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been deported since last year in the same way, most of them Tamils and many are still being isolated for deportation.  UNHCR’s response has been muted or almost non-existence.  Last time we heard they are supposed to be working for refugees.
  • Contact the UN Human rights commission and alert them about this matter

More background information about Vietnam’s human rights situation in 2013:

1 2 3 6