Author Archives: riserefugee

Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers puts forward Government-desired solutions

Once again, the Australian Government has used hand-picked “experts” to say yes to “offshore processing”. None of the three individuals on the Houston Panel have been appointed by refugee community groups or advocates, and therefore it comes as no surprise that their proposal is in line with the Government’s own offshore policy platform.

The proposal set forth by the appointed “expert panel” establishes offshore processing centres and isolates asylum seekers without giving them adequate refugee rights. In 2001 the conservative Liberal Australian Government, led by then Prime Minister John Howard, put forward the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ and now under the current Labor Government led by Julia Gillard offshore processing is likely to become a part of Australian Law and will be the second largest damaging policy to refugees.

We should not forget that the Australian High Court has already rejected the Malaysian Solution and that detention facilities in Nauru were closed due to overwhelming human rights abuses that asylum seekers faced there. We should not push back asylum seekers and refugees from Australia to other countries; countries that have not signed the UN Refugee Convention.

Furthermore, Nauru has a poor track record of protection, safety, and humanitarian assistance for refugees and asylum seekers. As a leading member of the international community and as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, the Australian Government has certain ethical and legal obligations towards asylum seekers and refugees. According to the “expert panel”, the temporary protection visa (TPV) should be used for refugees who they might believe to be “vulnerable” in offshore detention centres, such as in Nauru or Manus Island.

The “expert panel” has forgotten that refugees are coming from life-threatening circumstances. They are vulnerable enough without the possibility of this ill-advised proposal. Further it is concerning that this proposal will penalise refugees by not allowing them to reunite with their family and isolating them indefinitely. If people have been locked in centres such as those in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, what democratic options do they have? How long will it take to process their visa?

I personally disagree with the Australian Government’s recent decision to re-open the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres. I speak from my experiences of being detained three years in both off shore and on shore Australian detention centres. Detention is an illegal form of house arrest established by the Labor Government and developed under John Howard’s regime.  I would like to correct any misconceptions created by the Australian Government that it is a loving, humane or family friendly environment.  Many years of incarceration have contributed to mental and physical disabilities among fellow detainees.  Many of us have experienced first-hand what it is like to be detained in this kind of detention centre.

When I was in Christmas Island and Cocos Island – “offshore” detention centres – I saw people’s lives deteriorate whilst the isolated surroundings intimidated asylum seekers in to volunteering to go back to the countries where their lives were jeopardised in the first place. When people spoke out against injustices they were experiencing in detention centres, they were placed in isolation or solitary confinement. Further freedom was violated and limited by the authorities who treated us like subhumans. 

There is evidence suggesting that the creation of detention centres offshore can punish and silence the voices of asylum seekers, passing the blame onto the victims. The Australian Government has shirked its responsibility of running detention centres and given this responsibility over to private companies and is now further passing the responsibility to other countries wherein asylum seekers will be treated inhumanely. While refugees are waiting indefinitely in these centres, the possibility of their families back home facing danger and persecution is real. Offshore processing centres may lower the number of asylum seekers in Australia, but it is not a viable solution to fairly deal with asylum seekers and it will not put a stop to people coming to this country by boat.

There are over 40 million refugees around the world and Australia, many languishing in interim camps around the world. The offshore processing system will just add to this tally of interim camps, keeping refugees further in limbo. People fleeing persecution will always keep trying to reach a more permanent and secure location for themselves and their families whether there is a policy to stop them or not. Irrespective of how people arrive to Australia, asylum seekers should be treated with dignity and respect without being isolated behind razor-wire in the middle of nowhere.

Many of us transit through countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia, without going through any international humanitarian refugee process or consultations before taking the treacherous journey in a leaky boat across the Indian Ocean towards Australia.  If you look at why asylum seekers are making such a catastrophic decision to leave their country, most of the reasons given are related to a fear of persecution in their country or a fear of living in a war torn environment.  Yet these arrivals on a boat are questioned and monitored more closely than others by the Australian Government, politicians and the media.

People coming from countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Burma are in precarious, life threatening situations and the current proposals by the Australian Government’s “expert panel” jeopardises their safety and wellbeing. In the last two decades there has been a regression in Australia’s asylum seeker and refugee policy and it is noted that the issue has been politicised heavily in order to win votes through hardline attitudes. It is an unrealistic attempt at providing “a solution” to a multi-faceted problem.

The adoption of the ‘Expert Panel’ proposal re-institates the insular, backward looking “White Australia” motivation behind Australian policy making.

Ramesh Fernandez, CEO and Founder of RISE 

Offshore Processing: Deadly And Incoherent

Asylum seekers who have endured hardships, to cross many borders and reach the open seas with barely $2 left in their pockets, are being punished and politicised as queue jumpers. The general public are asking, “Why don’t they come the “right” way? But if you are an Afghani, Palestinian, Iraqi, Iranian or Sri Lankan, what it is the right way? Where is the queue? Who is responsible for the queue? Australia is punishing refugees coming on boats creating savage refugee policies such as indefinite detention, offshore processing and lengthy process of visa application and now adding the tally of cutting of family reunion.


An offshore processing centre may lower the numbers of people coming to Australia on a boat but it will not completely stop people coming to Australia via this mode because people will continue to try to reach a more permanent and secure location. Such a centre will just add to the tally of interim camps for refugees. We need to provide a humane and globally responsible solution for displaced refugees.  Whilst at the same time not placing extra burdens on less wealthy countries, to serve our national and political interests.

Download the report here.

RISE Arts Management Internship – call for Expressions of Interest

Are you a young person from a Refugee/Asylum Seeker background, who is interested in a career in Arts Management? Do you want to ‘learn the ropes’ of organising a prominent Festival held at Federation Square?

Then submit your EOI now to join the RISE team through the RISE Arts Management Internship!

Exciting new opportunity
The successful Intern will work closely with the Festival Director on the next RISE Festival, learning new skills and knowledge and gaining invaluable industry experience in the arts and events/festival management.

The successful Intern will be required to work flexible hours, beginning in early to mid-September and ending in late December of this year. Initially, the Intern will work for approximately 8 hours per week and then increase this significantly as the Festival draws closer. Time and place are to be negotiated with the Festival Director.

The successful Intern will gain experience in the following:
–    Festival programming and coordination
–    Artist negotiation and management
–    Production planning
–    Marketing and communications
–    Fundraising
–    Team work and management 

This is NOT a paid internship, but will lead to exciting new career prospects! For more information, please contact Eugenia Flynn, Festival Director, and 2012 RISE Festival on 0411 899 183 or via email eugenia.flynn@riserefugee.org.

How to apply

Applications are due on Friday 7 September 2012 and must comprise of the following:
1.    Cover letter
2.    Completed application form
3.    Resume / Curriculum Vitae

Applications can be forwarded via email to:

Eugenia Flynn
Festival Director
2012 RISE Festival
eugenia.flynn@riserefugee.org

ReDEFIANT: Busting the refugee myth

ReDEFIANT is a fresh, innovative, and energetic multi-lingual performance using spoken word to explore and challenge minority stereotypes. Participants will look at how the headlines define an ethnic group and how political rhetoric encourages division not understanding. We ask the participants, what they would do if given ownership of their cultural identities.

            The projects aims are to:

·        Develop participants artistically through workshops
·        Create a professional performance outcome that didactically discusses stereotypes, racism and post-settlement issues.
·        Initiate and support active engagement of refugee and asylum seekers within the professional theatre industry in Melbourne- both as performers and audience members.

Specifically, the project will use Forum theatre, a practice developed by Augusto Boal- a Brazilian Community Artist. He believed that by presenting social inequality and structural problems in a set of short acts followed by a live discussion people can discuss and find solutions; to build stronger communities.

RISE will present ReDEFIANT at La Mama on November 9, 10, and 11, an iconic Australian performance space that fosters new artists, edgy performances, and new voices.

For more information and register your interest to participate contact RISE at arts@riserefugee.org

Click here to view the ReDEFIANT poster!

Survey for Schools on “Refugees and Asylum Seekers”

I’m Rania Glaidous and 15 years old and currently in year 10 at Manor lakes College in Melbourne. I’m currently doing my work-placement at RISE: Refugees Survivors and Ex-detainees.

RISE is the first refugee organisation entirely governed by refugees and asylum seekers in Australia located in Melbourne. RISE helps refugees and asylum seekers every day, providing assistance for them to build their new lives in Australia such as advocacy, driving project, welfare assistant, English tutoring, foodbank, housing, employment and training ,drop in centre, music and art projects, festivals and other events. RISE works with asylum seekers in detention centres all across in Australia. RISE is also a non-profit organisation and seeks donations and volunteers to help out.

I really enjoy contributing to RISE as part of my work-placement and this is great organisation and everyone here is very welcoming and I will love to do more work here in the future. I’ll be doing a school level survey on “refugees and asylum seekers” in Australia. I would love it if you would fill out this form and give me your feedback. It is optional and this just for us to contact you and ask further questions.

You can also download the survey here

Thank you for your time.
Rania Glaidous

RISE Tutoring

RISE supports refugee and asylum seeker communities to meet their educational needs by offering advice and personalised guidance about the various educational pathways available.

RISE has developed a tutoring project that fills a gap in the community and complements the other programs within RISE’s education and training portfolio. Instead of concentrating on beginner’s English, RISE has chosen to deliver a pre-intermediate programme with an academic slant so that students with some English language skills will be able to improve to the level required to interact with the larger Australian society and either obtains employment or further their studies. The program also helps students to develop their analytical and communication skills, so they are better able to utilise their English language knowledge.

Classes will be held at “the RISE Hub”, a multi-purpose space run by RISE situated in central Melbourne. RISE’s tutoring program is free for students, and will be held for 2 hours every Saturday from 10.30am-12.30pm

For more info and to apply to the ESL tutoring, please email tutoring@riserefugee.org or call us at 03 9639 8623.

Project ReDEFIANT

RISE’s members and peers and volunteers are invited to be involved in ReDEFIANT. A community Forum Theatre project by refugees and asylum seekers to tell it like it is.

Don’t let politicians, and journalists speak for you and DEFINE your identity. Experience how Theatre of the Oppressed devised by Brazilian artist Augusto Boal allows you to take ownership of your language, claim space and address oppression and racism. Be heard and be seen. Advocate for social justice and inclusion.

Workshops are conducted and facilitated by Tatiana Grasso from Brazil in a safe and open environment so anyone can join.

The outcome will be a fun 3 night public forum/act at the La Mama in early November.

Contact: Coordinator Dominic Golding on arts@riserefugee.org for further information

The charade of Australian-Sri Lankan relations

30/07/2012

After the forcible return in the face of desperate pleas, and 16 hours of continuous interrogation by Sri Lanka’s notorious Criminal Investigations Department in the presence of Australian authorities, returned Tamil asylum seeker Mr X has become an emblem of the maniacal turn of the Sri Lankan state.

In May 2012, when Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen travelled to Sri Lanka in a visit intended both to solidify Australia’s alliance with the Sri Lankan terror state and discuss measures to stop refugees escaping from Sri Lanka to Australia – Mr X received an emergency visit from the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team in Melbourne as his mental health took a sharp decline. Mr X as well as other Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers was fearful that closer relations between Australia and Sri Lanka would mean forcible deportation back to those who persecuted them. The latest events have vindicated that fear.

Friends, family, advocates and supporters who had accompanied Mr X every step of his two year battle for refugee status, were at least relieved to see his face appear on Sri Lankan national television last Thursday night. Mr X had not been allowed any external contact during his 16 hour long interrogation, let alone legal representation. His family and supporters were relieved to know he was alive.

However what followed from a beleaguered and strained Mr X was a chilling statement which in every word spoke of the coercion and threat he is now facing. In this event organised by Sri Lanka’s Information Department, Mr X recanted all of his claims of torture and persecution.

CEO and founder of RISE, Ramesh Fernandez said, Mr X was made to deny that he had suffered a severe back injury while in the cages of the Sri Lankan security forces – an injury that has been twice documented and confirmed by the head of the Australian College of Physiotherapists. Mr X was made to deny the post-traumatic symptoms he has suffered since being tortured, the severity of which have touched and concerned a plethora of Australia’s best trauma counsellors and experts. He was made to describe Sri Lanka as ‘the best place on earth.’ To force your victims to praise you in public is a sick act.

In a scene akin to the most sadistic and cruel international show trial, an obviously coerced Mr X was made to do the bidding of the Australian government, warning others against the use of people smugglers in their efforts to escape from the Sri Lankan state’s vicious security forces. Then, in a sad attempt to distance this statement from the Australian government and its hand in his forced return and 16 hours interrogation, he ridiculed Australia’s disregard for its “international obligations.

This propaganda should be seen as a chilling collaboration of the Sri Lankan and Australian governments” said Ramesh Fernandez. “We condemn Australia’s role in forcing Mr X to act as the mouthpiece for its collaboration with Sri Lanka in the forced return of Sri Lanka’s Tamil victims.

Just three short years ago, the present government of Sri Lanka’s slaughter and destruction of the nation’s Tamil community were later described by international bodies as genocide. At the beginning of this year, Human Rights Watch documented at least 12 cases of torture by the Sri Lankan authorities of forced Tamil returnees. In March 2012, representatives of 24 nations on the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to condemn crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state.

At what point did we agree to pretend that these war criminals are trusted upholders of the human rights of those Tamils we choose to forcibly deport?

Now, through the opportunistic use of the first forced returnee to Sri Lanka since 2008, the Australian and Sri Lankan governments force their victim to declare the country ‘the best place on earth’. These events are clear evidence of the maniacal turn of the Sri Lankan government and Australia’s willingness to play into their hands, just to evade Australia’s responsibility to give protection to Tamil refugees fleeing persecution.

On behalf of RISE, we demand public reasons from the Australian government and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship for the removal of Mr X, in the face of ongoing concern by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture, and the UNHCR. We demand an end to the forced return of asylum seekers to the rogue state of Sri Lanka.

RISE Exclusive Media Release – 26/07/2012

United Nations Committee Against Torture appeals to the Australian Government to prevent deportation of tamil torture survivor 26/07/2012

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has today sought to intervene in the case of “Mr X”, a Tamil asylum seeker who was forcibly deported from Australia yesterday.

Ramesh Fernandez, CEO of RISE – Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees (“RISE”) said “Despite being a victim of torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan Government, and suffering extreme ongoing physical and mental trauma as a result of this abuse, the Australian Government yesterday decided to forcibly remove Mr X and return him to the regime that tortured him”

RISE has been acting for Mr X and appealed to Minister Chris Bowen to intervene. Following his forced removal, RISE made a submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and based on Mr X’s documented history, the Committee’s Chairperson this morning made an immediate and direct request to the Australian government to prevent the return of Mr X to Sri Lanka.   

The United Nations contacted the Australian Embassy in Thailand directly as well as the Australian Mission in Geneva.  An appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, is still awaiting response from the Australian Government since October, 2011.

“Australia is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and as such is legally bound, under international law, to adhere to the provisional measures order issued yesterday not to deport Mr X” said Fernandez.

He continued, “Mr X’s family and many members of the Tamil community are severely distressed by the deportation. Victims of torture who have been forcibly returned to Sri Lanka have been subjected to further abuse and have even been killed.”

“The Tamil community in Melbourne, including Mr X’s family, hold grave concerns for his safety once he is delivered to the regime that subjected him to such horrific torture.”

“The Australian Government’s action was unconscionable and essentially involved “…hand-delivering victims of torture back to their abusers.”

Mr Fernandez was grateful for the UN’s prompt appeal on behalf of Mr X, and was hopeful it would not fall on deaf ears. “The Committee has recognised that the Australian Government is doing business with a dangerous regime. I hope their request will cause them to review their decision and realise that a man’s life hangs in the balance.”

“The communication from the United Nations on behalf of Mr X is not simply an appeal but binding under international law – if Australia takes its international law obligations seriously, it is bound to comply.”

RISE Media Contacts at 03 9639 8623.

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