Author Archives: riserefugee

Update on Deportation of Sri Lankan asylum seeker (Mr X) currently being detained in Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre


Since being detained yesterday, Tuesday 17 July by the department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Mr X continues to face roadblocks in accessing his family, legal team and support workers. SERCO staff at Maribyrnong IDC have repeatedly told Mr X that they are unable to fax vital documentation pertinent to his application for Ministerial Intervention to his legal team and support workers. Excuses given were that the multiple fax numbers he provided them were unavailable or not working.

Before fleeing to seek asylum in Australia, Mr X was detained incommunicado and tortured by Sri Lankan government forces in Sri Lanka. This history practically ensures that Mr X will be detained and tortured again by Sri Lankan police and/or government forces if he is deported back to Sri Lanka. As a result of this violence, Mr X has developed severe mental health issues and prior to being detained yesterday, was being treated by a psychologist in Melbourne.

While the UK has overturned deportation orders based on Sri Lanka’s history of detention and torture of those who have been returned to the country after failed asylum claims, Australia appears bent on handing torture survivors back to those who persecuted them in the first place. It is incumbent on DIAC to stop the deportation of Mr X based on Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

URGENT—CALL FOR ACTION Deportation of Sri Lankan Asylum Seeker with pending UN Torture Investigation


Deportation of Sri Lankan Asylum Seeker with pending UN Torture Investigation


This afternoon, a Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seeker who was tortured in Sri Lanka and is currently the victim in a pending investigation by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture informed RISE that he was suddenly moved from the community into Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre pending his forced removal from Australia.

In October 2011, a communication was sent on behalf of the asylum seeker (“Mr X”) to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The office of the Special Rapporteur took immediate interest in Mr X’s case, writing to the Australian government seeking urgent clarification and importantly stating:

I urge your Excellency’s Government to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of Mr. X are respected and, in the event that your investigations support or suggest the above allegations [of torture] to be correct, the accountability of any person responsible for the alleged violations should be ensured. I also request that your Excellency’s Government adopt effective measures to prevent the recurrence of these acts.

The Australian government never responded to this urgent request. Instead, preparations were commenced for Mr X’s removal from Australia. Mr. X was informed that he would be assisted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to voluntarily return to Sri Lanka.  However, IOM has no protection mandate.  Furthermore monitoring agencies with a protection mandate, such as the UNHCR, ICRC and the Sri Lankan Human rights commission, are prevented from accessing a number of detention centres in Sri Lanka.

Ramesh Fernandez says, “throughout the time that RISE has worked with Mr X he has continued to receive extensive medical treatment in relation to the psychological and physical effects of torture and trauma.  Mr. X is being removed to Sri Lanka forcibly with the Department of Immigration’s full knowledge of his condition”.  It should be noted that in September 2011 a report was published in the British Medical Journal saying that doctors in Sri Lanka are complicit in torture by failing to report the victims of torture.

At the UNCAT’s (UN committee against torture) 47th session in Geneva, in November 2011, during which there was an open session on the prevalence of torture and ill treatment in Sri Lanka, organisations such as UK freedom from torture and Amnesty International have provided evidence that Tamils continue to be at risk of torture, killings and arbitrary and indefinite detention under the prevention of terrorism act even after May 2009, when the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tamil militants.  In May 2012, the British High court overturned removal orders of scores of Sri Lankans from the UK after evidence was presented before the court that those forcibly returned to Sri Lanka face arbitrary arrest and torture. RISE received reports from NGOs on the ground in Sri Lanka that the number of abductions and killings have increased this year in Sri Lanka.

The removal of Mr X in these circumstances constitutes a breach of the non-refoulement obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It indicates a disturbing disregard for the lives of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and a flagrant disrespect for ongoing processes under international law, on the part of the Australian government.

RISE urges all recipients and all those concerned regarding the fate of Sri Lankan asylum seekers to petition the Australian government, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, and the Department of Immigration to halt the forced removal in Mr X’s case.

We urgently ask you to contact Minister Bowen and ask him to stop the deportation.

Phone the Immigration Minister now:  (02) 6277 7860 or Email:  

You can also contact your member in the House of Representatives and ask them to take action. Find your member here.

Raid at Villawood IDC on 10.07.2012

The “Family Compound” (also called Sydney Residential Housing Centre-SRHC) in Villawood IDC has been searched and mobile phones confiscated by SERCO yesterday. One of the refugees has also been transferred to the high security Fowler camp in Villawood IDC. About a month ago a similar incident happened in the SRHC and another refugee was transferred to the Fowler camp and stripped searched, while a refugee with a severe mental illness was assaulted by a number of SERCO guards a month before that. The same SERCO officers who were present when Josefa Rauluni plunged to his death and asked him to “jump” over 2 years ago are still working in Villawood IDC and also have contact with the refugees in SRHC.

A globally responsible solution for displaced refugees

Australia’s policy on refugees continues to be driven by the personal ambitions of politicians in government and opposition who have demonstrated a lack of respect for Australia’s stature as a standard bearer of international laws in the Asia pacific region and a lack of concern for lives of communities that are displaced by war and conflict.

Seeking protection from fear and persecution is not a luxury, it is a basic human right; the statement by the Gillard government that offshore processing helps break the people smuggling “business model” ignores this right by dehumanising the lives of human beings and turning them into commodities. Do those who craft policies for government in this country understand that creating offshore processing centres will not stop the basic human instinct to take risks necessary to escape from danger or are they allowing themselves to be driven by cynical political motives?

It is time we recognised that this is a global issue and not a national “border protection” issue. Offshore processing centre may lower the numbers of people coming directly to Australia by boat but it cannot put a full stop to people attempting to make the journey by boat to seek the protection they desperately need. The offshore processing centre will just add to the tally of interim camps for refugees who will keep trying to reach for a more permanent and secure location whether there is a policy to stop this or not. We need to recognise that oppression reduces the limits of risk and desperation. We need to come up with a more humane and globally responsible solution for displaced refugees and not place an extra burden on less wealthy countries to serve our national interests.

Our condolences for those families who have lost their loved ones in the boat tragedy off Christmas Island

RISE is highly critical of AMSA’s rescue centre not taking immediate response despite receiving calls from the vessel indicating it was experiencing difficulties on Tuesday 19th of June 2012. It took over 40 hours, since receiving the call, until the Customs and Border Protection flight departed from Christmas Island to search for the boat. Deaths are sure to be expected. This is not just the Indonesian authority’s responsibility, it is ours also.

Asylum seekers take the ultimate perilous journeys to seek refuge, this being a great example of their desperation for freedom and safety. It is shameful Australia has made it a pawn in their fight for power. The deaths of these asylum seekers attempting asylum in Australia, over the last decade, seems only to result in a recurring theme of debate and rhetoric with no progressive and humane solution being provided.

(Photo credit: Adam Chamness)

RISE Review: Hope in Settlement—Emerge Festival 2012

Dominic Golding (ONE STAR):

The theme for this year’s Refugee Week is Restoring Hope. In this vein, the Ethnic Community Council of Victoria (ECCV), Multicultural Arts Victor (MAV) and Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) got the Playback Theatre Company to present a performance of stories by refugees with the goal of achieving community engagement.

Hope in Settlement is described in the MAV program as “actors and musicians bring[ing] the audiences stories of hope and resilience in a way that this is entertaining, surprising and transformative”. It intended to be an improvised psycho-performance staging of the narratives on settlement, housing and employment and politics of inclusion. The Playback Theatre’s methodology or approach is that by playing back the client’s life journey, the performance validates the client’s place in the world; rebirth from an evil land. It is meant to be a therapeutic approach to working with communities.

Themes of hope, struggle, trauma, freedom, courage, love, new beginnings, new homeland depicted by the backdrop of visual art works from the Heartlands exhibition are teased out by a facilitator coaching the audience to open up . Four life stories from the audience were explored by four actors. Essentially what was presented was a series of vignettes, skits, signed imagery, and a re-enactment of a story. At face value, Hope in Settlement did re-enact a person’s story well, and I believe the participant got a lot of lovely surprises in seeing their story played back to them. The audience was also genuinely entertained.

However, I believe that a number of environmental factors did not play well to the “transformative” angle of the performance:

The audience was mainly migrant or former refugee staff workers and executive of ECCV, AMES and MAV. However, there was a marked absence of members of the general public in the audience considering that the production is listed in the Emerge Festival program. Out of the four participants, only one clearly identified themselves as a refugee and I strongly believed he was planted because the facilitator admitted he knew of the client’s history prior to the event. This undermines the random, improvisational nature of the production. This initial narrative was of a client – a boxer of African background who sought asylum in Australia while competing here for the Commonwealth Games. The other three stories were from AMES staff – a housing worker, a migrant employment worker and the General Manager of AMES. The oral stories as a stand-alone public act were the most interesting, full and honest out of the whole show. The actors did do a commendable job with the material given.

I can confidently state Hope in Settlement was not empowering to any refugee sitting in the audience. With the limit of five minutes for a participant to tell their story, the participants fell back on clichés and set-pieces which projected the standard humanistic narratives about refugees. The themes reiterated signs, symbols, and myths of benevolence; the West assisting the “44 million refugees of the world, and that we in [a] rich country can do so much more” (AMES General Manager narrative). It was a play where the stakeholders can give themselves a nice validating pat on the back for doing a job well done at the end of the night. At best, it was preaching to the converted. At worst, it was self-marketing to brag about how fantastic your service is to fellow NGOs—a glorified networking exercise.

There was no mass body of any refugee community to really “create a unique performance from the stories of audience members” (Emerge Festival program). It takes trust to get a person to open up and be genuinely frank about their experiences. Usually, a Community Development project takes three to eight months to unpack raw emotion relating to displacement and the struggle to find a place “in the new heartland” (Heartlands Exhibition program) – the type of stories that I came to see and hear and that mainstream community members need to see. The production limited itself by not broadening its audience base, given that community engagement was the intention. There is no easy answer to breaking down the communication barriers and myths surrounding refugees but I believe a good start is to empower refugees by giving THEM the tools and the skills to tell their own stories, not through replication by a group of well-meaning Anglo actors and facilitators.

Criminalising smuggling does not prevent the free movement of people

RISE is highly critical of ABC’s Four Corners report on people smuggling which aired on Monday 4 June, 2012 in its failure to address the most pressing aspects of the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. We condemn ABC’s obvious descent into the fear-mongering and dog-whistling around this issue that has been indicative of Australian politics since mandatory detention was instated as official policy, and perhaps well before that when White Australia was the state’s prerogative.

Criminalising smuggling, which is the narrative this report chooses to contribute to, cannot and does not prevent the free movement of people, particularly in the current climate of global financial instability, food scarcity and war. Millions of people are forcibly displaced from their homes due to factors such as persecution, war, state terror and natural disasters. In the search for a safe life for themselves and their loved ones, people will move to escape these circumstances. Opposing “smuggling” – a means through which people travel to ensure their safety and well-being – is to take a position against refugees and asylum seekers.

Rather than focusing on this non-issue, ABC could have taken a more productive and critical look at why people are fleeing their circumstances in the first place. The Four Corners report could have looked into political and economic arrangements between Australia and some of the countries from which people have been forced to leave – Australia’s complicity in atrocities in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka has been documented. In short, it could have taken a more journalistically honest and thorough look at the environment that allows an industry like smuggling to work.

Appalling Medical Services for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Community

RISE is extremely concerned about the current, appalling medical situation that refugees and asylum seekers are facing while they are settling in Australia. There are a number of medical cases that have not been properly reviewed or given high priority, as they should be. This creates more and more disadvantage amongst refugees and asylum seekers who have already struggled with coming to Australia and have been detained in detention centres for great lengths of time.

According to RISE findings, there are a significant number of medical cases that have been neglected by refugee case workers, not knowing where to refer people or locate proper medical resources. RISE findings also show that many asylum seekers have mental illnesses and have not had the opportunity to be seen by a psychiatrist – even after a year of settling in Australia, they still struggle to establish adequate arrangements for mental health care. Some of the assigned medical organisations and centres have refused to assist cases because they have overwhelming waiting lists and are not equipped with sufficient resources or suitable strategies to accommodate the health needs of former asylum seekers.

Our findings also show that when asylum seekers are prescribed medical drugs, they are not provided with suitable information regarding their use and side effects. There are also a number of former asylum seekers who are amputees, and have not received proper medical assistance or special benefits from Centrelink – and despite this dire lack of services, media and public hysteria regarding benefits to asylum seekers abounds.

According to RISE’s recent findings, asylum seekers have been released into the community by the Gillard government in a hand-washing gesture that does not examine the deeper settlement or health needs of former detainees whilst in the community. This extends to insufficient documentation and research regarding asylum seeker health needs, and totally inadequate federal funding for targeted medical services. We urge the Gillard government to responsibly follow up the settlement needs of asylum seekers within the community, or risk making the transition to community based arrangements for asylum seekers hollow and harmful.

The deteriorating situation at MITA

Asylum seekers and refugees held in MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation): A man attempted to hang himself this week. Last week a teenager cut his neck. About a week before that a man was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after he was found speaking to balloons he kept in his room that he said was his brother, mother and baby daughter. About 8 of these detainees are refugees being held indefinitely with adverse security assessments; one of them has been held in Australian immigration detention facilities for 34 months so far.

Minister Scott Morrison’s fear tactics

RISE is concerned by the comments of Scott Morrison, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, who on 27 February 2012 said “when illegal boats turn up in our waters there will always be the risk that people on these boats will carry serious communicable diseases. The more boats there are, the greater the risk of serious diseases presenting…Despite the best efforts of our health professionals and other officials responsible for dealing with these situations, there are no guarantees that the arrival of people carrying these diseases could not lead to an outbreak on Christmas Island or the transfer of these diseases to the mainland. This is the risk of failed border protection policy.” The full text of Mr. Morrison’s press release is available here.

The comment made by Scott Morrison is yet another tactic to drive fear into the minds of the Australian public towards asylum seekers arriving by boat—this time cloaked in the seemingly neutral language of ‘health.’

While there have been a small number of cases of communicable diseases found amongst asylum seekers, he conveniently neglects to mention some important points. First, the number of the infections he lists is small compared with the numbers found within the Australian population.

Second, nearly all the infections listed, except malaria, already exist in Australia. In discussion with Dr Uma Parameswaran, Infectious Diseases Registrar, for most of the diseases listed by Scott Morrison, “you don’t have to arrive from overseas or even travel overseas to get these infections… for example, hepatitis B and C are both found in Australia ….and diseases like syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections for which there are a large number of cases being diagnosed amongst Australians each year”.

Third, most of the diseases listed pose a very low risk in terms of infectivity or risk of transmission to other people. Nearly all the diseases Mr Morrison refers to cannot be contracted (as he suggests) merely through being in the presence of asylum seekers. Hence, the very low risk of transmission to people at Christmas Island, and so the wider Australian population.

For further statistical information on asylum seeker health in Christmas Island (including the insignificant numbers of infectious diseases, and the means through which these may possibly be transmitted) , we refer to an open letter from Dr Trent Yarwood Infectious Diseases Physician and Public Health Registrar.

Finally, and most importantly, given Australia’s legal obligations under international refugee law, health concerns are irrelevant in determining refugee and asylum seeker status.

Submitted by Mathavan Parameswaran

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