Monthly Archives: November 2012

Nauru ‘in meltdown’ as hunger striker evacuated

November 30, 2012

An Iranian asylum seeker who has been on a hunger strike for 50 days in detention on Nauru has been evacuated to an undisclosed hospital on the Australian mainland.

Supporters say the man, known as Omid, began the hunger strike as a protest against the lack of information on how long his processing would take.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr says she fears Omid is at risk of organ failure.

A statement from the Department of Immigration says he “will be returned to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre as soon as he is deemed medically fit to travel”.

But in the meantime, Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition says the detention centre has gone into “total meltdown”.

“The last 48 hours there’s just been a series of self-harms, attempted suicides – just pandemonium,” he told ABC radio’s PM program.

“There’ve been scuffles between Wilson Security and asylum seekers, between asylum seekers and Salvation Army workers, and an endless stream of self-harm attempts.

“People have moved, asylum seekers have been removed from the detection centre. Five of them were still being held somewhere outside of the detention centre.

“There are accusations that people have been taken out of the detention centre, have been beaten by Wilson Security guards.”

Mr Rintoul says besides Omid, there are 18 asylum seekers who have been on a hunger strike for more than a week.


“Another man is on his 30th day of hunger strike and the others are between eight and 13 days on hunger strike,” Mr Rintoul said.

“In the last couple of days other people have joined the hunger strike. I don’t know the exact numbers except for those 18.”

An Immigration Department spokesperson has confirmed that Nauru police are currently investigating several incidents at the detention centre this week.

PM understands several asylum seekers could be charged with assault.



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Sri Lankan, Iranian families sent to Manus Island

November 30, 2012

Manus Island, PNG

Photo: Nineteen asylum seekers were sent to the island last week. (Immigration Department, file photo)

A second group of asylum seekers has arrived at the Australian Government’s processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

There are now 47 asylum seekers being housed in the recently refurbished centre.

Eight families, made up of 16 adults and 12 children, from Sri Lanka and Iran arrived from Christmas Island this morning.

They join the 19 Sri Lankans and Iranians sent to Manus Island last week.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said asylum seekers could spend several years on the island waiting for their claims to be processed.

But during a visit to Australia this week, PNG’s prime minister Peter O’Neill said he did not want them there “too long” and they should be processed as quickly as possible.


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Inquest into death of Afghan refugee and asylum seeker Meqdad Hussain at Scherger detention centre near Weipa, in Cape York

November 30, 2012

Meqdad Hussein

Meqdad Hussein, at home in Pakistan with his younger brothers and sisters. Source: Supplied

MEQDAD Hussain was only 20 when his mother sent him from the family home in Pakistan to seek out a new life in Australia.

But the young Hazara refugee – who fled persecution in his home country of Afghanistan – died alone in his room after apparently hanging himself with a bed sheet at a remote Cape York detention centre – some 2400km from Brisbane – while he waited for asylum in Australia.

State Coroner Michael Barnes yesterday opened the third day of an inquest into Meqdad’s death, after first hearing evidence in Weipa and Cairns this week.

The court was told the young Afghan refugee died around 7.30pm on March 17, 2011, the same day a decision was made in Canberra refusing him asylum in Australia.

But a case worker who oversaw Meqdad’s incarceration at the Scherger detention centre, near Weipa, insisted there was no way the young refugee could have known about the ”negative decision” through any official channel.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship case manager Cameron Hope told the court he’d been notified of the decision via email ”a few days” after the asylum-seeker’s death.

Mr Hope said it was usual practice for case managers to notify clients of decisions made regarding their refugee status except in some rare circumstances where immigration agents informed asylum-seekers before the Department was able to.

He said he didn’t know whether it was possible Meqdad learned of the ”negative decision” before his death.

”Had anyone accessed his system? Yes, it’s a possibility, depending on when [the decision] had been loaded into the system,” Mr Hope said.

”Other than that, no, I wouldn’t know.”

Mr Hope said he’d never had a one-on-one interview with Meqdad, never saw scars on his arm that may have been an indicator of self-harm and had a large caseload of more than 50 refugees housed at the detention centre.

He could give no account of Meqdad’s mental health and told the court he’d stopped working at the centre shortly after the refugee’s death.

Counsel assisting the Coroner Peter Johns told the court a notebook Meqdad had been practising learning English in was found on the day he died with ”words to the effect” that another refugee had killed him.

Mohammed Ali Mirawkhor, 56, was the man named in the notebook. He told the court he’d shared a room with Meqdad at the detention centre until March 4, 2011 when he moved out to a room opposite the younger man’s.

Mr Mirawkhor told the court he’d been an Inspector with the Pakistani police force for 20 years before he came to Australia via Christmas Island in October, 2010.

He said it was an ”insult” to be accused as Meqdad’s murderer when police had questioned him over the contents of the notebook.

”I don’t know English but a translator told me ‘you may have done something to Meqdad that lead him or resulted in him doing this to himself’,” Mr Mirawkhor said.

He said there was a lot of shame associated with a person committing suicide in the Qu’ran, the religion of the majority of refugees housed at the centre at the time.

”Im my religion committing suicide is very bad and the family would suffer consequences. They would be sad and there would be a lot of problems,” he said.

Another refugee who’d been at Scherger with Meqdad, Mohammed Masumi, told the court he’d last seen his friend at 11.05am on the day he died.

”He’d just gotten out of the shower,” he said. ”His hair was looking wet.”

”My perspective is it was a suicide.”

Meqdad’s family in Pakistan believe their eldest son, of six, had been murdered.

Mr Barnes adjourned the inquest to a date to be fixed.


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Nauru tents to remain until deal is brokered

November 30, 2012

Asylum seekers being detained in Nauru will continue to be housed in tents until a deal to build permanent structures can be brokered with landowners, the Nauru Government says.

Hundreds of asylum seekers have been sent to the Australian detention centre under Australia’s new immigration laws.

They are living in temporary canvas shelters which the Salvation Army has described as “very harsh”.

Matthew Batsiua, from the Nauru Government’s working group on regional processing, told Radio Australia he was confident there would not be objections from landowners.

“We’ve been negotiating with landowners to get consent for the lease for the centre and I’m pleased to say we’re getting that finalised so next week we can get the lease signed.”

Mr Batsiua, who conceded the tent housing was “less than ideal”, said he was hopeful construction would begin within a month but not before negotiations had concluded.

Rights group Amnesty International inspected the centre last week and described conditions as “very cramped”.

“We are talking about 14 people to a tent. In summer, in the heat, it’s always hot,” one of the inspectors, Dr Graham Thom, said.

“It gets over 40 degrees during the day inside those tents and it was certainly very hot and humid when we were there.”

Hunger strike

Meanwhile, an asylum seeker who has been on hunger strike at the Nauru detention centre for the last seven weeks is expected to be sent to Australia for treatment.

Supporters said the man known as Omid was originally from Iran and began the hunger strike as a protest against the lack of information aout processing times.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr told the ABC she feared Omid was at risk of organ failure.


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Greens call on Bowen to intervene in case of asylum seeker on hunger strike

November 29, 2012

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen this morning signed the legislative instrument designating Nauru as a regional processing country under the Migration Act.Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told Labor MPs this week the asylum seeker would not be transferred to Australia. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

SARAH Hanson-Young has appealed directly to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, urging him to personally intervene in the case of Omid, an Iranian man on his 48th day of hunger strike on Nauru.

Omid was readmitted to hospital on Wednesday.

An immigration spokeswoman said the department was taking advice from medical staff, and would act on whatever that advice was. She declined to say whether Omid was being forcibly fed, saying it would be inappropriate to give details of an individual’s medical treatment.

Senator Hanson-Young said Omid’s condition was ”getting worse by the day”.


”I’m calling directly on Minister Bowen to intervene and bring this man to the Australian mainland to ensure he has appropriate medical assistance,” she said.

”And whatever people want to say about the politics on this issue here in this place [parliament], whatever people may think about the no-advantage test, the fact is we have a man who is very close to losing his life. And he is a human being.”

Senator Hanson-Young said the issue was above politics. But she would not say whether he should be fed against his will.

Mr Bowen’s office has been contacted for comment. But Mr Bowen told Labor MPs this week the man would not be transferred to Australia, saying he was receiving the best care possible in the circumstances.

There have been 10 episodes of self-harm at the Nauru processing centre in 24 hours, and Nauru detainees say they were a direct response to the government’s decision to release thousands of recently- arrived asylum seekers into the community.

The Immigration Department confirmed that four acts of self-harm on Tuesday night were followed by another two episodes on Wednesday, saying some of the men received treatment for superficial injuries at the centre and none were transferred to the island’s hospital.

Another four incidents followed late in the afternoon, according to an asylum seeker. ”I cannot express what is happening here,” the man said. ”Everyone is crying and saying, ‘Why am I here?”’

Other asylum seekers said they could not accept they were being treated differently to those whose claims were to be processed on the mainland, when they arrived at the same time, and even on the same boats. ”Why are other friends going to the city [to] take visa while we are here in this worst conditions?” one asked.

The incidents came as a customs vessel intercepted the 142nd boat to attempt to come to Australia since the government accepted all recommendations from its expert panel, including re-opening the centres on Nauru and Manus.

Some 13 people were on the boat, bringing the number to arrive since the announcement on August 13 to 8218.

Detainees on Nauru acknowledged concerns about the conditions of bridging visas that will be offered to those who arrived after August 13, but who cannot be accommodated at centres on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. But they could not understand why they were selected to go to Nauru.

They also asserted that those hurting themselves were suffering depression after being confined to the Nauru centre.

A department spokesman said the 387 asylum seekers living in tents in the centre were receiving ”appropriate medical care”.

On Thursday morning, the Coalition failed in its bid to bring on a debate about temporary protection visas.

Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison tried unsuccessfully to suspend parliamentary proceedings to debate his private members bill to reintroduce TPVs for asylum seekers.

He argued it was crucial the issue be discussed before parliament rises for the year, noting that the imminent monsoon season across South-East Asia was ”the most dangerous period of the year for people to travel on boats to Australia”.

But the government moved a gag motion, ensuring the time for debate ran out.

“It’s the most dangerous time of the year for boat journeys to Australia and the Coalition’s bill would put the crucial policy of Temporary Protection Visas back in the toolkit in the fight against people smugglers to deter them,” Mr Morrison said.

“Despite the necessity of this measure the government opposed the bill before they even saw it.”

– with Judith Ireland, AAP

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PNG PM urges speed on asylum processing

November 29, 2012

PNG PM urges speed on asylum processing

Papua New Guinea’s leader wants the asylum seekers boat arrivals Australia sends to Manus Island to be processed and moved on as soon as possible.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says he’s happy for Australia to manage and control the recently re-opened detention facility on the island, which will receive people under Labor’s controversial ‘no advantage’ principle.

Under this principle, asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat could spend up to five years in detention even after they are found to be refugees as part of a tough regime designed to deter people from attempting boat journeys.

‘Of course we encourage the Australian government to process those asylum seekers as quickly as possible so a decision can be made,’ Mr O’Neill told reporters at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

‘If their applications are not in order they must be repatriated to their country as quickly as possible.’

Mr O’Neill said he believed Australia would ‘do the right thing’.

‘Nobody likes people staying there too long on an island such as Manus, it’s just going to create more tension for our own people if the numbers continue to increase,’ he said.

Mr O’Neill defended the state of the Manus facilities.

‘We believe very strongly that the facilities are adequate and will cater for the asylum seekers to be looked after in a humane fashion.’

Australia resumed sending asylum seekers to Manus earlier this month, transferring 19 people – including four children – from Iran and Sri Lanka.


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Asylum seekers self-harm on Nauru

November 29, 2012

ELEVEN asylum seekers detained at Australia’s offshore processing centre on Nauru have harmed themselves, the immigration department says.

The male detainees began committing self-harm on Tuesday evening, resulting in one man ending up in hospital on Thursday.

“Some of the transferees received medical treatment on site, but they were for very superficial injuries,” a department spokeswoman told AAP.

An Iranian asylum seeker who has been on hunger strike for almost 50 days has also been sent to Nauru’s hospital, the spokeswoman said.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she was extremely concerned for his welfare.

She urged Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to intervene and bring the man to Australia for medical care.

“Whatever people want to say about the politics on this issue here in this place … the fact is, we have a man who is very close to losing his life,” Senator Hanson-Young told reporters in Canberra.

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She hopes to visit Nauru soon to inspect the facility.


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