Monthly Archives: June 2014

Christmas Island staff prepare for arrival of asylum seekers, according to Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan

June 29, 2014

Christmas Island

Staff on Christmas Island are said to be preparing for the arrival of asylum seekers.

Staff on Christmas Island have been told to prepare for the possible arrival of asylum seekers, according to Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan.

An asylum seeker vessel made contact with marine rescue authorities on Thursday night claiming to be leaking oil 300 kilometres west of Christmas Island.

The ABC understands that vessels is from southern India and has more than 150 people on board, including 37 children.

Ms MacTiernan said people onboard two asylum seeker boats were picked up by border protection authorities on Saturday evening.

She said staff on Christmas Island were “on standby waiting for instructions”, but do not know whether the asylum seekers will arrive on Christmas Island or “be taken elsewhere”.

“They’re saying that two boats have been intercepted and the ship on which they’re being loaded is in Christmas Island waters,” she told the ABC.

“And everyone is on standby waiting for instructions as to whether or not the boat is going to be unloaded here or whether or not it’s going to be taken elsewhere.

“They’re hearing the people are from south India but they’re not clear whether or not they’re originally Sri Lankan.”

Earlier on Saturday a man named Duke told the ABC he was onboard an asylum seeker boat in trouble about 250 kilometres north of Christmas Island.

However, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not confirm whether the Government was aware of the boat.

“It is our standard practice, as you know under Operation Sovereign Borders, to report on any significant event regarding maritime operations at sea, particularly where there is safety-of-life-at-sea issues associated,” he said.

“I’m advised that I have no such reports to provide … if there was a significant event happening then I’d be reporting on it.”

Boat has 37 children onboard, according to asylum seeker

Duke said the group are mostly Tamils from Sri Lanka, who left from India two weeks ago.

He said the group is determined to make it to Australia to seek asylum.

“[There are] 32 [women] and we have 37 children, 253 kilometres … from Christmas Island,” he told Saturday AM.

“We are refugees. We come from Sri Lanka – we stayed in India and we are unable to live there. That’s why we are coming to Australia.”

The man said the vessel was being buffeted by wild weather and needed assistance.

“It’s heavily raining also. We didn’t get help anywhere. The wind is blowing in high speed, and [there are] huge waves,” he said.

“The children and infants are also in the boat … We can see some boats lights, maybe fishing boats.”



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Another Tamil asylum-seeker attempts self-immolation in Melbourne

June 22, 2014

Man on bridging visa fears torture by Sri Lankan authorities if forced to return to his homeland.

Christmas island asylum seekers
A boatload of asylum seekers arrive at Christmas island. Photograph: Jon Faulkner/AAP

Another Tamil asylum-seeker has attempted self-immolation in Melbourne as fear of being returned to torture in Sri Lanka grips the Tamil refugee community in Australia.

The man was taken by ambulance to Dandenong Hospital late last night after he splashed petrol on himself and tried to set himself alight at his house in the south-eastern suburb of Noble Park, according to a statement by the Tamil Refugee Council. His house-mates doused the flames quickly, having been alerted to his plan. He suffered minor burns to a leg and was expected to be discharged later today.

This follows two recent separate incidents of self-immolation by Tamil asylum-seekers. Leo Seemanpillai died after setting himself alight in a Geelong Street on May 31, while another man in Sydney survived after receiving burns to 75 per cent of body in April.

The Noble Park man, 40, who is on a bridging visa awaiting assessment of his claim for a protection, came to Australia by boat in 2012, the Tamil Refugee Council said. He had fled Sri Lanka, leaving behind his wife and young daughter, after he was bashed and had his legs broken by security police. He had learned last week that his brother, who had been in jail for four years, has officially “disappeared”.

A Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson, Sri Samy, who works closely with refugees and asylum seekers in the Dandenong area, said on Saturday that she had been fearing the worst after a number of Tamil asylum-seekers told her that they had lost hope that they would be protected from return to Sri Lanka.

“I have had seven young men tell me in the past few weeks that they are thinking of doing this. They are fearful of being sent back to Sri Lanka and say they would prefer to die here than be sent back to torture, which is what the Australian government is doing to many Tamil asylum-seekers.

“We are very lucky on this occasion that the man’s housemates were aware of what he was planning to do. Otherwise we may have had another death on our hands.”

The previous Labor government, and the current Coalition government, have sent back more than 1000 Tamil asylum-seekers under an “enhanced” screening process that does not allow time for proper assessment of asylum claims. The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has said he wants to see all Sri Lankan asylum-seekers returned.

The Tamil Refugee Council called on Morrison to act now, and abide by his legal requirement to provide protection to genuine refugees, in order to alleviate the fear amongst Tamils and stop further deaths.


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Protection visa cap ruled invalid by High Court, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison ordered to reconsider asylum seekers’ application

June 20, 2014

The High Court has struck down a law which allowed the Government to cap the number of protection visas it issues for refugees in Australia.

The ruling comes after two separate applications to the court from asylum seekers who were found to be refugees but were denied protection visas because of the cap.

One of the refugees, a 15-year-old boy from Ethiopia, came to Australia last year as a stowaway on a ship, and the second, a Pakistani man, arrived at Christmas Island in 2012.

Under the law, once refugee status has been determined, the Immigration Minister has 90 days to issue a protection visa.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison capped the number of protection visas granted in the financial year at 2,773 after the Senate blocked the Government’s re-introduction of temporary protection visas.

The High Court found the Minister did not have the power to limit the number of visas because of the time limit.

The court has ordered Mr Morrison reconsider the asylum seekers’ applications for protection.

The lawyer who brought the case, David Manne, believes the ruling will force the Government to change its policy.

“The current laws do not permit the Government to set a limit on the amount of protection visas to be granted each year,” he said.

“The Government has been on a campaign to come up with devices to block people getting a permanent visa … and those devices have been found to be unlawful.

“If they’re found to be a refugee and have met other technical [and] public interest requirements … they must be granted a protection visa and that entitles people to permanent residence.”

Mr Manne says the number of people who have been granted refugee status but have not been granted protection visas could “potentially be in the thousands”.

“What we do know, from this case, is that over 1,400 people had been in situation of having been found to be a refugee, it appears,” he said.

“But there may well be many others too. It’s difficult to know and that’s really a matter that the Government will have to explain further.”

Government’s protection visa policy ‘in disarray’

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, says the ruling leaves the Government scrambling.

“This is a government whose policy on this matter is in disarray,” he said.

“This is the same government who presided over the largest data breach we have seen, whose policy is eroding our relationship with Indonesia, who has seen a meltdown on Manus Island.

“This is a minister who has presided over crisis over crisis.”

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young says the ruling will help several thousand asylum seekers.

“This is a great win for fairness and decency and it means that refugees who have been in Australia, owed protection, waiting in limbo, will now be able to get on with the rest of their lives, start rebuilding the rest of their lives, without the fear of being sent home,” she said.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister says it remains the Government’s policy to not allow boat arrivals to settle in Australia.


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Tamil asylum seeker who set himself on fire, Leo Seemanpillai, remembered at funeral in Geelong

June 18, 2014

A framed photograph of Sri Lankan asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai

A framed photograph of Sri Lankan asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai sits among flowers.

A Tamil asylum seeker who died after setting himself on fire has been mourned by hundreds of people at a funeral service in Geelong.

Leo Seemanpillai had been living in Geelong on a bridging visa for about a year when he set himself on fire last month.

He died in hospital after suffering burns to 90 per cent of his body.

Mr Seemanpillai’s friend Robert was with him when he arrived in Australia by boat.

“He created very meaningful friendships in this country,” Robert said.

“We pray through his peace of soul.”

Mr Seemanpillai’s family were denied a visa to attend his funeral because the Government said there were doubts they “genuinely” intended to stay temporarily.

The service, given in both English and Tamil, was streamed live to the refugee camp in India where they live, and many people took photos and videos to share with friends and relatives who were not there.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the ABC the issuing of documents for other country nationals is a matter for those countries.

“Family members need to hold valid visas to enter Australia. Any application for a visa is assessed by the department against relevant criteria,” she said.

“The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has no power to intervene in the granting of a visa in the circumstances that relate to the case of Mr Seemanpillai’s brother.”

‘I’ll never forget your happy smile’

Cath Henschke and her husband Robert knew Mr Seemanpillai through the Lutheran Church.

She read out a eulogy Robert had written, describing Mr Seemanpillai as a generous, thoughtful young man who would be greatly missed.

“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to his family and many friends,” Mrs Henschke said.

Leo, I’ll never forget you and your happy smile. You cared for so many and set an example for us all.

Cath Henschke, friend.


“Leo, I’ll never forget you and your happy smile. You cared for so many and set an example for us all.”

Mrs Henschke said Mr Seemanpillai donated part of his wage to charity and was on the organ donor register.

“As I got to know Leo, he confided some of the horrors of his past and these began to haunt him,” she said.

“He was frightened and increasingly anxious about the prospect of being sent back to Sri Lanka.

“Yet, in between the dark periods we could see the hope that shone in his eyes.”

Tamil priest travels to Geelong to pay respects

One of the Catholic priests who delivered the service, Pan Jordan, is a Tamil who comes from the same district in Sri Lanka as Mr Seemanpillai’s family.

He did not know Leo personally but said he was moved to travel from Brisbane to Geelong when he heard about his death.


“I am very upset,” Father Jordan said.

“This young man must have gone through this terrible agony.”

Father Jordan said Mr Seemanpillai is not the only Tamil asylum seeker concerned about being deported to Sri Lanka.

“The anxiety and the fear they go through is tremendous,” he said.

Earlier this month Scott Morrison told a press conference Mr Seemanpillai had been in regular contact with a case worker.

He said Mr Seemanpillai’s claim for asylum had not been decided.


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Hazaras to celebrate freedom at Omagh festival

June 17, 2014

The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm

The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm

The Hazara community of Melbourne is about to do something they are not used to – celebrate their local Hazaragi culture.

The refugee community is preparing for the inaugural Omagh Celebration, a festival of Hazaragi music, art, theatre and poetry.

Poet Farkhonda Akbari told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Richard Stubbs that the local Hazaras “have to bring back a culture that has been persecuted for 200 years.”

“We are trying to celebrate a culture that has never been celebrated,” said Ms Akbari.

Persecution and discrimination

I experienced a smile for the first time in Australia… This is a place we can actually practice our culture.

Farkhonda Akbari


Around 7 million Hazaras live in the ethnic region of Hazarajat in Afghanistan.

It is estimated more than four million more live as refugees in Iran and Pakistan.

Central Asian in appearance, Hazaras are predominantly from the Shiite Muslim minority and have been openly targeted by the Taliban.

Those living as refugees in Iran face daily discrimination, according to Farkonda Akbari.

“Most of their kids are not allowed to go to school or go to university,” said Ms Akbari.

“There are some schools run by the the Hazaras themselves but they can’t go to university when they finish school, they can’t buy a house.”

Ms Akbari lived in Iran for three years as a child.

“Just walking down the street there are things thrown at you,” she said.

“You had to strip your identity, your cultural identity off to be able to live.”

Freedom and opportunity


Around 20,000 Hazaras now live in Australia, approximately 9000 of whom reside in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

“Australia has the biggest Hazara community of any Western country,” said Ms Akbari.

She said in contrast to Iran, her experience of settling in Australia was one of “welcome and warmth.”

“I experienced a smile for the first time in Australia,” she said.

“I call it the golden day.”

She said Hazaras in Australia now have the opportunity to revive their culture.

“You are not discriminated against, you are not bullied or anything when you walk down the street,” she said.

“This is a place we can actually practice our culture.”


Multicultural Arts Victoria ran music, poetry and theatre workshops for the Hazara community in preparation for the Omagh Celebrations.

Ms Akbari teamed up with fellow poet Alia Gabres to run the poetry workshops, which she said fell into two parts.

“One part is for reciting the folklore Hazara poetry that have been passed down for generations from people to people,” said Ms Akbari.

“At the same time there are people who are writing themselves from their own experience.”

Participants in the workshops have written about the political situation in Afghanistan as well as more personal stories.

“We have a lady who’s talking about how to be a Hazara mother.”

Ms Akbari is currently studying a Masters of International Relations with the aim of working “from Canberra to Kabul.”

In 2012 she returned to Afghanistan while working with Human Rights Commission investigating alleged violations of humanitarian law by US troops.

“I have two homelands I have Australia and I have Afghanistan.”

The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm.


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Asylum seeker babies secretly moved to Christmas Island

June 16, 32014

Newborn babies and their families are being secretly moved in the dead of night to Christmas Island detention centre, which is widely considered as unsuitable for young children by medical practitioners.

It is believed at least five two-month-old babies, their siblings and parents were given no notice as they were forced to leave Adelaide’s Inverbrackie detention centre at 3am last week, without access to any legal advice.

On Monday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refuted this, saying the families were notified “well in advance of the 20 minutes that advocates are suggesting”, but would not say how much notice was given.

The sudden relocations come as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced a $2.6 million educational package for school-aged children in the island’s detention centre, run by Catholic Education Office of Western Australia, suggesting that the government is planning to increase the population of child detainees on the island.

Jacob Varghese, who is representing 26 Australian-born asylum seeker babies, said the families were living in daily fear that they would be “shipped off” to Christmas Island.

“There is really heavy-handed and unnecessarily cruel approach taken to removing people, which is knocking on their door in the middle of the night and shipping them off,” Mr Varghese, a principal of Maurice Blackburn lawyers, said.

“Christmas Island is the worst place in Australia to put these people, because it is very remote and a long way from any first-class medical services,” he said.

Mr Varghese said the families also had children under four years old.

The new educational arrangement on the island will provide full-time educational services from kindergarten to high school for the 56 children living in the centre, it was announced on Friday evening.

But the government is expecting the centre will enroll “to up 150” children – nearly three times the number of children currently on the island.

The increased number of children is likely to come from the nine onshore detention centres that the government will close over four years, including Inverbrackie in Adelaide and Darwin Airport Lodge, which both house family groups.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians said that while it “cautiously welcomed” the plans to provide full-time education to the children, it slammed Australia’s decision to detain children in such harsh environments.

“We are not fulfilling our international obligations by detaining children in any setting in terms of their human rights,” the college’s president, Professor Nick Talley, said.

A Human Rights Commission inquiry into the treatment of asylum seeker children on Christmas Island detention centre in March found children in a state of gross neglect, with little to no access to education.

Mr Morrison confirmed that 20 asylum seekers in family groups had been transferred from the Adelaide centre last Wednesday.

”The detainees had been transferred to Inverbrackie from Christmas Island for medical reasons,” a spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said.

”The government does not disclose medical details of detainees for privacy reasons.

”The detainees were notified in advance of the transfer and were not prevented from contacting family, friends or others prior to their departure.”

If a baby is currently born to asylum seeker parents in detention they are considered “unlawful maritime arrivals” by the government.

But this could change following the decision of a test court case in Brisbane where lawyers are fighting to release an Australian-born baby Ferouz from detention.

Ferouz was born in Brisbane on November 6 after his mother, Latifar, a 31-year-old Rohingyan asylum seeker, was flown from the Nauru detention centre to the Mater Hospital following pregnancy complications.

Until the decision is made whether babies can be considered UMAs, the Immigration Department have provided an undertaking not to send 26 Australian-born babies or their immediate family members to offshore detention.

The Ferouz case continues on Monday.

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Street artist Peter Drew sticks asylum seekers’ messages to walls of Adelaide buildings

June 10, 2014

Peter Drew and Ali Reza Mohammad

Peter Drew and Ali Reza Mohammad

Sketches drawn by asylum seekers in detention and on bridging visas have been turned into posters and stuck on the walls of Adelaide buildings.

Authorities already have removed some but street artist Peter Drew says that will not stop his project.

Drew has pasted his message in dozens of public places in the CBD.

“One of the things that turns me off about the debate is so much of it is people who aren’t asylum seekers talking about the issue,” he said.

“You don’t get to hear what asylum seekers actually have to say, I wanted to find out about the real stories.”

Some of the posters are just happy memories from home so it’s not so politicised in that way, some are harrowing though, the traumatic stories of why they had to leave home and their journey coming into Australia and what it was like in detention.

Street artist Peter Drew


Drew asked seven people in detention and on bridging visas to relate their stories as art.

Each of their sketches has been blown up to several times its original size and the posters of 4.5 by 2.5 metres are hard to miss.

“Some of the posters are just happy memories from home so it’s not so politicised in that way, some are harrowing though, the traumatic stories of why they had to leave home and their journey coming into Australia and what it was like in detention,” Drew said.

“I think it’s sort of an issue of public interest and when I see the work up and people read it and really begin to empathise, I meant that’s exactly what I wanted.”

Passers-by have agreed the message is being noticed.

“It’s very emotional, but I think it’s an issue we talk about so much in the news and we see the hype in the parliaments but this is the very human face of it,” one said.

“It’s beautiful, my eyes are drawn to that picture initially, reading that story, I’m so glad it’s out in the public space because people need to read this,” another said.


One of the posters is an image of Ali Reza Mohammad’s mother crying.

The teenage asylum seeker, whose father was killed by the Taliban, fled violence in Pakistan a year ago in search of a better life.

“The picture is like the day when I left my mum,” he said.

“The mums are not happy to send their kids away from them but they have to, they’re helpless and hopeless.”

Ali Reza Mohammad learnt some English and drawing skills while in detention.

He now is on a bridging visa and trying to put the sadness behind him.

“I feel very good, I feel proud [that] people are looking at my picture and they are reading my story,” he said.

“Some get upset, some get shocked, some get surprised.”


Peter Drew has not sought permission from Adelaide City Council or property owners to put his message on walls across the CBD and at least six posters have been removed.

But that is the way of the young street artist, who was threatened with deportation from Glasgow for installing street art illegally there.

He also has been arrested for graffiti vandalism in Adelaide.

“I’ve deliberately selected some spots where they’ll stay up for months, but [in] other busy spots they’ll probably be removed in a couple of weeks,” he said.

Adelaide City Council said in a statement:

“We haven’t sought to remove the posters but, without a relevant permit, it’s possible cleaning crews may have taken some down.

“We’re meeting with the artist this week to discuss what to do about any remaining works.”

Drew says he knows the risks of his approach but it is worthwhile.


“We honour and remember the Anzacs and our colonial past and here we are with this contemporary example in a way which we can’t understand, but it relates so much to how our ancestors came here and the courage and sacrifice they displayed,” he said.


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