Category Archives: Human Rights and Refugee Activists

Doctors step up fight to free children in immigration detention, citing mental and physical health concerns

October 30, 2015 | ABC News

Doctors in Melbourne rallied against holding children in detention earlier this month

Doctors in Melbourne rallied against holding children in detention earlier this month

Australia’s medical community is increasing pressure on the Federal Government to remove children from immigration detention, as more doctors come forward citing significant mental health concerns.

Paediatricians and other health workers are due to gather in Darwin, Adelaide and Sydney today to call on the Turnbull Government to remove all children and their families from immigration detention.

Paediatrician Joshua Francis told the ABC that it was clear that detention was harmful to children and to their families.

Dr Francis said he had treated children living in detention, who had presented with “significant psychological problems and very real impacts on their development”.

“We’re trying to deal with them on a situation here these children are living essentially in jail like environments in detention centres,” he said.

“It’s heartbreaking for me, not just as a paediatrician, but also as a father.”

Dr Francis said he would personally treat the issue on a case-by-case basis, but did not rule out refusing to discharge patients back into immigration detention.

Comment has been sought from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The action follows that taken by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital earlier this month, when almost 1,000 doctors, nurses and clinical support staff called on the Government to remove children from detention.

The hospital did not deny reports that they were refusing to discharge children in detention, saying it was a matter for “serious discussion” on a case-by-case basis.

The announcement coincides with a joint statement from maternal health groups, highlighting concerns for breastfeeding mothers in immigration detention.

Eight organisations, including the Australian Breastfeeding Organisation, said asylum seeker mothers needed appropriate support to continue breastfeeding including ensuring that mother and child are kept together if one needs medical treatment.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-30/doctors-step-up-fight-to-free-children-in-immigration-detention/6897514

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Australia’s selective mercy

June 06, 2015 | Jema Stellato Pledger

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”. Source: Supplied

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”.

I have pondered the amount of press, time and effort that went into trying to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s lives. It was nothing short of exemplary in terms of who and what Australia can be. For once in a very long time I was proud of Australia; of the Australian people as the country was brought together towards a common goal to save the lives of these young Australian men

I was very interested in the social media outrage with posts stating that ‘Bali will not be my holiday destination’ and ‘we must cut arts collaborations with Indonesia’. The disgust aimed at Indonesia was palpable and from my perspective quite frightening. The anger is understandable but one must remember, if you break the rules of a country you are entering, there is a price to pay and unfortunately two young men paid the ultimate price.

I stand for mercy was an excellent campaign and one which crossed cultures, languages, generations and socio-political beliefs.  But what is Mercy? The dictionary definition is ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’ (Oxford Dictionary).

In respect to Mercy, let’s turn our attention to a 5 year old Iranian child who was on Nauru for more than a year. She came to Darwin’s Wickham Point Immigration Detention centre due to her father’s ill health but the family are to be returned as soon as he is well. The child has been diagnosed with severe PTSD. Her displays of sexualised behaviour are further evidenced by drawings of inappropriate sexual acts, which are indicative of either experience of, or witness to abuse or both (John Lawrence SC, 2015). Mr Lawrence, the family’s lawyer is appealing to keep the child in Australia. Can you imagine how the parents of the child feel? How impotent, helpless and disturbingly desperate because they could not and still cannot protect their child. One needs to put themselves in their shoes for moment and I’m sure there would be a need for retribution in your heart.

In the report the Forgotten Children- The 2015 Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention there was evidence supporting the fact that detaining children causes irreparable harm. “The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations”.

The Immigration minister Morrison and Dutton respectively agreed that keeping children for prolonged periods in remote islands does not in fact deter people seeking refuge nor people smugglers offering their services. In short desperate people will do anything when there is a glimmer of hope, however faint.

On Christmas Island the right of all children to education was denied for over a year. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as the guardian of unaccompanied children, has been derelict in his duties to act responsibly on their behalf. There are numerous issues, but one of the worst, that would appear to affect any action was the finding that incidents of “physical assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment”. The children and their families were not immediately removed. I doubt this would have been so if it happened to an Australian child or family.

So I ask, where does Mercy come into these stories? We all stood for mercy when those poor young men were to be executed… Can one stand for mercy and ignore the plight of children and women being harmed in our name?

There is a story of a 23 year old young woman who was viciously attacked whilst on a day release from Nauru camp. The camp guards and her brother went looking for her when she didn’t arrive back to camp. She was was found in the police station, in severe shock and covered in bruises. She had clearly been sexually assaulted.

These stories are not uncommon. How can a 5 year old be sent back to her abusers or a 23 year old sexual assault victim be thrown in jail?  These are victims of Australia’s harsh and inhumane policy and there are many in this situation. Do we not have a responsibility to bring them to Australia for proper treatment?

How would anyone feel if it were their daughter who was raped and sexually abused? Would you sit silent? I doubt it! Would you want the perpetrators brought to justice? Yes you would. How is this child and young woman any different to one of our own? They are not. Their parents have the same fears and need for justices as any Australian.  As Australians we must ask ourselves “how could we have allowed this to happen, and worse, let it continue?”

Further, the thousands of Rohingya Muslims languishing at sea for months are in dire need of our help. Initially countries in the area pushed them back….but to where? They are escaping ethnic ceasing in Myanmar. They are stateless and no one wants them. Australia has stood firm on its pushing back the boats with Tony Abbott stating that “it would be ‘utterly irresponsible’ for Australia to do anything which may encourage people onto boats” (James Bennett, ABC News 2015).

Were is not for Malaysia and Indonesia who “relented on a hard-line policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies” (Al Jazeera, 22nd May), the boatloads of Rohingya would have faced certain death. Currently the U.S. and Malaysia continue to search for the thousands still stranded at sea.  The Wall Street Journal reported on May 25th that Indonesia has joined the search. Where is Australia?

Australia has been vocal on its stance for Mercy. We stand against the death penalty yet we send children back to horrendous conditions in offshore processing centres. We allow the rape of young asylum seeker woman to go unpunished. We pay billions of tax payer dollars to keep innocent people locked up in camps. We stand by and literally watch children women and men perish at sea and allow poor countries shoulder the burden. Mercy is not selective- only in Australia, it seems.

Jema Stellato Pledger is a Human Rights Advocate and a PhD candidate at ACU Melbourne. She can be reached at kommonground8@internode.on.net

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Nauru staff call for closure of asylum centre and royal commission into abuse

April 07, 2015 | the guardian

Open letter from detention centre employees alleges Australian government knew of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru more than a year before it acted.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru. Photograph: Supplied

The federal government has been aware of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru for more than a year but failed to take appropriate action, workers from the detention centre have alleged.

In an unprecedented move, 23 current and former medical staff, teachers, social workers and child protection staff have signed an open letter calling for the removal of all asylum seekers from Nauru to Australia. They have also called for a royal commission into sexual abuse on Nauru and into the government’s response.
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The three-page letter says comments by immigration minister Peter Dutton that there was a “zero tolerance” attitude to sexual abuse “do not reflect the attitude or actual response” on Nauru.

It says Dutton’s request for asylum seekers to come forward and report sexual assaults could put them in further danger because of the close-knit nature of the detention environment.

The recent review led by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss found some allegations of sexual assault at the centre were substantiated. The review has now sparked a federal Senate inquiry to further investigate allegations of abuse at the centre.

Some of the workers were also due to appear on ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday evening.

The letter says: “We are a group of current and former employees from the Nauru detention centre who have first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which children and adults are detained.

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“We would like to inform the Australian public that the government and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection [DIBP] has been aware of the [allegations of] sexual and physical assault of women and children on Nauru for at least 17 months, long before the Moss review was ever commissioned.

“[DIBP] and all service providers were informed, in writing, of several of the assaults detailed in the Moss review in addition to many other assaults not mentioned in the report.”

The letter was signed by former and current staff and workers from Save the Children and International Health and Medical Services.

Former Save the Children workers named on the letter include Jesse-James Clements, Viktoria Vibhakar, Tobias Gunn, Jarrod Kenney, Hamish Tacey and E Maree.

Named former staff from International Health and Medical Services include Dr Peter Young, Dr Rodney Juratowitch and Dr Michael Gordon.

A number of other current and former staff from Save the Children and the Salvation Army have signed the letter, but chose to remain anonymous.

The incidents it highlights include one from November 2013 in which a boy was sexually assaulted by a detention centre employee. Guardian Australia has previously reported on the case, and obtained documents that show the service provider Transfield filed an incident report at the time.

The letter says that on this and other occasions, the immigration department was made aware of the allegations through incident reports, meetings and minutes from Save the Children meetings, but that it chose not to act.

“Despite this knowledge, the DIBP chose to keep this child in the detention centre where he was assaulted and remained at risk of further abuse and retaliation. Indeed, this child was subjected to further incidents of abuse while he was in detention.”

The letter says Dutton’s comments encouraging asylum seekers to report abuse when the Moss report was released posed further risks as they continue to live in close proximity to the alleged perpetrators. The signatories allege this will place them at future risk of assaults.

“It is not safe to expect women and children to report abuse to authorities and then require them to live in close proximity to the [alleged] perpetrators,” it said.

“To do so places them at risk for repeated assault, retaliation for reporting the abuse, and exposure to repeated reminders of the assaults that they suffered which further delays their recovery from trauma.”

The letter says the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women by detention centre staff – another allegation raised by Moss – was reported to the Department of Immigration 16 months before the Moss review.

“However, DIBP refused to remove these women from the unsafe detention environment.”

The letter calls for the closure of the Nauru detention centre.

“In order to protect asylum seekers, and in particular women and children from further abuse, we immediately ask for the transfer of all asylum seekers in the Nauru detention camp to Australia. We also request the Australian people support a royal commission into abuse allegations in the Nauru detention centre.”

The Senate inquiry into events on Nauru is now accepting submissions, and is likely to hold public hearings in April and May. Some former detention centre staff are preparing submissions, which will be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/07/nauru-staff-call-for-closure-of-asylum-centre-and-royal-commission-into-abuse?CMP=soc_567

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Worldwide protests planned over Manus Island detention centre

February 15, 2015 | 9news

An image supplied by the Refugee Action Collective purports to show unrest at Manus Island's Delta compound. (Refugee Action Collective)

An image supplied by the Refugee Action Collective purports to show unrest at Manus Island’s Delta compound. (Refugee Action Collective)

An international group of refugee activists are planning worldwide protests over the treatment of asylum seekers in Manus Island, just days after Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended his government’s record on mandatory detention.

The group, Australians and Allies Overseas Against Mandatory Detention, has already staged protests across the US, Europe and South America.

Further rallies, organised through social media under the hashtag #ShutDownManus, are planned for locations including The Hague, Hong Kong, Paris and Edinburgh.

The group’s New York organiser, Alex Kelly, said Australia had an obligation to welcome asylum seekers.

“We are sending a message to the Abbott government that we are opposed to mandatory detention, and to let detainees know that there are many Australians and people around the world who support their struggle.”

Australia’s treatment of refugees in recent years has come under worldwide scrutiny, and the Australian Human Rights Commission released a report blasting current and past governments for keeping children in detention.

The commission’s report found that keeping children in mandatory detention for prolonged periods caused mental and physical illness.

Mr Abbott has blasted the report, dubbing it a “transparent stitch-up”.

Source: http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/02/15/03/24/worldwide-protests-planned-over-manus-island#aIzejLmckcpbDPgL.99

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Tony Abbott fails another leadership test

February 13, 2015 | the age editorial

Tears behind bars ... The saddening sketches of children in detention.Tears behind bars … The saddening sketches of children in detention. Photo: Supplied

Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday attacked the Australian Human Rights Commission over its report into children in immigration detention, saying “the Human Rights Commission should be ashamed of itself”. No, Mr Abbott – it is you and your government that should be ashamed. By seeking to politicise the report and its findings, by seeking to demonise commission president Gillian Triggs, the government compounds its own failures and those of preceding governments. It has tried to shift attention to anyone and everyone, while accepting no responsibility, which only magnifies its own shameful behaviour.

There is no rationale for holding children in detention. Mr Abbott should have seen the report as a call to act – indeed, as an opportunity to do the right thing – not an opportunity to obfuscate and point fingers. The only humane response should have been: Children are suffering – what will we do about it?

The Triggs report was delivered to the government in November. Mr Abbott and his colleagues have had months to formulate an effective, dignified response. Instead, they sat on it until the last possible moment and then followed its release on Wednesday night with a remorseless attack – on the report, its author and the former Labor government.

In some respects the report could have been regarded as being supportive of current government policy. It says Operation Sovereign Borders “has prevented asylum seekers from reaching our shores. The consequence is that it has become possible to focus on those  … asylum seekers who are currently detained in Australia and on Nauru and Manus Island.”

It also details how the government has succeeded in at least reducing the number of children held in detention.

Mr Abbott’s response to this report indicates that, despite his claims to the contrary following Monday’s leadership vote in the Liberal party room, nothing has changed in his approach to governing. His instinct is to attack, instead of  taking a position based on decency and dignity.

He and his former immigration minister, Scott Morrison, have seen this important inquiry as an opportunity to deliberately and methodically disparage and undermine the Human Rights Commission.

That is shameful.

In May 2013, with Julia Gillard as prime minister, The Age wrote: “For as long as children remain locked up, Australian values remain sullied. This heinous practice is contrary to who we are.” There is a continuing humanitarian crisis taking place under the authority of the Australian government – according to its own monthly immigration detention report from January 31, 2015, there were 211 children under some form of mainland detention, plus 119 in offshore detention behind fences in Nauru, with no pathway to protection or settlement.

The Human Rights Commission inquiry that led to its report questioned both the former Labor immigration minister Chris Bowen, and Mr Morrison as the then minister. Both agreed on oath that holding children in detention did not deter asylum seekers or people smugglers.

No satisfactory rationale for the prolonged detention of children seeking asylum in Australia was offered.

The Abbott government has been handed an opportunity to act responsibly and with compassion. On behalf of all Australians, it should support the Human Rights Commission, acknowledge that the actions of successive governments have been shameful, and end the mandatory detention of children.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-editorial/tony-abbott-fails-another-leadership-test-20150212-13d4cx.html

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Child detention report to unveil harrowing findings after months of delay and sniping

February 09, 2015 | the guardian

Human rights chief Gillian Triggs says writing her report has been a ‘life changing experience’ – but has attracted heavy fire from the critics.

Gillian Triggs

Gillian Triggs, the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, at the national inquiry into children in immigration detention last year. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The president of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Prof Gillian Triggs, says her forthcoming report on children held in immigration detention is both “scientific and credible”.

Speaking at an international law conference at the University of Sydney, Triggs said preparation of the report was a “life-changing experience” for her.

She visited 11 detention centres, conducted 1,129 interviews, held five public hearings, received 239 submissions, and took evidence from nine medical experts.

Throughout her investigation she was subject to vituperative criticism from the government and its supporters in the Murdoch press.

It was even suggested that it was improper to commence the inquiry after the Coalition came into government.

Triggs said on Friday that the inquiry is part of a 10-year follow-up review of the HRC’s 2004 findings on children in immigration detention. When the new review was being planned there had been limited releases of children and the average time in detention had been 1.3 years.

She said that the report will “tell the stories that moved me … The findings are important … Nothing should take away our humanity and the need to respond to these concerns.”

The stories she heard and the evidence she received are harrowing. Lives ruined by incarceration, uncertainty and crushed hope. The public submissions can be read here.

Triggs’s report has been with the attorney general, George Brandis, since 11 November. He is obliged to table it within 15 parliamentary sitting days of receiving it. If Brandis is true to his form, he will grit his teeth and table it at the last possible moment on Wednesday, or more likely earlier this week when the nation’s media is focused on other things.

Triggs cannot reveal the details of her findings before the report is tabled, but from evidence to the HRC and information gleaned from the Department of Immigration and Border protection’s website certain conclusions can be drawn:

• Nearly a third of children in detention are diagnosed with serious mental illness, compared with 2% in the Australian community;

• Harsh, cramped conditions resultr in the spread of illness;

• Many children have been the victims of assaults;

• There are high levels of self-harm and suicide attempts by parents and children (highest among children);

• Indefinite detention, with no access to lawyers, exacerbates the mental illness of parents;

• There has been no access to regular education on Christmas Island for at least a year;

• here were 1,100 children in detention when the HRC started its inquiry – there are now 420.

There has also been evidence that detaining children does not stop asylum seekers or people smugglers, which raises the question – why have the children been held so long?

The president of the HRC said on Friday that attacks on her work published by News Corp were a “furphy and … inaccurate”. She said stories written by the Australian’s legal affairs editor had been misleading: “You’d expect accurate reporting from the law pages of the Australian.”

Last month the Australian reported Deakin University law professor Prof Mirko Bagaric’s claim that Triggs was “legally flawed” in her decision recommending community detention for a West Papuan refugee, John Basikbasik, who has been held at Villawood for seven years.

This was the HRC recommendation that Tony Abbott claimed was “bizarre”.

Bagaric said Basikbasik’s long-term detention without charge or trial should not have been classified as “arbitrary”. Further, it was wrong to apply the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to underpin the HRC’s recommendations.

The Australian described Bagaric as “one of the nation’s leading authorities of [sic] human rights”.

Bagaric is also on record as being an advocate for the legalisation of torture. In 2005 he wrote: “The belief that torture is always wrong is, however, misguided and symptomatic of the alarmist and reflexive responses typically emanating from social commentators.”

If he is opposed to the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, it is little wonder Bagaric is also not in favour of recognising the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Australia has agreed to be bound by the terms of both these international obligations. However, they are not enforceable in law unless embedded in Australian legislation.

Another recent story in the Australian reported that the government had written to the Triggs to advise her it “fundamentally disagrees” with the commission’s “expansive reading” of its own jurisdiction that “overlooks its legislative underpinnings”.

This unsourced leaked letter reportedly claims the government is particularly concerned about the commission’s “reliance on jurisprudence from other states’ domestic legal systems and other documents which are not binding on Australia”.

The article suggests that the ICCPR has no place in Australian law.

The Australian Human Rights Commission Act requires the commission to inquire into “any practice that may be insistent with or contrary” to any human rights and the ICCPR is a schedule to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act.

Section 11 of the HRC Act says quite plainly:

“… (k) on its own initiative or when requested by the minister, to report to the minister as to the action (if any) that, in the opinion of the commission, needs to be taken by Australia in order to comply with the provisions of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights], of the Declarations [of the rights of the child or the rights of the mentally impaired] or of any relevant international instrument.”

Triggs sees the attacks on her as an attempt to diminish the credibility of the commission’s work.

Brandis has also made public his displeasure with the forthcoming HRC report: “I am very sceptical of the establishment of an inquiry into children in [immigration] detention at a time when the recently elected Abbott government had the problem well and truly solved.”

The criticism of the commission is an echo of the attacks on Sir Ronald Wilson’s 1997 HRC report on the stolen generation.

Triggs was advised by colleagues to “play a straight bat” in the face of the spin and mullygrubbers.

Not being a cricket follower she has had to work out just what they meant.

Source: https://hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/doctors-speak-out-against-conditions-on-nauru/

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Refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC to represent ‘desperate’ asylum seeker on hunger strike in Darwin detention centre

February 06, 2015 | ABC News

Julian Burnside QC

Julian Burnside QC

Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC will represent an asylum seeker on a hunger strike in a Darwin detention centre, describing the man as “desperate”.

The 33-year-old Iranian man, who is detained at Wickham Point detention centre, has been on a hunger strike since late last year after losing his appeal for refugee status.

Burnside, a well-known barrister and refugee advocate, said he would represent the man in an appeal against the decision in the Federal Circuit Court next Thursday.

“He’s a man who’s trying to die rather than being sent back to his country,” Mr Burnside said.

“Who wouldn’t want to help someone like that.

“You know that’s pretty desperate territory. I was available on the day, of course I’m going to help.”

The Iranian man began his hunger strike on November 8 last year. He stopped in late December but resumed four days later.

He was joined by 15 other Iranian hunger strikers in late January.

Government ‘morally responsible’ if hunger strikers die: Burnside

One of the men – who did not want to be named – told the ABC some of the hunger strikers had been taken to hospital.

The man said they were protesting against their indefinite detention after their applications for refugee status were rejected.

He said he would be killed if he returned to Iran because of his political and religious beliefs.

Mr Burnside said the Federal Government would be morally responsible if any of the asylum seekers died from their hunger strike.

“The only reason they’re on a hunger strike is because of their fear of what will happen to them if they return to Iran,” Mr Burnside said.

“And frankly, starving yourself to death in Australia is a fair mark of sincerity that you are genuinely scared of returning to Iran.

“It brings to mind an interesting comment that I’ve heard from a lot of asylum seekers over the last 15 years, which is ‘In my country … they kill you quickly, in Australia they kill you slowly’.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-05/julian-burnside-represents-asylum-seeker-on-hunger-strike-darwin/6073242

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