A possie in Aussie

January 26, 2010

Mobiles suddenly banned on Christmas Island? How you can help

My friend Michelle who is supporting detainees on Christmas Island sent this email today: (To see how you can help, see end of post).

In recent weeks, detainees been told they are no longer allowed to have mobile phones. As one detainee explained to me, “an immigration officer told me this is the new rule of immigration”. Phones that have been sent to the centre by well-wishers are now being kept in the properties department upon arrival. Detainees are then notified that the phone has arrived but they cannot have it.

Mobile phones inside the detention centre have not been an issue until now. As long as the mobile phones have no camera and are security cleared by Serco when they are sent in, it is not a problem. Several detainees currently have phones that were sent in before the “new
rule”. They have not been confiscated but once those phones leave the centre no more will be allowed in.

Not only is this ban on mobiles unfair to Christmas Island detainees, who have been sent phones from friends, advocates and relatives on the mainland, it symbolises how asylum seekers who arrive by boat in an excised territory and then detained in an island maximum security centre are treated as second class asylum seekers with lesser rights than those
that arrive by air.

Mainland detainees are allowed mobile phones. Why should it be any different on Christmas Island?

I have written to the Department asking the reasoning behind this “new rule” but am yet to receive a response.  Please write to the Department, express your disappointment in this new rule and ask why should the mobile phone policy on Christmas Island be any different to mainland detention centres.
All emails should be sent to Mr Bob Correll who is one of DIACs Deputy Secretaries and deals with Christmas Island detention at:
All emails should be cc’d to DIAC’s Secretary Mr Andrew Metcalfe at this address:
Other ways to help:

There are plenty of asylum seekers who need penfriends. Please contact Lisa Hartley at letters@asylumseekerschristmasisland.com if you would like to be involved.

We are still desperate for reading material and DVDs in Dari, Farsi, Arabic, Indonesian, Tamil, Vietnamese and Burmese.

Feel free to send pens to ACSI or asylum seekers on the island as well seeing Serco is
now making detainees purchase them from the canteen rather than supplying them.

There is a great article in today’s Australian you should all check out by Linda Briskman, Susie Latham and Chris Goddard:


November 3, 2009

“Indonesian Solution” is sickening, degrading: new report


What does the ‘Indonesian Solution’ look like?

And why do people try to escape by risking their lives on rotten boats?

Jessie Taylor has today released a comprehensive report on immigration detention facilities in Indonesia.

She visited 11 facilities in July 2009. Her report, Behind Australian Doors: Examining the Conditions of Detention of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, is available at  http://www.law.monash.edu.au/castancentre/news/behind-australian-doors-report.pdf

Extracts from the report are below, but a warning, they are sickening and upsetting:

“Generally water is rationed at around 500mls per person per day. A number of detainees at Kuningan are suffering an aggressive skin disease.  It is dark purple in colour, and has the appearance of an allergy or fungal infection, and causes great discomfort to those who suffer from it. It is apparently brought on by lack of each person’s ability to maintain an acceptable standard of personal hygiene, and the cramped and filthy conditions inside the cells.”

“As there are 13-15 adult males in each of the irregularly shaped 3x4m cells, sleeping is very difficult.  Detainees inform us that they sleep in rows, on their sides, as there is not enough room to lie flat.

“The kitchen is open to the elements and covered in fungus and mold.  The shower is a hose over a filthy toilet.  The water supply is polluted and contaminated.  There are problems with rodents and snakes in the kitchen and living areas.

“The filth in this accommodation is difficult to describe, and constitute by far the worst conditions I have seen human beings living in.

“Almost all of these detainees have been accepted as refugees by UNHCR, many of them in mid-2008.  Needless to say they are anxious as to when they might be resettled elsewhere in a country where their children can get on with life.

“Medical treatment was utterly lacking.  There was a man who had broken his ankle very badly a number of weeks previously. The ankle was inflamed and infected around the primitive stitches, and he depended on another detainee to dress the weeping, pus-covered wound once or twice a day.  Fluid seeped through the bandage and was visible from the outside of the dressing.  He had been supplied with weak painkillers by IOM, but no further attention had been paid to him and he was in significant pain.

“I’ve been waiting nine years now.   How much longer will it take?” – MDK, 26, Cisarua

Also released today: results of a News poll on asylum seekers:

“Question: The Federal Government is currently working with the Indonesian government to stop asylum seekers entering Australian waters. For each of the below statements that have been made about current incident of asylum seekers, please indicate your level of agreement.”

October 28, 2009

‘Indonesian solution’ for asylum seekers should be ‘Pakistan solution’

Andrew Bartlett notes that we are on the cusp of changes in asylum policy in Australia and regionally. Future asylum policies in the balance

He reminds us that the ‘accommodation’ for many asylum seekers in Indonesia ranges from adequate to appalling.

“The Australian government, having gone on at length about the increasing cooperation with the Indonesian government, cannot now simply sidestep their responsibilities by saying the conditions are the responsibility of the UNHCR and IOM”.

I absolutely agree.

But the asylum seeker question will not be answered by improving conditions in Indonesia, or any other of Australia’s ‘Fortress Pacific’ neighbours. Asylum seeker crowd control: Australia and Europe hire 3rd world bouncers

If conditions in countries like Indonesia are improved then those nations may become magnets in themselves, and they will be forced to take increasingly severe deterrent measures.

There are suggestions that more aid to source nations would reduce refugee and asylum seeker flows, but there is no guarantee that this would reduce the numbers of people leaving to seek a better life, and indeed improvement in conditions is associated with increases in emigration, at least initially.

Economic assistance has reduced flows only when the sending country has the means to stop the flows by preventing refugees from leaving, as in the case of Haiti. The major sending nations of Afghanistan and most African nations are not able to do so, however.

And preventing people from fleeing persecution is a gross violation of human rights.

The bulk of the world’s refugees exist in developing countries without adequate financial resources for their care and maintenance. Perhaps we should instead invest in those nations who have always borne the brunt of flight: neighbours of the major source nations, like Pakistan and Kenya.

September 9, 2009

Australia no longer charges for jail

A Liberal senator yesterday crossed the floor to help seal parliamentary approval of a plan to stop charging asylum seekers and immigration detainees for their mandatory detention.

The bill will remove the requirement that persons held in immigration detention in Australia be liable for the costs of their detention. The Bill will also extinguish all immigration detention debts outstanding at the time of commencement of the legislation. Coalition splits over abolishing detention debt

Judith Troeth rose from her seat for the vote on Tuesday afternoon and walked across the chamber, in defiance of her party’s stance on the issue.

When the vote was called, Senator Troeth walked over to sit alone on the Labor side of the chamber. Senator crosses floor to help eradicate asylum seeker debt

Four of her colleagues, MPs Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan, Danna Vale and Russell Broadbent, had done the same in the House of Representatives.

Refugee Council CEO Paul Power says the policy of charging former detainees for their time in immigration detention centres, introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1992, had proven to be both highly ineffective and heartless.

“Few people encumbered with massive debts had the capacity to repay,” Mr Power said.  “People were charged for each day they were detained against their will, paying the full cost of any bureaucratic decision to transfer them from one immigration detention centre to another.

“Prior to 2005, children were often detained with their parents and families were charged separately for the detention costs of each family member.  It was not uncommon for families to leave immigration detention centres with bills exceeding $200,000.

In a media release, Minister for Immigration Senator Evans said:

“Less than three per cent of the detention debt invoiced since 2004-05 has been recovered, with the vast majority of debts incurred under this system either waived or written off because they are uneconomical to pursue.”

Senator Troeth’s vote was not essential as the bill passed by 34 votes to 30, but her gesture was a rare, formal demonstration of differing views within the coalition – and she sent a public message to her party.

“The Liberal Party is having an important conversation with history on how we treat those who seek refuge within our shores,” the Victorian senator told the Senate after the vote.

“Today, as we hew a new path to government, the Liberal Party must arrive from our deliberations having found a confidence in our ability to defend our borders without closing our hearts.” Senate passes detention debt legislation

Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Sharman Stone argued that the bill should be defeated.

She argued that billing former detention detainees “serves a very important purpose” and that abolishing the measure would be “very unwise”.

She argued that the Australian taxpayer should not pay for the detainment of illegal fishers, asylum seekers who do not have a valid claim and people smugglers.

Andrew Bartlett comments:

“The Senate debate provides a reminder of the previous federal government’s practice of (mis)using asylum seekers for political gain, with some of the familiar distortions about so-called “illegal entrants”, “jumping the queue”, “illegal immigrants” and the like being trotted out again by Coalition Senators” Debates on refugees – then and now

August 14, 2009

The lawlessness of Immigration Departments: be very scared!

Suaad Hagi Mohamud is a Canadian citizen.  Early this year a Kenyan airport official decided she wasn’t the woman whose photograph appears in her passport. (It had something to do with her lips!)

An official the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi agreed and  was immediately declared an impostor and Kenyan authorities were asked to prosecute her. She produced all kinds of identification – including a driver’s licence, social insurance card and a Canadian citizenship certificate. She even spent time in jail. After three months  DNA tests she was forced to take proved her identity. Is citizenship now defined by the colour of your skin

Have a look at her photo: any guess why she was targeted?

Suuad Hagi Mohamud

Immigration officials have a frightening powers all over the world. No habeas corpus and other niceties of the rule of law for them!

Remember Vivian Solon – the Australian citizen who was deported? VIVIAN SOLON: The Face That Shamed Australia

Cornelia Rau – the Australian citizen who was held for many months in Australian immigration detention – sometimes in solitary confinement? Talking about ‘Anna’ Cornelia

The rights of the child have no place within the Immigration Department:

The Federal Police are now investigating immigration officials for separating a child from her father and flying her to Iran without his permission Australian immigration officials investigated over child abduction

Immigration does not need search warrants, either:

Overseas students have been subject to compliance raids in the middle of the night and had their homes searched by immigration officials.  Failed your exam? Go to jail!

There seem to be no rights, human or civil, that apply when you are in the thrall of immigration departments.

August 13, 2009

Australian immigration officials investigated over child abduction

In March 2001 an Iranian man and his four-year-old daughter arrived in Australia by boat. They were in South Australia’s Baxter detention centre in January 2003 when there were allegations of sexual contact between the man and his daughter.

Those allegations were discredited.

The man was then accused of aggressive and abusive behaviour and then placed in solitary confinement for a lengthy period. While he was in solitary confinement the Department of Immigration sent the daughter to her mother in Iran.

The man says that the detention centre manager asked him whether his daughter could go shopping with him and his wife. He agreed.

They were actually sending his daughter back to Iran.

ABC’s AM program quotes a Baxter Detention Centre file note:

“If she requests to say goodbye to her father, I will advise her that it is not possible as it could stop her from being returned to her mother in Tehran. We will have several toys etc for distraction purposes”. Immigration Department lie misled detainee

The AFP is now, after six years, investigating immigration officials for possible criminal conduct, since it is illegal to remove a child from  South Australia without the parent’s consent.  Officials investigated over child’s removal

The man now has a permanent protection visa and lives in Melbourne.

July 16, 2009

Failed your exam? Go to jail!

Guy Healy of the Australian reports that thirty-six overseas students, some as young as 18, are being held in immigration detention for breaching study visa conditions. 36 overseas students in detention

Most of the student visa holders are from China, but others come from India and Pakistan – and India in particular has become sensitive to issues with their student in Australia in recent months. Bashings of Indian students

A student visa can be cancelled for a variety of reasons, including failure to meet course requirements such as “passing subjects” and “attending class”.

A department spokesperson said most of those in detention had overstayed their visas. None had been locked up “simply for breaching attendance requirements or failing to meet minimum course requirements”, although these could be factors in non-compliance with visa conditions.

The Immigration Department, however, insists that none was locked up solely for failing to meet course requirements. The Department claims that student visa holders currently in detention had either ‘posed an unacceptable risk to the community’, or had ‘repeatedly refused to comply with visa conditions’.

I know that Immigration has changed since the bad old Howard days when there was a culture of harshness and flagrant breaches of human rights. Pamela Curr reminded us recently  of the Howard days:

Pamela relates a story of an Indian student who she know who, in 2003, had successfully passed his exams for 3 years when the course at his university changed structure.

“The old course structure was available at another university nearby.

“He transferred his enrolment with permission from both universities.

“His father transferred the funds to pay for a full year upfront as required.

“He then went to the Department of Immigration to notify them of the changes in accordance with his student visa provisions. He was placed in a small interview room, locked in, his passport was taken and one hour later he was escorted down stairs to the basement by two burly officers and put in a van with covered windows. He was told that he had breached his visa conditions by not informing the department BEFORE he changed his enrolment.

“He was sent to Maribyrnong Detention Centre.

“The Department demanded $4,000 dollars and an air ticket to India which departed within 10 days to release him from detention. He left.

“Some students failed exams, some could not pay their fees and some worked an extra hour or two in a week. Overseas students were subject to compliance raids in the middle of the night instigated by anonymous dob-ins. When their passports and visas were found to be in order, the laundry basket was searched for evidence of working hours by over- zealous compliance officers.  www.asrc.org.au

I hope that my impression of a new attitude in the Department of Immigration does extend to compliance section.

May 27, 2009

Australia to Indonesia: Keep those huddled masses out of here!

I recently commented on the news that Authorities in Indonesia have stopped nearly 900 suspected asylum seekers from travelling to Australia since September last year, Indonesia stops nearly 900 asylum seekers: AFP , in ‘Australia’s newest detention centre’

It is a phenomenon that is spreading across the global ‘north’ – that is, rich and powerful nations. Instead of building more detention centres and instituting other policies that draw criticism from their humanitarian-minded citizens, governments are using third-party nations to do their work for them. They are engaging ‘developing nations’, the ‘second world’, to keep out the desperate from the third world.

European countries have policies that essentially deny access by making it as difficult as possible to enter their territory. Countries on the periphery of Europe have the harshest policies, protecting their wealthy neighbours to the north and west, often for money – as does Indonesia for Australia.

The UNHCR states that

“The European Union requires asylum seekers to make their claims in the first European country they enter, meaning that most have to make claims in countries like Greece, Ukraine, Poland, and Slovenia, which denied asylum at rates far greater than other European countries”.

Controlling our borders: making migration work for Britain, the basis for the 2006 UK Immigration Asylum and Nationality act, sees the business of ‘making migration work’ as  attracting economically useful migrants (see ‘The rights of strangers’ in Human Trafficking by Maggie Lee).

Australian Immigration policy is to:

“Contribute to Australia’s future through managed migration. Administer our migration programs to ensure long-term social and economic benefits to Australia, while responding to changing economic circumstances. DIAC Strategic Plan 2009–12

I guess we need to keep the poor and desperate out somehow.

May 26, 2009

Expensive, inefficient, stupid and unfair system: that’s what the Coalition wants

The West Australian reports that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Migration chair Michael Danby said the Rudd government had already taken steps to improve the detention system, like removing debts accrued by detainees in detention.

“The committee acknowledges that this is one of many welcome changes to government policy…however…we can and must do better,” Mr Danby said. Detainees should be allowed to work: report

Mr Danby seems to be speaking a little prematurely, however.

Andrew Bartlett reports on the change of course of the Coalition that may imperil the passing of the bill. Charging people for locking them up

Andrew notes that the recommendation was supported by Liberal MPs at the time, but that a report in the Brisbane Times shows a u-turn:

“The Opposition immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, took a submission to shadow cabinet recommending the Coalition support the bill. She was rolled.

“It was argued that the Opposition could not blame Labor’s “softening” of policy for the latest surge in boat arrivals, and then support such a bill. Furthermore, the Coalition believed philosophically that taxpayers should not bear the full cost of illegal arrivals. The party room ratified the decision on budget day and only a few moderates, including Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan, complained.” Abbott foray will highlight tussle within Coalition

Andrew Bartlett comments:

“It seems that a system which:

•    hinders the effective settlement of many migrants;

•    does not deter a single asylum seeker;

•    is expensive and inefficient to administer;

•    treats people in administrative detention who have not been convicted of anything worse than criminals in jails by charging them the cost of their imprisonment might be being retained, and

•    was unanimously recommended to be abolished “as a priority” by all members of a parliamentary Inquiry that examined the issue thoroughly;

may now end up being retained – presumably because it suits the Opposition to paint it as an example of the government allegedly being ‘soft’.”

May 13, 2009

Budget ’09: Only independent skilled get the cut

Immigration in the Budget

  • The independent skilled migration program will be reduced to a total to 108,100 places.
  • The employer-sponsored and government-sponsored visa programs will remain uncapped
  • The Critical Skills List will remain as a guideline for assessing independent applications for Australian skilled migration.
  • Skilled trade occupation applicants who do not have a sponsor will need to score at least a 6 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) (out of a possible high score of 9) instead of the previous level of 5
  • As already planned, the humanitarian program will be increased by 250 places to 13,750 people in 2009-10 and the special humanitarian program will be lifted by 750 to a total of 7750 places.
  • More than $75 million to improve detention administration and policy procedures includes greater access to welfare support, legal advice and health services for people held in detention
  • More than $650 million for an extra surveillance vessel and two aircraft
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