The other side of the story

18 05 2011

What happens in those off-shore compounds is rarely told from the perspective of those living in them.  More often than not, it’s the large commercial media organisations and various politicians attempting to appeal to base national sentiments.  The ABC have recently published a statement on what occurred recent on Christmas Island written by a refugee.  It is a must read for anyone look for the other side of the story.

Around four or five months ago there was a protest on Christmas Island, which around 250 detainees took part in, in the form of a hunger strike. They were protesting against the unfair system of claim processing by the immigration department.

The protest went on for a week, and after a week some people from the Ombudsman came to listen to detainees’ complaints. They came and sat down with clients’ representatives, and promised that they would pass on detainees’ concerns to the Department of Immigration. However, after a couple of months no one noticed even a slight change in Immigration’s way of processing the cases. Instead of implementing a change, they started to promise detainees that everything would be better in March, and that there would be a lot of noticeable changes, such as a speed up in the processing time for cases, and many other promises.

When March came, however, not only had nothing special happened, but also many people started to get rejected for a second time. For the first 10 days of March many rejections were handed out. This caused even more anger and frustration for detainees, because of the false promises from Immigration, and vows that were never fully met.

Finally, the tension and dissatisfaction boiled over, and around one month ago some detainees broke out of the centre. Around six or seven hundred asylum seekers, in a sign of protest, headed towards the Christmas Island airport in a desperate hope that someone might hear their voices. For two days, from March 11, after bringing down fences, hundreds of asylum seekers freely came and went from the detention centre. Immigration Department spokespeople repeatedly described the events as peaceful. However on Sunday afternoon, Serco decided there had to be a “show of force”. A “snatch and grab” operation was approved by the Department of Immigration, and eventually they captured twenty people, whom they named as ringleaders of a peaceful protest.

This not only did not help to calm the situation down, but created more anger and frustration among other detainees, as when they asked their friends from Serco staff, the staff flagrantly lied to them and told them that all 20 people had been transferred off the island.

However they had in reality gone nowhere but inside a high security compound called Red Compound. Not surprisingly, other detainees responded to the arbitrary arrests, and broke into the high security Red Compound in an attempt to free the 20 people who had been taken away in handcuffs. It was then that the police used tear gas and fired beanbag rounds. Such was the brutality of the police action that some three asylum seekers were trapped inside the Red Compound as they were shooting tear gas, and because their window was half broken the smoke got in and they were about to suffocate inside before one of the Serco staff managed to let them out just in time. Another asylum seeker’s leg was broken by the police beanbag rounds. When we talked to him and asked him what had happened, he said it was a real bullet that caused it, since he could see a hole the size of a 10-cent coin in his foot. Beanbag round bullets are not capable of causing such severe injuries.

The very next day, government decided to send an independent group to listen to detainees’ concerns. The group consisted of three people. During a meeting they had with around 200 detainees, they promised to pass on asylum seekers’ concerns to the minister of immigration via phone while they were on the island. They asked detainees to be calm while they were negotiating with the minister. All detainees agreed, but they stated that they would continue their peaceful protest whilst the negotiations were happening.

The next night, asylum seekers assembled in peaceful protest. They carried white sheets and strips of toilet paper as white flags. They even had flowers to give to the police, but the protest was again met with tear gas. Events escalated from there. This behaviour from the police enraged the crowd, and some lost their control and started to cause property damage by setting some tents and canteens on fire and smashing CCTV cameras.

Fires destroyed the tents and some canteens in the Aqua and Lilac compounds, while police flooded the detention centre with more tear gas and fired more beanbag rounds. All this vandalism was strongly condemned by most of the protesters, and some fights even broke out between peaceful protesters and those who were damaging the place. The protest was condemned and violent, however no one from Serco, the police or the detainees were injured. It is the asylum seekers who were victims of police violence. One asylum seeker had his chin torn up after being shot in the chin by a beanbag round. There were many more who got shot in their face and arms.

Around two or three days after the riot, police decided to retaliate by intimidating and humiliating Iranian detainees by locking up about 200 of them in the centre gym on their new year’s eve. They even threw firecrackers inside the gym, and after doing so police and Serco staff started laughing at detainees’ fright caused by the blast. After locking the detainees in the gym for the night, the next day some of the Serco officers, with a group of around 60 police guards, came to the gym and picked different people according to a book that Serco had provided. The book was designed by Serco which in it they had detainees’ photos who they believed were the rebels and rioters. The way they took people, handcuffed, with another police guard filming the whole scene, was so downgrading and humiliating that the pain felt was much more painful than even the pain caused by bean bag rounds. Any physical scar will eventually go away, but a scar on a person’s mind and spirit will stay for a long time, and the effect of it will likely cause all sorts of psychological disorders and traumas.

The same story of humiliating detainees was happening in other compounds also. Police guards, with the help of Serco, went to the rooms of people whose names were in their book. Police raided the rooms very early in the morning with guns in their hands, pointing at people and asking them to go with them. They even smashed the table that Iranian detainees had decorated for their new year’s day, and threw away the things on the table.

By selecting about 100 detainees and taking them to a compound called White 1, they (Serco and Police) wanted to demonstrate to other detainees that they were the troublemakers who caused all the damage. Around six to 700 detainees were involved in the protest, however because of lack of management by Serco and police, and also lacking a system to track people who had caused the damage (despite all the sophisticated security systems and CCTV cameras), they took the dignity of some innocents away without any solid evidence, and proof based solely on Serco’s fantasy and assumptions. They locked them up inside White 1, and did not give them their personal possessions. They didn’t provide people with any blankets or sleeping sheets. They used every way they could to provoke the people inside White 1 Compound to take some desperate action. In this case, they could easily stick the label of troublemakers and rebels much more easily to them, and prove to other detainees and to the government that they had caught the right people.

After keeping the people inside that compound for 15 days, without proving their crimes, and without any individual approaching them and telling them why they were being locked up, the tension rose to the point that one Kuwaiti detainee tried to hang himself inside the toilet but was very lucky to be noticed by his mates and they saved him.

Another some 50 decided to do a mass self harm.  Having heard the news, a representative from Serco and DIAC came to talk to detainees in White 1 Compound, bringing with them a list with the names of 10 people who were to be transferred to the mainland. Some of those were the representatives of the people in White 1. Again, the way they transferred them out of the island was another example of character assassination and humiliation for a crime and offence that was not proven. They were escorted by about 30 Serco officers ad some 20 AFP undercover police. When they were boarding the plane, some people were filming the whole scene in order to show to the Australian public that the main instigators of the riot were transferred away from the island. When they arrived in the Sydney detention centre, they were forced to sign a paper by Serco staff stating that “We are alleged to be the main instigators of the disturbances on the island”. When some people said that they needed to talk to their agents about it, Serco staff didn’t allow them, explaining that if they did not sign the paper they would be taken to a worse place.

Is this called justice here in Australia? Is this the way people get treated in a country that boasts about its humanitarian efforts? Accusing people of an offence that they haven’t committed, without any solid proof or evidence, is something that happens in dictatorship governments. Does this country follow the same dictatorship system as our own countries?





Solidarity with the Roma

5 09 2010

Massive protests have taken place across Europe against the French government’s deportation of Roma.

Al Jazeera:

Thousands of people have attended demonstrations in Paris and other French cities to protest against tough new security measures introduced by the government which they say are being used to target the country’s Roma community.

France began clearing large numbers of illegal Roma camps in July, after Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, announced a series of measures to fight crime.

Police said about 12,000 people had demonstrated in the French capital but organisers put the total nearer to 50,000.

Human rights, labour unions and leftist political parties accuse Sarkozy of stigmatising minorities and seeking political gain with the security crackdown.

They also say he is violating French traditions of welcoming the oppressed, in a country that is one of the world’s leading providers of political asylum.


BBC:

Thousands of people have attended rallies in Paris and 130 other French towns to protest at the government’s policy of deporting Roma people.

Police say turnout across France was slightly more than 77,000 while organisers put the figure nearer 100,000.

With polls suggesting at least 65% of French people back the policy, the government played down the protests.

The EU parliament is to debate the Roma situation in Europe next week.

About 1,000 Roma (Gypsies) returned to Romania and Bulgaria from France last month, while official figures record that 11,000 Roma were expelled from France last year.

The League of Human Rights, which called for the demonstrations, said it wanted to counteract government “xenophobia” and what it described as the systematic abuse of Roma in France.

The rallies were backed by the opposition Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), France’s second largest trade union confederation.

‘Pushed away’

Trade unionists, students, anarchists, illegal immigrants and others turned out in Paris to the sound of whistles and drums.

The actions of the French government are nothing short of racism, targeting a under-represented impoverished minority because it is easy.  And what happens when the Roma are gone?  Who will the French government turn their attention on next as part of their nationalist agenda?

Even though I cannot physically attend the rallies, this is a declaration of solidarity with the Roma people.





Reality Check on the Refugee Debates

25 10 2009

Xenophobia and Nationalist sabre rattling take up most of the debate about refugees.  All to often these people, who for whatever reason have decided to uproot and leave their homes for greener pastures, are portrayed as sub-human, without the appropriate paperwork, they have no soul.  Every Australian should be aware at the outrage and shock horror our most patriotic citizens have felt at the recent arrivals of boat people, the positions our politicians are taking, the cries against this horrible crime made by mostly Conservative, wealthy members of the community and the shear amount of rhetoric being used to score a few political points.

About a week ago I was with some friends and a few others.  People were talking and the subject of refugees came up.  I couldn’t believe my ears as I listened to these others talk of refugees as if they were sub-human.  The conversation had quickly become polarised between two positions; a Conservative and a Liberal.  The Conservative started smiling while announcing to the rest of the group that these refugees should all just be turned back in their boats.  I asked why, and he happily explained that the more we let in, the more our lives would become, ‘shit’.  I wanted to explore this thought further, but I could already guess the answer, ‘we only have so many resources and so much space, not to mention that these refugees will all, immediately, start taking Centrelink cheques’.  In other words, ‘my million dollar house in an exclusive suburb will be at risk if we allow too many to enter and they’ll live on welfare’ — which was surprising coming from an Italian whose own ethnicity faced the same discriminatory responses when they began arriving in this country.  I didn’t even know where to begin to tackle this absurdity that is just one step away from ‘they’re destroying our nation’s identity!’  It more or less relied on at least two basic assumptions; refugees are here to mooch and they have nothing to offer society. Never mind that the forces which make a person uproot and risk life and limb to relocate themselves and their families somewhere else means that they want to work because they want to live.  They are leaving their homes because it was so bad that they can no longer live as they wish.  Refugees, at least the ones I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, have never wanted to live off welfare, precisely because they want to live.  And again, all this makes me wonder about whether or not the same criticisms would be levelled against a large number of white refugees.  Would they be welcomed with open arms, or would they be round up and sent back home?

Then there was the Liberal, who otherwise lived in a fantasy world.  Granted, she took a position defending the refugees against the Conservative, but it was the manner in which she did so; she argued that the Australian economy was big enough to allow anyone in.  In short, she made such a weak argument against the Conservative that she was shot down in seconds and made it impossible for the Anarchist in the room to point out not only the intrinsic racism in the arguments of the Conservative but also the particularly arrogant assumption underlying all calls for increased, ‘hard-line’ border security that the world will get up and move to Australia if we just open the borders.  After all, people can’t resist coming to Australia even when there’s no reason to ‘begin again’ in their own country — and it should be well known that the energy and time needed to begin life over again, from nothing, is huge.  It’s a huge commitment but that only becomes absolutely necessary when your world collapses around you and prevents you from providing that better world for your partner and your children or your Self.

And so I woke up this morning, ate my cereal, started making myself coffee and turned on the TV. The glow bathed the living room and the familiar breakfast TV voices echoed in my ears. The presenters are interviewing a 60 Minutes reporter on a piece that will be aired tonight regarding refugees and they all seem to be talking, in depth about the business operations of those that bring the ‘boat people’ to our shores.

The Reporter was smiling and talking while the presenters asked him questions.  In short, he pointed out that the ‘boat people’ are ‘genuine’ refugees and he talked about those that bring the refugees to Australian shores.  He explained that these were mostly fishermen who found they could make a better profit by taking people to Australia instead of fishing.  It was pointed out that these people do not expect or even want to get to Australia; it is too dangerous.  They hope to be picked up by the Australian border guards so the people they are transporting will be taken to Christmas Island, they will be given a decent meal, kept warm and then given a plane ride home.  Are these people the evil monster’s that Kevin Rudd called them back a few months ago?  Are they profiting of human misery?  Sure, if you look at it from the perspective of, ‘Poor refugees, but they should wait in line while their world collapses around them instead of being goaded into doing something stupid be evil monsters’.  But this perspective doesn’t quite sit well with reality.  People want to get out and they want to get out now.  For whatever reason, they are willing to take the risk of coming by boat to Australia because they need to leave.  The ‘evil monster’ they turn to is a fisherman, just trying to make a living meanwhile the people, those poor refugees, are able to avoid much of the bureaucracy that may endanger their lives.  What these refugees are doing is something courageous and what the people who take them are doing is something heroic.

Then there is the fact that most people miss.  While crying ‘poor exploited boat person refugee who should have waited in line’ they ignore the fact that most of Australia’s refugees arrive by plane.  I would even go so far as to hazard the assertion that all those who treat ‘boat people’ as subhuman (evidenced in the very titled afforded them), should really think twice about their position on the basis that it may, one day, come back to haunt them.  After all, what happens if the lifestyle enjoyed in most of Australia suddenly goes to hell and many Australians look to escape?  Will they want to wait in line?  Will the rest of the world accept them or turn them back?

Borders and Border Protection are just codewords for xenophobia and do nothing but increase human suffering.  The more people call out for ‘regulation’ and ‘tougher laws’ to ‘combat’ the arrival of ‘boat people’, we will be helping to increase human suffering and misery.

EDIT:  Less than five minutes after posting this, I found the following:

Greens leader Bob Brown has told Channel Nine that if the Government wants to pursue a so-called “Indonesian solution” to deal with asylum seekers, it must seek assurances from the Indonesian government.

“I hope that Prime Minister Rudd will be calling on his Indonesian counterpart in Thailand to sign the international refugee conventions which guide basic ground rules for fast processing of asylum seekers,” he said.

Mr Brown says the Federal Government should be trying to improve detention conditions for asylum seekers in Indonesia.

“We’ve looked at the Australian-funded holding place in Indonesia, it’s got no power, it’s got none of the amenities we would expect for a decent jail, let alone a decent holding place,” he said.

“Some people are being held there for many years – five to 10 years – and that’s not acceptable.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has also defended the move, amid claims of extremely harsh conditions and beatings in Indonesian asylum seeker camps.

“We have carried out all of our obligations and continue to carry out all of our obligations,” Senator Conroy told Network Ten.

He says Australia has contributed almost $8 million this year towards improving conditions for asylum seekers being held in Indonesia.

So we’re taking people who have escaped one hell and thrown them into another.  Three cheers for Nationalism!





Political Rhetoric and Immigration

7 07 2009

Australia is confident Malaysia will treat asylum seekers appropriately, even though a report says corrupt officials have forced refugees into prostitution and slavery.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd met his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, in Kuala Lumpur on Monday night. The two nations agreed to stronger cooperation to combat people smuggling.

But a US State Department report released last month put Malaysia on a blacklist of 16 nations judged to be the worst for people trafficking.

The report said corrupt Malaysian officials had sold Burmese refugees to people traffickers or forced them into prostitution or slave labour unless they paid for their freedom.

Typical.  What angers me the most is how eager Kevin Rudd and others like him have been to label illegal immigration as evil and people smugglers as the scum of the earth.  Of course, people trafficking is a different issue, as forcing people into prostitution and slavery is evil; an activity which it appears some Malaysian officials have been engaging in.  The difference?  Entering, or helping someone to enter a a country illegally is not immoral, but selling a person  into slavery, it so happens, is.

And it gets better:

Mr Smith said Malaysia wanted borders with integrity.

“Malaysia and both the prime minister and my counterpart made it very clear yesterday, privately and publicly, Malaysia doesn’t want to be regarded as a country which has lax immigration procedures or a country through which people can transit at their own whim.

Oh my God!  How evil!  Traversing a country at their whim? Those criminals.  We should lock them up and throw away the key!








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.