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I visited a friend in Curtin detention centre in December of 2013. I flew into Broome from Perth and rented a car. I drove that car halfway from Broome to Derby and camped overnight in what was insufferable heat in the middle of the bush. I drove an hour through the gateway into the Kimberley until I reached Curtin Detention Centre – one of the most remote and inaccessible detention centres in Australia.
I visited a man there who emanated an air of gentility and humility that still resonates within me so many months afterwards. He had been brutally tortured in Sri Lanka several times before finally fleeing. He sought asylum in Australia coming here by boat. He arrived in September 2012 and was then sent to Nauru Detention Centre where he witnessed rioting, abuse, self-harm and suicide. He was then transferred to Curtin Detention Centre where he was left to wait for months, and months, and months.
What is the point of this story? I got a phone call last week to say that after 16 months in detention, after surviving torture at the hands of a brutal regime in Sri Lanka, incarceration in Australia and abuse on Nauru, he would be getting released from detention next week.
When I told him that I had received the call we had both been waiting for, he was so happy. Even after 16 months in detention and everything that he had been through, he told me that his dreams and his future were coming “so soon.”
When he was in detention, I asked him if he’d like to study something when he got out. And he said, “Yes, I want to become a magician. Is there a university for magicians in Perth?” He wanted to make children laugh. That is the type of person he is. I could now be at peace, knowing that if he still wished to do so, he was free to pursue his dream of becoming a magician.
Through all of the horror stories I have heard about people’s particular stories – news of his release struck a particular chord within me and I realized it was because I have a profound faith and belief that people can overcome their suffering.
That no matter how dark the night, the sun can rise again upon a new day – with each one, suffering growing further and further away on the horizon.
That no matter what this man had been through or how long he had been subjected to arbitrary detention without charge or trial that he would get out one day and he could overcome his suffering.
He could rebuild his life, to take what had been awful and wrought with hardship and tribulations. We could say, from now on, your life will be great. That whatever has happened to you before – you are safe – you have gotten through it and we will transform that suffering into happiness.
The most profound thing that Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott have taken from us, and from Reza Berati this week – was not only his life – but the opportunity to overcome his suffering.
The sun would not rise upon a new day for Reza Berati, he would be forever immersed in darkness. He would be brutally denied any chance of overcoming what had been a life of suffering.
We had taken our place beside Reza’s oppressors and indeed in this instance, we had exceeded their cruelty.
The asylum seekers on Manus Island were brutally beaten. They tried to lock themselves in rooms, but they were pulled out and beaten. They tried to hide under their beds, but they were pulled out and beaten. They tried to hide in cupboards, but they were pulled out and beaten.
We created a nightmare. A living nightmare reminiscent only of the nightmarish regimes they were fleeing from. One they thought had been left behind at the beginning of their journey.
Reza Berati’s loved ones would not ever receive a phone call to say that he was going to be released the following week.
Reza Berati will never be hugged by his mother again or be able to tell her that he loved her.
Reza Berati will never passionately fall in love with someone and spend the rest of his days with them.
Reza Berati’s father did not know that when they last said goodbye, it would be the last time they saw each other. He would not have the opportunity to say ever again, “Reza, I love you.”
Reza Berati would have no end to his suffering except in death – and I do not accept that as any acceptable end at all.
Reza Berati, who was born stateless, would die stateless.
The last home he would know would be a desolate Australian prison camp on a foreign island where he was caged by fences and monitored by guards. Where he was led to believe that he was in a country that did not want him.
His last human contact – instead of being in the arms or the embrace of a friend, a family member, or a lover – was the sole of the boot of a guard who stomped his skull until he died.
Upon hearing how Reza Berati died, I was haunted every time I closed my eyes by images of the faces of the men I visit seeing them as the heads beneath that boot.
The manner in which Reza Berati died perfectly depicted and symbolised a culmination of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers for the past 14 years.
From the soil his blood was spilt on will grow a legacy, a legacy of the politicians of Australia’s callous cruelty, their disgusting disdain for human life and Australia’s silence in the face of people being brutally attacked, physically, emotionally, mentally and ideologically.
That legacy will grow from blood. But I ask you here tonight to start with me a new legacy. A legacy to be grown out of the synchronised passion of those who feel sickened by injustice and cruelty. And let that passion become the new rhetoric around asylum seekers.
On Friday night I echoed a sentiment to a crowd of 300 people equally distraught by the news of Reza’s death, and it is a sentiment I will echo again to you tonight.
To you Reza Berati, I say that I will not give you my sympathy. I don’t think you would want my sympathy. And I do not think that sympathy would have saved you, nor does it do you justice. I will not treat you nor speak of you as if you were some poor defenseless refugee. For you are not that nor were you ever.
You are a man that struggled for freedom and for survival. And you died in the middle of fighting for that freedom. Not incidentally, but because you were embroiled in a systematic institution of oppression that has killed six people before you. These people instead of being stomped to death by guards, were murdered by a government that imprisoned them for so long that they took their own lives.
I will instead of sympathy give you something else. I will give you a promise.
I promise you that instead of offering you sympathy I will fight for freedom just as you fought for your freedom.
I promise you that as many times as it takes I will tell people over and over again until it resonates to the steps of parliament that is not illegal to seek asylum.
I promise you that I will fight until every barbed wire adorned fence that caged you until your last moments of life, are torn apart. And that every junction of these fences that are forged by party politics, racism and xenophobia are ripped clean from their soldering.
I promise you that I will fight until every asylum seeker is called by their name and not by a number.
And I promise to fight for you until every asylum seeker can see the sunrise and the sunset without seeing them through a prison fence silhouette.
I ask all of you here today to join with me. Do not offer the sympathy that lays placid and immobile at the foot of the fences. Join with me and promise every asylum seeker currently in immigration detention that you will fight for their freedom, to end this awful system and to bring justice to Reza Berati. Free the refugees.
Refugee Rights Action Network
[The following account has been put together and released late on February 18, 2014 from multiple sources that various Refugee Rights Action Network activists have complied after collating a multitude of communications our activists have received over the last few days directly from asylum seekers and staff based on the island. This contests many of the claims by the Australian government.]
Asylum seekers have been staging peaceful protests at least twice daily for over two weeks at the centre. Protests turned violent starting on Sunday the 16th of February. The asylum seekers had a meeting at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with Australian Immigration, PNG Government, The Salvation Army & G4S staff.
Several asylum seekers have reported that a pack of dogs were used as security during the meeting. Although it is not uncommon to use dogs as security in the Pacific, they have especially strong connotations of control and hostility for people from the Middle East.
The meeting was meant to answer questions about their visa processing, and questions raised at a previous meeting on the 5th of February. Asylum seekers had demanded a substantive response to their questions.
There was significant ambiguity in answering questions and strong implications that processing hadn’t started, nor any clear answers about resettlement.
Some asylum seekers have reported they were told they would not be resettled in Papua New Guinea. Others have said they were told they may be resettled in PNG, but it would certainly not happen in the foreseeable future.
The asylum seekers revealed that they discussed the results of the meeting within their respective communities in the internment camp & decided to start a peaceful protest at around 6pm that night. As near as can be determined, all the different ethnic groups were in agreement on a protest that evening.
The PNG locals – both staff working in the center and people living in the vicinity of the camp – started to throw stones over the fence into Mike, Foxtrot and Oscar compounds.
Some of the asylum seekers in Oscar compound escaped through a hole in the fence between Oscar and Mike compounds and went into the jungle. 8 of them were arrested and beaten by the local people before being taken to IHMS (the medical service providers). Two asylum seekers were transferred to Lorengau hospital later in the night.
The guys in Foxtrot compound broke the fences between Foxtrot and Mike compounds and moved into Mike compound.
Following this, the “PNG Special Forces” became involved and the asylum seekers from Foxtrot compound in Mike were forced back into Foxtrot and everything was calm again until 8pm.
At 8pm, the local PNG G4S and other locals attacked Oscar and Mike compounds. They entered Oscar compound and started beating asylum seekers with what has been described as by the asylum seekers as ‘’swords and bats,” which other sources have called “hunting knives.” Around 15 people were wounded at this time. They received wounds in the forms of cuts to their neck, shoulders, thighs, back and head. They were taken to IHMS for treatment of their wounds.
The locals couldn’t enter Mike compound, so they started throwing stones at asylum seekers from 3 sides of the fence. At least 4 people were hit on their head, shoulders and feet by stones. It was reported to RRAN that these locals even managed to hit and injure an Australian G4S officer with a stone thrown over the fence. The asylum seekers had no stones inside the centre to retaliate with. They were stuck inside the compound whilst being attacked.
It was reported by staff in the centre and asylum seekers that the guards had been inside the compounds over the previous week and had cleared out all the stones and all objects that could be used as projectiles.
RRAN also heard reports that staff had moved beds into a central location prior to the conflict, which is where asylum seekers were later treated.
The guys in Foxtrot compound again wanted to go to Mike compound to assist those injured in that compound, but special forces interfered and forced them back.
In Mike compound, the locals and PNG G4S staff weren’t allowed back into the centre or the compounds. The asylum seekers began to clean the compounds and reported that they “were even running the internet and phones.”
The asylum seekers report that staff placed ‘’containers’’ or ‘’iron boxes’’ at the gates “so no one can escape.’’
The following day, Monday the 17th, it was again reported that there were no staff inside the centre. It appears as though all Australian staff were evacuated to a ‘safe” area (Australian Navy vessels). The asylum seekers left to fend for themselves. This is a similar scenario to that reported in October when the local Police Special Forces Unit (locally known as the “mobile squad” or “death squad”) and PNG military personnel stationed on the island engaged in a pitched battle outside the perimeter fence of the internment camp with rifles, semi-automatic guns, swords, hunting knives and rocks.
The locals are reported as ‘’breaching’’ the fence in Mike compound and the asylum seekers all ran into Foxtrot compound. The locals turned off the power and raided the compounds attacking all clients.
They pulled them out of bed and pulled them from under beds. They found people hiding in cupboards. The asylum seekers in Foxtrot compound were hiding under the containers and were then dragged out and beaten.
3 people were shot but are still alive. Australian workers on the island report that people had serious injuries such as broken legs, arms, stab wounds and wounds to the head from rocks. Advocates heard gunshots ringing in the background of phone calls with asylum seekers on Monday.
Asylum seekers reported that the local used white weapons and bush knives. Unconfirmed reports stated that at this time G4S guards were holding two Iranian asylum seekers in a headlock position whilst simultaneously holding knives. At some point, the asylum seekers started “bleeding profusely” from the neck. There has been no suggestion that G4S intentionally wounded the asylum seekers, although that was certainly the result.
One supervisor tried to help the asylum seekers escape the locals by allowing them to re-enter the compound through a side gate. He then became subjected to the attack by having stones thrown at him. The people inside Oscar tried to defend him by throwing stones back at the locals, but were also surging the gate to escape together. Police then intervened.
One asylum seeker is dead from a head wound after being struck by a rock.
The asylum seeker killed on Monday night in the Manus Island detention centre was a 24 year-old Faili Kurd. He was one of the first people sent to Manus Island by the Rudd Labor government in August 2013.
The man was also a resident of the Mike Compound in the detention centre that has been at the centre of the detainees’ accounts of the events on Monday night.
“This is not a ‘tragic incident’ as Minister Morrison has described it. It is a murder probably perpetrated by PNG police that Australia has contracted to provide security on the perimeter of the detention centre,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“It is also likely that the man was killed in the grounds of the Manus base, hardly a place where asylum seekers ‘place themselves at great risk’ as Minister Morrison has described, unless it is the contracted PNG police that are the danger.
“We are appealing to the government to ensure that there is a full coronial enquiry into the man’s death and that proper arrangements are made with the man’s family.”
“Minister Morrison has also been very selective with the information about the serious injuries inflicted on the asylum seekers by PNG police and local employees of the G4S,” added Ian Rintoul.
“It is passing strange that Minister Morrison neglected to mention that among the injured evacuated from Manus Island was an Iranian man was flown to Port Moresby private hospital after having his throat slit at the detention centre on Monday night.
“Without a full and transparent inquiry into the events of Monday night, no-one can have confidence in the account being presented by the government.
“It is quite clear that the Australian government cannot guarantee the safety of people in detention on Manus Island. There must be an immediate moratorium on any transfers of asylum to Manus Island and arrangements made to bring the asylum seekers to Australia.“
For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713
A report by Kate Thresher
This year I became involved with the Refugee Rights Action Network. I have always been interested in this issue, however it was only this year that I met some people at the Murdoch University RRAN stall. I decided to do something so I started attending the weekly RRAN meetings and volunteered for the opportunity to begin visiting people detained in Yongah Hill Detention Centre. Through this I became active in organising the Community Candle Light Vigil to highlight the persecution of Vietnamese asylum seekers and Australia’s efforts to deny them protection.
I was also given the opportunity to go to the Canberra Convergence to protest for the humane treatment of asylum seekers. Participating in the convergence was a great experience and one I would like to share with all RRANers (both existing and prospective). The following is an account of my trip to Canberra.
Jet-lagged from the flight the day before, Tanya and I woke up at 6am on 18th November and walked down to Eddy St to catch the bus to Canberra. We were both in Sydney for the first time for the National Convergence against the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers by the Government. We boarded the bus and were surrounded by new faces and people of all different ages and backgrounds. After coming straight out of high school, and having the same arguments about asylum seekers with my peers time and time again, it was great to suddenly be surrounded by people who completely empathised with the desperate situation these people were in. The bus trip was also a great networking opportunity and gave us the chance to swap ideas and advice with people from all over the country.
When we got off the bus in Canberra the amazing gathering of people greatly overshadowed Parliament house. The Sydney bus joined to make up around 600 people from all over the country who had come for one reason; to protest for the human rights of asylum seekers who are denied a voice. Immediately a smile spread across my face as I looked around at the people standing there holding signs up proudly with slogans such as “No crime to seek asylum”. We joined the group with an unmistakable feeling of belonging that we were not isolated in this fight.
We then heard from speakers from all different backgrounds, including asylum seekers who had come here by boat, recounting the pain they had experienced in their countries of origin, such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. We also heard from people who had come here by boat about the appalling treatment they received once here. For example a man who came here at age 10 and was locked up in Nauru for 3 years.
Preachers, union leaders and community members followed this and expressed their solidarity with the refugee rights campaign. We also heard from Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens Senator from South Australia, condemning the human rights violations committed by the current Coalition Government and the previous Labor Government. Hanson-Young slammed the arrogance and secrecy of current Immigration Minister for the Coalition, Scott Morrison. She continued on to inform us about her fight in parliament and the upcoming Senate vote to disallow temporary protection visas (which was successfully passed on 2nd December).
We then created a circle of solidarity around the large grassed area at the front of Parliament house. At 3:30pm, the two Sydney buses headed to the Papua New Guinea Embassy (PNG). We had been asked whether we wanted someone from Perth to talk and Victoria volunteered. She gave an impressive speech about the appalling conditions asylum seekers are met with on Manus Island, including exposure to conflict between the PNG police and military forces.
After this we headed back on our 3.5 hour journey to Sydney. At this point everyone was tired, however quiet conversations continued throughout the long journey back. I had the opportunity to sit next to a Hazara man; we chatted and he taught me some Hazaragi words. It struck me as such a beautiful thing that throughout all this chaos and cruelty there could be such a humane exchange between people from completely different backgrounds.
I had only joined RRAN in around July this year. For me this trip to Canberra was a fantastic experience as it gave me the chance to see a wider picture of the Refugee Rights campaign. It was an inspiring trip which has given me some great information on how to help build a successful refugee campaign and connections for future involvement in RRAN. I would like to thank RRAN for giving me this fantastic opportunity; it is one I have not taken lightly.
If you would like to learn how you can be involved in the campaign for the rights of refugees please get in contact with us. You can reach us on email firstname.lastname@example.org, call or text us on 0417 904 329 or join us at one of our weekly meetings each Monday from 6.30pm at the Activist Centre (U15/5 Aberdeen Street, Perth. Just north of the McIver Train Station).
Tagged with: Canberra
Stop Abbott’s attacks on Human Rights
Justice for Refugees
Join the Refugee Rights Action Network to mark Human Rights Day and to demand an end to human rights abuses in Australia.
* end mandatory detention
* allow refugee boats to land
* no offshore processing
* welcome refugees into the community
3pm Sun 8 December
Murray Street Mall (near Perth Underground Station)
Attend on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/events/1472528062971821
DOWNLOAD: A4 Poster
DOWNLOAD: 4 x A6 flyers
Please join the solidarity vigil:
6:15pm, Fri 8 Nov
St Mary’s Cathedral,
17 Victoria Square, Perth
There are currently around 300 Catholic asylum seekers detained in the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre just outside Northam, and hundreds more detained in detention centres throughout Australia. These people are fleeing religious persecution from the Vietnamese government predominantly in the town of Vinh.
These attacks include large groups of police, army, militiamen, and thugs who assault priests and the faithful.
Recently governmetn forces seized the chapel Con Cuong, desecrated the Eucharit Host, and smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary. Fleeing this ongoing persecution, hundreds of people have resorted to taking the perilous boat journey from Vietnam to Australia to seek asylum.
Of particular concern to refugee advocates is taht the Australian Department of Immigration are allowing a branch of the Vietnamese pollice to enter the detention centres and interrogate these asylum seekers. Following these interrogations, some have been so frightened that they have taken desperate measures such as selfharm, attempted suicide and escape. Additionally, families of the people interviewed, still in Vietnam, have faced increased persecution including harassment and arrest.
Another significant area of concern is that the Australian Department of Immigration is using the so-called “screening out” process to refuse large numbers of Vietnamese asylum seekers to enter teh refugee determination process. This means their claim for asylum will not be hear and that they will be deported to danger in Vietnam.
One of the basic tenets of the UN Refugee Convention is the protection of those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs. We hope to join with the Australian Catholic community to call upon our government to live up to its responsibilities. They must refuse to allow the persecutors of Vietnamese asylum seekers to interrogate them in Australian facilities. They must hear their claims for asylum and judge them on their merits.
The current approach of inflicting ever more cruelty on refugees, including dumping them on our poorest neighbours, will cost many lives and billions of dollars, and is wrong. The right way forward needs a commitment to a genuine regional approach that cares for refugees with the kind of political leadership shown after the Vietnam War.
On the 31st of August, several leading legal, political, humanitarian and human rights experts joined over 300 people to discuss genuine and effective responses to this complex humanitarian and political issue. The panellists were Julian Burnside, Senator Scott Ludlam (Australian Greens), Rosemary Hudson-Miller (Uniting Church), Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny (Curtin University) and Phil Chilton (RRAN).
Co-sponsored by the Greens (WA), Uniting Church, Curtin University Centre for Human Rights Education, Human Rights Centre and the Refugee Rights Action Network
Tagged with: Forum
There is nothing illegal about crossing a border to seek asylum. Refugees are not “illegal” and should have their human rights respected. This rally is calling for an end to the “PNG solution”, an end to offshore processing, an end to mandatory detention and for freedom for refugees.
1pm, Sat 24 August
Murray Street Mall, Perth City
“let them land, let them stay”
Organised by Refugee Rights Action Network
Attend on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/events/768130646539128
Vigil outside Melissa Parke’s office
To to demonstrate community opposition to the PNG “solution” and Ms Parkes’ support for abandonment of the refugee convention.
4pm, Thursday 15 Aug
Melissa Parke’s office, 62 Wray Ave, Fremantle
We will be delivering copies of petitions we have been gathering signatures on opposing the off shore processing of asylum seekers.
RRAN MeetingsRRAN is currently meeting on Mondays from 6.30pm at the Activist Centre, U15/5 Aberdeen Street, Perth (just north of the McIver Train Station). For more details, send us a message via our Contact page, or call/text us on 0417 904 329.