Colleen Bolger

"We cannot sit by and let people be deported to their deaths"

Refugee activists have been blockading the Perth Immigration Detention Centre since Sunday evening in an attempt to prevent the forced deportation of two Tamil men, Emil and Vithuran.

Around 40 activists gathered for a vigil on Sunday night, as legal attempts failed to delay their imminent deportation.

Activists mobilised their anti deportation emergency phone tree this morning when another legal attempt failed and got down to the detention centre as quickly as possible.

With only six people, they managed to prevent the car that had come to transport one of the two men, Vithuran, from leaving. Sitting in front of the car, the motor running and Vithuran inside, activists frantically called for support and media.

Shortly after the car returned the man to the detention centre, activists heard that a second court application has been successful and will prevent Emile’s deportation for now.

Alexis Vassiley of the Refugee Rights Action Network said, “We cannot sit idly by and allow people to be deported to their death. What we have shown today is that direct action can be vital in stopping deportations going ahead. Activists will take heart from today’s victory and continue to build a network that can mobilise at short notice when we become aware of imminent deportations.”

In the future, if activists are unsuccessful at preventing the transportation of deportees to the airport, they intend on appealing directly to passengers on the flight. “Commercial airlines should refuse to fly asylum seekers who are being forcibly deported. We will ensure that passengers know that the airline they have chosen to fly with is complicit in the probable imprisonment, torture or even murder of another passenger,” said Vassiley. “We intend to disrupt business as usual where that business is profiting from people’s misery”.

Under the Gillard government, the Immigration Department has a policy of deporting Tamils to Sri Lanka on the grounds that the civil war in that country has come to an end. However, the Tamils have been persecuted for decades and thousands of Tamils remain interned in concentration camps.

Those connected with the resistance organisation the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, are in danger of torture or death. Emil recently heard from his wife that the military had been harassing her for details of her husbands whereabouts and accusing him of supporting the LTTE. There is no way the Australian government can guarantee the protection of Tamils in Sri Lanka today.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man the United Nations High Security General believe should be indicted for war crimes against the Tamils in 2009, is now President of Sri Lanka. Typical of the way that the rich and powerful can travel wherever they please, this war criminal was welcomed by Gillard in Perth for the CHOGM summit only last month. Ordinary people, particularly those fleeing persecution, should be given the same freedom of movement.

The practice of deporting people against their will is brutal. Immigration officers have the power to drug and restrain people, to remove them without prior warning in the middle of the night. It is part of the regime of fear and uncertainty that makes the detention of refugees so tortuous.

A study carried out by the Edmund Rice Centre estimated that of the 400 asylum seekers who returned to Afghanistan on the advice from Australian Government that the country was safe between 2002 and 2008, ninety-five percent live in danger, and 20 were murdered. This was at a time when the war in Afghanistan was raging and as the Wikileaks cables demonstrated, civilians were the main casualties.

The government’s security assessment of a country has more to do with its diplomatic relations with it than the recommendations of human rights organisations.

Refugee activists call on anyone who wants to be involved in direct action to stop the deportations to add their phone numbers to the phone trees by contacting the refugee rights group in your city.



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