The Guardian June 21, 2000


Government condemned on refugees

by Andrew Jackson

The Federal Government has been widely condemned for its human rights 
record in regard to refugees following the breakout of 750 refugees from 
three detention centres last week.

The refugees were protesting at the appalling living conditions they are 
forced to endure whilst waiting for their visa applications to be reviewed. 
Minister for Immigration Phillip Ruddock defends the camps by saying "We've 
never had to handle numbers of that order before (and) the detention 
arrangements have always been administrative in that they are essentially 
not jails but are for detention, which can be maintained with the co-
operation of the people involved."

In asking the people to "co-operate" in their own detention he is asking 
them to put up with conditions which are much worse than those experienced 
in some Australian jails. The camps, located in remote desert areas in 
South and West Australia are overcrowded, and the refugees are cut off from 
the outside world by being denied access to their ethnic communities and 
media published in their own languages.

In response to their grievances, Mr Ruddock has ordered that tighter 
security measures be put in place, higher fences with razor wire, and 
breaking up the groups of refugees so he can "keep people in more 
manageable sizes."

He has also begun a campaign to fuel racist sentiment and xenophobia 
against them. Announcing that two men held in detention were being 
questioned over Human Rights abuses, he went on to make the baseless and 
essentially racist claim that he felt 1 in 10 of the refugees, or over 400 
individuals, would be of interest to anti-terrorist authorities. This claim 
was made solely because the refugee groups include a large number of young 
men of "military age." Mr Ruddock consistently ignores the fact that many 
of these young men are escaping from the very military atrocities he 
accuses them of perpetrating. He further claimed that there is a conspiracy 
among refugees who intentionally destroy their identity documents so their 
criminal records could not be traced.

Ronald Wilson, former head of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities 
Commission says "I am very saddened by the way in which the Commonwealth 
Government has, it would appear, deliberately set out to demonise boat 
people."  Speaking at the release of a report registering Australian 
peoples human rights concerns he went on, "the current situation regarding 
our treatment of refugees is something to be ashamed of... In many cases 
they have had no alternative but to risk life to come here.  I'm glad the 
register highlights this as one of the major blots on Australia's record."

The inhumane detention of  the asylum seekers is currently costing 
Australia $1 million a week, with further money now being spent on stricter 
detention. Calls have been made for the money not to be spent on measures 
to make life more miserable for those detained, but should be spent on 
staffing and resources for the immigration department to enable the 
applications to be processed more quickly. The refugees could then take 
their place in the community and contribute to our society just as 
generations of immigrants have done in the past.

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