The Guardian August 30, 2000


Refugees treated like criminals

Water cannons and tear gas were used against prisoners in the Woomera 
detention centre on Monday, as Minister for Immigration Phil Ruddock 
suggested even harsher measures could be enacted to use against the 
detainees.

The focus of the group of 80 protesters was a new barbed wired fence being 
constructed as a tougher security measure inside the existing perimeter 
fence.

Prisoners at Woomera, as in the other refugee camps, have been incarcerated 
without charge, without trial, without any ability to access the legal 
system to review the length or merit of their incarceration.

Most of those held at Woomera have been there for over seven months, and 
are refugees from regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Australia is the only western government that employs this system of 
`mandatory and non-reviewable detention'. Australia also grants the fewest 
applications for asylum, and those who do pass the increasingly stringent 
qualifications can at best look forward to a three-year "temporary 
protection" visa, with limited access to welfare and health care.

This action follows protests held outside detention centres in Perth, 
Sydney and Melbourne on Sunday; and the mass escape of over 700 internees 
in June this year from desert camps in WA and SA.

Internees who participated in those breakout demonstrations were given jail 
terms of up to 11 months in early August for "escaping lawful custody".

Yesterday's violence was described by Amnesty International's refugee co-
ordinator as an "inevitable" consequence of John Howard's policies towards 
refugees.

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