The Guardian September 6, 2000


Loneliness, frustration and despair:
The Woomera pressure-cooker

After last week's riots by illegal immigrants at South Australia's 
Woomera detention centre, one prominent church worker commented that the 
riots came as no surprise to those familiar with the conditions in the 
camp.

The riots resulted in the destruction of much of the camp infrastructure, 
as the frustration of months of detention and enforced inactivity boiled 
over for many inmates.

Despite promises of speedier attention to the plight of these penniless 
people, many of the refugees have been there for months in what is in 
effect a jail sentence, unable to speak to relatives in their home 
countries.

Some are still waiting to be interviewed to determine their true refugee 
status.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and 
Peace, stated that "... if you trample on people's basic human dignity and 
rights and freedom a volatile situation such as this (will) result."

So why have the refugees been detained for so long? Many people have 
suggested that the immigrants should be released into the community on a 
bond, while their claims for refugee status are processed.

However, the Minister for Immigration, Phillip Ruddock, has dismissed this 
simple  and much less expensive  alternative to detention as not 
practical, as far as he is concerned.

On the contrary, he has made a number of statements to the effect that the 
government's treatment of the illegal immigrants should "send a message" to 
those who may be contemplating illegal entry into Australia.

This seems to be the Minister's primary concern, rather than the issues of 
justice or humanitarian concerns for the refugees.

This is a dangerous position, for the logical conclusion is that the 
nastier the detention, the more this will deter potential illegal 
immigrants. And there is no limit to that sort of argument.

With regard to the suppression of last week's riot, the Communications 
Director of the Catholic Church in South Australia remarked that 
internationally recognised procedures for protecting the rights of 
immigration detainees were clearly not being implemented at Woomera.

He stated: "Water cannon and tear gas are symptoms of a situation that is 
not being handled properly, and they are very bad symptoms."

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