The Guardian September 12, 2001


Support for asylum seekers in Adelaide/Sydney

by Bob Briton

Several hundred Adelaide residents gathered in Victoria Square last Friday 
to hear reports from refugees and those working with the asylum seekers 
about the arduous plight of people wanting refuge in Australia. The meeting 
had been called by the newly formed Fair Go for Asylum Seekers committee 
and supported by the United Trades and Labor Council (UTLC).

In the face of threatening weather, the people heard from Human Rights 
Lawyer Jeremy Moore who has been to Woomera many times in the course of his 
work.

He pointed to the indefensible behaviour of the Federal Government in 
demonising the "illegals", "queue-jumpers" and "criminals" who, in his 
experience he has found to be people fleeing unbearable persecution and 
simply looking for a better life for themselves and their families. 

Jeremy also contested the Government's oft-repeated line that asylum 
seekers have their claims assessed in 15 weeks. He has personally dealt 
with Iraqis that have spent 29 weeks in Woomera in "depressing and 
dehumanising conditions, with no trees and no shade". 

After processing, refugees are released and can be sent to centres with no 
support services.

The human rights lawyer criticised the confused media coverage of the Tampa 
scandal and the misinformation being circulated about the rights of people 
seeking asylum.

"They are entitled at law to come to this country and seek protection", he 
emphasised. 

The "deterrent" strategy being pursued by the Government was also 
condemned: "You can't victimise one person or group of persons as a 
deterrent for other persons. It's not on!"

Javad spoke to the crowd about his experience in seeking asylum after 
leaving his native Iran. He confirmed Jeremy's observations of Woomera and 
the distressing scene facing children, surrounded by razor wire and caught 
up in demonstrations and hunger strikes.

He is disappointed that even now he is in the community, with his refugee 
status confirmed, that few will listen or believe him about the realities 
of the refugee situation. 

Javad said that the Government's stated intention of separating the women 
and children from the men was misguided. "It is illogical at a time when 
all of the family members need to be with each other for support."

His experience on release from detention is indicative of the neglect 
surrounding Australia's handling of the refugees. He and his seven-month 
pregnant wife were sent to Darwin over protests only to be sent to Adelaide 
later on when it was discovered that no support services existed in Darwin 
to deal with their needs. 

Don McMaster is a visiting fellow in politics at the University of 
Adelaide. He observed that not much appears to have changed in the 100 
years since the introduction of the White Australia Policy. He believes 
that Australia has shown itself to have ignored the international treaties 
it has signed and mismanaged the asylum seekers issue. 

Don called on the current Government and a possible future Beazley 
Government to show leadership by calling a meeting of heads of state in the 
region to discuss long-term responses to what is a global problem.

In his address UTLC Secretary Chris White noted the timing of the sending 
in of the camouflaged, machine gun bearing SAS troops. At a time when the 
Government was in difficulty over the GST rort involving the Federal Small 
Business Minister, in a period leading up to a Federal election, the 
Government "wanted to ride into popularity using the politics of hatred". 

Defence Minister Reith managed the situation in the best military tradition 
so that the stories of those aboard the ship, those of the Afghan women for 
example, could not be used. No doubt those stories would have aroused 
greater public sympathy for the refugees, he said.

Chris further likened the current Government's management of the Tampa 
incident to the then electorally troubled Thatcher's exploitation of the 
conflict over the Falkland Islands.

Chris also took up the theme of demonisation in his contribution. He asked 
the crowd to consider the behaviour of the Government in portraying 
unionists as criminals to be threatened with an inquisitorial Royal 
Commission and, most recently, branding workers taking industrial action to 
protect their entitlements as "treasonous".

The parallels with the extremist language used to describe the asylum 
seekers trapped aboard the Tampa are unmistakable, he said.

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