The Guardian July 24, 2002


Government sanctioned child abuse

by Marcus Browning

The Howard Government's campaign to demonise asylum seekers is coming 
unstuck as condemnation of their inhumane policies of mandatory sentencing 
of refugee applicants grows. The locking up of children in detention 
centres  essentially government-sanctioned child abuse  again made 
headlines internationally last week when two brothers who had escaped from 
the Woomera detention centre applied for asylum in the British consulate in 
Melbourne.

The brothers, Alamdar Baktiayari, 13 and Montazar, 11, escaped from the 
Woomera razor wire in South Australia a month ago in a mass breakout. 
Britain, whose Blair Government has modelled its own refugee policies along 
the line of the Howard Government's atrocious example, has rejected the 
boys' asylum applications.

Refugee rights attorney Eric Vadarlis said the Federal Police took them 
from the British consulate later the same day.

"The British Government is endorsing the Australian Government's view that 
children can be locked up by refusing to deal with their applications. That 
in my view is inhumane and barbaric."

The British Foreign Office said the decision to reject the boys' 
application was taken on the basis of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, 
which stipulates that the country in which asylum seekers are present deals 
with their applications. "We never accept applications for asylum in a 
third country."

In other words, Australia and Britain adhere to UN conventions when it 
suits them, having violated other UN agreements they are signatories to, 
such as the UN Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the 
Rights of the Child, countless times.

Mr Vadarlis had requested an extension on the boys' asylum application, but 
this was rejected. He told of how the boys had pleaded with the British 
High Commissioner.

"They tried to say they didn't want to go back to jail, that they 
considered Woomera a jail, that there was no future for them at Woomera, 
and that they were very, very disturbed."

The brothers have been returned to Woomera, where they have already been 
imprisoned for 18 months and where they have each attempted suicide.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has dismissed the refugee claims of the 
boys and their family, saying they are not Afghanis but Pakistanis, even 
though their father Ali Baktiyari  who has now had his temporary visa 
revoked  has passed a language test that proves he is Afghani.

The Refugee Embassy, set up by refugee support groups near Woomera, pointed 
out the trail of half-truths, cover-ups and outright lies about the 
treatment of asylum seekers and put the onus on the mass media to report 
them.

"The Minister needs to be made accountable. When he says that parents are 
throwing babies into the ocean, the media needs to demand evidence. When he 
says parents are forcibly sewing the lips of their children shut, the media 
needs to demand evidence. When he says it is illegal for any one to come to 
our shores by boat and ask for asylum, the media needs to demand evidence.

"And when he says that a man, to whom his own department has given a 
temporary visa, is not a genuine refugee, the obvious questions need to be 
asked. There is no reason to believe that Ali Baktiayari is not exactly 
what he says he is: an Hazara sheepherder from an area of Afghanistan near 
the Pakistan border."

The entire family, including mother and three sisters who are also locked 
up at Woomera, now faces deportation.

Excision

Anti-refugee legislation introduced by the Government is far-reaching. It 
includes the excision of islands off the Australian coast from Australia's 
migration zone, preventing people who arrive at an "excised offshore place" 
from making a valid visa application and allowing for their possible 
detention.

Asylum seekers can be relocated, their visas downgraded to temporary 
status, their access to legal appeal and Medicare and the welfare system 
blocked.

The Australian Greens have further highlighted the hypocrisy of the 
Government's lock-them-up approach. "Alamdar and Montaza Baktiayari would 
be walking free in Australia if they were rich", said a statement by Greens 
leader Senator Bob Brown. "Each year the Australian Government accepts 
thousands of business migrants simply because they have enough cash to 
enter via what is called the business migration program.

"Such people effectively buy their way into Australia while the Government 
locks up poor children and adults in effective concentration camps like 
that at Woomera.

"There is a deep inhumanity in our immigration system when a family like 
the Baktiayaris, which is desperate to join the Australian community, is 
split up, locked up and vilified by Minister Ruddock and Prime Minister 
Howard. Meanwhile up to 12,000 people eased their way into Australia 
because they have $250,000 in their pocket."

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