Tuesday, November 08, 2005

John Howard had done it again.

It seems that John Howard had done it again.

Yesterday, his approval rate was the lowest since the Tampa, and the problems with corruption claims of wasting millions of dollars deceiving Australians about his Industrial Relation Vandalism (he calls them “reforms”).

His notorious minister, Philip Ruddock, was facing a hard time trying to sell Australians the needs to rush through the Anti-Terrorism laws, when there is no immediate need for them.

So today we woke up at about 3 am to the noise of the “Apache” to learn later on in the morning about the cowboy-like raids on homes of “suspected terrorists” in the poor suburban Muslim Ghettoes.

Peter Costello, whose eyes are still on the job of PM, declared that the new amendments last week to “strengthen” Anti-Terrorism Laws were crucial in such raids to “foil major terrorist attacks on Australian soil”. We learnt later that the suspects will be tried under the normal criminal code, and there was no need for the new amendments!

Do we need great thinkers and a lot of researchers to link the dive in the popularity of the government associated with the problems it is facing selling IR and welfare “reforms” ? Or to the simple fact that every Australian was laughing at the claims of John Howard that his government received specific information about terrorist preparation to strike in Australia so there is a need to strengthen “sedition” laws. Do we need a genius mind to tell us that all this is a farce from Howard and his ministers to cover-up their lies and failures?

The dangerous thing here is that this government is playing with fire by provoking anger and resentment in a large and largely law-abiding community by criminalizing every one of its members.


It seems that Howard and his ministers do not watch what is happening in France these days. It seems that they do not remember what happened in England a few years ago, when social unrest broke after decades of marginalisation and “criminalisation”.

May be John Howard and his ministers want to take us to some sort of “martial law” post-democratic era. Maybe they succeeded in sparking fear and dividing the society so deeply, that the majority of the society is turning blind eyes on what is happening in the suburban ghettoes, convincing themselves that “it is OK as it is not me who is targeted”.

Going back to what is happening in France, can I ask the simple question: why are the Australian government and Australian media avoiding pointing out that the trouble makers in France are Muslims? How can anybody convince me about the reason for this especially after Alexander Downer accused Somali pirates of being Muslim terrorists, against all the intelligence information for the last 2 decades?

So why did the Australian government, media and French government did not make big fuss of this fact?
I must admit here that the rioters are indeed Muslims. I must admit too that the actions they are taking involve terrorizing innocent people.


So why does our government and the French one not seize this opportunity to further the prejudice, stereotyping and dirtying the reputation of all Muslims on the earth? How come they are not keen to mention the Muslims for actions they are doing, while they were quick to link pirates to Muslim “possible terrorists” and to make arrests because there is “chemicals that could be dangerous if mixed with other chemicals”? ( any student who went through high school knows that any chemical could be dangerous if mixed with some other chemicals, including my laundry powder).

The other question I have to ask here: did the latest Anti-Terror laws in France stop such acts? Or can we ask the question another way: were the Anti-Terror laws the last straw to ignite the flame, which led to this social unrest?

The issue is more than the crusader war as Bin Laden is claiming. The issue is related to a criminal capitalist system, where the rich want to enslave the rest of the world for the sake of maintaining total control of the whole wealth of the globe. Such a process of slavery which was enhanced by the agenda of the new-liberal capitalist, who are aiming to strip the workers and poor from all their gained rights.

So what have the anti-terror laws in France achieved in preventing such actions?

Looking very carefully at the events, we can realize that it did not have any effect at all. On the contrary. The anti-terror laws further the feeling of marginalisation amongst the Muslim French in their suburban Ghettoes and led them to defend their dignity and rights in the only way they felt was open to them. The democracy failed them and left them to take justice on their hands.

What do you expect from community of few million that was criminalized by the constitution? What do you expect from youth that did not experience anything from democracy but unemployment, harassment, poverty, discrimination and finally mass-criminalisation?

No wonder Alexander Downer did not dare to mention that these youths are Muslims, who had enough from the new-liberal politics of fear and mass-criminalisation, to cover-up the failure of the Anti-Terrorism laws and indeed the responsibility of such laws for the latest wide-spread riots and unrest.

Should this government wake up before we will start to see French-like unrest in our backyards?

And why the state government was complacent in this matter? Does this have anything to do with state government’s inclination to cover up its own failures? Does this have anything with the try to seize the opportunity to justify the Labors complacency in passing the draconian Anti-Terror Laws?

It seems that there is bipartisan agreement on this mass-criminalisation!

Submission to the People's Inquiry into Migration Act – November 2005 - was originally submitted to the senate committee about the same issue.

1- Processing and assessment of visa applications

By comparing statistics and numbers we can reach very clear conclusions that the processing of applications (for many categories of visas not only for protection ones) is not according to consistent regulations and procedures. The government treats many holders of certain visa categories as criminals, liars and law-cheaters as a general principle. This is why the rejection of the applications by people seeking protection and spouse visas was very high at the departmental level, yet the acceptance of the same cases by the RRT or MRT was very high.

The regulations and directions seem to have been that the applicants for these categories are liars and need to be rejected without reason, ie the applicants were not innocents until proven guilty but the way around.

The issue here is why these inconsistencies were not investigated to determine why there was a high rejection rate for genuine refugees at the departmental level then the opposite at the RRT level? Why were these inconsistencies not rectified for the last 8 years? On the contrary, these inconsistencies were increased in the last few years.
Talking about some outrageous illogical inconsistencies are the case, for example, of Naser Almubarak. He was deemed to not been a refugee, while his son, who was arrived by the same way and has identical circumstances, was accepted as refugee and now an Australian citizen.

The other question is who will compensate the genuine refugees who were locked up in detention for long periods, many to be discovered after more than 4 years that in fact they were genuine refugees? This is what happened in the case of Iranian refugee Mohsen Sultany, who spent 4 years in detention, after which the High Court determined that he is genuine refugee. Instead of receiving compensation for the wrongful detention he was issued a bill for $18,000 for the cost of the RRT and federal court. The same happened to many other refugees. In fact, there are very few refugees who spent less than 6 months in detention.
The other issue here is the indefinite detention and stateliness. Ahmad AlKateb, Naser Almubarak and Ibrahim Ishrith all are stateless people and all were determined to be not genuine refugees. After few years in detention, where they developed many illnesses including mental illnesses, they were released on No-Visa basis with no help from the government. They tried all what they can do to arrange for their departure from the country but unsuccessfully. Instead of opening their cases again and see how to solve their problem, they were treated very bad. They are required to sign in DIMIA every fortinight, they nor elegable for any welfare help, they are not elegable to work, no Medicare. After years in detention, which left them with deep scars and illnesses, they were further punished and still subject to very harsh treatment which exacerbated their problems.

So it appears that the directions given to DIMIA case officers were to reject as many as possible on very thin grounds, as there is no accountability for such rejections, either by case officers or senior DIMIA officials. Why did DIMIA not investigate case officers who had high rejection rates against high acceptance rates for the same type of application processing for many years?

The same was and is still happening for applicants for spouse or prospective spouse visas, which were the rejection is the rule.

2- Assessment of applications
On many of the letters of rejection for protection visas, the cause of rejection was that the case officer was not satisfied that if the applicant were to return to their country of origin he/she would be persecuted. Well, this cause is not valid, especially for this category of visa, where well founded fear of persecution can apply to groups of people rather than individuals. This compares to the apparent Australian requirements, wherein the only proof for the officer to be satisfied is the return of the applicant, which may well result in the death or imprisonment of the applicant.
The whole idea of the Geneva Convention of 1951 was to stop this loss of life because of persecution from happening. Australia under this government is rolling back more than 50 years of human rights and life protection.

3- Migration detention
Mandatory detention of all unauthorised arrivals is a clear breach of Australian obligation under the international law. This violate many articles of the Geneva Convention of 1951, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and many other conventions (including the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

The detention system is not only illegitimate under International laws, but also inhumane. How many ex-detainees were released with permanent mental health problems? I can give you countless cases.

Take for example the case of Palestinian ex-detainee Omar ElZaegh, who was detained because he failed to pay his university fees on time, then placed in Stage One in Villawood DC, where he developed a very deep case of mental illness. He was hospitalised on different occasions in the Bankstown mental health unit. He spent more than 3 years in detention, before being deported back to Gaza strip early this year. He will suffer permanently from mental-related illness because of his detention.

Then there is the case of Russian asylum seeker Kristina Nievens, who was detained for more than 3 years, and even after more than one year since her release she still suffers from deep mental-related illnesses and is still on heavy medication. Instead of compensating her for her suffering, she is not allowed to receive any help from the government (welfare benefits) and lives on the charities.

I can mention too Mohammed Daoud, a Palestinian refugee who has now very serious mental illness after his ordeal in the detention centre. I can mention names of hundreds of similar cases.

I want to mention here too that the detention did not only affect the mental health of detainees, but their overall health status. Many, if not the majority, arrived to Australia in very good health, but their health deteriorated after their detention. I can mention here asylum seeker Naser AlMubarak, who arrived very healthy, and is now suffering from multiple illnesses (Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, in addition to mental-related problems).

He is not unique of such situation. Take for example Nauru ex-detainee Iman AlRubaey, who became blind because of the weather, which exacerbated previous eye sensitivity she had.

The related issue here is that there is a deep feeling among detention authorities, officials and workers that they have an absolute mandate to do whatever they wish, with no real prospect of losing anything, been disciplined or ending up in courts for any reason or acts they may commit. During my regular visits to Villawood, this was very clear. On many occasions I (or other Australian citizen visitors) threatened to take actions against security, officials or manager, and we were confronted with the simple answer: do whatever you want. I, in fact wrote a lot of letters of complaints, but either received no reply or the minister dismissed my complaints without even investigating the claims. Is this acceptable in a democratic society?

The workers in these detention centres feel that they are immune from any accountability and it appears that they are having clear directions to make the life of the detainees hellish and the same of the visitors to force them to abandon visiting. There were many reports about security guards accused of mistreating detainees, for whom the government facilitated departure from Australia - presumably to avoid their prosecution here. Some of them went to New Zealnd, and some of them were even transferred to work in the Nauru detention centre, away from any accountability.

4- Deportation of people from Australia
This is one of the most brutal actions any democratic civilised country can carry out. The threat of deportation by itself is very torturous and traumatic for the detainees. Then the method of deportations is very traumatic, violent and involves using prohibited drugs. During my visits to detainees, they expressed both disgust and deep fear from witnessing such acts. They were fearful of the same treatment if they will be forced to be deported.

There were several counts of dreadful acts of deportation, one of them the failed attempt to deport Sudanese asylum seeker Abdel Mune'm Khalgolie few years ago. At that time the deportation attempt was so violent that the seats of the light plane were ripped out.

Later on the deportation process of this asylum seeker early this year involved large numbers of officers, use of tranquilizers and still some violence. There were several claims about injuries during these actions.

Many reports about the destiny of deported people indicate that several people disappeared, were killed or imprisoned. This was documented in the report “Deported to Danger”.

5- The activities and involvement of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The “successful” deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez was an alarming signal about institutional racism in the different government departments. When the issues are concerning White Anglo-Celtic Australians accused of drug smuggling, all governmental departments and even the Prime Minister, are heavily engaged in the affair. But when the matter is concerning persons of Asian-appearance in very bad medical situations and who was claiming to be Australian citizens, there is no rush even to investigate the matter. The institutionalised racism in all government departments prevented the raising of alarm even when reports landed on the desks of many officials, and ministers, about wrongful deportation of an Australian citizen. No efforts were made to even investigate the matter, let alone launch a campaign to find her and bring her back home.

We, Australians from NESB who speak English clearly as a second language, are living under constant fear of the possibility of similar treatment as Vivian Alvarez, Cornelia Rau and the other 201 Australian who were detained in the last few years by been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The racism is now well established to the extent that this could happen not to one or two Australians, but to more than 200. The alarming issue is that there were no significant measures taken to ensure that this will not happen in the future.

6- The adequacy of health care, including mental health care, and other services and assistance provided to people in immigration detention

There is no such thing as proper health care, particularly mental health care, for refugees in detention. It took me several weeks to convince the management to send Palestinian ex-detainee Mohammed Ali Mahmoud for a medical check-up for persistent back pain in the middle of last year. This could not be accomplished without asking for legal and activist help to put pressure on detention authorities.
I was told by many detainees that the solution for all their pains were to take panadiene and drink a lot of water. This was the reason why there were more than 10 deaths in detention centres during the last 5 years.

I was told by ex-detainees that even if they were successful in gaining a medical check-up by a specialist outside detention, the prescribed medications would not be bought.

It seems that this is a result of two factors. First, the privatisation of the management of these centres gave the management incentive to cut all services to a minimum to maximise the profits. The other factors could be that the government was agreeing to this policies in order to make the life of the detainees hellish to force them to accept “voluntary” repatriation on the one hand, and on the other hand to gain more support among the conservative voters by appearing as a tough government on refugees and asylum seekers.

The other services are very poor, if they exist at all. The food quality, I was told by the detainees, is very low -to the extent that many detainees stopped eating there and will depend on the food brought by visitors. I am talking about Villawood, where there are a lot of visitors to most of the detainees everyday. I have no idea about how they are managing/managed in other centres in the middle of the desert (Curtin/Woomera/Baxter/Port Hedland..)

The education process is carried out by volunteers. There is no entertainment activities, no Internet accessibility, no accessibility to a real library....

Summary:
Most of the problems identified are because of lacking of accountability. The detention centres are away from the reach of the media, independent bodies, free accessibility to politicians and free accessibility to records (with the consent of the detainees). The detention centre and DIMIA is operating outside the democratic society of Australia. This is behind the feeling of absolute power that the people working in these centres and in this particular department are feeling for the last few years. Any real changes should start with more accountability and accessibility by media and political institutions. Without this the current mistakes, atrocities and problems will persist.

The people in this area must start to feel that they are under the law and can be held accountable for their actions.

The Australians needed to be alert and alarmed - was published on Sydney Indymedia on 15 June 05

The detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau, deportation of the other Australian Vivian Alvarez and unjustified detention of more than 200 Australian citizens or permanent residents have made me definitely both alert and alarmed.

I am now taking all precautions not to go out alone, I inform somebody of my whereabouts, and keep two mobile phones with me. I now carry at all times my driving licence, Medicare card, bank card, and my Australian passport... I am armed to the teeth with documents to prove that I am not “illegal”. I have also started to be very disciplined and take my place in the queue everywhere I am going to. I am even considering now getting married (or at least have a permanent girlfriend) just in order to not be alone at any time. After all, being in the wrong place at the wrong time could end up with me in the hands of DIMIA officials; then it will be difficult to locate me again for years!!

It seemed, just few years ago, that holding Australian citizenship would give a person some immunity and respect for his/her human rights, but it turned out that all these are myths from the past. Welcome to John Howard's era.

The Australians were told 8 years ago that the tightening of the detention system was designed to protect us, ensure our safety and maintain our life style, free from the barbaric uncivilized “queue jumpers” and “illegals” who will do anything to benefit from our relaxed life-style, sitting near the beach enjoying the sun while on social security benefits.

The Rau and Alvarez cases are only those that have come to the attention of the media and Parliament, and I am sure that there are more cases still hidden. Even so, they prove that this system did not protect anyone. On the contrary, it has caused great pain for citizens, endangered the lives of others, divided families and who knows what else was happening in these “camps”.

Howard's government won the last few elections on promises that it would make us secure, both physically and financially. They introduced many pieces of legislation to make Australia seems like a fortress, too hard to be penetrated.
They convinced us that Australia is under imminent danger of “Muslim” terrorists, who could even come by boats. They convinced us that there was a need to tighten “border protection” and give ASIO and other security agencies more powers to detain and terrorise people to extract information and then abort any attack on Australia.
After years of these policies what we have got?

Neither Vivian Alvarez nor Cornelia Rau are illegal. Neither condone Bin Laden's actions. Neither of them nor any of the 200 wrongly detained are illegal or “Muslim” terrorist. They are even not Muslim at all.

There are about 5,000,000 persons in Australia who speak English as a second language. All these have now discovered that they could be easily treated as Cornelia or Vivian on the basis of their English proficiency. English proficiency was always an indicator of marginalisation, but now it has became an indicator of criminality.

I must admit too that, even though I speak English very well, I now keep an English-Arabic and Arabic-English dictionary with me all times, in case I will need to show a police officer or DIMIA official that I am doing my best to learn how to speak English like them. I am a good citizen that is trying his best to get rid of the last of my criminal record by getting rid of my first language and trying my best to speak Aussie.

But what shall I do with my skin colour and dark hair? I do not want to go through what Michael Jackson went through to become more white, but should I consider this to escape persecution?!

After years of “border protection” and increasing “ASIO” powers, we discovered that we are more vulnerable and more unsafe than ever before. After years of mandatory detention of every “illegal” “queue-jumper”, we discovered that we not only not safe, but we may become “queue-jumpers” without jumping any queues and becoming “illegal” without violating any rules.
After years of dreaming of a safe prosperous life, we discover that we could end up in detention or in other country, because we are still not “Aussie”, and speak differently and look different.

What did you do to our lovely Australia, Mr Howard?

I remember when your government sent to every household the “be alert but not alarmed” kit, which cost tens of millions of dollars. You did tell us what to do if we saw suspicious things, like a person with a big beard or women with veils, but your kit did not tell us to be on high alert and alarm when dealing with DIMIA officers. The kit did not show us how to avoid deportation or detention, although we thought that we were “legal” in this beautiful country . The kit did not mention the contact numbers in case we are picked up by DIMIA officers and deported to other countries. The kit did not say that if we have a mental illness or speak little English, we must not wander in the streets alone.

How will you explain to Vivian's kids the reasons why ASIO and “border protection laws” could not protect their mum?

Perhaps it is time, after the failure of this model, to try to abolish these measures and try to protect Australia by love, humanity and respect, as we did before 1996?!!