A Win For Refugee Rights

In the early hours of the morning on October 31st  last year, a Tamil man in his forties, imprisoned in Maribynong Detention Centre and faced with the prospect of immediate deportation to Sri Lanka, slashed his wrists and throat. The man, known only as Anjan, had confided to the Tamil Refugee Council that he would be killed if returned to Sri Lanka. That fear of persecution could drive a man to such desperate measures was no deterrent to Australian politicians; he was to be deported the moment confirmation that he was medically fit to travel by plane was received – and it quickly was.

The night prior to Anjan’s self-mutilation a few dozen activists – many of whom were Tamil refugees who had been granted a precarious asylum on bridging visas in Australia – had prepared and were to maintain a vigil outside the detention centre until the morning. This was mostly an act of solidarity with Anjan as well as a symbolic show of protest and quiet resistance to the barbarity of the Australian government, its  increasingly poor treatment of asylum seekers and its complicity, even direct involvement, in the war-crimes executed in countries such as Sri Lanka. In the morning more activists arrived, including members of the Monash Refugee Action Collective, until there were around fifty of us. We wanted to show our support and see if there was any difference we could make. But there was little hope that anything would change.

Insidiously, Anjan’s deportation had been planned for that morning because his case was to be heard that afternoon in Sydney’s Federal Court. The immigration department was attempting to get him out before an appeal against his removal could even be heard.

We decided to blockade the detention centre so as to at least attempt to prevent Anjan’s removal before his case had been heard. The police had been there all night. The riot squad came and they soon outnumbered the protesters. We stopped and searched each car that attempted to leave the detention centre until the police presence made it clear that something was about to happen. So we locked arms and laid ourselves out on the road, determined that nothing and no one would come through until we had been forcibly removed. The police surrounded us and made a great show of signalling to one another how they would tear us apart. But after physically separating a few of us and engaging in a few brief scuffles, they mysteriously filed away. The news quickly came through: Anjan’s appeal had been granted. He was safe from deportation and would be for a few months. It was only a brief reprieve, but it felt like a major victory.

Fast-forward to May 28th 2013 and a simple statement appears on the Facebook page of the Tamil Refugee Council: Anjan has been released into the community.

This is an incredible and unprecedented victory for refugee rights in the context of government policy that goes far beyond what would be considered disgraceful and inhumane. It comes hardly a fortnight after the Australian government excised the entirety of mainland Australia from the immigration zone, a farcical move that literally renders Australia non-existent to anyone seeking asylum by boat here. Australia is now the only country in history to remove itself from the Refugee Convention for all asylum seekers who arrive by boat. On the same day the Senate rejected amendments from the Greens for human rights overseers and media access to offshore detention centres and against locking children up on Manus Island.

On budget day it was announced that alongside cuts of $2.8 billion to tertiary education, there would be $3 billion invested in having unmanned drones flying around Australian borders in an attempt to keep asylum seekers out.

Labor and Liberal, as they seem to on every issue nowadays, have a craven consensus on the treatment of asylum seekers. The fight for refugee rights cannot be won – cannot even progress – by ticking a box come election time. The only way it can be brought forward is best borne out by the refugees themselves, who in the last year alone have engaged in hunger strikes and protests and even broken out of their detention centres. Such extraordinary resistance should be a spur to all supporters of refugee rights – a spark to struggle in solidarity. Such heroism should be the inspiration and must become the lifeblood of anyone who decries or disdains the persecution of asylum seekers in this country. June 16th marks World Refugee Day. Perhaps one day it will be a celebration of freedom and a reminder of the atrocities of the past. For now it stands as an outcry against the atrocities committed by the Australian government, an opportunity for all supporters of human rights to raise their voices together and present the power of the people against organized barbarism.

Anyone looking to get involved in the Monash Refugee Action Collective should contact 0412 732 665

 Photo: Daniel Taylor (DT Photos)

Leave a Response