The Guardian February 7, 2001


Ruddock's campaign of terror against refugees

by Andrew Jackson

Immigration Minister Phil Ruddock has announced plans to step up his 
campaign of terror against refugees in our desert internment camps, while 
granting "special humanitarian" status to two hundred people with links to 
the terrorist South Lebanese Army.

Mr Ruddock's plan to allow the soldiers and their families to emigrate as 
"refugees" from Israel were not announced in Australia, but revealed 
through news articles in the Middle East.

The Christian-dominated South Lebanese Army (SLA) was the Israeli 
Government's puppet security force in the Lebanese "buffer zone", 
subjugating the Lebanese Muslims in the region and carrying out attacks 
against Palestinians living in refugee camps.

When the Israeli army announced it was withdrawing from Lebanon at the end 
of last year, the SLA retreated across the border with their Israeli 
masters and are now claiming refugee status.

Mr Ruddock's willingness to accept refugees under these conditions is a 
slap in the face for the thousands who have escaped persecution and death 
elsewhere in the Middle East, and risked their lives to arrive in Australia 
by boat.

Mr Ruddock has signalled his intention to escalate human rights abuses 
against these true refugees, by introducing legislation to further "toughen 
up" life in detention centres.

He has stated that sedative injections needed to be more "comprehensively 
implemented" against protesting detainees, and is offering wide-ranging new 
search powers for the ACM's (Australasian Correctional Management) private 
security guards.

Labor's spokesperson for immigration Con Sciacca accused the Government of 
setting up "stalags". [German prison camps, usually for non-commissioned 
officers]

"Are you going to invoke the ghost of [Nazi] Dr Mengele and go around 
injecting them with chemicals?

"If Mr Ruddock wants to do that then he'll find it very difficult to get 
support from us", said Mr Sciacca.

The Democrats and Greens have also stated that they will oppose any harsher 
refugee laws  making it virtually certain they will not be passed through 
the Senate.

The Democrats immigration spokesperson, Andrew Bartlett, said an urgent 
investigation was already needed into alleged abuses of power by the ACM 
Guards.

"Why you would then seek to give guards more power is absolutely 
astonishing", Senator Bartlett said.

Mr Ruddock is also legislating to allow himself new powers to arbitrarily 
expel refugees who attempt to protest against or escape from detention.

Under the International Convention on Refugees, repatriating refugees who 
have a legitimate fear of death or persecution in their homeland is 
illegal.

The only exception to that is for people who have committed war crimes and 
other human rights abuses.

Mr Ruddock, determined to show his ignorance of human rights protocol, is 
intending to label prisoners found guilty of escaping from detention, or 
rioting in protest of their inhumane treatment as "serious criminals", and 
including them under the "war crimes and human rights abuses" exemption.

Margaret Piper, Executive Director of the Refugee Council of Australia 
criticised Mr Ruddock, saying "Simply being involved in a rumpus at a 
detention centre is not sufficient grounds for a country to totally ignore 
the rights of that person."

Mr Sciacca, who is in line to become the Immigration Minister after the 
next election, will argue in the party room for Labor to support this 
particular provision.

Union Leaders Call For Action

Last week the Victorian Trades Hall Council Executive voted unanimously to 
back a campaign for the more humane treatment of refugees in Australia's 
detention centres.

"Union members  some of whom are former refugees  are appalled to learn 
of the horrific conditions at Maribyrnong and other detention centres", 
said VTHC Secretary Leigh Hubbard.

"Men, women and children are enduring condition worse than those in our 
prisons.

"Unions believe there should be a return to the previous policy of housing 
refugees in the community while they await the outcome of their cases, 
[which] is the policy of all civilised countries.

"Mandatory detention of refugees is a disgrace and this situation is 
something which our community should not tolerate", Mr Hubbard said.

The VTHC Executive repeated its earlier calls for a judicial inquiry into 
the management and conditions at the privately run migrant detention 
centres, and has foreshadowed the possibility of union bans on construction 
and other work at the centres unless the Government changes its policy.

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