Act for refugee rights
Write to your local MP today
One of the principle aims of the Australian Arabic Council (AAC) has always been to foster constructive and responsible dialogue in our society on issues of relevance to all Australians. In this capacity, our emphasis has consistently been on human rights, and the recognition of and respect for cultural differences, which together ensure the future of "multiculturalism" in Australia. It is in this capacity that the AAC, along with many community and human rights groups, calls for a full and independent judicial inquiry into the current conditions of Australia's refugee detention centres. We ask you to add your voice to the growing chorus of condemnation of Australia's refugee program. The AAC's campaign is aimed at publicly highlighting the concerns now emerging over human rights abuses, following continuing allegations of the appalling mistreatment of refugees. We also oppose the issuing of Temporary Protection Visas that deny refugees their right to family reunion, adequate government assistance and the benefits of introductory English language courses. This campaign includes letter writing and actively working with relevant community groups equally troubled by the failure of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to adequately respond to the current crisis in Australia's refugee program. Guardian readers are urged to write to their local MP. The following is a draft letter provided by the AAC. Draft letter The overwhelming majority of refugees arriving in Australia today meet the strict legal definition of refugee status. They are not criminals, but rather victims who face the real threat of persecution. In such cases, international law recognises no queue for such refugees to join. We believe that public awareness and public pressure have a decisive role to play in the refugee crisis. We ask you to distribute news of this campaign widely. Your support would be a building block that will assist in the development of a better Australia for all Australians. Following a number of disturbing reports from the media, ex-detainees, and members of various community organisations, we are participating in a campaign to ensure those who come to Australia seeking refuge receive their basic human rights in compliance with international laws and regulations. It has come to our attention that certain centres and their treatment of detainees have been in contravention of the "International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees", among other conventions to which Australia is a signatory. The fact that Australia is the only "industrialised" nation to detain refugees is an indication of a system reverting to outdated perceptions, unacceptable in a multicultural society. These people, the vast majority of whom meet the strict legal definition of "refugee", are detained for months at a time whilst being "investigated" and live in fear and ignorance as to their future and their rights. The general public know only of these people as "queue jumpers" or "illegal immigrants", both sensationalist and incorrect terms that only serve to dehumanise or demonise these fellow humans in need. Their real stories are usually never told and a human face is rarely given to their plight. Many of the detainees have reported months of trauma. Some remain incarcerated for years with little or no contact allowed with the outside world. It is even more disturbing and frightening to hear of unaccompanied children being detained rather than being placed in foster care with members of their own ethnic community. Surely, these children are no threat to the fabric of our society and their continuing incarceration can only prove detrimental to their physical and psychological well-being. As Australians, we believe that a thorough investigation needs to be undertaken. We call for and strongly support a full and independent judicial inquiry into the condition and existence of detention centres." We also believe that * the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs must give priority to processing refugee applicants, so as to minimise that length of time these people spend in detention; * all detainees must be informed of their rights, including access to a lawyer, doctors and mental health practitioners; * there should be full disclosure and public accountability of the actions of Australasian Correctional Management; * unaccompanied children must never be detained, but put into foster care with members of their ethnic community; * families must be released; * access and contact with the outside world, including interaction with communities of own ethnic origin and access to newspapers and other media in their own languages must be made immediately available; * access to health services, legal processes and aid, English language classes for all, and schooling for children of all ages must be provided. Finally, Temporary Protection Visas must be scrapped. Once a person has been accepted as a genuine asylum seeker, they should be granted Permanent Protection Visas with full access to health, education and social services in accordance with the United Nations Covenant of the Refugee. Regardless of the circumstances of their journey, once these asylum seekers have arrived it is the responsibility of the Australian Government to deal with them as efficiently and compassionately as possible. We cannot stress enough the need to allocate necessary resources to deal with the arrivals humanely and with respect for their human rights as individuals. As Australians we are responsible for the conditions imposed upon these people. Australia has always been a nation to espouse the notion of a "fair go" and our legal system is based on unquestionable tenet of "innocent till proven guilty". As my local Member, I hope that you will take a strong stand on this important issue. Sincerely (name and address). We also urge you to share any responses you may receive to the letter with the AAC campaign coordinator, Ms Halla Marbani. Should you require any further information please feel free to contact the AAC office between 9am and 3pm on (03) 9480-2411, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . Correspondence for all members of Parliament and Senators can be addressed to: Parliament House, Canberra, 2600.