The Guardian May 23, 2001


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 mail@aac.org.au .

Correspondence for all members of Parliament and Senators can be addressed 
to: Parliament House, Canberra, 2600.

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