The Guardian July 10, 2002


Spirit of Freedom misses Woomera

by Janice Hamilton

Last week the Refugee Embassy in Woomera was contacted by representatives 
of the Spirit of Freedom, the balloon piloted by American Steve Fossett, to 
say that he was aiming to land his balloon in Woomera. The Spirit of 
Freedom didn't land in Woomera, but the Embassy collected messages of 
welcome and congratulations from refugees inside the detention centre which 
were delivered to Steve Fosset when he touched down eventually in 
Queensland.

Word from inside Woomera is that the detainees are excited to hear that 
people around the world are taking part in rolling hunger strikes as a sign 
of solidarity. A national day of Fasting for Refugees was set to be held on 
Monday July 8.

Phones inside the Woomera Detention Centre have once again been turned off. 
This time the excuse is that too many students from around Australia are en 
route to a "Student's for Solidarity" conference in Perth, and this 
represents a "yellow alert" threat to national security.

This is an example of how the Government is going to use so-called "anti-
terrorist" legislation against Australians in the future. Student 
protestors and anyone else suspected of disagreeing with the Howard 
Government will be stalked, harassed, and cut off from contact with the 
community at the whim of a Minister for Immigration.

Two children, who are still unaccounted for after escaping at the end of 
June, have been identified as brothers, and the Refugee Embassy is seeking 
information on behalf of their parents as to whether or not they are in 
contact with one another and if they are safe.

Phillip Ruddock has refused to enlist the support of the army to search for 
detainees who are believed to be lost in the desert in Central Australia. 
Ruddock has used the excuse that he has received information that they are 
safe. If that is the case the Minister should reveal the source of his 
information.

The death of a refugee could be used by the Government as a political 
weapon to attack those who were moved by the pleas for freedom and helped 
refugees out of Ruddock's hell-hole. If anyone dies in the desert the full 
blame belongs with Ruddock and his racially motivated Government.

Meanwhile, the hunger strike continues inside Woomera. Some who were denied 
their regulation mediation by the Department of Immigration unless they 
ate, have dropped out of the hunger strike

Returned escapees have also resumed the hunger strike along with their 
fellow protestors inside the centre.

There have been reports from Port Headland that the Department of 
Immigration is provoking prisoners in an effort to start a "riot", so that 
they can deflect attention from the hunger strike at Woomera. Prisoners 
have said that they are going to try hard not to give in to the 
provocations coming from prison guards.

Detainees at Port Headland say that they are continually hungry due to lack 
of food. At one stage the Department of Immigration gave detainees only 
bread and cheese because they refused to work in the kitchen after their 
pay was dropped from $1.20 to 90 cents an hour.

Refugees say that Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) is making a 
fortune on the backs of their slave labour. At the same time the Department 
of Immigration threatens to charge asylum seekers at five-star hotel rates 
for their enforced stay at the centre when they are finally released or 
deported.

There are also reports that as part of the attack on the detainees and in 
an attempt to humiliate them, ACM is now serving such things as uncooked 
chicken legs. The menu just shows "chicken". They are also being given 
shrivelled up fruit.

Back to index page