Wednesday, 20 June 2007

World Refugee Day - 20 June

Villawood Immigration Detention Cente, in suburban Sydney.

Today is the United Nations World Refugee Day. Not that you would know from the media in Australia where it isn't mentioned.

Originally a migrant hostel in the 1960s and 70s, now a detention centre for people who over-stay their visas, and people who have had their applications for refugee status turned down, and who are awaiting appeals to be heard, or deportation.

Unlike other Western-style democracies, Australia has a policy of locking up all applicants for political asylum who have arrived in Australian territory without documentation. Some remain in custody for years while the government decides their fate.

Those locked up include children, and doctors worry that the long-term confinement of children in facilities where they frequently witness violence and are denied adequate schooling is causing serious psychological harm. Some children, they fear, will never recover. Several children have attempted suicide. Others have gone on hunger strikes. At least three teenage boys have sewn their lips shut to protest their incarceration and treatment, according to detainees.

Due to vigorous protest, some women and children who make it to the Australian mainland to seek asylum are allowed to be housed outside detention centres whils awaiting their fate. Others, who only get as far as territories offshore are not so lucky. The Australian government cut many such places out of what they deem to be the "Immigration Zone" and lock up the asylum seekers offshore, on Manus Island, Christmas Island or Nauru.

Mandatory detention was introduced in 1992 under the previous, labor, government. It has continued, and hardened under the present government which has been in power since 1996. Australia does take in about 12 000 refugees a year; the government prefers that they make their way first to another country where they apply for asylum, and are then processed in those countries, rather than arriving in Australia and claiming asylum. The government prefers an "orderly queue", which for desperate people in desperate circumstances, in places where there is no Australian mission is not always possible.
The vast majority of people who do make their way to Australia territory are ultimately assessed to have genuine claims for asylum and are admited as refugees.

For more information, an organisation specifically concerned with getting children out of detention is Chilout.

International law defines a "refugee" as a person who has fled from and/or cannot return to their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution, including war or civil conflict.
A refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…"
Article 1, The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

Asylum Seeker:
An asylum seeker is a person who has left their country of origin, has applied for recognition as a refugee in another country, and is awaiting a decision on their application.


  1. Thanks Sally for a thoughtful post. In my opinion, this is yet another shameful action on the part of an Australian Govt,

  2. un post tres important et tres dur. La France (depuis l'election de mr Sarkozy à la presidence) a aussi decide de durcir l'immigration (dont le regroupement famillial) ;o(

    a very important and very hard post. France (since the election of Mr. Sarkozy to the presidency) also has decides to harden the immigration (of which the regrouping famillial) ;o(

  3. Thank you Sally, it's very interesting and the desperate (or boat people) it's a very felt problem here too where governement has different policies in armony with their thought and not for sure, thinking to these persons.

  4. fascinating post - here in the uk we usually think of australia as sort of paradise - I guess everywhere has a down-side

  5. Had never seen pictures of the Villawood detention centre although I have several friends who visited regularly.

    Thanks for this post Sally. Informative and bloody necessary.

    Shame on Australia. Will labour do things differently if/when they come to power? I worry they won't!

  6. Interesting, of course, how so many refugees --- economic or otherwise --- are so keen to reach "terrible" Australia that they bypass/transit many OTHER countries along the way in a desperate effort to reach "harsh" Australia? I'm inclined to suspect that THEY are better judges of how Australia rates as a destination than are the bleeding heart critics inside Australia whose intentions are above reproach, but --- ?

    Over the years I've been aware of quite a few would be residents who would have been valuable assetts to Australia, but couldn't gain residency. I'm more concerned about them frankly, than people who but boat passages here, and attempt to hop over those who have accepted the law.

    But the whole issue has tended to be 'debated' in emotional slogans for so long now, with protagonists talking AT rather than TO one another, that a blog's hardly the place to resolve anything.

  7. Good post on an important topic. There were posters around CH bringing attention to the plight of refugees all over the world, and I probably should have thought to feature it but I couldn't manage to make the time to educate myself about the situation (much debated) here.