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Indefinite detention, sometimes illegal, still all the rage from DIMIA turned DIAC

Margo: Marilyn Shepherd is a longtime Webdiarist with an abiding dedication to helping refugees in Australia. Webdiary has run hard on boat people since the Tampa in 2001, and covered the Rau and Alvarez scandals in detail. (And see The skull beneath DIMIA's skin.) Today, Marilyn updates us on illegal detention by the inmmigration department. This is her second piece for Webdiary. Her first, in May 2005, was The citizen investigator: Marilyn's story.

After Cornelia Rau was found in Baxter in 2005 I began a hunt to see if it had happened to any others, and also to find any evidence DIMIA had that the Bakhtiyari family were from Pakistan.   In between my searches and the public knowledge of the case of Vivian Alvarez I discovered a question on notice to the Senate dated February 2004 which stated “33 released, not unlawful”.
When Vivian Alvarez was found in the Philipines the information of this 33 was already public, so Amanda Vanstone launched an inquiry into the possible illegal detentions of other Australians, or worse other deportations.   247 cases were then sent to the Ombudsman with perhaps the saddest 10 being outlined in this link.  The most chilling case was the case of LP, an Australian citizen child incarcerated for 149 days as “a visitor to his mother”. Just a guest of the minister in a regime of brutal detention that was utterly illegal. No-one bothered to ascertain if the reality was that the child was a citizen.
Just as they didn’t bother to find out if Rau was a resident Australian after they believed she was, but stuck her in an isolation cell for 65 days until the truth was revealed.   She was then dragged naked from her room, shoved into an ambulance and taken to hospital where she hovered between sanity and permanent damage for many months.
Beside the children almost all of the 247 cases were deemed to have been legally in Australia, the longest illegal detention was 6 years and the shortest was a day or two.   Worryingly, in this report an unaccompanied child was locked up only because he was found on a Friday and his parents were known of but not informed for the 3 days or so that he was in Villawood.
Last week we saw a mentally ill Indian man deported by force after three years in detention for failing in a business venture and having his visa cancelled.
So what has happened since Alvarez and Rau?
Alvarez is back in Australia but seriously damaged and crippled for life, finally compensated after more than an year and has disappeared from public view entirely.
I met Cornelia a few times a 2005 and was struck by her gentleness and beauty.   She has made a niche for herself in spite of the odds being stacked against her and is living a relatively normal life studying in my beautiful city of Adelaide with the beach for comfort.   She has yet to be compensated for her trauma and illegal detention so the lawyers are now confronted with litigation.
199 cases of long term detention have been reviewed by the Ombudsman and the reports are available on the same link as the children in detention I have supplied.    Most of the people involved have since been released due to errors discovered in DIMIA’s processes - or lack of processes.
As a parting gift Amanda Vanstone reversed decisions on many of the TPV’s and waived waiting periods for permanent protection.    Most have now been granted residence after up to 8 years in detention and in the community on tenterhooks and are being re-united with their families.
Abbas Al Khafaji, who faced permanent detention under the High Court's Al Kateb decision of 2004 is now a permanent resident, but his long term detention and trauma have caused Lupus with attendant kidney and heart failure which will kill him early.  He is trying now to see his mother after almost 9 years.
120 of the people trapped on Lombok after we turned them away into the sea in 2001 have been accepted to Australia early this year. The last two Iraqis on Nauru have been accepted as refugees – Mohammad Faisal is here and mentally ill while Mohammad Sagar was rescued by Sweden.
Our dear sister Amal Hassan Basry, who managed to survive the SIEV-X disaster, was granted permanent residence and then died of breast cancer in March last year, will never be forgotten for her bravery, her spirit and her enormous heart.   When Marian Wilkinson was here last week for the festival of ideas she read out part of Amal’s testimony about the drowning of the babies. It still makes most people weep with despair over that dark time.
All sounds a bit better than before, doesn’t it?    Not really though, because Al Kateb is still on the books, we still lock up people for not having a visa even though it is not an offence in Australian law, and we still destroy lives and deport the mentally ill.   We can legally deport non-citizen residents for bad character even if they have lived here for all but 27 days of their lives and we still lock up children, even if not in places like Woomera.
And the DIAC’s of today can still manage to write false reports for a minister to cancel the visa of an innocent young doctor and his wife based on the gift of a few free phone calls to a cousin 12,000 miles and 12 months ago.
Same old same old in other words and more Vivian’s and Cornelia’s are possible without reform.
PS.   The Bakhtiyari family are still struggling in Afghanistan.


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Pacific Solution cost $1 billon and caused untold suffering.

This week a report published by A Just Australia and Oxfam Australia found the consequences of The Pacific Solution are dire. It has so far cost the Australian public $1 billion, operates without transparency or scrutiny by Parliament, caused unnecessary suffering and mental illness to hundreds of traumatized people as well as tarnished Australia's international reputation as a champion of human rights. Hardly a glowing report card for a system aimed to keep our borders 'safe'.

Howard has wasted in excess of $1 billion. How many aged care centres could have been built? How many hospitals could have been helped to serve our nation. Instead we waste money on Howard's fantasy. How many lives have been destroyed both on the mainland and in the Pacific? 

I have to mark this day

At 10.15 am on this day in 2003 I was at the family court with that old reprobate Bob Ellis waiting for Jeremy Moore and Julian Burnside and a whole entourage of journalists, lawyers, care providers and others to get off the lift in the Family Court building.

They had been called to a private session of the full bench to hand down the decision about Alamdar 15, Montezar 13, Nagina 10, Samina 8 and Amina 6 who had been incarcerated for 32 months in Woomera and Baxter concentration campls.

I will never forget that first moment as Jeremy was first off the lift beaming from ear to ear with the thumbs up. Against all the of the odds, against the might of the entire government and with the greatest and bravest will in the world the full court of the Family Court had decided that Australia owed a duty of care to five young, traumatised and nearly suicidal children and released them from their personal hell.

Of course Ruddock appealed but for 8 months those kids lived a semi-normal life, going to good schools, playing sport, being kids.   Their mum and new baby brother were in a motel down the road at a cost of $750,000 and dad was in Baxter because DIMA had perjured themselves in courts all over the country using false documents to keep him locked up.

For the next 8 months they were under house arrest but at least mum and the new baby, Mazhar, could live with them. Roqia is the grandest woman I have ever met and I miss her more than I can bear some days. I have the articles written by Paul McGeough mounted in my bedroom and the first face I see each day is my beautiful smiling girl with her fingers in a V for victory sign taken on 25 August 2003 when her children were finally freed.

On that day another woman and her son were granted a visa.    Nasrine is Iranian, a single mum, battered wife and was in Woomera and Baxter for years. She lost with DIMA, lost with the RRT, won in the Federal Court, won in the full Federal Court after Ruddock appealed and he was going to appeal to the High Court but changed his mind and announced on 25 August 2003 that she could be granted a visa.  

When she was released she had a case against the government for beating her 7 year old son across both legs in Woomera with a baton and tear gassing them at Easter 2002 when she was not doing anything wrong. She took them all on with Frank Brennan's letter and is the proud owner of that rare beast - a letter of apology from the government which she has framed.

Her friend Parvin was not so lucky. She was a single mum with two boys, battered by a husband who followed her and was locked up in Woomera with her. Insane one would think but Ruddock ordered it.    She lost at every level except the full Federal Court which granted her asylum although Ruddock did appeal her case.

Parvin and Nasrine, like the Bakhtiyari's were always refugees but were treated horrendously. When Nasrine confronted Amanda Vanstone with her 2.5 years in detention and the number of times Ruddock had appealed her case Amanda simply said "the fact that you are out shows the system is working".

It cost over $1 million to torment Nasrine and her young son, another $1.5 million to torment Parvin and her two young boys and $6 million to torture the Bakhtiyari family.

I want to pay tribute to them all today.

Australia's international standing trashed by Howard

I WANT to take you back six years. To Saturday, August 25, 2001. Back when Australia was still shaping as a model of international citizenship. Back when we thought the rise of Pauline Hanson's One Nation in the late 1990s was just a racist hiccup that had been usurped by the thousands of people who marched across bridges for reconciliation and Cathy Freeman's triumph at the Sydney Olympics.

Just 24 hours later everything changed.

On Sunday, August 26, 2001 the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa sailed — in accordance with ancient seafaring traditions — to the aid of 438 people whose boat had sunk in international waters en route to Australia.

After the successful rescue of what were mostly terrified Hazara Afghans fleeing the Taliban, Captain Arne Rinnan headed for the nearest landing point of Christmas Island and radioed for medical help.

The Australian Government sent the SAS instead and for nine days those people sat on the decks of the Tampa while Canberra stared down international condemnation and demands to allow them ashore.

In three short months in late 2001, the Howard Government succeeded in recognising a political opportunity existed in a new "Muslim" peril that fused the asylum seeker issue to the threat of terrorism. Since then there have been many dark victories. Our international standing as a good international citizen has been much diminished by the Howard Government's hardline position on asylum seekers and our hypocritical involvement in the same conflicts (in Iraq and Afghanistan) from which these people fled.

In the process, the names of wrongly detained Cornelia Rau and illegally deported Vivian Alvarez Solon became synonymous with systemic flaws in Immigration Department procedures.

It is important to remember these things happened in this country. And it is important that we honour the lives lost and those irreparably damaged in the process.

Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the Tampa's rescue of a boatload of people who were making unimaginably desperate journeys from persecution to a land of promise. Of the 438, only 28 made it to Australia, after years on Nauru. New Zealand welcomed most of them — almost immediately — the rest went to Scandinavia and North America.

Lest we forget.

Tracee Hutchison is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.

After the dark years of the Howard government, it will take decades for Australia to recover its international standing. We have lost our innocence and many have paid a horrible price.  Australia once had a voice on the world stage which called for justice, human rights and global peace. Now we are ignored, and seen as a lapdog of the US.

Oxfam says Howard's pacific solution costs a fortune.

Oxfam Executive director Andrew Hewett says it costs more than $1,800 a day to house a detainee on Christmas Island compared to $238 at Sydney's Villawood detention centre.

He says the Government is the victim of its own rhetoric after the Tampa issue in 2001.

Mr Hewett does not agree with claims that the closure of South Australia's Baxter Detention Centre proves that the Pacific Solution is deterring asylum seekers.

"Other rich countries in the world which do not have anything like the Pacific Solution or offshore processing have also experienced a decline in a number of asylum seekers," he said.

"The reasons are not so much to do with changes in policies in countries like Australia, but rather to do with things like a reduction in conflict in some of the main source countries."

Oxfam wants the National Audit Office to undertake a full evaluation of the Pacific Solution policy.

Why would you put someone into detention on Christmas Island at a cost of $1,800 a day, when you could detain them in Villawood for $238? To Howard, ideology is more important than common sense. This is an cruel attempt to prevent legal access to the asylum seekers, and it is costing Australian taxpayers a fortune.

Still 4.5 million refugees

Eliot, I know that report. But there have still been 4.5 million people made homeless due to our insane actions in Iraq.

Now a story of one man's long detention.

K is 36 years old, from Iran, a moderate muslim with a wife and daughter. He has been in Australia for seven and a half years. Five years of that was in Curtin refugee prison because he "was not a refugee", except when they finally allowed him to have a lawyer after 4 years in prison without knowing why it was found he had been a refugee all along.

4 weeks ago he was granted permanent residence in Australia as a refugee, it took him over a year on release from Curtin to find a place to rent because of his "temporary" status - I went referee in my block and he is widely admired.

Tomorrow K flies to Syria to meet his wife and daughter. She is 8 years old and he has not seen her since she was 6 months old.

Try and imagine a nation that would not only do such a thing but would pat themselves on the back as humanitarians and call it border protection as well.

And imagine a HIgh Court so bad they passed this into law.

Iraqi refugees

Mary j Shepherd said:

Well, it seems that instead of taking the Shia – who are being blown to bits and simply cannot go home – we are only going to take the rich, Christian professionals.

Not according to this article in the New York Times, which focusses on the circumstances of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

The war has scattered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis throughout the Middle East, but those who came here tended to be the most affluent. Most lacked residency status and were not allowed to work, but as former bank managers, social club directors and business owners, they thought their money would last.


Eliot, I think it should be your right and the right of anyone else to choose who administers their own health care. This will be an entirely subjective process. The doctor/patient relationship requires absolute trust, especially in an area as delicate and sensitive as mental health. It is not good enough, in my eyes, to say that a person should trust a particular individual, there needs to be an actual trust.

We can debate ageism/racism/sexism and all of that kind of stuff at other times, but when a person is in a position of reliance or vulnerability on another for something as basic as health, I don't think political correctness should rear its head. I think if we can ease some of the issues related to multiculturalism, etc, in the ways that it affects people in their day to day lives, we might get be able to ease the harshness of the immigration policy.

Give and take.

We finally stopped doing it in 2005.

Mary j Shepherd says:

We finally stopped doing it in 2005.

Thank heavens.

Eliot what is your point?

I know what the figures for 2005 are Eliot but over the last 10 years we locked up nearly 4,000 kids in detention.

This is not even a contentious number so what on earth are you posting numbers from 2005 for?   We finally stopped doing it in 2005.

3.360 were locked up on the mainland.

300 in Indonesia with us paying for it.

750 on Nauru and Manus Islands.

Nearly 4,000 kids

Mary j Shepherd says:

Over the last ten years we locked up nearly 4,000 kids and Ruddock went to the High Court to make absolutely sure it was legal.

The Brisbane Actionweb for Refugee Collaboration website gives these Department of Immigration  figures for the number of children held in Australian detention centres as at 16 March 2005:

Villawood: 45 children Tongan, Fijian
Port Augusta: 12 children  Chinese
Maribyrnong: 7 children Tongan
Christmas Island: 10 children Vietnamese

Hotel/house detention* 11 children  Afghan
Nauru 6 children Afghan
Baxter 2 children unknown
Perth 0 children  unknown
Unaccompanied children 5 children Afghan

Total: 93 children in detention

Eliot, if you live in Sydney go to Villawood

Eliot, I have no idea where you have been for the past decade but fewer and fewer people are now being locked up due to the amazing work of millions of Australians to make it so.

Unfortunately this government still don't understand they changed the law in 1992 and insist on wasting billions in taxpayers’ money locking up people who have committed no crime under our own law.

Sydney has Villawood, Melbourne has Maribyrnong, in SA we had Woomera and still have Baxter, WA only has Perth left.

Over the last ten years we locked up nearly 4,000 kids and Ruddock went to the High Court to make absolutely sure it was legal. Then the HREOC report came out in May 2004 showing the crimes against the children and it still took another 14 months to stop locking up children.

It is pretty much a criminal enterprise as far as I can see.

I'm on your side, Mary J. Let's roll...

Mary j Shepherd says:

Eliot, you really need to do something with your life.

I thought I should devote myself to help getting the 40,000 people whom you say have "been locked up in immigration detention" some well-deserved public attention.

Could you tell us where in the Senate estimates is says that 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention in Australia?

Fiona, hi!  Stuff happens. At least you publish my posts.

Richard:  So does everyone else, Eliot, except for when they're unpublishable.   By the way, it's Mary J's right to choose whether or not to answer you.  Repetition of the question serves no useful purpose.

Fiona:  I also DNP your posts when warranted, Eliot.

Solomon Wakeling says:

I feel thoroughly amused and vindicated by this article in the Australian about a mentally ill man who posed as a doctor at Wyong hospital.

Without meaning to disparage them at all, I work with a pair of young doctors trying to deal with the challenges of community based mental health services. I'm not kidding, they're lovely girls, but so immature and naive that I'm sure just about any person taken randomly off the street with a bit of life experience could do a better job.

Sends shivers up my spine.


I said it is not an offence

It is NOT an offence to enter Australia or stay in Australia without a visa and has not been since 1992 yet we have locked up nearly 40,000 people for not committing and offence.

Eliot, you really need to do something with your life.

Fiona: Marilyn (and all readers), my apologies. I published your original post and for some reason which is completely obscure to me I changed "not" to "now". I will amend that post with a note to that effect. 

What next in this blighted land? Visas for tourists?

Mary j Shepherd says

Under our law it is now an offence to be in Australia, to enter Australia, or stay in Australia without a visa.

That's dreadful, isn't it? There cannot be many independent countries in the world where it an offense to be in, enter or stay without without a visa.

While we are on the topic of such egregious abuses of the principle of national sovreignty, could you help us expose further to public scrutiny the other matter you raised here?

I refer to your comment below.

Mary j Shepherd says:

Senate estimates revealed that nearly 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention.   Go and find it yourselves.

Could you tell us where in the Senate estimates is says that 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention in Australia?

Fake doctors

I feel thoroughly amused and vindicated by this article in the Australian about a mentally ill man who posed as a doctor at Wyong hospital. I predicted something like this could happen, and, it also proves my point that doctors are simply strangers with candy. They could, indeed, be anyone.

This is more important than it sounds because I believe that emergency departments have a vital role to play in our national security function. Think how that might be the case.

When I was in hospital I raised the question of security with staff. I often had to ask people whether they were nurses or patients (echoes of One flew over the Cuckoo's nest). The only thing to differentiate between the two, apart from the aquarium style glass that seperates you, were little badges hanging from their necks.

"If I were a design student I could make one of those, and pretend to be a nurse and go around causing havoc." I said to one of the nurses.

"You couldn't get in, the place is locked and you would have to go through security."

"I am in here right now."

It is always useful to make people wonder.


Angela, I think the best way to explain myself here is to say that I think that many problems that are treated now in the realm of mental health are not issues that come from the inside of a person but are rather extensions of a cultural malady, the far edges of a kind of collective trauma.

When I was growing up "Mental illness" seemed to have concrete symptoms, to have something to do with an internal dysfunction of the brain causing things like audio/visual hallucinations. Now my exposure to the system and the world is stronger and it seems like there is an epidemic of smaller problems, which I don't think are possible to isolate from the social environment - depression, mood and personality disorders, fear, suicidal thoughts. Every second person seems to be on drugs of some kind, to make it possible for them to function in a demanding world. I don't think this is something that is theirs only, but rather that some vulnerability/sensitivity on their part means that they are less able to cope with the pressures placed upon them by the social environment which are, at heart, inhumane.

Trauma seems to be the right word. I am convinced that there is something happening in my society, to its people, its institutions, caused by exposure to violence and the possibility of violence - not necessarily directly, but through exposure by to media. I read Elie Wiesel's Night recently, a short testimony about life in Nazi concentration camps. It made me think that the world simply has not found a way to heal yet from the horrors of WWII, let alone the continuing horror of wars that have come ceaselessly ever since.

I remember hearing on ABC radio once about the sensitivities required when trying to treat Holocaust survivors. Staff had to be extremely careful about how they approached people, because ordinary questions like: "Would you like to take a shower?" had deep, sinister connotations to them, even though this would ordinarily be benign. When a person is so deeply wounded, so full of fear, small reminders must have a great impact. I think my society is in a similar kind of condition, though obviously not as strong.

Multiculturalism, I feel, is exhausting. It works well for the young and the super-vigorous, but I think for many it is just too much change, too fast. Health care is one of the few areas where people of different backgrounds have to deal with one another, and where those who are normally in the dominant culture might find themselves under the care and authority of individuals of a minority group, who may have vastly different values.

Multiculturalism is very different when minorities are confined to the service sector and are essential under the thumb of the rest of the culture, that is to say we allow them to practice their culture to the extent that it suits us and doesn't infringe our own liberty. It is very easy for multiculturalism to work when minorities have no power, but when they start getting power it becomes suddenly important what they believe.  Sickness inverses this power relationship. I think most Anglo Australians are tolerant but their tolerance is paper thin - when pressed, they are willing to assert their values and beliefs.

In treating people I think there is a kind of cushioning effect, a need to take away discomforting stimulus. This is what I think is happening in Europe and especially France, that the government is attempting to buffer their societies against change, change that has a deeper and more hurtful effect on ordinary people than I think is widely admitted to or acknowledged. I think this is a temporary measure and the restrictions will be eased in time.

I think anti-vilification laws are equally illiberal but serve a similar, cushioning function for minority groups. I support their existence because I think they improve our society and improve the care with which people choose to express themselves. It is there to protect people from the world - protect people, even from truth. I hope in time these too will be taken away - eased - as minority groups grow in power and confidence.

It would be easy enough for me to abandon my rather authoritarian streak - God knows it would be a relief to do so, since I know that in this country such ideas will simply never hold water, except in an extreme minority. Nevertheless there are enough people around promoting harmony and freedom, but that doesn't resolve anything, or change anything, because it doesn't dig deep enough.

I don't think law is a craft, something that you can perfect. I think it is something that needs to respond to the particular needs of the society that it serves and that there will be periods of greater liberalism and others of greater control, depending upon the particular state of that society. I am at the point where I don't see one method as inherently superior to another. I think it is the work of a democracy to negotiate for the needs and desires of its citizenry.

In detention you are down a black hole

Eliot and Alan, if you go into immigration detention you are in a legal black hole. Under our law it is not an offence to be in Australia, to enter Australia, or stay in Australia without a visa.

Instead people who arrive without one are automatically locked up and now they have no right to challenge the detention in any court, there is no actual judicial review of any case denied by the government or tribunals unless they break the law and so people stay locked up for as long as seven years. One Somali man spent six years in Villawood before he was found because he was never told he could have a lawyer.

Once he got a lawyer he was denied refugee status and because the case was embarrassing he was drugged, shackled and gagged and deported to Somalia just as the new war broke out.

You really need to get a grip, boys: I didn't make the dreadful laws. I only write about them.

Fiona: My apologies again to Marilyn and all readers: Marilyn originaly wrote "Under our law it is not an offence ..." which I in a fit of editorial abstraction altered to read "Under our law it is now an offence ...".

The shame of 40,000 people in immigration detention.

Mary j Shepherd says:

Senate estimates revealed that nearly 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention.   Go and find it yourselves.

I've looked in the Senate estimates, Mary J, and cannot see the report saying that 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention in Australia.

Could you assist us with a link to the appropriate records, Mary J?

We greatly respect your expertise in this area and what may seem perfectly familiar to you is perhaps not so easy for others, less educated in these matters, to locate.

So, could you give us a link? Thanks.

40,000 people

Senate estimates revealed that nearly 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention.   Go and find it yourselves.

They spent $580 million in 5 years just for prison guard costs, another $300 million to GSL for the next 3 years and are still locking up people who have not committed any crime.

As for the three million - it is a new book that has just come out.    It is not my claim it is the claim of the author based on historical documents.


Mary j Shepherd: "Senate estimates revealed that nearly 40,000 people have been locked up in immigration detention".

There is a big difference between being put in detention and disappearing down a black hole.


Angela, I appreciate your posts too, they often contain a complexity and thoughtfulness beyond the usual fare we find here or there. I find it hard to articulate the precise reasons for the way I feel, though I think it comes out of a mix of deep anger but also compassion, rather than any fear or prejudice in my case. Such emotions are part of humanity, not divorced from it.

I think it is particularly difficult for me at this time to look objectively at my whole experience.

To be truthful I don't think my policy would resolve any of the issues I have raised, though it might give me a certain combatative satisfaction. I shall try and disillusion you on one point: one never meets caring health professionals in a hospital psych ward, what one meets are a vast array of strangers who have an extraordinary license over your person - to detain you, drug you and interrogate you. They could be as you say but what you describe is a hypothetical. They remain strangers from start to finish.

I always make an effort to look beyond clothing. Religion, too, is a mask. I see no difference between delusional thinking and the kinds of beliefs you describe. There is no difference in terms of their level of embrace of the fantastic. Whatever the difference is it has nothing to do with reason, logic or reality but rather with something else entirely. It makes the power imbalance between patient and staff indefensible, and, incomprehensible.

I am reminded of a very old Simpsons episode: "How do you tell who is sane and who is insane?" "Well that stamp on your hand means you're insane." There is a vast administrative system but I don't think it goes much beyond this. But far be it from me to condemn people for believing in angels. Just don't presume to think you are qualified to help me if you do.

A hospital is an artificial environment and there is nothing liberal about it, least of all for patients involuntarily detained. I truly struggle to see any difference between it and the immigration detention system, except perhaps that one stands a better chance of getting out of a hospital. They are little mini fascist states, for a short period, and I think if they must exist they ought to be administered to accommodate patients as far as possible. Culturally sensitive health care should, of necessity, contain some provision for the dominant culture, or at least the most vulnerable members of it - the white underclasses, the aged, war veterans, victims of violence. 

Prejudice, fear, discomfort, alienation - all these things exist in minority cultures and I have no doubt whatsoever that accommodations are made for them in multicultural health care. I think it is a human trait to want to be amongst the familiar, when you are in a state of vulnerability, and, we don't need to confuse health care with a re-education camp. One doesn't need to be treated for human frailty.

DNP:Fiona:Baiting ...and Christmas is coming, too.

L.Ferguson says:

I am still waiting for Mary J Shepherd to give us proof about the 40,000 people who disappeared  down the black hole.

They're probably with the three million German prisoners that  "us and the US and to a lesser extent the Brits" murdered in Soviet occupied Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia by "herding them into cages on the Rhine and letting them starve to death, shutting them in the former concentration camps and so on."

But while we are waiting, Mary J, did you find any evidence in support of your claim that "we are only going to take the rich, Christian professionals" from amongst prospective Iraqi immigrants?

That would be a knockout, possibly Walkley-award winning revelation. Looking forward to it.

Asylum seekers and mental health

I borrowed a book today called Asylum Seekers and refugees in Australia: Issues of mental health and well-being, edited by Diane Barnes (2003), which might be worth a look for anyone interested in the topic. It will be interesting for me to come at such issues from a non-legal background. I am especially interested in the ways in which refugee settlement is administered once a person is accepted. There is a chapter on the integration of Persian women in to Australian society, which is something which would be of particular interest to me given my interest in Iranian feminist art, and, perhaps, to Webdiary given the emphasis that has been placed on the Iranian issue here.

The link above gives an extract of the introduction provided by Multicultural Mental Health Australia (MMHA). Such an organisation intrigues me, having been through the mental health system myself. This year I admitted myself to hospital complaining of insomnia and interrogated my doctors about their religion in order to pre-empt accusations that I was delusional due to my past history. I was quite frankly disturbed by the hypocrisy inherent in the system, which allowed Islamic and other health professionals to treat me, whilst I was harassed about any religious beliefs I may or may not have had, as if these were symptoms. Apart from being irrelevant, such facts are inadmissible as part of a diagnosis under the Mental Health Act, but I was still asked stupid questions, like whether or not I believed in God. My response was to ask whether or not I was entitled to.

It is discomforting to ask your doctor if he believes the angel Gabriel came down to Mohammed and have him reply "Yes", whilst at other times your own ability to exercise your spiritual or religious beliefs are questioned.

I really don't think it is appropriate for religious clothing or symbols to be worn in public hospitals, except where a culturally friendly environment would be beneficial to specific patients. Patients are in a vulnerable position and usually don't have a choice to be where they are. Enforced secularism in public hospitals, as in France, is drastic, but I think it is right and important, especially in mental health.

I do think, however, that where a patient comes from a particular cultural or religious background that they should be accommodated, and, provided with support by professional people of like background. That may sound contradictory, but it comes from the same belief that when people are in such a vulnerable position, their particular proclivities should be indulged, including what might amount to fears and prejudices.

ah Solomon, n'oubliez jamais, ask why you fear it

Hi Solomon, I always enjoy reading your posts: they have a deep humanity.

All the same, I was a little surprised at this one. Usually you are rather pro-liberal values and yet here you condemn people being able to practise their religion. You are saying they must constrict their job choice to that which allows them to wear whatever religious garb they are obliged to.

Certainly one can poke fun at ideas of angels talking to men, and people disappearing into the clouds, and the idea of bodies rising up after their atoms have been dispersed for centuries and the idea of bits of bread falling from the sky for 40 years for people to eat and snakes talking and us becoming insects once dead as humans, and being able to use whatever is buried with you after you row across the river paying your fee, and the fire and omnipresence in it, and giant serpents and floating tortoises ... but these are precious beliefs to those who hold them.

How does a psychiatrist distinguishes delusional thinking in a world filled with such passionately-held beliefs is a good question. I have a suspicion that is what most of the six years or so of training is all about. And you are quite perceptive, Solomon: so many of those I know in the profession self-select into that field for a very good reason.

All the same, how do we balance comfort of patients with the freedom to wear what one's religion demands at one's work?

Perhaps one should explore just what it is that concerned you.was it a nun's garb, man's yarmulke, a prominent cross with suitably tortured figure, face tattooing, particular ear lobe changes, flowing gowns, a beard, a veil, Krishna beads, Sanyussin pendant, blue stockings, a turban and bracelets and less than 6 inch blade, a little red book tucked in pocket, tooth knocked out, did they flash their private bits to see the carnage there (now that would be illegal methinks, me hopes) that girls suffered (did you think something else then?) ...

It is an issue that was discussed earlier on Webdiary when talking of how women choose or do not choose to dress.

Solomon I know you said:"I really don't think it is appropriate for religious clothing or symbols to be worn in public hospitals," but the issue is that some really do in order to go about their daily lives. Do we deny them the right to work in a public hospital? Do we remove the public funding for Catholic hospitals until those nuns, mercy, exchange their garbs for jean? Do we kick out all the Jewish specialists who insist upon wearing head covering and beards?

Perhaps it is the patient who has the problem and that is a sign of an intolerant society that is not well exposed and familiar with difference in dress, that has trouble seeing past the outer garb and seeing the human caring professional within who is highly skilled and doing their best to help them get better.

It is a difficult and challenging area as we move from the white Anglo Christian society to a truly more diverse one. We can hide the differences or celebrate and learn from them to help with our understanding of the greater world out there.

Fears and prejudices are not what determine rules and regulations in a just and civil society. Rather than being indulged, the person should realise them and work through them. Whatever scared you and you felt prejudiced against, Solomon, think about it and ask, why? Why we have fears and prejudices is a very topical question right now. There are plenty of great-grandfathers who were kicked out of the public hospital system in certain countries in the past because of what they insisted upon wearing on their head. Discrimination by dress, religion, nationality, ethnicity and sexuality ... are we not past that yet?

Remember, and as some say here, n'oubliez jamais, such fears and prejudices were used in the past by fascists. Never arm such a group ... or history is indeed doomed to repeat.

There are other ways to overcome one's own fear and prejudices. Inflicting suffering upon the target is not one of them.


Mary J's shocking inside information

Mary j Shepherd said:

Well, it seems that instead of taking the Shia – who are being blown to bits and simply cannot go home – we are only going to take the rich, Christian professionals.

That would indeed be a scandal. Of immense proportions.

Could you provide some information in support of that claim? Would your source be prepared to leak a document or other evidence?

How do they test for religious affiliation, for example? What about mixed Muslim-Christian families? How do they tell Shias from Sunnis?

What about Kurds?

Also, how does this relate to your claim elsewhere that "we" and the "USA" use immigration controlds to "keep Arabs out"? Do you mean "Muslims" as opposed to "Christian" Arabs?

92 Poms trampled at the soccer

Well, L Fergusson, they won and the gunfire started. I seem to remember 92 soccer fans being trampled to death in England last century though and as an aside - three so-called civilised nations blew Iraq to bits so keep your snide tripe to yourself.

92 Poms

Mary j Shepherd, yes I remember that too. It was known as the Bolton Disaster and was caused by the crowd barriers collapsing. It was not caused by some Lancashire lad strapping a bomb on himself. That is just not done in a civilised country.

By the way, have you got proof that 40,000 people have disappeared down a DIAC black hole, or are your typing hands just a bit quicker than your brain?

Iraq 's refugees

I have just had an insider's view that next week it will be announced that we will take more Iraqi refugees, you know some of the 4.5 million we have helped to create.

Now that is good, right? Well, it seems that instead of taking the Shia – who are being blown to bits and simply cannot go home – we are only going to take the rich, Christian professionals.

Now that is a scandal.

Iraq soccer

Mary j Shepherd, you had better hope that Iraq does not win the Soccer Final tonight, otherwise goodness knows how many Iraqis will be blown apart. After the semi-finals 50 lost their lives to an Iraqi suicide bomber. It must be great living in a civilised country if you are a sports fan.

Now that is a scandal.

Failed ad hominem.

L.Ferguson, your ad hominem at  Mary  J Shepherd concerning Iraqi humanity has failed abysmally. Thus far, you will be disappointed to learn,  only three Iraqis have died since celebrations began in Baghdad after the win.

Quite a few less than COW interference has caused over the years.


Paul Walter, It is just as well the Socceroos did not win: can you imagine the death toll in Sydney? How many civilised countries kill their own people when they win a sporting event, or fire guns in the street?

I am still waiting for Mary  J Shepherd to give us proof about the 40,000 people who disappeared  down the black hole.

Hang on there a bit

Paul: As I recall two bombs killed over 30 people after the first lot of celebrations so the authorities in Iraq were not taking chances this time round.  Extra security was put in place such as the banning of cars in the area.

Any notion that there would have been no bombs in the crowds had that security not been tightened I think is assuming far too much.

The death toll in Iraq continues to rise every month, with sectarian killings and suicide bombings the primary cause. There would be no deaths at the hands of the COW or the Iraqi army and police if they were not having to try and prevent this.

I think everyone has lost sight of that fact. Iraq had the best chance of peace and a better future after Saddam was toppled, and the people blew it. I feel desperately sorry for the vast majority of Iraqis whose hopes have been dashed by these murdering thugs in their midst. But one can at one level understand it. Saddan Hussein left behind a legacy of hate and brutality. The agony that befalls most countries when a dictatorial regime is toppled or implodes, is nothing new. We have the experience of the former Yugoslavia and many African nations to draw on. 

This is more true when there are also disparate groups with different ethnic and religious origins in a country, and Iraq was always likely going to fracture along those lines. It has, and the agony will probably go on long after the COW leave because the Saudis and the Iranians will continue to meddle. That is the tragedy of Iraq.

I was so pleased they won that soccer match and am glad that those who would spoil the party were prevented by and large from doing so.

Blown to bits

Mary j Shepherd, the Shia are blowing up the Sunnis and the Sunnis are blowing up the Shia. Have a word with them, there's a good girl. They might listen to you.

How do we do it ?

How do we, as citizens, go about tackling the deficiencies of DIMIA? I simply cannot stand government departments who ride roughshod over citizens’ rights.

As the one always chosen in my family to tackle family members’ hassles and disputes I've found great changes in some government departments over the years. The NSW Housing Commission – a shocker in its day – has done a turn around and treats its clients far more respectfully these days.

Likewise the DHSS.

Never dealt with DIMIA ( Customs and Immigration officers can be rude bastards if you let them get away with it – which I won't), but I've watched with alarm over the past few years as DIMIA makes appalling mistakes and the manner in which they have treated refugees.

Obviously-it starts at the top. A properly funded and powerful Ombudsman would help. Try getting the NSW Ombudsman to tackle anything – under-funded and too few staff to handle the hundreds of genuine complaints.

Jenny, we did it easy for 50 years

Hi Jenny, good points. We have spent about $3 billion locking up refugees over the past decade and only sent about $90 million to the UNHCR to help 20 million refugees. Woomera alone cost $170 million on a conservative estimate - for 4,000 people only.

Before that they used to arrive, apply for asylum and be granted a living allowance, case officer, and medical and mental health resources.

Now we have two deranged choices.

1.   We spend billions locking up innocent people - the records as known are 7 years for an adult and 5 years 5 months and 20 days for a child.   The former was dragged from his bed last year without ever having a lawyer to help him, was drugged, shackled and sent "home" to Somalia just as the new war broke out.   He has not been heard of since.

The latter won his case in the High Court and was granted refugee protection with his family.

2.    We leave people in the community on bridging visas if they apply after 45 days. Of course, we never tell them they have 45 days to apply or that they can have a lawyer so they fall through the cracks.

We have had kids getting rickets due to starvation rather than the parents beg for food. It is a shameful situation because if they ask for help before the 45 days they get full services and lawyers.

But one thing, Jenny, it is not illegal to arrive: it is a right enshrined in our law.

Three options

What I cannot understand is why it is necessary to put any of the boat people in detention anyway. It is not as if they are likely to go anywhere.

The choices open to the Government are three:

1. If boat people manage to get here illegally, then they are allowed to stay with no questions asked.

With such an open door policy, we must expect more and more to risk the journey by sea, with more SIEV-Xs. 

Security risk is not the issue. Security risk types do not usually lack monetary support to get into any country. The do not need to travel on leaky boats.

2.  Arrivals are detained for however long it takes to check out their true status.

We know the humanitarian outcomes of such a policy.

3. Arrivals are settled into public housing with all the benefits of legal residents and their claims processed, taking whatever time is required. 

Many will succeed in gaining residency. The balance will face the trauma of deportation after years of living in hope.

The first option is the most humanitarian in the short term. Over time it would likely become unsustainable.

I think the problem that really needs addressing is the time taken by DIMA to process applications. Six years or more is patently ridiculous. If appeal processes are the problem, then that needs to be tightened up.    

The detaining of people in error is another matter. Clearly the system is fatally flawed. Like all systems, it should be able to be fixed.

book review?

I've got a book called Acting from the heart: Australian advocates for asylum seekers tell their stories (Finch, 2007) edited by Sarah Mares Louise Newman. Would someone like to review it for Webdiary? If so, let me know by email and I'll send it to you. mlkingston@gmail.com

It flies....

Roger Fedyk, that was beautiful.  Up it goes on the 'fridge.

It's worth sending to all the newspapers - and do it more than once.  It's bound to get a few hits.


Richard: Same here!

what a tangled web we weave, when first we ...

"... practice to deceive".

Much gratitude for the acuity of Solomon Wakeling who has thoughtfully provided this accessible, straightforward and non jargonese essay from Dr. Lynda Crowley-Cyr.

About three quarters way through but eyes are giving up the ghost. In the meantime commend above to any halfway serious WD'st – specific examples within subject, subject as specific example itself and relating to more generalised universal insights and comments.

Compare Haneef to this scumbag's case

Have a careful read of this case and then remember that Haneef will be deported no matter what.

Compare Haneef's case to...

... the numerous people training in different fields who are thinking about filling in visa applications to come and help us mine the uranium.

Can We Defend Our Government?

Governing wisely, lawfully and fairly is not an easy task. Our ministers and their servants are asked daily to perform their duty with the wisdom of Solomon (not Wakeling :-). They will sometimes fail with devastating consequences.

But if the circumstances of governing is onerous, and failure inevitable, there is at least one thing that should provide an ameliorating beacon: a simple owning up to the mistake and a heartfelt apology (and recompense).

Many are willing to make the case that Howard, Ruddock, Vanstone, Downer et al are/were hard-nosed politicians doing their best at a difficult thing when trying to protecting us and improve our lot.

Unfortunately, what it does not make them is an example of how human beings can make the world a better place. It does not make them a role model for our children to follow. It does not make them worthy recipients of honours that a grateful world can be bestow such as when it acknowledges Nobel Laureates.

What it does make me is angry and heartsick, that one human being's life is worthless when compared to some perceived national good or advantage or law. It would seem clear then that to become a good leader requires you to leave your humanity hanging on a hook behind the laundry door. When you’re done being a hard-nosed bastard you can dust it off and slip it back on.

If Howard has no regrets over the moral tone that he has set under his 11 years of leadership then perhaps he never had anything to hang on the hook in the first place. Many have encouraged him to say Sorry to the indigenous Australians but he needs to extend his apology to all Australians. Our country has become distinctly uncomfortable, John, thanks to you.

We may have become notionally wealthier under your watch but we have become impoverished of the things that we need and used to value, in particular "a fair go". The "fair go" Australia has disappeared. I hope it will return after you have gone.

Federal Court

I recommend this article by Lynda Crowley-Cyr on the issue of mental health and immigration detention, with a portion dealing with Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez. I spoke with Lynda and met her earlier this year for a journalism assignment and was impressed by her knowledge and common sense. The lack of appropriate treatment and punitive nature of the administration of the mandatory detention regime clearly could have done nothing but make Cornelia's condition worse. Crowley-Cyr cites S v Secretary, DIMIA where the federal court found that the C'th breached their duty of care and exacerbated the illnesses of detainees with mental health issues.

I also recall an Ombudsman's report from as far back as 2001 stating that the immigration detention system suffered from systematic deficiencies in the management of detainees. 

One of the consistent structural criticisms I've seen voiced comes from the outsourcing of health care services in detention centres, with little or no oversight by the department. Clearly DIAC needs more than a name change.

duty of care

Even if you don't agree with everything Mary J. says, you can't argue with the duty of care aspect. If people for some reason are detained here – legally or illegally according to some viewpoints – one presumes that basic shelter, food, educational, legal and health, etc, needs are still attended to.

You don't want to here of genuinely ill people denied access to health or psychiatric care, you don't want to hear of beatings and solitary incarceration, you don't want to hear of denial of access to legal advice or visits from family and friends.

You feel outraged at people cut off half through emergency medical treatment. And what about bright younger people with a life in front of them, who have made the transitions to citizenship, who have become enculturated to Australian norms, and are then pitched back into third world slums with illness and possibility of death as plausible outcomes as the result of an arbitrary, capricious or even spiteful ministerial or bureaucratic whim?

We know from what has happened to Dr Haneef most recently that politicians assurances as to humane or fair treatment to people caught up in atypical situations are not worth tuppence.

We know different now, if only circumstantially from uncovered abuses in other social fields such as Aboriginal policy, where victims are also blamed or denigrated as recalcitrants. We realise that if abuses happen in other areas we can guess the likelihood of the same occurring with immigration/refugees, no matter what pen pusher secrecies are furtively applied to suppress uncomfortable truths.

When the system itself is responsible for a person's downfall or callously withholds urgent help for some one when they are down and in actual danger, even the most conservative of us must begin to ask questions as to absented civilised established values. This includes the so-called "Aussie Values" politicians have such problems in conceptualising or elaborating upon, such as the "fair go".

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