Sunday, April 22, 2007

Young gay man suffering homophobic abuse in refugee detention

Warning: This is a heartbreaker. I wish he didn't think he had to go into so much detail to plead his case. But, it's not my job to edit his story, just honor it. It's breaking my heart cos I've met the guy, and haven't talked with him, cos he's just hung around silently, but God, now I know all this about him, okay, deep breath, enough about me, here's the story as Rachel posted it:

This is Ali's story. He would love it for people to call him/ visit him/ publish his case. Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) will visit/ do an action soon. Rachel Evans 0403 798 420.

ALI B HUMAYUN - (DOB: 29 / 01 / 1981) Detention ID: VW10883 Stage 1, Villawood Immigration Detention Centre -15 Birmingham Avenue - Villawood NSW 2163. Mob: 0434 109 387

Dear Rachael,
I heard about your organization (Community Action Against Homophobia) through someone I met here at the detention centre (at Villawood). He used to be my cellmate at one point and was released into the Australian community a few months ago. I write to you because I feel that your organization may be able to offer some assistance. Let me briefly describe my circumstances. I am a Pakistani national. I traveled to Australia in early 2000 on a Student visa. I was enrolled at the University of Canberra where I studied for three (3) years before dropping out owing to depression.

I was born into a conventional Pakistani household. My father was a military officer (is now retired) and mum was a teacher. She still teaches. I remember living as a toddler in a military neighborhood with my family. This neighborhood was comprised of families just like mine, where the fathers were all military officers. Since the age of six (possibly earlier) I began being sexually assaulted and abused. I was put through many years of systematic sexual abuse at the hands of an organized, closely-knit network of pedophiles. These predators were male servants assigned to my father and to my mates' fathers as help around the house (cleaners, cooks, drivers etc).

They (the pedophiles) would get us together at either my house or one of my mates' (while our parents would be at work), and would then sexually abuse us and have group intercourse with us. My mates and I were made to have intercourse with each other, as well as with all these adult men who were abusing us. At other times I was abused and assaulted by myself, at home, sometimes by one and sometimes by multiple attackers. All my life I suffered in silence. I never told a soul about what was happening to me.

I somehow graduated high school and came to Australia to pursue further (university) study. My first sexual encounter with a girl was in 2002, at university in Australia. Vivid memories of years of sexual abuse suddenly surfaced as a result and I went into deep depression. I was unable to function in bed with my then girlfriend and our relationship soon crumbled. I never told her what was wrong with me or what I had suffered in the past. I was unable to hold down a job, unable to cope with the pressures of uni (assignment deadlines, exam preparations etc), and unable to function as an adult in general. I soon withdrew from society and isolated myself in my room on university campus, and abused alcohol daily. I was expelled from university in 2003, and in January 2005 I was brought to the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. I have been resident here since.

A year and a half ago I began a same-sex relationship with a fellow inmate / detainee. He is of Spanish origin and was recently released into the community after having his permanent residence reinstated. He continues to regularly visit me at the detention centre and our relationship is strong and thriving. I have been feeling very down and depressed again lately, for about two months (the period of time my boyfriend has been outside in the community). I am the only person here at the detention centre that is known to be currently involved in a same-sex relationship. I am taunted and tormented by majority of the detainees as a result. The name of your organization suggests that I may be seeking assistance from the right source.

I applied for asylum last year on grounds of my sexual orientation and in fear of persecution (owing to my sexuality) if returned to Pakistan. I did not apply for asylum / protection previously because my plan was to graduate from university and apply for permanent residence on basis of my degree. After coming into immigration detention, as a last resort I have applied for refugee status, which I have been declined (of course, because hell will freeze over before the Refugee Review Tribunal decides to grant refugee status to persons on basis of their sexual orientation). Nonetheless, this has enabled me to prevent my deportation back to Pakistan for the time being.

I have exhausted my avenues of appeal and am currently in the process of writing to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and requesting him to exercise his discretion on humanitarian grounds and substitute the decision of the Tribunal with a more favorable one. I've got my fingers crossed but am not holding my breath (I've grown used to disappointment after disappointment during time spent in detention).

A vast percentage of detainees here at the detention centre were previously inmates at prison(s). I am willing to bet anything that at least some of them would harbor homosexual feelings, but are too ashamed to come out of the closet (especially those that have done long spells in prison). Instead they focus their energies on taunting and tormenting those of us who do have the courage to be true to ourselves (namely only my boyfriend and I; but now I am left all alone to suffer by myself in this hell with its homophobic inhabitants). The rest of the detainee population comprises of people that mainly come from poor, third-world countries (such as myself) that are simply too ignorant to even begin to grasp a comprehension of the concept of homosexuality. Out of sheer ignorance, they join in the torment parade. I have been living here for two years and four months, and find myself being taunted by people that arrived two weeks ago. It's so unfair. I've never been incarcerated prior to coming into detention. I've never been charged with or convicted of a criminal offence, in Australia or in my country of origin, Pakistan.

Nobody understands how hard it is. No one knows what a person such as me has to go through in order to come out of the closet. And then when I finally did come out, it was only to be taunted and tormented by everyone around me. I live amongst these people day in and day out and I don't know how much more of their hellish torment I can take. I know I am depressed because for example, I am unable to derive joy or satisfaction from activities that were previously very enjoyable to me (such as playing guitar). I have once again isolated myself from everybody around me (just like I once did at university, when I first went into depression). I do not talk to anyone anymore.

All my life I have had trust-issues; i.e. I have found it difficult (impossible, rather) trusting people (or at least completely trusting people). I believe this to be attributed to years of sexual abuse at the hands of people that were entrusted by my family with taking care of me while they (my family) were not around. As a result of these individuals breaching the trust of my parents, I believe I am unable to trust anybody. My relationships suffer greatly as a result, and this of course causes me further grief and anguish. Now with all the gay-jokes, the laughter and torment, my world (what's left of it and what's become of it) and my life seem like one big conspiracy. I feel like I am losing my mind; losing my sanity (what's left of it).

I would have sought asylum in Australia a long time ago had I known I was going to experience such difficult and trying times at university and was going to be unable to graduate as a result. Now after coming into detention and being faced with the prospect of deportation, I applied for refugee status as a last resort; a desperate measure since I had no other choice. It's so unfair; people have married after coming into detention, have applied for Spouse visas and have been released into the Australian community as permanent residents. I am not even permitted to wed my partner, whom I dearly love and want to live my life with. It's so unfair. I am especially surprised at the strict laws concerning same-sex marriage because this is Australia, not some poor ignorant third-world country.
Being permitted to remain and live in Australia would provide me with the opportunity to live my life openly and freely, not in secret, and free from oppression and prejudice (from authorities and / or family). The Refugee Review Tribunal seems to believe that I would be able to easily relocate to another part of Pakistan, away from my family, and live my life safely as long as I am discreet about my sexuality. My father for one has disowned me and my elder brother is waiting for me to return home so that he may "take care of me" in the name of the family honor and earn a good name and respect for himself for protecting and upholding the family honor and punishing me for dishonoring them. I have two siblings, both elder to me; a brother and sister. My brother was dishonorably discharged from the Pakistan Army and lives with my parents. My sister lives in another city with her husband and children. My mum and sister both still love me and want me to be safe. Dad and my brother, on the other hand, want me dead.
I can go on and on but I think I will end it here for now, because I don't want to give you too much more than you can digest. Please take this information into account and consideration and please, it is my respectful plea and request to you to try and intervene in my case and possibly assist in resolving my matters. I shall indeed be most grateful and eternally indebted to you and your organization. I take this opportunity to thank you for your time and consideration with respect to my matters. I anxiously await a reply on your part.

Yours Sincerely,

April 19, 2007

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hunger strike against collaboration with murderous Communist dictatorship

I have been visiting people detained in Villawood Immigration Centre for the last two years. Every fortnight, I take the hour long trip out on Sydney’s dodgy train system, because my government has re-instituted Concentration Camps, and I simply cannot be like those in pre-War Nazi Germany who were silent or complicit. (Not that Hitler invented the concentration camp; that was Lord Kitchener, who rounded up the “undesirables” in South Africa a century ago.)

Just what on Earth do we get out of turning away desperate refugees? What do we get from locking them up on sinking islands or sending them back to countries they have already had to flee in terror of their lives? Just what do we get out of a few hundred sick people suffering indefinite immigration detention in our very own concentration camps?

Australia easily (and necessarily) absorbs tens of thousands of immigrants every year? Why do we persecute the few who have overstayed a visa or worked one hour too many while on student visa? They are such a tiny proportion, less than one percent, of our annual immigration. What on Earth do we get out of torturing a token few, wrecking the lives of them and their families, with the taxpayer paying about a hundred and fifty dollars a day per detainee to the private company with the rather Orwellian name, Global Security Limited?

Wouldn’t you want your children to believe in the values of hospitality and offering help to those who need it? Wouldn’t you want your children to believe in and value the mutual support and friendship of the whole family of humanity?

Things are always desperate in there, but there’s currently a hunger strike that has lasted over two weeks, with Chinese asylum seekers terrified of being taken away forcibly in the middle of the night (as one was last week), and handed over to the Communist regime which harvests organs from live prisoners.

Tell your MP that you want to see some family values that actually value families, not just an excuse to attack people who bonk without breeding. Tell Howard that you want Australia to honour the commitment it made in 1951, when we did “decide who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come”, when we signed the UN International Refugee Convention. Tell Howard we want some real 1950’s values, not his hypocritical collaboration with a Communist dictatorship.

I’ll be going back to Villawood in a couple of weeks. When a young woman isolated from her family asks me why she has been locked up indefinitely in the name of the Australian people, what would you like me to tell her?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sydney Easter Actions for Refugees

Solidarity aciton outside Villawood Detention Centre
Thursday 5th April 12-2

Easter Convergence on Kirribilli House
Sunday 8th April - 12 noon Bradfield Park under Nth Side of Habour Bridge
(get off at Milsons Point station)

Solidarity Visit @ Villawood Detention Centre
Monday 9th April - 12-2
Meet at 12 noon outside Villawood Detention Centre
Endorsed by Refugee Action Coalition, Stop the War Coalition, NSW Justice Network, Community Action Against Homophobia.

To visit Villawood detention centre, go to Birmingham Ave, ChesterHill. Get to LeightonfieldStation - serviced by Inner West and Bankstownlines.

below news article from

Australian immigration detainees launch hunger strike
By Mike Head 4 April 2007

About 60 prisoners at one of Australia’s notorious immigration detention centres launched a hunger strike on March 28 to protest against a new wave of refugee deportations, including the removal to China of a 35-year-old female member of the Falun Gong sect. As of yesterday, 25 detainees were continuing the fast into its second week.

Despite receiving almost no coverage in the mainstream media, the protest at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre—the scene of scores of previous hunger strikes—once again serves to highlight the inhumanity of the Howard government’s mandatory detention of all asylum seekers.
Refugee activists said the Chinese woman was wanted by police in her home country for defending Falun Gong practitioners and attempting to expose their persecution. She screamed, awaking the other inmates, as at least six guards dragged her from the detention centre in her pyjamas at 4 a.m. on March 28.

The guards, employed by Global Solutions Ltd, the private company that runs the centre, were acting under the instructions of the immigration department, following the failure of two previous efforts to deport the woman. The government flouted an agreement it had made with detainees to give 48 hours’ notice of any removal.

That same night, on March 28, a Tanzanian asylum seeker was taken to hospital after slashing himself with broken glass. His condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

The hunger strikers have raised three demands: an end to forcible removals, the abolition of mandatory detention, and reports from the government on the fate of previously deported refugees, numbers of whom are known to have been killed or imprisoned on their return.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has contemptuously denied any knowledge of the action. She confirmed that the woman had been placed on a flight to China, and claimed that the detention centre was calm after a “bit of noise”.

Two weeks before the Chinese woman’s removal, two other detainees were deported: a Nepalese man, locked in Villawood for three years, and a Filipino woman. Earlier in February, six people were deported from Villawood, including three Chinese asylum seekers.

On March 27, the day before the hunger strike began, up to 40 detainees protested about another Chinese national, An Xiang Tao, being confined in an isolation cell. An was isolated after being taken to hospital with head wounds that he apparently inflicted on himself when detainees were told that he was being removed to China.

An, also a Falun Gong practitioner, arrived in Australia in 2000 and had been in detention for four years before his deportation was ordered by the Federal Court earlier this year. About 100 Villawood detainees of many different nationalities formed a human blockade to prevent that taking place in late February.

The government’s forced removals are blatant violations of basic democratic rights, as well as international refugee law. It is well known that Chinese deportees face religious and political persecution in China. The Chinese government banned the Falun Gong spiritual group in 1999 and has subjected its supporters to imprisonment and various forms of repression.
An and eight other asylum seekers have taken a case to the Australian government’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) for human rights transgressions and racial discrimination in Villawood. The action was brought after a number of Chinese officials visited the country in 2005, and were permitted to question 24 Villawood detainees.

The interrogations gave An and other Chinese detainees even further reason to fear retribution from Beijing. An’s lawyer, Michaela Byers, told the media: “He fears that they will detain him on arrival, and that he may match someone on a data base who needs an organ transplant.” A report published last year, based on investigations undertaken by a former Canadian cabinet minister, accused Chinese authorities of killing Falun Gong practitioners and selling body parts to foreigners.

Brutal prison conditions

The conditions faced by the detainees in Villawood are nothing short of barbaric.
In October 2005, six Chinese asylum seekers held a hunger strike at Villawood for up to 55 days to protest against mandatory detention and their conditions. The protest exposed the fact that nothing had improved inside the detention centres despite cynical efforts by the Howard government to placate growing public disgust at the systematic mistreatment of asylum seekers and other so-called “illegal immigrants”.

Last November, over a hundred Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese detainees staged a 48-hour hunger strike in protest against the poor and punitive conditions, and the length of their detention. Some had been locked up for more than four years and separated from their families. Senator Amanda Vanstone, immigration minister at the time, provocatively accused the prisoners of trying to “blackmail” the government.

Detainees complained to journalists of being detained for working without permission, and then being made to work at a rate of a dollar an hour, in order to buy phone cards or cigarettes. They said the food was awful, poor in nutrition, taste and variety, despite years of complaints. They also reported that almost all detainees were being dosed with psychiatric medication.
In the same month, an inquiry on behalf of the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work into detention conditions was told by Professor Chris Goddard, director of the National Research Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse at Monash University, that “detention centres generated universal mental ill-health never seen outside a psychiatric hospital”. The co-convener of the inquiry, Professor Linda Briskman from Curtin University, said the inquiry had been told of at least 10 people who had died in detention since 1999.

Last December, Sharif Assad, a Syrian detainee was tied to a bed in Bankstown hospital, not far from the detention centre, for six days after suffering an epileptic seizure. An independent psychologist from the Transcultural Mental Health Services who visited Assad last year recommended his release as the only way to stop his mental health deteriorating. But the Howard government rejected the recommendation.

Renewed scare campaign

In mid-2005, the well-publicised cases of two Australian residents, Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez, who both suffered physical and mental abuse in detention after being wrongly locked up as “illegals”, eventually forced the government to make a deal with a group of its own backbenchers to modify the detention policy. Children and their mothers were permitted to apply for transfers to “community detention”.

This so-called compromise allowed the detention system to continue. As at March 16 this year, 617 people remained imprisoned, including 67 women and children in community detention, more than half of whom had sought refugee protection visas. Of these, 234 were in Villawood, and 82 on the Australian offshore territory of Christmas Island.

Since then, 82 Tamil refugees on Christmas Island have been transported to the remote Pacific island of Nauru. This meant re-opening the Australian-financed detention camp there, just weeks after the final departure of the last two of the hundreds of boat refugees incarcerated since 2001.

Andrews has also signalled a ramping up of the so-called “Pacific Solution” by opening negotiations with Indonesia for it to imprison all refugee boat arrivals and accept the immediate return of any that make it to Australia. The Indonesian government is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and therefore has no formal legal impediment to sending asylum seekers straight back to suffer persecution in the countries they fled.

These developments, combined with the spate of deportations from Villawood, indicate that the Howard government and new immigration minister Andrews are once again ramping up the vilification and scapegoating of refugees in the lead up to a federal election.

In this, as in the infamous 2001 federal election campaign, Howard relies on the complicity of the Labor Party, which is equally wedded to the mandatory detention regime, instigated by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments in the early 1990s. Labor’s immigration spokesman Tony Burke has not uttered a word about the Villawood hunger strike.

In fact, Burke’s last media comment on the Villawood detention centre came during a January 15 press conference, during which he opposed government plans to shut down and relocate the facility. Typically, Burke sought to outdo the government’s scare campaign against asylum seekers by declaring that western Sydney residents feared a new detention centre being placed “in their backyard”.