"we now live with indefinite expectation..."
UPDATED: hungerstrike September 2007
There's something eerie about refugees, locked up and away from their human rights, celebrating World Refugee Week - but that's exactly what happened in the week of 17th to 23rd June with the Sri Lankans we sent to Nauru after they sought Australia's protection. Now almost for 6 months, the letter they sent to Project SafeCom, voices what should be regarded as the first unmistakable signs of desperation, and the onset of 'loss of hope'.
The fact that the Sri Lankans use the phrase "we now live with indefinite expectation" should ring the alarm bells of any mental health worker or psychiatrist. We've started the slow process of destroying the lives of 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Thank you, Mr Howard!
In addition, this page now also features photos and media reports about the hungerstrike, started in the beginning of September 2007.
23 September 2007: Sri Lankans: you're all refugees, but not in Australia! - "What kind of country has Australia become? This is the question Australians again have to ask themselves in the wake of the Federal Government's disturbing decision to deny 72 Sri Lankans, who have been found to be genuine refugees, the right to settle in Australia."
18 March 2007: The Sri Lankans: being a refugee just ain't cricket... - There's a widespread consensus amongst journalists, reporters and commentators that John Howard eventually closed Nauru, and that it was Labor that resurrected offshore processing. It's not true, Howard never closed Nauru. The deportation of 83 Sri Lankans to Nauru in 2007, under Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, marked one of Howard's last callous anti-asylum seeker acts. The Sri Lankans were flown to Nauru after a secret plan hatched by Alexander Downer to dump them back in Indonesia, collapsed.
Three photographs of the September 2007 Hungerstrike. Click the thumbnails to open the larger images.
Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka
Monday, September 03, 2007
By Poornima Weerasekara
The Sri Lankans detained on the Pacific island of Nauru went on a hunger strike yesterday in protest of the six-month stalemate on their claims for asylum in Australia.
"We have undertaken the hunger strike as we are deeply hurt and disappointed by the fact that the Australian Government has been delaying the decision about our plea for political asylum," an asylum seeker, A. Sujee told the Daily Mirror on an email interview.
"We are just living corpses," he added.
"Although we faced certain visa application interviews, we don't have a clue about our visa status. No one has given us information as to whether they are being processed and what is causing this delay," he added.
50 of the 83 refugees are participating in the hunger strike. "Eating three meals a day does not mean living? It is for this reason we have decided to avoid the three meals and face whatever is in store in respect of our future," stated a letter sent by the asylum seekers to the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer and UNHCR Pacific Regional Office Senior Protection Officer, Ellen Hansen.
"We are frustrated despite the lapse of six months and despite the existence of many countries that offer asylum to political refugees no final decision has been taken about eighty three of us," it said.
The hunger strike came after the Nauru Government confined the 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to the detention camp after five of them were charged with sexual assault on a Nauru woman and one was charged with rape last week.
The 83 men were intercepted in international waters by the Australian navy in February 2007, after setting sail from Indonesia. They were first held in Christmas Island and then sent to the detention camp in Nauru under the Australian government's controversial "Pacific Solution".
Under the so-called Pacific Solution, unauthorised boat arrivals who do not reach the Australian mainland are processed in offshore centres like Nauru, to be resettled in a third country, without access to the Australian legal system.
The 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were to be resettled in the US, once their applications were processed.
Jewel Topsfield Canberra
September 14, 2007
ALLEGATIONS that hunger-striking Sri Lankan asylum seekers were treated with saline past its expiry date have prompted a renewed call from the Human Rights Commissioner that he be allowed to visit the detention centre on Nauru.
The asylum seekers emailed photographs of themselves being treated in hospital during last week's hunger strike, including a close-up of a saline bag with an expiry date of May 2007.
Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes yesterday said the allegation reinforced the need for an independent assessment of the detention centre on Nauru.
He wrote to Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews in May requesting access to the Nauruan offshore processing centre as part of his regular inspection of detention centres in Australia.
His request was denied on the grounds the commission had no jurisdiction.
"I don't understand what the problem is. I accept it is different from onshore centres but everyone benefits from an independent assessment," he said.
"I believe it's within our jurisdiction."
The Age was unable to obtain comment from the hospital.
Meanwhile, Mr Andrews said he would work with countries who take refugees to try to find homes for the 72 Sri Lankans on Nauru who were this week found to be genuine refugees.
"We will try and expedite this as quickly as we can," he told the ABC.
Refugee advocates had claimed the men could be left on Nauru after the Government announced they would not be allowed to settle in Australia.
Mr Andrews denied the men would be sent to the US under a contentious refugee swap program, which would see Cuban refugees from Guantanamo Bay be resettled in Australia.
"This is not a refugee swap with the US," Mr Andrews said.
The Sri Lankans sent some photos with their letter. Click the thumbnails to open the larger images.
The period of 17th to 23rd June each year is celebrated all over the world as the refugee week. These days are spent so that attention is focused to raise voice on behalf of the people who have been made refugees all over the world and to look after the welfare of these people. We underwent enormous hardships in our country and fled fearing persecution and now we have sought refugee from the Australian government and the Australian people. In this backdrop, we are now putting forward to the Australian people and the government a humble request as we have not yet been granted refugee status. As we have not yet been granted refugee status, we now live in Nauru, filled with the feeling of deception, after making claims for refugee status hoping that the Australian government and the people. World focus has now turned on world refugees. During these days we wish to put forward our request to you to make our future better.
When we were fighting for our lives in deep seas the Australian Navy rescued us and gave us life. When we landed in the Christmas Island, the welcome accorded to us made us to feel that we have been given another life. When the Australian department of Immigration and Citizenship interview us we all described the atrocities and mistreatment we underwent in our country. We waited until our problems could be redressed by completing all the necessary processing and resettling us within a certain period of time. Enabling us to live like free people, like every other human being. Although his was the case we were told that we will be taken to Nauru Island for processing of our cases. We arrived in Nauru Island respecting the decision made by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and without causing any problems.
Although we are unable to get all the basic facilities, our expectations were positive in relation to future. As we expected officers of DIAC came for the interviews very soon. They would have by now known our claims for refugee status. Our expectations after that were that we will have a safe and good future. However so far we have not received any results. The present situation has created a hopeless situation for us all, after we suffered in our home country, in which there is no respect for human rights and human life, and came to Australia for refugee, a country which respects human rights and human life. We came to seek refuge for our life but even now we are just living corpses.
It is true that each and every one of us is still filled the hope that the future will be safe and secure. We are very worried that we are just wasting our time energy and young people, instead of building our life. This is the time in which the international community condemns and criticizes the atrocities and cruelties in Sri Lanka, and we suffered at their hands and left that country. We feel deceived as we have not yet been recognized as refugees. We are desperate because, although we suffered mistreatment in our country, we have not yet been granted safety and recognized as refugees. Many others in Sri Lanka are unable to flee the country and some of them have sought orders from judges to be in prison so that they could be safe there. They live there with three meals and safety. Like them we feel that we are in a prison, in an open country, in which we have already lived three months. (We had already lived in the charismas island for one month) those who are in the prisons in our country have the opportunity to meet their relatives and spend time with them we are very worried over the fact that although we hoped and relied on the Australian government and country we have now been left in isolation.
We are well aware of the fact that we entered the Australian territorial waters illegally. We were compelled to this option and we did not have any other alternative to save our lives. We are in the fact ready to apologize at any time to the Australian people and the Australian government. We now feel that we have now been punished for this particular act. Are we facing the punishment in the island of Nauru in a very similar manner to the situation in Quantanamo Bay detention centre in the US? We are now filled with this fear. As far as the inmates there is a sentence time. But in our case there has not been any time which we have to spend in Nauru. So we are desperately. Waiting day by day, counting each day. Sri Lanka is at least advanced in literacy rate. We left from such a country and we will never pose any threat or danger to Australia. You would have known this though the Sri Lankan who live in Australia.
Every country has its planning and implementation and time is essential for all these procedures. It is true that Australia, which is one of the western country, is very efficient in administration that Sri Lanka. In our situation whenever we ask someone, we get the answer that the proper time has not yet come. We therefore live now with indefinite expectation. But you, Australians, have the power to change this situation. We entirely rely on you and sincerely ask to you spend some time for us to remember our plight. You could put some pressure or raise your voice for us and expedite the processing of our cases and our resettlement. Therefore we humbly request you to speak on our behalf so that our cases will be proceed expeditiously and our resettlement is carried out quickly.
Undersigned are the Sri Lankan Asylum seekers
in Nauru at the Processing Centre
Telephone: +67 4444 3503
Fax: +61 294754844
Sydney Morning Horald
July 5, 2007
THE 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers detained on Nauru for more than three months are frustrated and isolated, and feel deceived by the Australian Government.
More than 50 of them were interviewed by immigration officials without a lawyer, a refugee advocate has said. They did not know they had the right to see a lawyer and say the Government did not inform them, said Wicki Wickiramasingham, the chairman of Justice and Freedom for Ceylon Tamils. "I talked to them yesterday [July 3]. They have no experience like this; they have been more than three months in Australian custody," he said.
Mr Wickiramasingham said only 27 of the group had insisted on, and were then allowed, legal representation. Those without legal representation fear they may be disadvantaged in their appeals.
The last of the interviews for those refugees with lawyers will be completed this week. "Many were frightened if they refused to be interviewed they would be sent back," he said. "Only now are they realising their mistake."
The Sri Lankan detainees, almost all young men in their 20s, appealed to Australians to remember their plight. "The present situation has created a hopeless situation for all of us, after we suffered in our home country, in which there was no respect for human rights and human life, and came to Australia for refuge," said a letter signed by 70 of the detainees.
The men say the world condemns the atrocities in Sri Lanka, which forced them to leave, but "we feel deceived we have not yet been recognised as refugees".
Mr Wickiramasingham said one man told him he had seen five friends shot in front of him by the army in Trincomalee, on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
They are concerned about comments by the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, that even if they were granted official refugee status they would not come to the mainland. "Our efforts will be aimed at settling them elsewhere," he said in March.
A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said yesterday it was government policy to seek resettlement in a third country.
July 5, 2007 - 1:59PM
Sri Lankan asylum seekers claim to have been turned into "living corpses" after five months detained on Nauru, as refugee advocates raised fears for their mental health.
The 83 asylum seekers were sent to the tiny South Pacific island nation for processing after their boat was intercepted by the navy off Christmas Island in February.
In an emotional letter to "the Australian people" pleading for refugee status, the detainees said they had been placed in a hopeless situation, with their future in limbo.
"We suffered in our home country, in which there is no respect for human rights and human life, and came to Australia for refuge, a country which respects human rights and human life," the Sri Lankans wrote in the letter published online by WA-based refugee rights group Project SafeCom.
"We came to seek refuge for our life but even now we are just living corpses.
"We therefore live now with indefinite expectation."
The detainees said Australians had the power to change their situation, and urged voters to support their claims.
"As we have not yet been granted refugee status, we now live in Nauru, filled with the feeling of deception, after making claims for refugee status hoping that the Australian government and the people (would support us)," the letter said.
Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said the letter suggested the asylum seekers' mental health had deteriorated during their time on Nauru.
"This letter should ring the alarm bells of any mental health worker or psychiatrist," Mr Smit said.
"While the construction of the letter is very clear and leaves no doubt about the Sri Lankans' feeling about how they have been treated by Australian authorities, the letter also shows in the use of the one sentence about 'indefinite expectation', the first sign of how Australia's very process of refugee determination erodes normal people's mental health."
Comment has been sought from the office of Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.
© 2007 AAP