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One of the cries for help thrown across the fence by detainees at the Woomera detention centre during Easter 2002. The note was wrapped around a small rock

Reuniting families: Howard and Ruddock's hypocrisy

John Howard was deaf to the plight of Shahraz Kayani, who set fire to himself on the steps of Australia's parliament because he needed his family with him;

Philip Ruddock spoke scathingly of Iraqi women who protested from treir Nauru prison;

Two brothers were deliberately kept apart from each other for years, and for years, two SIEVX survivors were refused permanent protection.

The UN Refugee convention family reunion clauses leave two family men stone cold this Easter, writes Project SafeCom founder Jack H. Smit

Reuniting families: Howard and Ruddock's hypocrisy

20 April 2003
By Jack H Smit

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard is a family man, and he wants those who vote for him to know that he is a family man. But the myth of the family values is only of value to Howard if he can manipulate Australian public opinion - he's not interested in ethical congruence, but in votes.

When it counts as a core value, Howard, and with him Ruddock, Australia's Immigration Minister, show an appalling contempt for the place of the family in society, and for internationally agreed values, treaties, and conventions relating to the concept of 'family'.

The Howard government shows so much contempt for the family unit, that if they were prosecuted in the appropriate courts of law in another time and in another place, Howard and Ruddock would be likely to spend the rest of their lives in prison. This article explores some examples of how Australian law makes this corruption pass by under our very eyes.

A Citizen on fire

In April 2001 an Australian citizen set himself ablaze in front of Parliament House in Canberra.

Shahraz Kayani, a former Pakistani refugee, had received word from the Australian Department of Immigration, also known as DIMIA, that his application for family reunion with his family, more specifically with his daughter who has cerebral palsy, had been rejected.

Apart from the disgusting nature of this decision by DIMIA in terms of government-endorsed discrimination, it represents a clear example of a breach by the Australian government of one of the core principles of the refugee convention: the right to family reunion. Green Left Weekly at the time reported that an ombudsman's investigation concluded that the Kayani family had been subjected to inhumane delays, defective processing, bias against the family and broken promises from the immigration department. [1]

The desperate man's daughter was deemed being unsuitable for this family reunion. This appalling state of discrimination is a result of one of the many "stitch-ups" of the Australian Migration Act - the act also governing issues of asylum seekers and refugees under Ruddock's regime.

While the right-wing of Australian politics might well create a place under the terms of migrant assessment for this type of assessment of migrants, for asylum seekers it is a breach of infinitely more severe quality and consequences. It shows that refugees should never be subject to an Act that addresses migration issues: Australia should have its own separate Refugee Act which interprets and clarifies Australia's obligations under the UN Convention.

The Australian Migration Act [as well as the Social Security Act] is "exempt from incorporating the guidelines [of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act] into their policies and practices. This exemption allows the government to legally discriminate against people with a disability who wish to migrate or seek asylum in the country. This is despite the Australian Government being signatory to many of the United Nations Conventions which all aim to provide protection for people with disabilities." [2]

Seven women throwing stones

In December 2002, seven Iraqi women, locked up indefinitely in the Topside detention centre on Nauru started a protest at the fence. They took some rocks and threw them at the guards.

They could no longer wait. Seven men - the women's husbands - are living as bona fide refugees in the Australian community. Under the terms of the UN Refugee convention, these women are by definition also bona-fide refugees. Not so under the Australian version of the UN refugee convention. According to the Minister, Philip Ruddock, who embodies the pinnacle of human misery in refugee policies, they are 'rejectees', awaiting deportation.

Here is the second "stitch-up" of the Migration Act doing its dirty work: Australia created its own version of the UN refugee convention by adopting a series of Visa classes, especially designed to 'stop the hordes of refugees trying to come to Australia' and find a permanent home on this, the emptiest landmass on planet earth incorporated as a nation.

The Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) is just valid for three years. During those three years, the holder cannot leave Australia - no special circumstances are waiving this - even if a spouse or anyone in the family gets ill, is dying, or is otherwise in difficulty in another country. The 'approved refugee', who holds the TPV may happily live in the Australian community, while the spouse or the rest of the family may be scheduled for deportation. The case of the Nauru women is one of the gruesome cases in which this severe breach of human rights conventions is exemplified.

Blood brothers, miles apart

In October 2001, Sayeed and his brother came to Australia on SIEV-6 (?). Both of them were locked up in the Curtin detention centre. Under the 'great care' of the then detention centre manager Greg Wallis, who over time has developed a name as 'the infamous one' amongst refugees and refugee advocates because of his merciless dealings with detainees, the brothers were locked up in separate compounds at Curtin. They had no contact with each other while they were at the Curtin detention centre.

These days Sayeed lives in the Perth detention centre. His brother lives in the Baxter detention centre. The two men haven't seen each other since they arrived in Australia.

We do not just withhold the right to family reunion from the odd asylum seeker here and there. Australia's "stitch-up" of the Migration Act is designed in many ways to make life into a torturous hell on a grand scale.

The Temporary Protection Visa, the best deal Howard, Ruddock and their cohorts can come up with, has been designed for this purpose: you can only stay in Australia for a maximum of three years, you are not allowed to travel away from Australia to see your wife or children - no matter where they are. And your family is not entitled to join you in Australia, no matter how hard you try.

Sondos and Ahmed

Australia is also on the record for mercilessly allowing people to die at sea who come here.

Fremantle's ALP member Carmen Lawrence recently noted that of the people who tried to come to Australia on the fated voyage of SIEV X - where 353 asylum seekers drowned in the run-up to the 2001 Federal election in International waters (and not in Indonesian waters, as Howard told Australians a few thousand times by now), 142 women and 146 children, all Iraqis by the way, undertook the perilous journey just to claim their perceived right under the UN refugee convention - to be re-united with their fathers and husbands:

"The government felt such pity for the plight of Saddam's victims that it turned its back on the foundering SIEV X and allowed 353 of people to drown, victims of either indifference or a deliberate strategy of sabotage, or in the chillingly clinical language of this government, a "disruption" program. The majority of these poor souls were Iraqi, 142 women and 146 children trying to join their husbands and fathers here on temporary protection visas which cruelly deny them family reunion." [3]

Democrats' Senator and leader Andrew Bartlett comments on family values, the role of the ALP in the lead-up to the "Tampa election" and the SIEV X victims, Sondos and Ahmed:

"It needs to be highlighted that the one party that I do not think can make any claim to standing on principle in relation to migration matters is the ALP. I noted in the debate in the lower house Dr Emerson saying that bipartisanship on the migration program was shattered in 1988 when the current Prime Minister, the then opposition leader, declared that he thought there might be too many Asians coming into the country."

"There may have been some difference in some aspects, but let us not forget the massive show of bipartisanship between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party leading up to the last election, particularly in the area of destroying families and keeping families apart. The member for Lowe, Mr Murphy, spoke in the lower house about his strong support for family reunion. In natural law alone it is intrinsic that parents be cared for by their children, and this is done through family reunion."

"Not only is he preventing family reunion by opposing this bill but also the Labor Party supported the government's introduction of the temporary protection visa, specifically aimed at keeping families separated-and not just parents from their children, but spouses from their partners and their children."

"A more direct shattering of family reunion opportunities has never occurred before in this nation's history. We are seeing the direct consequences of that in the community. Many refugees are suffering hugely, not just because they have hanging over their heads the prospect of returning to a place where they face genuine persecution, but because they are not able to reunite with their families. We have families with one person on Nauru and another in Australia."

"We have the outrageous situation at the moment where a family that lost three children that drowned on the SIEV X are at risk of being separated again, just after they have had another child and are trying to rebuild their family. One of them has a four-year visa and the other has an expired visa and is in danger of being deported. That is all because of the Labor Party's support for the temporary protection visa. So do not come in here or the lower house and talk about having support for the sanctity of the family and family reunion. Spare us the humbug." [4]

Good for the goose, but not for the gander

Strange, how sometimes the Howard and Ruddock refugee policy at times suddenly becomes very interested in family issues. Family statements suddenly popped up in relation to the young Iraqi girl Azeera. As a pamphlet by Rural Australians for Refugees in September 2002 tells us: "Nine year old Azeera was a child in primary school in Iraq. One day she left her classroom to go to the toilet, and was raped by a male cleaner inside the toilet block.

Her father went to the police, but because he was from a minority group persecuted by Saddam Hussein, he was beaten, had some bones broken and one testicle crushed. His family found him, and packed a few bags and fled that night.

Six terrible months later, this family were landed by people smugglers on Ashmore Reef, and were taken to Port Hedland Detention Centre. And they are still there. Azeera, now eleven, is terrified to go to the distant toilet block at nighttime.

This little girl barely speaks, cries out in her sleep, has darkened sunken eyes. Her father has health and mental problems from his plight. Psychiatrists and nurses have pleaded for the family to be released, but Mr. Ruddock has a policy of not releasing children "because their families have to stay in detention". [5]

This shocking story points to the extreme lengths Ruddock goes to in defending his appalling set of policies: the use of principles relating to family values in the most blatant way. When it suits the occasion, Ruddock refers to keeping families together in defending what cannot be defended.

Sara and Safdah's Bali bombing

Ruddock's hypocrisy is extraordinary in its blatancy and in its cold, calculating and spiritually dead mercilessness. Take the following story:

In March 2003 Ruddock mentioned family reunion principles, but - of course, and as Australia's refugee advocates have come to expect, not while referring to his own broken record of failures to abide by these UN provisions.

While speaking on the ABC's 7.30 Report about Ibrahim Sammaki, the heartbroken Woomera detainee who lost his wife in the Bali bombing, he referred to Indonesia's obligation under the family reunion provisions under the Convention for the rights of the child. [6]

Ruddock had the audacity to suggest that if Indonesia accepted residency for the three little motherless children who were found to have lived in an Indonesian prostitution residence after their mother's death, they would also have to oblige to take the father in - who has been denied this compassionate privilege by Australia: Ibrahim has been incarcerated for almost two years in Woomera. All his attempts to reunite his family in Australia - the reason he took a boat to come here, hopefully ahead of his wife, failed.

And just now, in the week prior to Easter, henchman Ruddock finds a justification in refusing a holiday visa for the little children, stuck in Indonesia. This inhuman situation, created by Ruddock in his calculating way, at all times claiming to protect the immigration system of Australia, will now result in the children Sara and Safdah being banned to Indonesia without their father, and Ibrahim eternally doomed to Baxter hell, ruled with a merciless fist by Ruddock.

UK's first lady Cherie Blair summarized it aptly last week, when she compared the plight of asylum seekers to that of Jews in Nazi Germany, and when she suggested that Australia may not have the right to call itself democratic if asylum seekers were denied human rights. [7]

Ruddock and Howard, during this Easter, in their respective churches, will no doubt feel well about themselves and their cosy family unions. But one can imagine that the hundreds of demonstrators at the Baxter detention centre could within this context be likened to one man, standing up, rolling a tombstone away, and with haste taking action to right the wrongs of Australia's atrocities in his own unique and radical way.

Jack H Smit is the founder and coordinator of Project SafeCom.


[1] From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002 - 'More government refugee lies exposed', by Kerryn Williams, as found online at:

[2] From "Disabled? Sorry We Can't Afford it", by Kylie Young and Eloise Finlay - as posted on "Women in Action" website. Article found online at this location: (April 2008: no longer on this address)

[3] From Carmen Lawrence, The Sydney Morning Herald, "Why are Australians being sent to kill Iraqis?" - Published 19 February 2003. Article found online at this location:

[4] Extracted from Senate Hansard, 5 March 2003, page 9105

[5] From a pamphlet: 'What's the story' by Rural Australians for Refugees, September 2002.

[6] ABC 7.30 Report, Wednesday 26 March 2003: Family still in limbo after Bali bombing. Online at:

[7] Cherie Blair addressed an international law conference in Melbourne on 14 April 2003. See The Herald Sun at: (April 2008: no longer on this address),5478,6284901%255E662,00.html