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Self-harm in Villawood November 2007

Tension, self-harm and protests in Villawood

Tensions rising inside Villawood after detainee slashes in protest...

You don't have to be a refugee to feel and experience the devastation of being in a refugee detention centre.

This page is about the socalled "Section 501 deportees" - all of them long-term Australian residents.

Often they are people who lived in Australia for almost their entire life, and who have already served their sentence as a prison term for more than one year, for crimes they might now deeply regret.

Yet, when the Minister for Immigration after their prison term cancels their visa to live in Australia, they can land in a detention centre for years and years, until they are "removed" from the country.

What's on this page

Just three elements are on this page. Directly below, three disturbing photos to illustrate the predicament of '501 deportees', and then two more elements:

Photo One
Photo Two
Photo Three
"Twenty-four hours after slashing his arms, hands and stomach, a detainee inside the high security stage 1 of Villawood detention centre is still without treatment ... others feel mistreated, abused, both through process or lack of process, or through direct abuse by guards..."

Press Release: More hunger strikes begin

14 Nov 2007
From Ian Rintoul
Refugee Action Coalition NSW

A detainee inside the high security stage 1 of Villawood detention centre is still without treatment, 24 hours after slashing his arms, hands and stomach. The detainee, Hamma Taouk, is presently in discussion with Villawood management having refused treatment since the incident yesterday. He has also begun a hunger strike protest.

The incident occurred when management insisted that all detainees be handcuffed when taken out of the detention centre. Yesterday Mr Hanna Touk had an appointment in the Family Court and refused to be handcuffed for his trip to court. Other detainees told the Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson, Ian Rintoul, that Mr Hanna Touk had been taken from the centre many times before, for court and other reasons, and had never been handcuffed previously. He was not considered a security risk. He is demanding that management reverse the decision to routinely handcuffing detainees.

It seems the management decision to implement routine handcuffing has been taken because of management concerns that protests could erupt inside Stage 1 of the detention centre during the federal election campaign. So called "501 criminal deportees" detainees have recently issued an open letter outlining their plight (text below). Mr Touk is a 501 detainee. It should be stressed that 501 detainees have served their time in prison.

The 501 detainees and their families have been threatening to hold protest action during the election campaign to bring attention to the injustices associated with the Immigration practice. The 501 deportations have continued despite being discredited when Robert Jovicic was left destitute in Serbia after being deported although he had lived in Australia since he was a very young child.

Villawood management has inflamed the tensions when they transferred Mr Pertev Yigit, a Turkish Kurdish asylum seeker, from stage 2 to stage 1 after security found an orange jumpsuit in his bedroom. He apparently intended to wear this as a protest comparing his continued detention, with the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Pertev declared yesterday a complete hunger strike until they will return him to stage 3 and speed up the process of his application.

Another long term detainee, Chairf Asaad, a Syrian asylum seeker was also taken to stage 3 after an epilepsy episode when it is alleged he struck a security officer. Chairif has been suffering long term medical complications and periodic hospitalization. He has been detained for over two and half years with the Immigration department refusing even a bridging visa to allow him to proper treatment for his condition.

The events in Villawood follow revelations of the unlawful detention for over five and half years of Vietnamese born, Tony Tranh.

"The government's whole detention and refugee policy needs to be radically reviewed. The abuses are still going on inside immigration detention," said Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. "We hope that an in-coming Labor government will stick to its promise to hold a Royal Commission into the Immigration department."

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Open letter from Villawood 501 detainees


November 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

From Detainees at Stage One

Villawood Immigration Detention Center
15 Birmingham Avenue - phone (02) 9752-1500
Villawood NSW 2163 Fax (02) 9644-1184

Re: Cancellation of Permanent Residence under Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958.

This letter is on behalf of detainees held at Stage 1, the maximum-security compound of the Villawood Immigration Detention Center. More specifically it is on behalf of those detainees whose Permanent (Residence) Visas have been cancelled under Section 501 of the Migration Act.

Dear Sir/Madam,

This is a plea to the Australian community on behalf of detainees held at Stage 1 of the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

Most detainees held at this maximum-security compound are former Permanent Residents of Australia. They are now held in Immigration detention pending deportation to their respective countries of origin. How did these individuals end up at detention centers meant typically for the purpose of detaining asylum seekers? The answer is a section of the Migration Act 1958 (or Migration Law) namely Section 501, which states that a Permanent (Residence) Visa can be cancelled owing to bad character.

In the context of Migration Law, the term bad character means that if a person has been convicted to serve a prison term of 12 months or over, they are deemed to be of bad character.

Though taken at face value, it may appear logical to deport people who have done time in prison. But upon a closer examination of individual cases, one would be shocked to discover that most of these individuals are ordinary Australians, who have made mistakes in the past. More importantly, they have paid their dues to society by serving their respective prison sentences. It is imperative to point out that the individual who is deemed to be of bad character need not have served one continuous prison term of 12 months or over. No. According to Section 501 of the Migration Law, this term of 12 months or over can either have been served continuously for a single criminal offence, or multiple terms served for multiple offences, so long as the individual multiple custodial sentences add up to a total of 12 months or over.

Think about it. You or I could make relatively minor mistakes and end up in prison for a period of say, a couple of months. Two years later and say perhaps another mistake (be it a traffic infringement) and you end up doing a 2 3 month sentence. So on and so forth, altogether you end up doing a number of terms the sum of which is 12 or more months, and you shall find your Permanent (Residence) Visa cancelled by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

If you look closely at individual cases of s501 cancellation, you shall note that most of these individuals have resided in Australia on a permanent basis for significantly lengthy periods of time, some of them all (or most) of their lives. The only difference between these individuals and someone who does more than 12 months in prison but is released back into the Australian community is that the latter is an Australian citizen whereas permanent residents are taken into Immigration detention and then deported to their respective countries of origin. Basically, their sin is that they failed to take Australian citizenship, a piece of paper that sets them apart from the pedophiles and murderers who are released back into the Australian community only because they are citizens and not merely permanent residents.

More so, once a Permanent (Residence) Visa is cancelled under Section 501 of the Migration Law, the individual is not only deported to their home country, but they are also permanently banned from returning to Australia, ever. As mentioned previously, most of these individuals have lived in Australia for most of their lives. This means that they have strong family and community ties in the Australian community. They have parents resident in Australia, and they also have children resident in Australia. So in essence, the Australian Government is creating the next Stolen Generation.

Just think about it. If you had lived in Australia most of your life, were raised here, were taught everything here, were molded a certain way by the Australian society and the Aussie way of life, and then made minor mistakes that landed you in prison (one or more times) for over 12 months in total, you would be taken into custody by the Department of Immigration (after serving your custodial sentence in prison mind you) and placed in Immigration detention and then deported back to the country you originally traveled to Australia from all those years ago when you were a toddler. You would have to say goodbye to your parents, to your spouse, to your children, your friends, siblings, goodbye to everybody; forever. You would never be able to set foot on Australian soil ever again.

This is exactly what the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (or the Australian Government) is doing. They are taking the middle of three generations and eliminating it forever. They are permanently creating a gap in between the three generations.

Last year the Commonwealth Ombudsman released a comprehensive report into this matter, i.e. the cancellation of Permanent (Residence) Visas under Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958. The report highlighted the fact that during the process of considering whether to cancel an individual's permanent residence, the procedures undertaken were unfair and heavily biased. In most instances, very little if any relevance was given to positive evidence and factors regarding the individual in question, whereas far too much emphasis was laid on the negatives. Far too much weight was given to the adverse evidence relating to the individual. When the legal process is prejudiced and discriminatory, how can a fair and just result be obtained or even expected?

Though these individuals are deemed of being of bad character as defined by Section 501 of the Migration Law, nevertheless they were shaped and molded into becoming whatever they may be by the Australian society. They did not arrive from overseas as criminals. Whatever bad habits they may have picked up, whatever mistakes they may have made, they learned these (bad) habits in Australia and they made mistakes as a result. Now the Government is in effect demonizing these individuals and trying to make them someone else's problem. Now the Australian Government wants to make these individuals another country's problem, by dumping them overseas. Now that these individuals have paid their dues to society and finished their custodial sentences in prison, being deported from Australia, for life, is further punishing them and their entire families, for life. This practice is outright ludicrous.

Even though the Government is deporting them back to their countries of origin, these individuals find themselves having to adapt to an alien country and an alien culture since they have resided in Australia most of their lives. They have already integrated into the Australian community and adapted to the Aussie way of life, and are very much familiar with social and cultural norms and practices. Most of these individuals come from non-English speaking countries, so they also have language and communication difficulties once back in their home country, since they have spoken nothing but English while resident in Australia. They are deported to a country and a culture they know little or nothing about. They have no family or community ties. They have no support network. Most countries do not have Government benefits / financial assistance systems (e.g. Centerlink; the dole). They find themselves struggling to survive in a foreign land. In some cases, individuals have had to resort to crime in order to survive once they have been deported to these countries unknown to them.

One of the more significant aspects of this practice of the Government on Australian permanent residents is the adverse impact deportation carries on their children. Inarguably, it is the children of deportees that suffer the most. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the best interest(s) of the child shall be given primary consideration when considering the cancellation of a Permanent (Residence) Visa under section 501 of the Migration Law. The Commonwealth Ombudsman's report into s501 cancellations highlights the fact that though this UN Convention on the Rights of the Child exists, nevertheless upon close examination it is evident that the best interest of children were not given primary consideration, if given any consideration at all. The need for children to have their father present in their lives was callously disregarded when considering the cancellation of Permanent (Residence) Visas under Section 501. The children of deportees go on suffering for the rest of their natural lives, for their parents' mistakes mistakes that the parents have already paid for mind you, by finishing their custodial sentences in prison. All children need and deserve a father figure in their lives. All children deserve to have both their parents present in their lives. By deporting individuals and imposing upon them a lifetime ban from ever returning to Australia, the Australian Government is condemning Australian children to a life sentence of misery and despair. Tremendous research has been carried out into the adverse psychological ramifications on individuals (parents and their children), as a direct consequence of deporting parents and separating them from their children (and all other family members and friends).

One must ask oneself, is this what Australia is about? Will we allow this cruel and evil practice to continue, right here on Australian soil? Will we continue to allow the Government to act viciously towards Australian permanent residents and punish them for life by deport them and forever separating them from their families? The Australian Government is responsible for creating the next stolen generation. Please, it is our plea to our fellow community members, to please get behind us and support us in our plight to have the Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 abolished. We take this opportunity to thank the Australian community for its understanding, love and support. Thank you very much for your time and consideration with respect to this matter. If you were to have any queries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us using the details provided.

with respectful regards
Detainees at Stage One, Villawood