Page 2095 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 21 June 2005

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Their contribution, especially in the sporting, social, cultural, religious and architectural fields, has been fundamental to the shaping of our multicultural society. These, though, are the good stories. Unfortunately, countless refugees are still struggling to be accepted and continue to suffer from persecution, bigotry and uncertainty. All round Australia there are thousands of refugees living in limbo. These people are already recognised as refugees but are given temporary protection visas and are denied the right to settle permanently in Australia.

Most of the temporary protection visa holders in Australia come from Afghanistan and Iraq. Although the United Nations has declared that it is unsafe for them to return to their countries, the Australian government continues to refuse to grant them permanency. These people are in danger of being put back into detention or forcibly returned to their dangerous and uncertain circumstances.

The Australian government’s use of mandatory detention as a deterrent to people-smuggling in particular is both wrong and inhumane. The ACT government recognises the need to stop people-smuggling, but this should not be at the expense of legitimate refugees and asylum seekers who, under international law, have the legal right to flee from their countries to escape torture and persecution and seek asylum in another country.

Mandatory and indefinite detention, particularly of women and children, is unacceptable and is a violation of their fundamental human rights. This is especially the case when more than 80 per cent of detained asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees. It is unfortunate that Australia has notoriously distinguished itself as the only nation in the world that implements the arbitrary and indefinite detention of children. We have stolen the childhood of these children. Our history is peppered with the theft of childhood joy and it saddens me that we have apparently learnt nothing from the stolen generations.

The long-term physical and psychological effects of indefinite detention are well known and well documented. According to Amnesty International:

Day by day, ongoing detention leads to mounting stress and tension. This often results in depressive illness and thoughts of despair and helplessness.

Some detainees show strong aggressive-impulsive and self-harming behaviours, reflected in suicide attempts, acts of mass violence, group breakouts, rioting, burning of facilities and hunger strikes.

A wide range of psychological disturbances are commonly observed among children, including mutism, withdrawing from contact with others, bedwetting, refusals to eat and drink, as well as acts of self-harm and attempts of suicide.

Mr Speaker, as a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 protocol, Australia is bound to accept refugees seeking protection from persecution regardless of the manner of their arrival, and whether or not they have valid documentation. The recent incidents involving Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon, and possibly numerous other nameless refugees, are obvious displays of the abhorrent and callous manner in which the Australian government treats some of the most vulnerable in our community.

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