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Issue #1550      6 June 2012

Protest against restrictions on visiting Villawood refugees

Refugee supporters will hold at protest at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre to call for an end to the restrictions recently imposed on visiting refugees at the so-called Residential Housing complex. The complex has become notorious for housing refugees who have been given a negative ASIO security assessment.

The protest will start at 11.30am, Sunday, May 27. It will be followed by people holding scheduled visits with refugees in the housing compound. Notices from the Department of Immigration at the housing office, indicated that as from May 18, visits would only be allowed if 24 hours notice of intention to visit was faxed to the housing office.

The restrictions only apply to the housing complex, although it houses only 26 people. Visits for the other 297 asylum seekers in Villawood are arranged without such restrictions. The notices went up only a week after media attention was focussed on the plight of Tamil refugee Ranjini and her two children who had been hastily re-detained and flown to Villawood after receiving a negative ASIO assessment.

Worse, the department has added insult to injury by instructing visitors and refugees that visitors can only talk to the refugees named on the forms that have been submitted. Given that all visits happen in the one room – this has created awkward and impossible situation for visitors and refuges alike who now have to ignore each other or risk further sanctions from the visiting police.

In some instances, Serco guards have been instructed to police the visiting area to prevent visitors and detainees from speaking to each other.

One refugee told the Refugee Action Coalition, “We have been humiliated. We are being denied visits and our visitors are being treated shamefully.”

A letter signed by refugees at the housing complex has been sent to the Minister for Immigration calling on him to end the visiting restrictions.

“It is an intolerable situation and an attack on the refugees’ rights. They have denied their freedom without explanation and now Immigration is trying to limit one of their few connections with the real world. A more arbitrary and vindictive exercise of bureaucratic power is hard to imagine,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The visiting restrictions are obviously associated with the government’s embarrassment at their treatment of ASIO-negative refugees. It is no coincidence that the restrictions have been imposed since the issue of ASIO-negative refugees has become public.”  

Next article – Does the Coalition want to abolish free public education?

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