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Issue #1610      September 11, 2013

Call for end to inhuman asylum policy

The Refugee Action Coalition has called for an end to the inhuman Immigration Department policy imposed since the July 19 beginning of the PNG deal, under which pregnant women are separated from their husbands, to be sent from Christmas Island to Darwin.

The policy has been in place since July 19, and a number of pregnant women have already been moved to Darwin’s Airport Lodge detention centre. But until now it has not been rigorously enforced, meaning some couples have been sent to Darwin together.

It is believed that up to 50 pregnant women on Christmas Island will be told that they will be forcibly separated from their husbands and sent to detention in Darwin until they give birth. Once the mother and their new-born are declared fit to travel, they will be returned to Christmas Island pending removal to Manus Island.

“It is well known that Christmas Island does not have the medical facilities to care for pregnant women. But to separate pregnant wives from fathers and children is simply inhuman and should immediately cease. It is simply unbelievable that the government is implementing such a cruel policy. Some of the pregnant women are very recent arrivals,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It is already causing considerable distress. One young, first-time, mother has threatened to begin a hunger strike if she is separated from her husband. There are others who have pre-existing mental health issues who will suffer severely.

“The practice is fraught with serious issues. They will all be separated from the physical and emotional support they need. To make it even worse, we have been told that in some cases, that not only will wives be separated from husbands but also that children will be separated – some staying on Christmas Island with their father while others will go to Darwin with their mother.

“In some cases, where women are five and six months pregnant, the separation policy will mean that mothers and children will be separated from husbands and fathers for many months.

“To make things even worse, because the post-July 19 arrivals are kept isolated, and without access to the internet, the separated husbands and wives are only able to make phone calls to each other around every two weeks.

“The whole thing is callous in the extreme and should be scrapped. The prospect of being sent to Manus Island is adding to the families’ fears as children cannot take anti-malarial medication, so will inevitably succumb to the disease.

“The department’s policy is subjecting these asylum seekers to hell. Separating families and husbands and wives is a particularly vicious extension of the PNG solution.”

Meanwhile, another Tamil refugee, detained for four years as a result of an adverse ASIO security assessment has been released from detention on September 3, after ASIO reviewed their initial assessment.

This is the fifth time that ASIO has reversed its initial negative assessment. But ASIO makes no systematic review of its adverse assessments and the Coalition has threatened to axe the independent review of ASIO assessments by the Hon Margaret Stone initiated by the Labor government.

“The UN Committee on Human Rights has already declared that the government has abused their human rights by subjecting them to arbitrary indefinite detention,” noted Ian Rintoul. “Any further detention amounts to further abuse of their human rights. The detention of the ASIO negative refugees is a travesty.

“ASIO’s mis-assessment has robbed this refugee of four years of his life and shows that ASIO’s assessments cannot be relied upon. The lack of transparency means that we will never know what mistakes ASIO has made and can never be sure that the same mistakes will not be made again.

“Yet, there is no systematic review of ASIO’s assessments. ASIO has only reviewed its initial decisions because of the Stone review. Take away the Stone review and ASIO will be the judge, jury and jailer. It is a recipe for more abuse of human rights, more mistakes and more cover-ups.”

Next article – Conga line protest

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