Vigil newsletter #1 November 18



To begin I will share some words from a young woman currently in detention. I have been privileged to be corresponding with this young poet recently. Here are some of her words:

‘People who live behind fence are like birds, always thinking when they can be free, when they can fly and live anywhere without caring about dying hunger or being with no home, that’s is because they believe that “Freedom is more valuable than anything else”‘

– Thank you to Ahlam

and more

‘Once upon a time, I was so tired, so frustrated, so exhausted, so Psychologically broken. Feeling lonely and missing my whole family. I was saying no earth could accept us as a refugees, “Why”? What is our fault to have no country, no government. I was saying God created us black and we accepted “why others can not accepted?” I was saying till when our nick names will be Refugees or Asylum seekers. Really the world for me was freezing, my mind, my hopes, my dreams. Everything were freezing. I access my Facebook and some websites. I suddenly cried too much when I first saw a picture in an Australian people hand saying “Welcome Refugees, Welcome boat people. From that time till now I don’t know who shall I thank. But really I would like to tell them that I will fight for my freedom. I will live a life again. I am A human being and one day I will thank them in front of the worlds’ – Ahlam

The following is a Facebook Post from Lesley Walker. Lesley visits and advocates for many people currently incarcerated in detention centres throughout Australia. Thank you to Lesley for allowing me to reproduce this. Janet

‘Have you seen that ‘look’ of deep sadness & hopelessness? It can be seen in the eyes of people who have been in detention in Australia for a long time – People who are deeply worried about their families in Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran & Iraq. People who despair that life will never again be ‘normal’. People who don’t see their children grow up, who are not present when parents are taken ill & die. People whose personalities begin to change after being kept in detention for more than 3 months.

Last week I met some Tamil & Vietnamese friends in MITA & Maribynong detention centres (Melb). They have been in detention for 42 months, 50 months, 36 months – with no end in sight. They are skilled at hiding their desolation, they joke & tease each other, there is banter & laughter … “I’m ok, Auntie – we have family in here, we are family for each other.” But I see sadness deep in their eyes.

What a sad & bad situation. Who can fix it/change it? PM Toady Abbott of course, but he’s busy right now … busy NOT STOPPING THE BOATS.

Soon I’m going to visit Ranjini & the boys. And several others – singles & families -in Housing at Villawood detention centre. It’s almost 18 months since Immigration kidnapped Ranjini & her sons, & separated them from her husband (a loving stepfather), Ganesh. All of them are very badly affected by this cruel vindictive system, exacerbated by hundreds of petty management rules which inflict much sadness every day’.

and a poem from Forugh Farrokhzād

‘When my trust was suspended from the fragile thread of justice

and in the whole city

they were chopping up my heart’s lanterns

when they would blindfold me

with the dark handkerchief of Law

and from my anxious temples of desire

fountains of blood would squirt out

when my life had become nothing


but the tic-tac of a clock

I discovered

I must


must love


WE CANNOT PRETEND NOT TO KNOW:Here you will find some information I have gathered.

This following article I will re-print in full as it is an important overview of what is happening in Australia. I have removed the photos and their captions. Janet

THE AGE – Political News National – Date: November 15, 2013 -by Julie-Anne Davies

Abbott’s new world order

Since Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison took office, workers in offshore detention centres say asylum seekers have never had it so bad. This story comes with a warning: readers may be overcome with a condition the Australian government is counting on most of us already having or about to develop – asylum seeker compassion fatigue.

Letters like the one below, obtained during a Fairfax Media investigation into offshore detention and written by 32-year-old Ali, an Iranian asylum seeker, sorely test the government’s mass immunisation plan.

It is not a whinge but a plea to someone, anyone, who might be able to help him and his four-months pregnant wife from being separated when she gives birth. To set the scene, they have been on Christmas Island for 3½ months and according to Ali, they are suffering ”a very bad condition physically or mentally”.

”The immigration told us that they are going to send my wife to the mainland, like Darwin 2 months before delivering the baby and she is going to deliver the baby there without me being next to her,” Ali writes.

His pleas to immigration authorities to allow him accompany her have got him nowhere. The only option he has been given, he says, is for he and his wife to go back to Iran.

”I have requested from the immigration officers to discuss my situation however they keep telling me to go back home if you want to be next to your wife during delivering the baby. My wife is having lots of stresses and usually wakes up at the middle of the night because of having bad nightmares. I would like to request you to help us in this matter and don’t let them separate us from each other at this very important stage of our marriage life.”


The weapon of choice being aimed at Ali and his wife by immigration officials on Christmas Island, and which is at the core of the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy, is deterrence. It is a word that comes up often when speaking with people working in Australia’s offshore detention system, who agreed to speak to Fairfax Media on the condition of anonymity because they have signedconfidentiality agreements with their employers – the charities Save The Children and the Salvation Army, and the Department of Immigration and Border Security.

They all say the same thing; under the new world order of asylum seeker policy, the practice on the ground has shifted significantly. The pugnacious and unapologetically secretive Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has essentially said to the Australian public ”there’s nothing more to see here, now move along”.


And as those who agreed to speak to Fairfax Media for this story claimed repeatedly, nowhere is this policy easier to put into practice than on the impoverished Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea – home once again to Australia’s ”illegal” boat people in the Australian-run and funded detention centres.

For those who work on Nauru, life for asylum seekers is divided into before the riots and after the riots. Everything changed after July 19 when asylum seekers burnt the centre down, causing an estimated $60 million worth of damage.

At first, 119 men were each charged with one count of riot and one count of unlawful assembly but gradually that number has been reduced as charges have been dropped. Now 88 people will be prosecuted in 15 trials beginning in late January next year.

Melbourne lawyer Simon Kenny, who is representing some of the asylum seekers facing charges and who acted for men in another riot case on Nauru last year, described the ”Bravo” compound where all those charged are currently being detained:”There is literally nothing there aside from the tents and a little yard which is about 10 metres by 10 metres and that’s the common area for over 100 men. There is no shade aside from inside the tents and the men have no books, not even a table to sit at,” Kenny says. ”I think it’s pretty unforgivable that these men can’t even be given a book to divert themselves with. ”I was told the men could make one phone call a week but a security guard told me it was more like every 10 days.”

A group of Melbourne and Brisbane lawyers and barristers are prepared to work pro bono to represent the asylum seekers, he says. He and a colleague visited Nauru in late August and although he says he didn’t have any good news to report, the men were overwhelmed when they learnt that Australian lawyers were prepared to represent them.

One caseworker on Nauru describes life now. She is young, in her early 20s, just out of university and has been plunged into this secret world where, she says, ”anything seems to be allowed to happen”.

”Everyone is living in tents and there is no privacy. Since the riots people don’t have as much freedom as before,” she says. ”There had even been talk about having an open camp but that’s all gone. Before, we used to go on excursions down to the beach, people could use the internet, now there’s not enough space for the kids to run around in, we can’t take them to the park, the beach, nowhere. And these are the families who arrived after the riot, and they are bearing the brunt of something they had nothing to do with.”

The families that began arriving on Nauru from Christmas Island since the change of government are not faring well. They had been told the facilities on their next and possibly permanent home were similar to those on Christmas Island.

”The mothers are not coping well at all, their children are running amok,”another worker explains. ”They arrived and it was a tent city because the buildings had been destroyed. Women were refusing to get off the planes, they were crying, distraught.  ”Families of five live in one little area of a large marquee divided only by clear tarpaulins so there is no privacy. Husbands and wives can’t have sex,  can’t do anything without everyone knowing their business.”

Worse than anything else she has seen, though, is the condition of one child about four years old who has become catatonic and is refusing to eat. ”I have no experience to deal with this,” she says, ”other than report it to my line manager who says she has reported it to hers but nothing is happening.”

The single men’s camp, which is home to about 350 men, sounds especially dire. A recent outbreak of gastroenteritis shredded what remaining dignity the men may have had. ”There are three or four toilets for all those men and they just couldn’t manage. They were soiling themselves and then having to wait in line for hours to have a two-minute shower. It was really, really shocking.”

Manus Island, which is a men-only detention camp on PNG, currently has 1128 detainees. According to seasoned aid workers, the conditions are deplorable. The men live in either tents, ”dongas” – large shipping containers – or an old World War II bunker called ”Foxtrot” where 100 men are crammed in bunks lined up against each other with little room to move.

A fortnight ago, there were just 10 caseworkers to manage the entire camp, which meant that most men did not get seen. Those that did probably spoke for the rest when they listed their complaints: snakes inside the ir accommodation, malaria, lack of malaria tablets, no mosquito nets, inedible food that often has cockroaches in it, no fresh fruit or vegetables and repeated requests to see a doctor or a nurse.

”It’s always the same but as time goes by the men are getting more desperate and more sick. They all complain about kidney pain, headache, insomnia, but it takes at least three weeks for a doctor to see a client,” one worker said.

All the men ask about family reunion. Will their wives and children be able to rejoin them on PNG where they accept they now have to resettle? ”The awful irony is that even though Australia has told them repeatedly they cannot live here, they are also telling these men they may never see their families again unless they go home. Or they will have to wait at least five years.”

In July, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that ”the combination of a tough physical environment, restricted legal regime, and slow processing mean that existing arrangements still do not meet the required international protection standards”.

One of the sideshows that has been played out of the public glare has been the question around whether the two charities, Save The Children and the Salvation Army, that won the contracts to work with asylum seekers in the offshore detention facilities, should ever have put their hands up for the jobs.

The off-the-record view of most of the Australian aid sector is that the two charities are effectively colluding with the government and lending their good name and reputation, and therefore implicit imprimatur, to the detention regime and more particularly, the mandatory detention of children.

Current and former Salvation Army staff who have worked offshore say they believe the agency had no idea what it was getting itself into when it signed its contract with the Commonwealth. ”They are naive at best and at worst, they are doing damage,” says a very senior and experienced aid administrator. ”It’s a long way from soup vans and caring for the homeless.”

Child abuse expert Professor Chris Goddard from Monash University, who co-authored the book Human Rights Overboard, says: ”As we have written, locking up children is organised and institutionalised abuse. NGOs such as Salvos, Save the Children, have been seen traditionally as champions of the poor, advocates for human rights. Now, important voices may be silenced and advocacy lost and they may be seen as agents of government policy.”

A spokesman for the Salvation Army says its position on detention had not changed. ”We are opposed to offshore processing and are on public record as saying so. Our preference would be that people are processed in the Australian community, without the need for offshore processing. ”But, we work where there are people in need and where there is the suffering and the vulnerable.”

History usually has something useful to offer current governments, regardless of their political hue. The Abbott government promised Australians at the last election it would turn the boats around and it would ram its message home to would-be asylum seekers by making sure that they lost any hope of resettling here.

But Paul Power from the Refugee Council of Australia asks: does middle Australia want to see more images of sewn lips and slashed wrists that became one of the enduring mental snapshots of the Howard years? ”There will be increased incidents of self harm – it’s started to happen. There will be suicides, hunger strikes, because if you hold people in a harsh environment indefinitely with no hope then they break.”

Power points out that the Abbot government’s deterrence-at-all-costs approach has left out the whole idea of protection of asylum seekers. ”There is no hint at all since September 18th of people who need protecting.” The federal government seems to be counting on the rebooted Pacific island solution so conveniently put in place by the former Rudd government. But the Abbott government is adding its own flavour and tone.

As a senior executive with one of the charities says: ”I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worried that one day we may have to face a royal commission and have to answer for the conditions under which these people were treated and which we didn’t have the guts to challenge the government on.”

Julie-Anne Davies is senior writer.

Do you recall hearing about the journalist and photographer that arrived at Christmas Island by boat with a group of Asylum Seekers a while back?

Here is a link to their very powerful story and photos… a must read!

Deportation of Tamil children: 15th November 2013

Two unaccompanied Tamil children (12 & 14) were forced on a plane and returned to Sri Lanka without being allowed to seek asylum. ”The children were crying and screaming and begging to be able to stay,” said a witness. ”One of the security officers realised they were too young and no one was accompanying them and so took them off the plane. Then there was a stand-off while someone rang Canberra and were instructed by someone very, very senior to put them back on the plane.”

“They were part of a group of 84 Tamils who had arrived on the Coco Islands after 34 days at sea and within 48 hours were put on a plane and sent back to Colombo.”

Asylum seekers being detained on Christmas Island and off shore on Nauru and Manus Island are being subjected to a regime of coercion and intimidation and living in appalling conditions in a deliberate bid to force them to go home. Read more:

Some news from Refugee Rights Action Network WA. 12 November 2013


The Mother with pregnancy complications that was recently returned to Australia from Nauru to give birth has been returned to detention while her baby remains behind in hospital. While her newborn son struggles with respiratory problems, this young Mother has been shifted back to a detention center and has limitations on  he amount of time she is allowed to visit him. The father of the baby boy is restricted to the detention center and is not allowed to see his desperately ill son at all. This sort of draconian treatment of a Mother and newborn is appalling and virtually without precedent.

Chilout Revived: Situation of pregnant asylum seekers dire posted on Chilout fb October 14, 2013 at 8:39am (please note that this is from the week prior to the election when the Abbott regime came to power so in line with other detention centres I expect conditions are much worse for those who are incarcerated)

The conditions for pregnant women in Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre (WPIDC) are even worse than the those at the DAL. Women report that they are constantly hungry because of lack of food. They tell of meals of boiled chicken and rice day after day. They have to wait in food queues in the heat for one to two hours to be served. Women who feel faint and ask for permission to sit are told that this is not permitted unless they have a “script” from the doctor otherwise they must wait in the queue like everyone else. All people including the women are allowed one piece of fruit each day, two sometimes depending on which guard is on duty Their rooms are searched with cameras and they get into trouble if they are found with food or fruit in their rooms.

Guards walk in without knocking at any time once in the night and again in the early morning to count them- “welfare check”. The women are constantly told by some staff that they should not be pregnant because they have no future in this country and will have to go back.

Children are only allowed to eat in the dining room at meal times. Parents are not allowed to take food out of the dining room even if the children can’t eat at the appointed times.They are allowed one packet of noodles per day for a snack.

Teenagers aged over 18 years are separated from their families and taken to Berrimah House which is part of the infamous NIDC.

I am told by people from a range of backgrounds that the Vietnamese people in particular are treated very badly ” even worse than us”. Pregnant Vietnamese women are constantly harassed about being pregnant and threatened with being interviewed by the Vietnamese military police.

I went to Wickham Point for a few hours in 2012. I waited 3 hours before I was allowed in to visit. I came home with bites and welts which lasted 3weeks. The sandflies and mosquitoes are so bad that the Japanese Gas company next door refused to house their workers on site.

WPIDC is a purpose built prison camp an hour out of Darwin in an isolated swamp location. It has electric fences, airlocks multiple gates and extremely unfriendly guards.

An unfunny thing happened two days before the election….

We received word from Christmas Island that 50 pregnant women were to be forcibly separated from their  usbands and children and transferred to Darwin for the duration of their pregnancy. We checked other sources – all concurred that this was true and not a baseless rumor. The then Ministers office was contacted and asked if they knew of this latest policy.

A spokesperson said no and would get back to us. Some hours later to our immense relief we heard from other sources that this transfer of 50 pregnant women would not proceed.

We then found out that some women had already been separated- wives in Darwin – husbands and children on Christmas Island. This was remedied a few days later under orders from the previous Minister.

What is really distressing is how, who, why anyone would think that it was morally,humanely justified in separating families in this way at this time. Whoever was in charge on Christmas Island and Canberra making this brutal decision, maybe now implementing the pregnant women to Nauru policy under this new minister which may see babies struggle to survive in 50 degree heat in communal tents in a camp with no running water.

Australia where is your heart?

With thanks to the ASRC for this information.

For more information see this story:

Afghan MPs call on the Coalition to scrap Temporary Protection Visas

A group of 45 members of the Afghan Parliament have written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott appealing to him to reconsider the government’s proposal to re-introduce Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The translated text of the letter is below.

To: The Hon Tony Abbott, Prime Minister, Australia

Cc: the Hon Scott Morrison, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the members of Afghanistan’s parliament acknowledge, and appreciate, the collaboration and cooperation that the people, parliament and the government of Afghanistan receive from the people, parliament and the government of Australia. We are very thankful for the endless efforts make by the people and the government of Australia to bring peace and security to our country.

We are also grateful to the people and the government of Australia for hosting refugees from Afghanistan. As you know the continuing insecurity and terrorist activities in Afghanistan are taking the lives of our people and many of our people are vulnerable to these threats.

In this situation, the continuing assistance of the Australian people and the government is crucial to save our people lives. While the Afghan parliament acknowledges and appreciates your continued assistance and commitment to the right to human life, and the protection of human rights and human dignity, we would like to bring the following matters to your attention:

1) Due to the lack of security, the Australian embassy in Kabul has not been able to gather information about those areas where the largest numbers of refugees and displaced people are living. We are ready to cooperate in gathering and collecting such information with the Australian government and the Australian parliament.

2) We urge you to reconsider the introduction and implementation of Temporary Protection Visas. This policy will not solve the problems of refugees and asylum seekers. We are very thankful that Afghan people and refugees are able to consider ‘Australia’ as their second home and that while respecting Australian values and laws, they can work and live without fear of being deported. The Temporary Protection Visa will not help the legal transfer of the asylum seekers and refugees’ families. Therefore, we hope that, as in the past, the refugees and asylum seekers will be treated with care and compassion and that you will reconsider the introduction of Temporary Protection Visas.

3) Afghan refugees do not have good experiences in either our neighbouring countries (Iran & Pakistan), or in the Gulf countries hosting them, and they face serious problems.As a friend of Afghanistan, we would expect the Australian government to pay attention to providing basic human rights for Afghan refugees and to treat them in a compassionate way.

4) We are ready to cooperate with the Australian government to prepare legal migration pathways and so prevent unauthorised migration. Once again, while we are thankful to you, we are looking forward to your consideration to review the [Temporary Protection Visa] policy.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sajjadi (Ghazni,, +93 799345952 )Ali Akbar Qasemi (Ghazni), MP Nasseri (Wardak), MP Raihana Azad(Uruzgan), MP Mohammad Ibrahim Qasemi (Kabul), ), Ramazan Bashardost(Kabul), Zahra Farkhnda (Kabul), Nilofar Ibrahimi


As of today 18th November 2013 the Taliban has released a videosaying outright that they will kill all Shia Muslims. This has been happening for a long time and is why many Hazara people & Shia Muslims have been, and are, fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Australian Government has known this for years. Janet

The Role of Invader/Settler (ill-legitimacy) Anxiety excerpt from  accessed 23 september 2013

the specifically Australian definition of refugee: someone who must not be allowed to enter a particular space no matter how urgent his or her human right to do so, and someone who is not entitled to protection unless he or she is ‘processed’ first. It is a definition that only makes sense in the context of Australia’s public debate, and a definition that is not consistent with that of international law …….Refugeesin Australia, people whose right to exist in a specific locale is categorically denied are essential to the construction of a legitimate settler presence and identity. As settlers who have come and stayed, this represents a long-time preoccupation, if not a fundamental anxiety. One category brings the other into existence and the two cannot exist in isolation. Hence a need to ‘produce’ refugees in a process of producing settler ‘Australianness’’.

“In war, truth is the first casualty” (Aeschylus). Australia’s response to people fleeing persecution and seeking safety is now officially a military operation. Janet


Some details of successive Australian Government’s support of War Crimes in Sri Lanka see these links for information…

MOU signed in 2009 between Sri Lankan and Rudd government to stop refugee boats:

More details of close liaison between Australian gov with Sri lankan securitypersonnel to stop refugee  boats:

And of course there are now the 2 war ships that the Abbott regime has given the Sri Lankan regime and the incredible statement that Abbott made at CHOGM in defence of Sri Lanka.

Cameron defends Sri Lanka trip
David Cameron promises to send a “tough message” to Sri Lanka’s government over alleged war crimes, as he heads to the Commonwealth summit.

The following was posted by the ASRC on their facebook page 18th November 2013:

‘The first Australian PM to defend the use of torture. Abbott in defence of Sri Lanka told reporters that while his gov. “deplores the use of torture we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”. Mr Abbott there is never ever an acceptable reason to torture people. It’s called a war crime.

please note that i dispute this as the first defense of torture by an Australian PM …  there have been many Australian PM’s who have defended the use of torture against the First Nations People of Australia since invasion. janet

A WIN…Senate orders Scott Morrison to reveal asylum seeker details: A motion moved by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was passed with Labor support on Thursday morning, demanding that Mr Morrison table reports about on-water incidents within 24 hours. Read more:

CONGRATULATIONS to all those who converged on CANBERRA today. People from all over Australia arrived at Canberra Parliament House to demonstrate that the Government does not speak in our name, that many in this continent deplore the human rights abuses, the detention, the traumatising and the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia and in Australian detention centres off-shore.

THANKS to Thea and Lane, Narelle and Rob, Helen, Elizabeth, Marg, Sarah @ Theatre Royal, and those who visit the vigil.


*Causes, GetUp and other on-line sites have some very important petitions that you can sign.

*Write to your local/state/federal MP.

*Write to local/regional/national papers.

*Find out more information through The Guardian, New Matilda, The Hoopla, The Global Mail and other independent media.

* Stand up for Sri Lanka’s free press and visit

*Contact Rural Australians for Refugees

*Visit the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre website or RISE(refugees survivors and ex-detainees) website.

*If you are interested in visting people in MITA (Melbourne immigration transit accommodation detention centre in Broadmeadows) or in Maribynong detention centre contact KEEN TO VISIT ASYLUM SEEKERS IN DETENTION (MELB) by sending a friend request through facebook.

Thanks for reading.  I will try to compile a newsletter every few weeks.

Janet Galbraith

‘I discovered/I must/must/must love/insanely’.- Forugh Farrokhzād




2 thoughts on “Vigil newsletter #1 November 18

  1. Pingback: Australia’s national shame | strivetoengage

  2. Pingback: “Solving” the Boat People | Amihan in Oz

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