Immigration detainees at Villawood detention centre in Sydney have suspended their hunger strike after three days. The Refugee Action Coalition has been releasing daily updates on the hunger strike, which we republish here.

Hunger strike suspended. Villawood protesters give Immigration seven days to get answers

Immigration officials at meetings with detainees in Villawood asked the detainees to give them time to consult and get answers from Canberra over the grievances that led to the hunger strike protest.

After meetings with Immigration officials, the Villawood detainees in stages 1, 2 and 3 agreed late this (Monday) afternoon to suspend their hunger strike for 7 days while the department “consults with Canberra”.

The detainees have told the officials that unless there are satisfactory answers by the end of the seven days, the hunger strike and other protests will re-commence.

It is expected that details of the agreement reached with the Immigration department will be available this evening.

“The Minister now has the opportunity to take the lead at implementing serious change to detention and refugee determination. There is a good chance to take another step towards a genuinely humanitarian refugee and detention policy,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It would be a good time for the Minister to convene a round table consultation with both the detainees and refugee advocacy groups to deal with outstanding issues.”

For more information, contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Villawood hunger strike continues. Immigration officials meet with hunger strikers

Detainees in stage 2 and stage 3, pulled their mattresses into recreation rooms last night to maintain the solidarity of the protest action. Reports from inside the detention centre indicate that around 135 people are still on hunger strike.

Around 2.30pm, Easter Summer Time, immigration officials began a meeting with the hunger strikers in stage 2 and 3.

The substance of those discussions is not known at the moment.

“We are pleased that Immigration officers are meeting with the hunger strikers,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee action Coalition, “But people are expecting action from the Minister, not more words. Chris Evans said that detention would be a last resort, so why are people still being held in detention?”

“People are still being held in stage 1 of the detention facility which was described as a disgrace by the Human Rights commission. It is where there are most complaints of assaults by guards.”

“The need for substantial change in the Immigration department is more apparent than ever. The Villawood hunger strike protest comes on top of the shameful decision by the Immigration department to deny permanent residency to a family with a Down syndrome child.”

“The Minister has the opportunity to show that he is really committed to cultural change. The changes announced by the Minister over the last few months have been piecemeal and many problems with detention and refugee determination are unresolved.”

“Perhaps a full inquiry into all aspects of Immigration is the only way to get to the bottom of a department that is still is still in thrall to the Howard government policy of mandatory detention and a department still run by Howard government appointees,” said Ian Rintoul.

Refugee Action Coalition media release. For more information, contact Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

MEDIA RELEASE
Minister must intervene in Villawood hunger strike

More than 100 detainees from all sections of the Villawood immigration detention centre including the so-called criminal deportees in stage 1, remain on hunger strike for the second day.

The protest follows the over 30 hour tree-top protest of two Afghan asylum seekers inside the detention centre.

Detainees from inside the detention centre say that they are determined to maintain the protest strike until there is some action on the demands they have raised.

“We have waited and waited for Chris Evans to act,” one detainee told the Refugee Action Coalition, “People can only wait so long.”

Refugee groups are urging the Minister to urgently intervene to meet the detainees and call a round table of refugee advocacy groups to discuss the outstanding refugee and detention issues.

“The Minister says that detention is last resort, yet last week a Falun Gong practioner married to a Chinese Australian was detained when she went to extend her bridging visa. How does the Minister explain that? The practices of the Howard years are alive and well. The cultural change the Minister so often talks about has to be driven from the top.” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Two weeks ago, a young Indian man, who arrived in Australia as a minor, was deported despite the fact that the Immigration department accepted that his parents were killed in a political assassination. Yet the Minister declines to intervene. The question of complementary protection has been put in the too hard basket.

“The injustice of the 501s in stage 1 has been hidden for too long. It is not even clear that they are included in the present Parliamentary review of detention. These people have done their time, but are punished for years more in Villawood,” said Ian Rintoul.

“Meanwhile it seems asylum seeker languish on Christmas Island out of the reach of community and legal support.

“People had hoped the bad old days of Immigration detention went with the Howard government. For more decisive action is needed from Chris Evans.”

For more information contact Refugee Action Coalition: Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

Statement from people in Villawood Saturday November 8

After months and sometimes years of indignant treatment, the detainees of the Villawood Immigration and Detention Centre announce a general hunger strike demanding that this open ended policy of indefinite indignity ends.

At a time when the economic realities of the day demand cost reductions everywhere, it is anathema to common sense that the Labor Government still insists on spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a policy the benefit of which is in doubt.

We call on the Labor Party, particularly Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Christopher Evans, who in a March 25th 2005 interview at Parliament House Canberra, was adamant in his call for a royal commission into detention, to:

1. Codify as soon as practicable into the law, his stated intentions that no one spend more than 3 months in detention.

2. Require that any decision made to deny a person release from detention on the basis that he’s a risk to the community, be based upon an assessment done by a qualified mental health professional. At this time, such assessments are currently made “on the papers” by bureaucrats far away in Canberra with no formal mental health qualifications or arbitrarily made due to sentences of imprisonment which in some cases have long since expired. The Australian public have a right to expect that decisions made in their name are made by people who are qualified to do so.

3. Release people with ongoing visa matters before the courts. As it stands now people are effectively “punished” for several years by the Migration Act for choosing to appeal against the Minister’s decision to not grant or to cancel a visa.

4. Cease and desist (after every decision unfavourable to the department) from amending the Migration Act to circumvent the judicial process of Australia’s courts. A recent example of this were cases that found that cancellation of certain visas were unlawful notwithstanding the existence of a criminal conviction and sentence of imprisonment and that required notification processes were not met. The department released people affected by this decision and allowed them to restart their lives only change the law in the middle of the night and negate the court’s findings, thus making some of them liable to detention again with out natural justice.

5. Cease and desist from taking “clients” to the high security compound, Stage-1, prior to their anticipated removal from Australia. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has roundly criticised this facility and if detention itself wasn’t enough of a slap in the face, the indignity is made complete by showing unsuccessful visa applicants the front door by way of a compound with all the ambiance of Long Bay Gaol.

We appeal to the Australian community to look beyond the constant stream of 30 second sound-bytes and one paragraph press releases that are used to justify this treatment. We also respectfully ask Australians for the same dignity and respect for human rights in this country that you would demand for an Australian in another country.

The policy of indefinite detention has been in effect for nearly two decades and has cost billions. The only true return on the Australian taxpayer’s investment is the permanent psychological damage that a voiceless people have had to endure and the large portions of their lives taken from them in the name of political expedience.

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