Iranian Refugees in Australia

In Australia we have our own “Evan Prison”, where we keep, for the rest of their lives if need be, a considerable number of Iranians.

For the rest of their lives, I say, because according to assertions by DIMIA, the Australian Immigration Department and John Howard’s government, it has a secret Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Iranian government. It refuses to reveal its contents to us, including to Senate committees. Any claims before the courts that the Iranians should be released following the Al Masri ruling, will fail because DIMIA and the Immigration Minister will tout it has an MOU with Iran for the purposes of deporting Iranians by force, if need be. They can use chemical restraints (doping by injection), physical restraints (hand-cuffing) and blind-folding – and while forced deportations are not part of the MOU, according to former immigration minister Phillip Ruddock, it doesn’t matter because before the Iranians board the last trajectory on the flight home, any blindfolds and the cloths that cover the handcuffs, can come off, and the flexicuffs can be taken away (source).

Most of the Iranians are now almost “out-processed” without further hope of getting a successful visa to live as refugees in Australian society. Several still have 417′s (a request for personal intervention by the Immigration Minister to grant a visa) in process to the Immigration Minister’s office.

It’s remarkable how silent the Australian media have been about addressing this form of Australian-made torture. The Iranians are just sitting there, in detention, every single minute of every single day being tortured with the grim prospect that any day someone can walk up to them and ask them to come to the detention centre’s Managers’ office – where they will be grabbed, told that they are about to be deported to Iran, and put in “the Management Unit” to contemplate their prospect during the following night until their plane leaves for Iran the next morning. They also know that under the terms of the MOU, Australian Immigration authorities have agreed to “information sharing” – that means that their file extracts travel with them on the plane to Iran, to be handed to the Iranian authorities on their arrival at Tehran airport; who then, in turn, can identify whether they were good former members of Iranian society who ran away (an imprisonable offence) – or political dissenters.

The Iranians came to Australia to seek asylum. They came from a country that locks up its political dissidents. They came from a country that has more than 70 forms of torture under its Sharia Laws to make sure the population does not dissent. The just released Human Rights Watch Report “Like the Dead in Their Coffins”  – confirms that the trend to quell dissent Iran is worsening to levels that cause serious concern.

Some, or many of them, may have been associated with the Iranian resistance movement or Iran’s Reformist movement – groups such as the MEK or the Mudjahadeen El Kalq, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) or other groups. These days MEK is “on the nose” with the US government, and, as Howard does, he hastily mimics any policy of the US Administration. Therefore, last year we happily raided 11 Iranian families who lived in several capital cities in the Australian community.

For good measure, the Australian Federal Police’s warrants for those raids included a suspected “membership or affiliation with the Refugee Action Collective” – which I suspect was a nicely added gesture by former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock (no wonder he is now an Attorney-General!).

When the Iranians came to Australia to seek asylum, they would have been well informed about the danger of revealing their political affiliations. In their interviews with DIMIA and the Refugee Review Tribunal, or their submissions to the courts, they may well have lied about their past political affiliations. They may well have denied those affiliations, or omitted it from their claims for refugee status. Iranians have a way with their methods – a bit like a dissident section of my protestant church in Holland, where I grew up. “Just drive the fear of God into those youngsters, so they will become good young men, fearing the Lord”. The Iranian version goes under the name of Sharia Law. Yet, by lying about it or changing their story, they would have weakened their case before the immigration authorities. Little did they know about the machinations of the machinery at work under Howard’s immigration policy.

And, what chance would they have for success in their refugee claim? Iran is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, isn’t it? Australia has good diplomatic relations with Iran, doesn’t it? Australia rakes in millions of dollars every year through wheat and sheep, doesn’t it? Are there perhaps oil fields in Iran?

Since last November, many of the Iranians who are “families”, especially those who are connected with the sect of the Sabean Mandeans, have been released into the Australian community on visas granted by the Minister. Good? Yes, of course. But how many of those were released with the infamous “living-under-the-bridge visa” – or the Bridging Visa E class, which gives you a choice of starving on the street, surviving from rubbish bins in cities, or dying on the streets – unless the army of refugee supporters jumps in to help you. Thankfully, churches, refugee support centres and agencies have indeed jumped to the rescue of recipients of that most abhorrent of all forms of “government grace”. One of those agencies, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne, celebrated its third birthday yesterday. Kon Karapanagiotidis, ASRC Coordinator, wrote in a media release: “Since June 2001, the ASRC and its 360 volunteers have provided medical, legal and education services as well as support and friendship to those who would otherwise be destitute.”

2,250 asylum seekers have received assistance from ASRC since its opening. About 18 months ago, there were about 30-40 BVE class visa holders in the Australian community. That number may now well have swelled to a number approaching 1000. The Australian government laughs all the way to the bank: their atrocities are covered up and forgiven by hundreds of thousands of decent Australians who pick up the financial tab for its appalling visa classes. Under the BE, you do not qualify for Medicare, for discounts of public transport, TAFE (community college) courses. Worse, you cannot access ANY of the hundreds of government services created for less financially capable population groups in Australia. You are a nobody in a no-mans land called Australia. You can walk around in the detention centre that has no fences: the special version of Australia reserved for the pariah classes – the outcasts, those cast out of Australia’s detention centres.

The Iranians still in Baxter are not likely to find asylum justice under the Howard government. They are also in danger, I believe, under a new ALP dominated government if it indeed comes to power after the next election, unless influential parliamentary ALP members such as Dr Carmen Lawrence can convince parliamentary right-wing leader Mark Latham and his factions to rubber stamp a blanket release and grant permanency to them. Surely Australia owes them permanent residency because of the harrowing torture they have endured in our own, home-made Evan prison at Baxter? For now however, Mark Latham and the majority of the parliamentary ALP team are firm believers in mandatory detention.

See also Carmen Lawrence, The plight of the Mandeans
Jack H. Smit is a member of Project Safecom, an Australian-based human rights and progressive organization.

Leave a comment