Sunday, February 13, 2005

Welcome to Baxter...

"Banging At The Gates"
baxter05 convergence for human rights

Refugee Rights advocates and allied activists across Australia are organising to converge on the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre at Pt Augusta (SA) - a place which, by its very design, serves to dehumanise and degrade its incarcerated and innocent victims. The Baxter 2005 Convergence for Human Rights is set to take place over the Easter long weekend and should attract hundreds of activists from all over Australia...

Baxter Watch -


Fed up with the Howard government's consistent mistreatment of asylum seekers in this country, the diverse group of activists are preparing to engage in a variety of autonomous and colourful actions outside the gates of the centre to express dissent at many of the Government's abusive human rights policies - particularly the "jailing of refugees". In 2003 several hundred people protested at the centre, while SA and Federal police harrassed and intimidated the participants.

At an earlier protest at Woomera, SA in 2002, around 50 detainees escaped the notorious Woomera detention centre. However, according to one activist making the trip, "breaking out refugees is not on the agenda this time... we simply can't have a repeat of Woomera 02, and we do not want to. These places are entirely different. Whilst Woomera, Curtin and Pt Hateland were makeshift and hideous examples of Howard's racism, the Baxter Camp is a purpose-built machine of oppression," she said. "Theres 24 hour surveilence, reported beatings, humiliation and little contact with the outside world. Let alone the 9000 volt perimiter fences, the solitary confinement, the forced medication, the constant threat of forced deportation. But there's more to it" she said, "This convergence is also about Howard's imperial compliance of the killing of 100,000 Iraqi people. Its all connected."

Many Human Rights groups have condemed John Howard's practice of Mandatory Detention. Amnesty International says, "Detaining children for up to five years, frequent rioting and self-harm by detainees, are not acceptable by-products of refugee processing. Legitimate border control and the fight against people smuggling can be achieved without violating human rights." From one of many Amnesty reports condemming Australia's human rights abuses of refugees.

"Some of these refugees have been imprisoned by the Howard Government for over six years. Some of these people are from countries we have invaded! It's got to stop," says Karen Eliot from Adelaide.

People from Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Darwin, Brisbane, Tasmainia and elsewhere are preparing ideas and "disarming tactics" such as kite-flying displays, open space workshops and a range of Non Violent Direct Action events. The BX05 Convergence for Human Rights is organised via meetings, an email list, chatrooms and an Indymedia-style open publishing site [ ] where autonomous affinity groups discuss how to implement their strategies for change.

On the website, activists have expressed outrage over the "psychological torture, electric fences, solitary confinement, remote control zoom cameras, beatings, and microwave sensors." They say: "We oppose borders, violence, militarism, fascism and fear mongering."

Referring to indefinite detention without charge or trial, Peter Wilkie from Refugee Rights Action Network [RRAN] in Perth said, “Baxter detention centre represents stark relief policies which constitute human rights abuses and institutionalized child abuse”. He went on to say, “these polices and laws also damage and undermine a number of important conventions on which our system of government and democracy depend, such as the principle of ministerial accountability, and the independence of the military and public service”.

Since 1989 Australia has imposed indefinite mandatory detention on virtually all persons entering Australian waters without entry documents, despite these people simply seeking protection from the countries they flee. The laws, policies and programs under which this treatment operates, consistently violate human rights, unnecessarily traumatise already traumatised people, distress and shame many concerned Australians, cause international embarrassment and cost Australian taxpayers around $400,000 a day.

Many who will make the journey to Baxter feel there is an "underlying feeling of dissent in this country". They state that: "In so many ways human rights are being abused. Many Australians believe the current Government has neglected its duty to humanitarian principles." Following the 2004 Federal election the Senate is now stacked in Howard's favour. And despite arguments from Independents, the Greens and Democrats, there is a lack of effective dissent to the policy from the Opposition parties. There is virtually no real prospect of future reform within the Liberal/National coalition. Furthermore, mainstream media are not taking the issue up at all and are disallowed access to the detainees." In short, they say: "In 2005, there is no opposition but that which we create..."

Despite global condemnation, the Prime Minister's tough stance on asylum seekers has proved popular with many "Hansonite" Australians. Nevertheless, in 2002 the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Australia's practice of detaining asylum-seekers to be "arbitrary and unlawful, in violation of international human rights obligations binding on Australia". Amnesty International is also appealing to the Australian government to step back and consider the costs and consequences of the policy and to bring it in line with international human rights standards.

Australia's detention system falls far short of international standards and is the only country world-wide with a national, mandatory detention policy that cannot be reviewed by courts. Even though the government says that asylum-seekers are "seeking a migration outcome", their own figures show that the majority are found to be refugees entitled to the protection and safety they are seeking. Over 90% of asylum seekers have been recognised as "genuine refugees" and granted protection visas.

RRAN says: "There are also major concerns about how the detention system affects the mental and physical health of the detainees. There is a growing body of evidence that prolonged detention of unspecified duration, particularly when people are already traumatised by past persecution and do not know what the future holds for them, can lead to serious, physical and psychological damage".

The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, the Ombudsman, Parliamentary Committees, religious organisations and NGOs have perpetually outlined the "deep frustration and despair" among asylum seekers in detention centres - the "hopelessness and helplessness" - which drive people to frequently attempt hunger strikes; sew lips together in absolute desparation; to repeatedly attempt suicide or even to hurt others.

“We see that the mainstream media is reluctant to take up these issues," say RRAN, "we also see that the ALP has no intention of presenting any opposition to these policies and practices. We see that the constitution allows these severe and unjust laws. So we find ourselves in a position where there is no opposition but that which we create...”

So at Easter 2005, hundreds of concerned Australians will be at Baxter to expose these injustices and outline the inhumanity of these policies - to fight the dispossesion, to challenge the enclosures. And they invite you to join them in solidarity with those detained within.

To find out more:

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