June 30, 2015
It has recently been announced that the Australian government may try to offer scholarships to Iranian students in exchange for the Iranian government agreeing to the refoulement (return to danger) of refugees held in Australian detention centres. Whilst Iran is still insisting that any returns must be voluntary, the Australian government is trying to change this with ‘sweeteners’. A supporter of RAC has written a protest form letter for current and former university students to use, calling on Australian universities to reject any notion of ‘blood scholarships’. We think it’s a great letter, and we encourage its use.
“Dear _______________, It was with shock and sadness that I learned this morning that the Australian Government has entered into negotiations with the government of Iran to secure the refoulement of refugees held in Australian detention centres.
I have read about a number of Iranians who have come to Australia to escape persecution for their faith (or lack thereof) and/or sexuality, threats of death and torture and extreme poverty. Theirs are stories of intense suffering, fear and grief that have in many cases been augmented by the arbitrary inhumanity of Australia’s immigration detention system.
In less than the last two years we have seen the deaths of at least two Iranian refugees in Australian detention centres: Reza Berati (23), who was murdered in an horrific manner while detained at Manus Island; and Hamid Kehazaei (24), who died in Brisbane from a preventable infection that would likely not have been life threatening if proper medical facilities were available on Manus Island (where he was detained) or his dispatch to Brisbane had not been delayed on cost/benefit grounds.
There have also been numerous hunger strikes amongst Iranian detainees in protest of being forced to return to Iran against their will. The 44-day hunger strike of Saeed Hassanloo earlier this year and those of dozens like him in the years prior wholly demonstrate the fears held by many about being forced back to Iran.
Having failed to convince or pressure Iranian refugees into returning to Iran “voluntarily”, the Australian government has turned to diplomacy in order to secure a removal of Iran’s refoulement restrictions. Some of the sweeteners offered by the Australian government include the lowering of travel warnings for Iran, permission to build consulates in Melbourne and Sydney and the offer of scholarships for Iranian students to study in Australia.
It is this latter point that has prompted me to write you with my concerns. Though there are few details of such a scheme publicly available, the statement must be made early and loudly that _________’s participation in such a scheme would be highly unethical. While the promotion and expansion of academic study should be encouraged, to accept funding for scholarship that directly leads to the suffering, torture and potentially deaths of those whose only crimes are to be persecuted and displaced would be an unacceptable state of affairs.
As a current student/alumnus of ___________ I implore you to reject any approaches or offers to support blood scholarships. Instead, I encourage you to employ the considerable voice universities have within Australian society to deplore the inherent injustices of Australia’s immigration detention system and promote the positive legacies of refugees in Australia.
Institutional support for refugee support services in the community such as Friends of Refugees, the food, health and legal services provided through the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre or The Welcome Dinner Project would also be highly valued.
Kind regards, ______________”