Refugee Action Collective (Vic)

Free the refugees! Let them land, let them stay!

Archives June 2015

LETTER CALLING ON UNIVERSITIES TO REJECT “BLOOD SCHOLARSHIPS”

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, ______________”

Audio: How can we get Labor to oppose offshore detention (a forum for trade unionists)

Intro

Ged Kearney (ACTU president) & Aran Mylvaganam (Tamil Refugee Council)

Pamela Curr (ASCR) & Damien Kingsbury (President ALP Batman FEA)

Discussion first half

Discussion second half

Discussion motions

Iran not safe for asylum seekers. No deportations!

Iran not safe for asylum seekers.  No deportations!

When Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop visited Iran in April 2015,  she tried to persuade the Iranian government to accept the involuntary return of asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status have been rejected.  The Iranian government did not immediately agree to Bishop’s request, but this could change in the future. The Australian government is offering Iran various incentives as part of a proposed Memorandum of Understanding.

If such an agreement was reached, those sent back would be in danger of persecution.   But even without an agreement, the Australian government has been pressuring Iranian asylum seekers to return “voluntarily”.  Many of them have been kept for years in detention.  Others have been allowed out into the community on bridging visas, but then re-detained.  Some have been told:  “You go back to your country or you stay in detention forever”. This has resulted in a series of hunger strikes by Iranian asylum seekers.

 

Human rights violations in Iran

The Iranian government is highly repressive.  People in Iran are victimized for their political or religious opinions, their ethnicity, or because they are workers fighting for their rights. (In May 2014 Bishop herself spoke of “deep concerns at the ongoing human rights abuses in Iran”.)

Religious minorities such as Baha’is are persecuted.  At least 136 Baha’is were held in Iran’s prisons as of May 2014 (1).  Sunni Muslims and Sufis are also discriminated against, as are Muslims who convert to Christianity.  Ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Azeris, Arabs and Baluchs suffer discrimination and repression.

Workers are not allowed to form independent unions. Many have been arrested and tortured for demanding better pay and conditions.

Women in Iran are treated as second class citizens. Only men are allowed to initiate divorce. Women must get the permission of a male relative in order to travel. They are compelled to wear the hijab. They are subject to harassment in workplaces and schools and in the street.

Under Iranian law, many crimes are punishable by death, including insulting the Prophet, apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery and drug-related offences.  According to Amnesty International, at least 743 prisoners were executed in 2014 (2).    The government says most of those executed are drug dealers or foreign agents, but actually many are political prisoners.

 

History

The current Iranian regime, which calls itself Islamic, came to power after the fall of the brutal US-backed dictatorship of the Shah in 1979.  Diverse forces, including leftists and Islamists, participated in the revolution. For two or three years there was an open atmosphere in which political parties were able to emerge from illegality. New magazines were published. Workers councils and unions were formed. The workers controlled the factories, students controlled the campuses and local committees controlled the suburbs.

But after 1982 the new regime arrested or killed many people in the universities and workplaces. Thousands were executed. Many parties were completely destroyed.

 

The situation today

Most of the Iranian people are living in poverty, despite Iran’s huge oil wealth. In part this is due to US economic sanctions.  But it is also partly due to Iranian involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria. The money spent on war diverts resources away from the Iranian people.  Corruption also helps to impoverish the people.

Despite the repression, people never stopped protesting.  In 2015 there have been a series of protests by teachers and students all over Iran. The teachers are demanding a pay rise, health insurance, equal pay for men and women, and better conditions for teaching.  There were also rallies on International Womens Day and May Day.

But those who participate in such events face severe repression. On May 1 this year nearly 20 worker activists and civil rights campaigners were arrested, including trade unionist Mahmood Salehi, and human rights campaigners Narges Mohammadi and Neda Mostaghimi.

If Iranians feel the need to flee the country, Australia should welcome them, not send them back

 

Sources

1.  Human Rights Watch 2015 World Report

2. Amnesty International: “Death sentences and executions in 2014”