Action Alert: Don’t silence refugees – No to Detention Mobile Phone Ban
Refugee advocates in Melbourne will be held in makeshift cages in a protest outside the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), Casselden Place on Thursday 9th February from 4.30-6pm.
Speakers include: Pamela Curr – refugee advocate
Aran Mylvaganam.-Tamil Refugee Council
Abdul-Hadi Matar – Sudanese community leader from Darfur
Margaret Sinclair – Refugee Action Collective
They aim to highlight dramatic changes currently being introduced at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) centre in Broadmeadows, and a new Australian Border Force policy that would see all detainees in mainland Australian detention centres banned from using mobile phones.
Australian Border Force announced in November a controversial new policy to remove all mobile phones inside Australia’s mainland detention centres, with detainees given until February to comply. Staff are already confiscating phones from many detainees. These actions silencing refugees are of a piece with the draconian Border Force Act. They make a mockery of the Coalition government’s claims to stand for free speech when it comes to proposed changes to section 18C of the racial discrimination act. They will make it difficult for asylum seekers and refugees to contact their families.
In a recent Senate submission, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection explained its plans for MITA, including the introduction of “correctional service style accommodation”. Many MITA detainees are refugees and asylum seekers who simply have been transferred temporarily from the camps on Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatments. Despite having broken no laws in exercising their right to claim asylum, detainees are increasingly subjected to prison style repressive measures. Margaret Sinclair of the Refugee Action Collective, points out that “over the past 18 months MITA has become more prisonlike for the people detained both from a physical and psychological point of view. The proposed works will increase the prisonlike atmosphere for both the people residing at the Centre and their visitors.”
Australian Border Force maintains the ban is designed to crack down on illegal activity, but refugee advocates dispute this. According to Liam Ward of the Refugee Action Collective, the policy is “an attack on the basic rights of people who’ve never been charged with committing a crime, let alone convicted. This is part of the ongoing attempt to paint asylum seekers as criminals.”
Australia’s offshore camps in Manus Island and Nauru have recently come under increased scrutiny in the wake of a number of deaths and a string of leaks detailing allegations of abuse. With the media already banned from entering the centres, much of this material has come to light via mobile phone communications, particularly smartphones with in-built cameras. “The Government is attempting to tighten the shroud of silence over its camps,” Ward said, “to further conceal systemic human rights abuses being perpetrated right under our noses”.
Advocates also fear the policy is aimed at obstructing refugees and asylum seekers from making urgent and confidential contact with lawyers. “It is not unusual for people to be removed without warning to distant detention centres, and even deported back to danger and potentially death”, Ward said, “Separating asylum seekers from their legal counsel and support networks is a breach of basic rights and will place those people at extreme risk.”
Protest: 4:30pm Thursday 9th February, outside Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2 Lonsdale St, Casselden Pl Melbourne
Contact: Margaret Sinclair 0417 031 533 or Liam Ward 0407 474 313 from the Refugee Action Collective