Refugees and Migrants

Back to El Alamein
…And lonely lonely lonely
are the hearts of men;
the waves the waves the waves
break, forever break,
against the stone in our breasts

The following was a report from Pamela Curr, Campaign Coordinator, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre ASRC, It refers to events in October of 2008

As the detention of Doctor Haneef once more highlights the seemingly limitless power of the Immigration Act, it is worth remembering other cases where people have been released by the Courts and the Immigration Minister has then turned gaoler under his own powers.

When charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, the 27 crew members of the Pong Su were released by the Court, only to be scooped up by the Immigration department (then DIMA-now DIAC) and taken out to Baxter detention centre. There they languished in secret in a formerly, unused compound until the day that other detainees became aware of their presence.

hanneef-rally-19-july-2007-011.jpg Policy changes in the Baxter hellhole allowed detainees to be escorted on foot between compounds instead of in locked vans. On one such occasion, detainees attention was called to this never used compound by cries and eyes peering over the compound walls.

Detainee contacted advocates with their concern for these people. “We don’t know who they are but they are crying for help and we can only see their eyes. We don’t think that they are Chinese- we can’t understand their language.” The guard asked them to disregard what they had seen because “you will get me in trouble”.

Subsequent investigations revealed that they might be the crew of the ‘Pong Su’. This was confirmed when a list of names was produced. The list indicated the likelihood that many of these sailors were most likely fathers and sons. They were not seeking asylum. They desperately wanted to go home to their families but DIMA were holding them for their own purposes. It was only after it was revealed how distressed they were at being held incommunicado that they were finally granted their wish to leave- 13 weeks after the Courts had found them not guilty of any crime.

Technically the power to detain under the Migration act is so that persons can be removed from Australia, however as we have witnessed in the case of long term detainees, this power in reality allows the Australian government to hold a person for their entire lives without charge or judicial oversight.

Pamela Curr

12 Batman St West Melbourne 3003, ph 03 93266066 fax 03 93265199

Currently hundreds of Australian soldiers are camped above the Baxter Detention Centre in tents waiting for the last detainees to leave so that they can move in and take it back. They are training at Port Augusta for deployment to Afghanistan. The Baxter Detention Centre was originally an army base called El Alamein until 2002 when the Immigration Department took it over to imprison asylum seekers and their children.

There are nine compounds. Only 1 compound is in use today as the numbers of people detained have dwindled. The last statistic (April 2007) was 18 in Baxter and 10 in Port Augusta Housing Detention Centre, 2 are woman. Not all are asylum seekers- some are people transferred from the Prison system who are waiting to be removed from Australia.

Millions of dollars are being spent to maintain this inhumane place. Some of these asylum seekers are desperately ill, having attempted suicide. They come from countries known for their brutality and lack of human rights. Some have waited years for a decision.

Closing Baxter is a political decision- the soldiers will have to wait as the asylum seekers have waited. Will the soldiers feel the ghosts of the broken spirits of the hundreds of Afghani refugees who were imprisoned in these compounds? One day refugees locked up in Baxter, the next Australian soldiers training there to go off to war to create more refugees.

Detention Camps Closed

Woomera, Port Hedland, Curtin, Manus Island.

Pamela Curr
Ayslum Seekers Refugee Centre, Melbourne (ASRC)

2 thoughts on “Refugees and Migrants

  1. 'People Smugglers'? says:

    Easter has been a tragic week for asylum seekers.

    It is not clear what is the government’s position on refugees is. We know they have built a huge military detention centre at Christmas Island. What they intend to do with it remains to be seen.

    But one thing is certain, Rudd is not soft on ‘people smugglers’.

    “People smuggling is a term which is used to describe transportation of people across international borders to a non-official entry point of a destination country for a variety of reasons. Typically those being transported may not have adequate formal travel documents or prior approval to enter the destination country.” — wikipedia

    I wonder if Rudd’s use of this term is correct when asylum seekers turn up at Ashmore reef? Indonesian fishing boats transport refugees from Indonesia into Australian waters for a fee so that the refugees can claim asylum. Both the start point and destination are known. It is done openly on the high seas. If this is ‘smuggling’ [“to creep into a hole/to slip through”] then why does Rudd use the term so pejoratively in his comment that they are “the vilest form of human life“. Where is the immorality in it? In the profiteering out of others misfortune? Isn’t that what the Australian government does by backing US policy by going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    Don’t people fly into Australia on airlines and claim asylum? Do they have travel documents that fit their purpose?

    QANTAS is not accused of people smuggling, is it? How is it any different? One is a big corporation and the other is a small owner of a boat. They both profit by transporting ‘human cargo’. Does the term smuggler relate to a difference in the fee charged? If there is any real difference. Air passage from Afghanistan is not cheap, surely it is only the risk that is less.

    So Howard won an election on the backs of asylum seekers. Isn’t the government and the newspapers just as opportunistic on this question See Is the Rudd Government too soft on border control?

    The stats of this poll are interesting — nationally 67% agree, in Camp Hill, Brisbane an all whit suburb 80% agree, in West End in Brisbane, a more cosmopolitan suburb, 45% agree.

    Ian Curr
    April 2009

    1. Does anyone know if the boat that burnt off Ashmore reef killing and injuring so many was powered by a diesel or a petrol engine?

      If it was diesel-powered (as most marine engines are), why would petrol be released into the bilges? (See Petrol in bilges blamed for asylum-seeker explosion at,25197,25356426-601,00.html)

      This is a technical area, requiring knowledge and understanding to interpret the facts. Most politicians don’t have this knowledge.

      Bear in mind that the Navy knows a whole lot more than the little an average boatie knows about marine engines vs petrol engines.

      What about the human cost? The boat people’s lives at at risk, we know that.

      I don’t see anyone offering to rescue the asylum seekers hiding in Indonesia.

      No rescue convoys have been sent only military craft to repel the boat people.

      Ian Curr

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