Australia is not shocked by its torture of women refugees and asylum seekers

Ellie

“I have been left like a worthless object in a corner of a prison …. Every day, I sink deeper into the swamp of fear and despair. But no one hears me.” Ellie is a 34-year-old Iranian refugee who fled Iran in 2013 to escape family violence. She attempted to reach Australia and apply for asylum. Australia shipped her off to Nauru, where she spent six years in detention. Then, Australia shipped Ellie to Melbourne, where she has spent the past 20 months in detention. Ellie is part of the `deal’ between the United States and Australia to `address’ the `situation’ on Nauru and Manus Island. Ellie is the last woman refugee in Australian detention. Because of Covid, she couldn’t have her interview with the U.S. Department of Immigration, and so was dumped in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, or MITA, a place of neither transit nor accommodation. Eight years ago, refugee and asylum seekers at MITA went on hunger strike. Their request was simple: “Please release us into the community or please kill as on the mercy basis.” That’s where Ellie has been for the past 20 months. Because the U.S. hasn’t yet processed her application and so hasn’t yet decided on her case, she can’t apply to Canada. Because the Australian Department of Home Affairs has refused to issue a visa, Ellie can’t stay in Australia, and so she is currently scheduled for deportation to Nauru. Where irony died, cruelty reigns.

Over a hundred Australian-based academic researchers and experts in migration and refugee studies, including in Australian refugee law, history and policy sent an open letter to the Minister of Home Affairs: “We are extremely concerned about the effects of closed immigration detention on women refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. We are writing to express particular and urgent concern in relation to the prolonged immigration detention of one woman refugee in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation closed immigration detention facility who suffers from a range of health issues as a result of her previous detention on Nauru …. For women, in particular, immigration detention can be a place of heightened physical and sexual violence. Women in detention not only suffer the effects of prolonged, indefinite incarceration but they may also live in constant fear for their bodily safety and integrity …. In addition, routine practices such as room inspections and bodily searches within immigration detention can cause particular gendered harms …. For survivors of gender-based violence, such practices of routine or unannounced room checks and body searches can make the already-punitive experience of immigration detention extremely distressing. For such women, being involuntarily subjected to invasive body searches or room inspections also can be directly re-traumatising. It means that they are likely to experience immigration detention as an unsafe place where they lack bodily autonomy and their consent or privacy is disregarded. We respectfully ask that you act immediately to release any women refugees or asylum seekers who are being held in closed immigration detention. In particular, we draw your attention to the situation of Ellie, referred to above, and respectfully request that you grant her a permanent visa so that she can live in the Australian community.

Since 2013, Australia has effectively kidnapped scores of asylum seekers and refugees and shipped them off to detention center in Nauru and Manus Island. From the very beginning, reports of the torture of women, children, men circulated, and Australia shrugged its shoulders at that torture of the innocents. Australia was not shocked by the torture of refugees and asylum seekers. It was occasionally shocked by their survival. Australia was not, is not shocked, `shocked’, or SHOCKED at the torture of Ellie. “I have been left like a worthless object in a corner of a prison …. Every day, I sink deeper into the swamp of fear and despair. But no one hears me.” Ellie is a 34-year-old Iranian refugee who fled Iran in 2013 to escape family violence. For three years, Ellie has been described as “in limbo”. Ellie is not in limbo. She’s in hell … and absolutely no one is shocked.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Saba Vasefi)

For women migrants and refugees, justice instead of policing!

 


“They are conscious of their impending death, still they would rather float out to sea. That makes one ponder the conditions of life for many in the world,” a woman rescuer on the Aquarius told me. The Aquarius is one of the rare vessels still rescuing people on the border of the territorial waters of Libya. The women, men, and children who embarked on flimsy dinghies after having been dispossessed by all the agents of this drama finally land in Europe. The reasons of the conditions that made them flee are not discussed; what is discussed is constraining the flow they form and managing those people. Although they experienced many levels of torture, they still must “convince the authorities” of their need for protection.

In 1951 in Geneva, the international community agreed on a convention on the protection of refugees. They decided that asylum should be granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country. It was the time of post WWII international conventions, when the narrative was “never again.” The convention affirms that no one should be expelled against her or his will to a territory where she or he fears threats to life or freedom.

The main industrial countries have reinterpreted the convention they ratified. As Patrick Young, an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), told us, in the United States this is the worst period for immigrants in his lifetime and he has been working in immigration for decades. He also told us that they had seen no refugees coming since the election.

The European governments have been designing policies to close their borders to refugees and migrants. In countries previously known to welcome migrants – such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Hungary – anti-immigrant parties have reached unprecedented levels of representation. As a result, those countries have aligned their immigration policies with the more conservative countries. In 2015, the Swedish population grew by an additional 1.6 %, thanks largely to the arrival of 163 000 refugees. As elsewhere, Sweden’s discourse of public debt and unemployment rates has included immigrants as an aggravating factor. This triggered horribly restrictive asylum policies, placing Sweden at the bottom of the 32 European countries. Meanwhile, the Schengen free circulation agreement in EU countries has fallen apart. Now the Swedish border patrol requires passport or photo IDs, even at the iconic Øresund Bridge border between Copenhagen and Malmö.

While asylum policies vary from country to country, they have all been tightened, especially in countries where these policies had been rather generous. Most recently, the newly elected French President announced that he wanted to reform France’s asylum process. He claimed this would provide a more human and just process and at the same time insisted on the importance of managing the problem of smugglers as well as discouraging people from trying to reach Europe.

While President Macron spoke fine words about humanizing French asylum policies, his Interior Minister was showing a “tough on immigration” face. France has not been very welcoming to asylum seekers and the application of its asylum policies does not respect the notion of protection that the Geneva Convention commands.

The Paris-based Primo Levi Center assists women, men, and children who have faced political violence, rape, torture, humiliation, persecution. They provide long term treatments to their patients. Typically, their patients are referred to them up to 3 years after having drifted onto the coast of Europe. Despite having been tortured, 50 % of their patients saw their asylum applications rejected in the first round. The Center published a report that identified the breaches in the process that should have provided protection. They made strong recommendations, among them a reform of Ofpra, the office in charge of first addressing asylum applications, demanding that the office be put under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice as opposed to the current Ministry of the Interior. They demanded justice instead of policing.

The report identified variances of results between the different judges in charge of reviewing the cases and granting asylum, showing that judges’ biases about migrants are a determining factor. In the current climate of “de-welcoming” refugees, refugees are often seen as liars who mislead the officers recording their testimony. This perception obscures the reality of torture that the asylum seeker has lived through. Torture excludes people. Once in Europe the torture continues as the refugees continued to be excluded. As one of the Primo Levi’s patients explained, “How do you make them believe that I was forced to eat parts of a fetus pulled out of the body of a woman who had been executed in front of me by a soldier.” Half of the refugees/migrants are women, who have been raped, abused during their trip, used as weapon of war and then face gender inequality when applying for asylum.

There is no time in these interviews to recognize the psychological trauma of the victims of torture. Now, the President’s reform will accelerate that process. If the improvement of protection rate observed in 2016 with an increase of 35 % compared to 2015 should continue, acceleration of the process shouldn’t mean officers are obsessed with identifying the good refugee from the fake refugee, essentially the economic refugee. Instead, they should give refugees the benefit of the doubt.

The paradigm must change, as determined defender of human rights Giusi Nicollini, Mayor of Lampedusa, declared when she received the Simone de Beauvoir Award, “The people who fled violence defied death, they are a modern example of heroism.” She identified the situation of migrants/refugees to be the new apartheid, a new holocaust. Giusi Nicollini lost her seat in the last election to someone who campaigned on tougher measures toward refugees. The role of conventions and their legality must be reinforced. We must switch the rationale from the balance of power to the balance of justice.

 

(Photo Credit: Yahoo / AFP / Carlo Hermann)

UK uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims

 


In London last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights presented Parliament with its report, Violence Against Women and Girls. As before, the report is grim, in particular when it comes to State inaction vis-à-vis domestic violence. The authors of the report describe themselves as troubled and concerned, especially about women asylum seekers and refugees: “We heard particular concerns regarding victims with insecure immigration status, asylum seekers or refugees. These women and girls are often overlooked. Immigration policy is developed separately from policy about violence against women and girls. We urge the Government to address the gap in service provision for women with insecure immigration status and to review the use of the detained fast track process for victims of violence against women and girls.”

The abusive treatment of women asylum seekers who are in abusive relationships is State policy, not the error of overworked or unimaginative staff members. “The gap in service provision” and “the use of the detained fast track process” are not oversights. They achieve their intended goals: render efficiencies at the expense of women whose lives mean less than nothing to the State: “Throughout our inquiry we have heard about the experiences of a wide range of different groups of women including those with particular needs, for example women seeking asylum or refugees, women with learning difficulties, women from black and minority ethnic communities and women from communities of belief or religion.”

The treatment of women asylum seekers and refugees in abusive relationships in the UK is in direct opposition to the treatment of women in post-disaster zones: “We are concerned that, during the time it takes for a spouse suffering from violence to regularise their immigration status, they are very often left facing destitution or having to remain in a violent relationship. We find it worrying that current Home Office policies leave people destitute during the asylum and immigration process and that this in itself leads to women being at a greater risk of being a victim of violence. This is in contrast to funding being provided by the Department for International Development to post-disaster zones which looks specifically to address such survival strategies used by women.”

In other words, what’s good for Darfur is no good for Dover. Why is that?

To answer that, the report analyzes the fast track detention system; the culture of disbelief; and the lack of gender sensitivity; and concludes: “Despite the Minister’s assurances, we are disturbed by the evidence we received that the routine use of male interpreters, the operation of fast-track detention system and the reported culture of disbelief within the Home Office all result in victims suffering further trauma whilst seeking asylum or immigration to the UK. We find this unacceptable.”

We find this unacceptable. “This” is the systematic behavior and public policy of the State. The report has been described as demonstrating a failure: “UK failing to protect female domestic violence victims”; “Trapped with your abuser: How the Home Office fails domestic violence victims.” The Home Office didn’t fail; it achieved its stated goals. Calling it failure is an alibi. Rather say this: UK refuses to protect female domestic violence victims. How the Home Offices violates domestic violence victims. How the State uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims. We find this unacceptable.

 

(Photo Credit: Lacuna)

Welcome Irene Kainda as a neighbor, not as a stranger

Irene Kainda

What are the borders of being-a-refugee? When does one stop being a stranger and become simply a neighbor? Irene Kainda wants to know.

Irene Kainda is 21 years old. She lives in Cape Town. She has lived in Cape Town continuously since 1998. She used to live with her mother and her brother, Felipe, who is two years younger than Irene. In 2006, Irene and Felipe’s mother abandoned them. The two children spent three years in a homeless shelter, and then were taken in by some good people. Now Irene is in college and so is her brother, thanks to Irene’s hard work. In many ways, this is, or could be, a tale of great promise, a tale of a young woman who keeps on keeping on.

Irene and Felipe came to South Africa as refugees, and there’s the rub. The civil war in Angola is officially at an end, and the situation is both improved and improving: “Angola is a nation of bright minds, brilliant writers, exceptional musicians, and a civil society that, almost 11 years after war’s end, is ready to have its voice heard.” Of course, there’s much room for improvement, but that’s true everywhere.

Recently, the South African government decided to `encourage’ Angolan refugees to return `home’. The `invitation’ to `apply for repatriation’ is universal. Everyone has to `apply’. Hundreds of thousands of people, call them Angolans who have sought refugee status, live in South Africa. Many of them have lived there for twenty years. For many of them, South Africa is the only home they really know. Irene Kainda notes, “I came to South Africa when I was seven. I don’t remember Angola, I don’t know where I am from and who or where my family there is.”

What are the borders of being-a-refugee, and how does gender inflect those borders? Women and girl refugees haunt the world. According to the most recent UNHCR Global Trends Report, at the end of 2011, 42.5 million people were displaced. Of them, 15.2 million were refugees. Women and girls made up 49 per cent of persons “of concern to UNHCR.” According to the UNHCR, 48 percent of refugees are women and girls. Further, “in 2011, UNHCR submitted some 92,000 refugees for resettlement. Ten per cent of all submissions were for women and girls at risk, the highest percentage of the last six years.” The next UNHCR report comes out in a month.

The civil war in Angola saw massive, programmatic and widely acknowledged violence against women and girls, and yet the processes and structures concerning demobilization altogether avoided women and girls as a distinct group. Thus, no resources were dedicated to their specific needs. And now it looks like South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs will do the same, avoid any recognition of the specific situations of Angolan-born women and girls living in South Africa.

Meanwhile, more than one study has noted that xenophobia is the dark side of the new supposedly democratic South Africa: “Intolerance is extremely pervasive and growing in intensity and seriousness. Abuse of migrants and refugees has intensified and there is little support for the idea of migrant rights.” Sometimes the abuse was directed specifically at Angolan refugees in Cape Town: “The City of Cape Town, like many other cities, has seen a number of xenophobic attacks on foreigners…The most well-publicised conflicts have been those in Danoon, Doornbach in 2001 and in Joe Slovo Park in 2002. Perhaps the most publicised incident was in Joe Slovo Park, where four people were killed in clashes between Angolan refugees and South Africans.”

Irene Kainda is an Angolan-born young woman who has lived and grown up, and raised her younger brother, in Cape Town in a very particular historical period. She has labored through abandonment, homelessness, xenophobia, violence against women, and more. At every step of the way, she was supposed to fail, and take her younger brother down with her. Instead, she succeeded, and took her younger brother up with her. And her reward, if the South African government has its way, is to be shipped to a `homeland’ she doesn’t know?

That cannot be. The State cannot punish Irene Kainda who has spent almost all her life engaged in Cape Town in performing the labor of survival with dignity, hope, and humor. Rather than deport Irene Kainda, reform the State. Institute a statute of limitations on being-a-refugee. Take responsibility for being a haven. Stop treating Irene Kainda as a stranger and welcome her as a neighbor.

(Photo Credit:Mail & Guardian)

Women and girl refugees haunt the world

Refugee statistics from the UNHCR

Today, June 20, 2011, is World Refugee Day. To honor this, the United Nations Refugee Agency released a report, UNHCR Global Trends 2010: 60 Years and Still Counting. According to the report, there are no 43.7million refugees and internally displaced persons. That’s the highest number in 15 years. 27.5 million people are internally displaced persons, the highest number in a decade. Globally, fewer than 200,000 refugees voluntarily returned home, the lowest number in twenty years.

Children make up more than 50% of the global displaced population. 55% of stateless people are children. 55% of returnees are children. 48% of Internally Displaced Persons are children. 44% of refugees are children. 31% of asylum seekers are children.  55% of “others of concern” are children. If children are the future, what is the present?

Women and girls? “Women and girls represented, on average, 49 per cent of persons of concern to UNHCR. They constituted 47 per cent of refugees, and half of all IDPs and returnees (former refugees).”

On July 28, 1951, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In 2000, the United Nations adopted June 20 as World Refugee Day. It chose that day so as to coincide with Africa Refugee Day, June 20. Starting in 2001, June 20 has been `celebrated’ as World Refugee Day.

From 2001 to 2011, ten years is too many. From 1951 to 2011, sixty years is too many too many. Last week, in a nationally broadcast public forum, Dan Pfeiffer, White House Director of Communications, was asked, directly and repeatedly, “Is there a war on women?” He equivocated and obfuscated and generally avoided the question. The question can’t be avoided. Is there a war on women? Yes, there is a war on women. Part of that war is the production of huge populations of refugee and internally displaced women and girls. Stakeholders must be called to account. When asked the question, answer directly. Yes, there is a war on women. Yes, sixty years is too many too many. But hey … who’s counting?

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)