Human rights groups in Australia proclaimed Thursday, September 9, 2004 as a National Day of Shame. The following is a press release from Rural Australians for Refugees:
No crime but life imprisonment
Peter Qasim and Eidriess Abdulrahman Al Salih are two of 13 stateless asylum seekers who face indefinite detention in Australia. They are currently in Baxter Detention Centre.
Australia has refused their requests for asylum but the countries of their births will not take them back. Up to 80 other countries have also refused their pleas for a home.
On 6th August the High Court decided that the Migration Act allowed for the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. In response to media questions, Minister Vanstone said her discretionary power to grant visas served as a safety valve. However, on 31st August she told the 13 stateless asylum seekers that she had reviewed their cases and would not be giving them visas.
'What is my crime?' asks Peter Qasim. 'I asked for asylum after my father was killed and I was tortured by the security forces in Kashmir. It was a mistake to ask people who didn't want me, but I have already been punished for my ignorance longer than some murderers and my sentence has no end. Please give me freedom, send me anywhere. You can't ask a human being to live the rest of his life locked up.'
Late last year Eidriess Abdulrahman Al Salih had his statelessness graphically demonstrated. Al Salih, who was born in Kuwait to Sudanese guest-worker parents, was subject to a bungled deportation attempt by the Department of Immigration. He spent 13 days in detention in South Africa and Tanzania while the Department of Immigration tried unsuccessfully to deport him to Sudan or Kuwait. Eventually he had to be returned to Australia.
'After proving that he was stateless Al Salih wasn't given asylum, but locked up again. Now the minister has thrown away the key,' said RAR spokesperson Kris Latona. 'Does she expect that he will die an old man in detention? Will he serve 60 years for being stateless?'
On September 9th Peter Qasim starts his 7th year of detention. Refugee supporters and human rights groups have declared it a National Day of Shame and will hold rallies across Australia.