10 September 2019

Eurobodalla protesters move in on Member for Gilmore

| Ian Campbell
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The Eurobodalla wing of the Refugee Action Collective held a protest today at the office of local MP Ann Sudmalis.

The action was lead by Moruya’s Bernie Richards who has almost 20 years experience with the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration, including time as a Senior Investigator with the People Smuggling Strike Team.

“I used to go to Christmas Island, Broome, Port Hedland etc to do an initial analysis of people arriving by boat to see where they had originated from and whether they had any claims for protection,” Ms Richards says.

“I’ve interviewed hundreds of refugees who made it to Australia by boat when investigating people smuggling organisations.”

The death earlier this month of thirty-one year Hamed Shamshiripour near Lorengau on Manus Island prompted today’s protest action.

“This is the latest in a long line of tragedies in the offshore detention regime for which the Australian Government must be held responsible,” Ms Richards says.

“Many of Hamed’s friends on Manus and in Australia, including myself, appealed to authorities for treatment for his serious mental health problems. That treatment was not provided.”

The Guardian Australia published a letter on August 9 from the chief medical officer of Australian Border Force, Dr John Brayley, who twelve months earlier had indicated his awareness and interest in Mr Shamshiripour’s deteriorating mental health.

Questions remain around the Iranian refugee’s death, self-harm and foul play are both being suggested.

After four years in detention on Manus what doesn’t seem to be in dispute is Mr Shamshiripour’s mental state.

ABC journalist Eric Tlozek, who says he knew Mr Shamshiripour wrote, “He [Mr Shamshiripour] became increasingly isolated and desperate. I last glimpsed him alive when I drove through the centre of Lorengau town last month.”

“Then, last week I watched his body being loaded onto an aeroplane. He was leaving Manus Island, but not the way anyone wanted,” Mr Tlozek wrote.

The Guardian reports of, “Shamshiripour’s chaotic presentation, erratic and unpredictable behaviour, and unstable state…the subject of repeated entreaties from health professionals during his time on Manus.”

Ms Richards says even people within the local Manusian community knew that Mr Shamshiripour needed mental health attention and had also appealed to authorities.

“I was personally sent photos of his body. As an ex-police officer, there are indications that Hamed’s death may not have been suicide and this really needs to be investigated independently, Ms Richards says.

“I ‘spoke’ to Hamed quite a few times on Facebook Messenger when he was healthy and not suffering from mental health issues. Once his situation deteriorate and he became more unwell, it became more difficult to connect with him.”

Hamed Shamshiripour who was found dead on Manus Island earlier this month after four years in detention. Source: The Guardian Australia.

Hamed Shamshiripour who was found dead on Manus Island earlier this month after four years in detention. Source: The Guardian Australia.

Those gathered outside the Nowra office of the Liberal Member for Gilmore today feel Australia is responsible for Mr Shamshiripour’s death and argue that the Turnbull Government has a duty of care that is being ignored or forgotten.

Tension seems especially high on Manus at the moment as the Australian Government moves to close the detention centre by the end of October. It seems the future of many of the 803 refugees housed there remains unclear, a deal with the Trump administration to settle detainees in America still unresolved.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla believes the publication of the fruity Trump-Turnbull phone conversation suggests that safety and refuge for the 1,200 people on Manus Island and Nauru is false hope.

“Refugees are being placed in a more dangerous and untenable situation,” Ms Richards suggests.

“Further tragedy is inevitable unless the Australian government pursues a humanitarian policy and brings those on Manus and Nauru to Australia.”

Today’s group of 20 – 30 protesters tried to speak with Ms Sudmalis but were told she was out of the office on other business.

“Sadly we have found that our local member is just not listening or doing the work that she should, despite at least two years of trying to engage with her,” Ms Richards says.

“At her last village stop in Moruya, Ms Sudmalis expressed shock that there were children still in detention, despite us repeatedly flagging this as an important issue.

“We have provided factual information to her on more than one occasion, but she ignores any approaches we make,” Ms Richrads says.

As at June 30, the Department of Immigration reported 42 children in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla suggests close to 130 other kids are living in the community on Nauru.

“That’s lives left without proper health care, education, or safety, and Ann Sudmalis as our local member of parliament presides over that,” Ms Richards says.

About Regional spoke with and emailed the office of Ann Sudmalis for comment on Tuesday morning ahead of today’s protest, no response has been received.

The group says it will also be presenting its concerns to the Labor candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, and Mike Kelly, the sitting Labor member for the neighbouring seat of Eden-Monaro.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla protesting today outside of the Member for Gilmore's office. Source: RAC Eurobodalla Facebook

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla protesting today outside of the Member for Gilmore’s office. Source: RAC Eurobodalla Facebook

“Both the Liberal – National Government and the Labor Party continue to peddle the misconception that they have stopped the boats and that mandatory detention has resulted in deterring people and stopping people smugglers,” Ms Richards says.

“Those detained on Manus and Nauru are in effect the human hostages of this approach, losing their lives and their human rights as a result of such a deeply warped policy.

“Australia has had a successful past of settling refugees. We can seek to solve problems, draw on our past successes and just evacuate them before there are more deaths or injuries,” Ms Richards pleads.

The Refugee Action Collective has raised over $17,000 in the Eurobodalla to date for emergency legal and medical responses on Manus.

“Regional people have big hearts,” Ms Richards says.

“We see the value of mateship, of a fair go, and how we are actually connected, by virtue of our Government’s actions, and our tax payer money being spent on locking up people and breaking human rights.”

Thanks to About Regional members – Cathy Griff, Patrick and Meagan O’Halloran, Kym Mogridge, and Rosemary Lord for supporting local news and stories.

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Interesting. I personally met Paris Aristotle, and worked ‘with’ him at sea during an operation. I will reserve my opinion of him and his approach. Secondly. I was involved in and ‘rescued…intercepted’ many of these vessels. And what I experienced and know is much different to what the general public have seen or would even comprehend first hand. The govt at any given point in time is performing a function. There is always a cost. On both sides.

Thanks for the insight though.


Bernie Richards5:12 am 25 Aug 17

Good questions, Phil. I question it too, especially as 82% of the asylum seekers in Manus, and about the same number in Nauru, have been found to be REFUGEES. These stats are available on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) website if you wish to check for yourself. They have been identified and found to be refugees. They are not being detained because they are a security issue. The issue is that the Australian government doesn’t care that they are refugees, only that they came by boat. They are being punished because they came by boat, even though Vicki Parker, the top lawyer in the DIBP has said in Senate Estimates hearings that it is NOT ILLEGAL TO SEEK ASYLUM BY BOAT.

I agree we need to look at the issue holistically. Many concerned people, not just refugee advocates and human rights groups, have done so and many have come up with ways to ensure people don’t die at sea. Unfortunately, this government has not listened to previous advice about how to deal with this issue holistically. Paris Aristotle is one of the government’s well respected key architects of this offshore processing model. Just last Friday he reiterated that Australia’s offshore detention centres are “terrible”, don’t deter asylum seekers from boarding boats, and are a corruption of what was recommended to government. Nobody wants to see people drowning at sea, but the policy of punishing refugees who arrive by boat does not fix the problem. Boats are still being turned-around. There are better ways of ensuring a fair and humane approach to refugees.

Re: your comment about asylum seekers registering with the UNHCR in a safe country and waiting patiently, some have registered with the UNHCR but this is often not easy, sometimes there is corruption and there is no queue! I personally have a Rohingya friend who has been in a UNHCR camp for 26 years, since fleeing ethnic genocide in Burma with his family when he was 3 years old! In many refugee camps they are not allowed to work, many camps do not provide education services for children, and many people starve from hunger or die from unsanitary conditions in many refugee camps around the world. Yes, sometimes “sitting in a detention centre is safer than facing persecution in the home country” but the United Nations has actually repeatedly condemned Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in detention centres and has said it is tantamount to torture and is known to be “extremely unsafe

Just yesterday a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly passed unanimously, calling for the asylum seekers currently held in offshore detention to be settled in Canberra. ) In the motion, it was stated that:

a)the Manus Island detention facility and the Nauru Regional Processing Centre have been unequivocally shown, via multiple reports from reputable sources, including the United Nations, to be extremely unsafe and inappropriate places, yet over 2000 refugees – including 169 children – have been imprisoned for four years in these inhumane and degrading conditions;

b) Refugees in these processing centres have been subjected to violent attacks, sexual violence, inadequate medical care, and harassment involving mothers, fathers and children as young as six;

c) The United Nations has repeatedly criticised Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers including by saying: “The consensus among medical experts is that conditions of detention and offshore processing do immense damage to physical and mental health” and “[T]he Rapporteur concludes that there is substance in the allegations… that the Government of Australia, by failing to provide adequate detention conditions; end the practice of detention of children; and put a stop to the escalating violence and tension at the Regional Processing Centre, has violated the right of the asylum seekers, including children, to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment…”;

d) On 8 August 2017, the UNHCR said it is “is gravely concerned by deteriorating conditions at the Manus Island ‘Regional Processing Centre’, as authorities seek to relocate people to Lorengau or elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, where they are not wanted by the local people. The announcement of the closure of the Centre, in the absence of appropriate alternatives, is causing acute distress among refugees and asylum-seekers.

The ACT Government has stated it is “willing and ready to settle refugees and asylum seekers from Manus and Nauru in Canberra as part of a national program of resettlement”.

You may also like to look at this website for some interesting information: http://www.asyluminsight.com/

I question why these remaining asylum seekers are being held in detention. Is it a case of not being able to sufficiently identify them? If this is the case can you see the predicament? How can you possibly grant asylum to someone who is not identified? On the other hand. If someone is identified. And their character raises concern with granting asylum in any given country, what option is there? Return them to thier home country to face possible persecution? Or release them into the community only to find that national security is at risk. If people have nothing to hide and are of good character. Why not register with unhcr in a safe transit country and wait. Yes it is a long process. But it’s safer than what these people have already escaped. Sitting in a detention centre is safer than facing persecution in the home country. It is a matter of perspective. Yes manus and naru have failed. But that was inevitable when the local population is not from a wealthy country. There was always going to be problems with equal entitlement ie food, water shelter, access to medical services. There is no right answer. But there is a choice to look at the problem holistically.

Maureen Searson4:18 am 24 Aug 17

Thank you Bernie Richards for your advocacy 🙂 Thank you Ian Campbell for posting 🙂

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