MOST asylum seekers detained during the Christmas Island and Villawood riots were later found to be refugees, new data shows, challenging an inquiry finding that blamed the unrest on increasing numbers of rejected detainees who would not accept the umpire’s decision.
Department of Immigration data shows 88 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2009-10, including those who were initially rejected, have been found to be refugees and now have a visa. Sixty-eight per cent of those arriving in 2010-11, including those initially rejected, also have a visa. Final approvals are expected to be higher as half of these people are awaiting review.
The Hawke report into riots that broke out during March and April last year said 80 of 100 detainees involved in the Christmas Island riots had received initial rejections, and blamed the disturbances, and self-harm, on detainees ‘receiving the wrong outcome in their eyes’.
The report’s author, Allan Hawke, told a parliamentary committee last week: ‘The conclusion we were coming to was that these were not genuine refugees and they were reacting to the fact that they had paid a people smuggler to come to Australia … [and] they were going to vent their anger on the system’.
The government has repeatedly blamed the riots on large numbers of detainees being on ‘a negative pathway’, rather than detention conditions.
But the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, has questioned Dr Hawke’s findings. ‘These statistics prove that the government’s rhetoric – that people who have been in detention long-term are not refugees and are on negative pathways – is simply not true. Most, in fact, are genuine refugees who have been unnecessarily detained for far too long while the government played politics with their lives,’ she said.
The rate at which initial rejections are overturned has soared in the past six months. In the December 2011 quarter, 72 per cent of refugees won a visa after review. This was up from 63 per cent in the September quarter, and 48 per cent in June. Senator Hanson-Young said: ‘The figures show roughly nine in 10 claims for protection are validated.’
A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said riot ringleaders still faced having refugee visas refused by the minister if they were sentenced.
Overall refugee approval data should not be linked to specific individuals involved in the riots, ‘many of whom have been charged, remain on a negative pathway and are still subject to new tougher character requirements’, he said. The Hawke inquiry ‘made clear the incidents were largely the result of the frustrations of a group of people on a ‘negative pathway’ not being regarded as refugees’.
Only 9 per cent of Iranian asylum seekers and 26 per cent of Afghans were recognised as refugees at first interview in the three months before the riots. By last December, half of Iranians and 57 per cent of Afghans were winning protection at the first interview. The director of the Centre for Policy Development, John Menadue, criticised the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, for xenophobia, andsaid it was shameful Mr Morrison had suggested asylum seekers spread disease.
Sydney Morning Herald 7 March 2012
Comment from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre:
Allan Hawke who distinguished himself during the “children overboard scandal” by ensuring that information proving that asylum seekers did NOT throw their children into the water was withheld, was carefully chosen to investigate the Christmas island fires.
He has come up with the findings below which fulfil the government line that people rioted because they were unhappy with their decisions. Some of those charged actually were accepted as refugees and had positive security checks but were waiting until the Minister released them. Some having waited 11months for Court cases which were so obviously without grounds that they were acquitted, are still waiting for the minister to unlock the gate and free them. So damaged is our democracy that the power to give individual freedom and liberty is vested in one political appointment.
The report is worth reading
Below is an example
On 11 March 2011, CIIDC detainees breached the perimeter fence so that they had
unrestricted access within the Centre and were able to roam freely across Christmas Island
itself. Mass non-compliance and fires caused considerable damage to detention
infrastructure over the following days; the safety of staff and some detainees was under threat
and sections of the Christmas Island community also felt threatened. Order was restored only
after control of the incident was handed over to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Reading this gives no indication of the true timeline of events. The detainees did escape and peacefully walked into the village on the island from their isolated position in the jungle at NW point. They did not light fires or cause harm. The AFP arrived on the island a week later and then the trouble started. After everyone was returned to NW POINT, the AFP attacked, extracting people and putting them in Red One and then firing tear gas, bean bag bullets, pyrotechnics causing mayhem. It was then that the detainees responded and engaged. The behaviour of the AFP was iniquitous. They drove around the island with submachines guns stapped across their chests causing fear to the local community. none of this is apparent in Allan Hawkes report.
Read the report for yourself to judge.