(First posted to Melbourne Indymedia.)
Melbourne’s contribution to a National Day of Shame marking the beginning of the 7th year of detention for Peter Qasim took the form of a rally on the steps outside the County Court yesterday, Thursday 9 September.
The rally was organised by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre; Pamela Curr from the Centre was MC. Speakers included Bilal Cleland from the Islamic Council of Victoria and Greg Connellan of Liberty Victoria.
Peter Qasim is one of a number of detainess affected by the recent High Court finding that people who have been denied refugee status but cannot be deported may be held in detention indefinitely – even if that means an effective life sentence for someone who has not committed any crime.
Similar protests were held around Australia.
The case history:
Peter (Muhammad) Qasim has been held in immigration detention in Australia since 9 September 1998. He will soon enter his 7th year in detention.
He was born in the disputed region of Kashmir in India on 14 May 1974. When he was a young child, his father was murdered by the security forces because of his political activities, and his mother died soon afterwards. As a young man, his own unarmed and peaceful opposition to the government’s policies in the region led to him being detained and tortured by the security forces, and after some years in hiding and on the run, it became necessary for him to flee the country.
Peter passed through Singapore and Papua New Guinea on his way to Australia, but these were places where he had no legal right to remain and there was no way to have his claim for asylum heard.
After Peter’s arrival, the delegate of the Minister for Immigration who assessed his claim accepted that he was an Indian citizen from Kashmir, and also accepted that he had been tortured, but did not believe that he faced a risk of ongoing persecution. On 20 October 1998 his application for a protection visa was refused. He appealed to the Refugee Review Tribunal, but on 11 January 1999 the original refusal was upheld by the tribunal member.
Since January 1999, Peter has pursued no further appeals to that decision, so he has been liable for removal from Australia. He still believes that he would face the risk of arrest and torture if he returned to India, particularly Kashmir, but he would prefer that possibility to dying in detention in Australia. However, because he has no passport, birth certificate, or other official document from India, and because he was an orphan unable to afford any formal education, the Indian government has so far refused to accept the fact that he is a citizen of that country.
In January 1999, the Department of Immigration lodged an application for travel documents with the Indian High Commission in Canberra. However, it was not until August 2003 that the Department conducted a language analysis test and an interview to collect background information, in order to provide more evidence of his Indian citizenship. He would have been happy to answer the questions that were put to him in this interview at any time, and does not understand why it took the Department five years to do this.
Peter has applied to almost 80 countries, asking if they will accept him, but he has received no positive replies.
On 6 August, the High Court found that the Migration Act authorised the government of Australia to detain people in circumstances such as Peter’s indefinitely, regardless of the prospect of ever being able to deport them. The only possibility of release for Peter now rests with the personal discretion of the Minister for Immigration to intervene in his case and grant him a visa.
Peter writes, “Living without the freedoms that ordinary people take for granted is very difficult. The conditions of detention involve small humiliations every day, and at times we are subject to great injustice, but the worst thing is having no certainty about when my imprisonment will end. Even a criminal knows the length of his sentence but I have no such comfort.”
Peter believes he is stateless and may now be indefinitely detained by a government department with no sympathy for his situation. Peter remains keen to help DIMIA deport him and says that he longs for freedom anywhere in the world.
Among those attending the protest were representatives of a fairly recently formed group under the name Researchers for Asylum Seekers – http://www.psych.unimelb.edu.au/research/asylum-seekers/ . Their website includes a report of the forum held at Melbourne University on August 24th – “What’s your policy? Politicians on asylum seekers” (Unfortunately this page does not seem to have survived):
In July of this year Amanda Vanstone attacked children’s author Morris Gleitzman over his choice and treatment of subject in a recent book, Girl Underground, which tells of two young people’s friendship with an Afghani in detention and their efforts to help him escape. She was quoted in The Australian as it says on this placard: “I think that one of the greatest things we can give kids is a childhood. Let them have a childhood as long as they can without burdening them with some of the difficult decisions that have to be made later in life. There’s no political gain to be had there. Kids don’t vote. Why ruin their childhood?”: