Yesterday, in a dramatic backdown, the Australian government agreed to allow 56 Tamils asylum seekers who were due to be deported to Sri Lanka to make applications to be granted asylum as refugees. Today, the Australian government is once again planning to deport another group of Tamils who have been subject to a "screening out" process which denies them the right to proceed with a a full refugee application.
On November 30, New Matilda published a report by Adam Brereton and myself which included the comments of Professor of Developmental Psychiatry Dr Louise Newman who explained how detention centres like the ones on Nauru and Manus Island produce feeling of abandonment, despair and psychiatric disorders. On the same day, Dr Michael Dudley is Chairperson of the Suicide Australia Prevention Board since 2001 spoke at a protest rally outside the Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek’s office. As he spoke scores of asylum seekers detained by the Australian government on the Pacific island nation of Nauru were on hunger strike with one, Omid laying critically ill in a small Nauru hospital after refusing food for 50 days. A few hours later he was taken by air ambulance to a hospital in Brisbane.
Earlier in the year, I prepared a timeline covering the events for the period between 2001 and 2007 during which the Australian coalition government locked-up people seeking asylum on the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, 4000 kilometres away from Australia. I prepared the timeline because I was upset by the way the Australian media failed to inform the public about the history of detention on Nauru at the time when the Gillard Labor government decided to restart the so-called Pacific Solution by opening detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in PNG. After all, people who are eighteen now were still in junior high school when the earlier events occurred. This lack of backgrounding by the media makes it easier for politicians to mislead the public. By presenting the news in a very narrow frame, significant issues are made invisible.
In June, the Australian parliament debated refugee policy proposal put forward in a private member's bill by Independent member Rob Oakshott which if passed would have meant asylum seekers arriving by boat would be sent to Malaysia or to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, which had played a key role in the notorious Howard government's Pacific Solution.
In early July, Murdoch University academic Anne Pedersen and others wrote a letter about Australian refugee policy. The letter was circulated and along with 200 others, I was glad to support this initiative as I had become increasingly frustrated with the way the political choices in the refugee debate was being portrayed by the media.