27 asylum seekers, including 24 Eezham Tamils, kept in Broadmeadows detention centre in Melbourne, Australia are entering the fifth day of hunger-strike demanding release. The Tamil refugees had arrived in Australia by boat in 2009 and have been in detention ever since as the Australian government considered them a ‘security threat’, even as they get support from Australian media and civil society activists. They include 4 women and 7 children below the age of ten, some still toddlers. Speaking to TamilNet from the detention centre, a 40 year old detainee said that despite being recognized as refugees by the UNHCR, there was no move by any international agency or by the Australian government to release them into normal society. “We are like a people without a future. Some individuals in depression are also feeling that suicide would be better than such a life,” he said.
The detainee, who arrived on Australian shores in August 2009 by boat, was unable to disclose his name fearing for the safety of his relatives back home.
Stating that there has been no official contact on behalf of the Australian government with the detainees ever since they began the fast, he said that after living in a literal cage for almost four years, it was their human right to demand release into normal society.
He informed that some of the hunger-strikers have developed health problems.
Among the Eezham Tamil detainees in Australia, there are seven children below the age of ten. While two children have born under detention, one three year old child has been under such conditions ever since birth.
The release of such detained refugees into Australian society is mediated by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).
There are around 60 recognized refugees in detention centres in Sydney and Melbourne who are under detention failing to get approval from the ASIO as they claim that the detainees are ‘a threat to national security’. Australian sources say that 4 of these are ethnic Rohingyas from Burma, 2 are Iranians and the rest are Eezham Tamils.
Sources further allege that the cover of ‘security’ being loosely appears to have an ulterior motive of discouraging other refugees from seeking asylum in Australia.
The protesting detainees in Melbourne demand the release of all such refugees and their integration with Australian society.
Spaking to TamilNet, Trevor Grant veteran Australian journalist and activist who is fighting for the democratic rights of the asylum seekers, opined that the indefinite detention of this group of refugees is one of the greatest blights on Australia’s international reputation.
"This is Australia’s Guantanamo — 55 refugees, mostly Tamil, locked in a legal blackhole, which means indefinite detention because of secret adverse reports on them by the country’s intelligence arm, ASIO. Most have been detained for between three and four years and are losing their minds in Australian refugee prisons," he said.
"The act of indefinite detention is soul-crushing. It squeezes out any hope of a normal life and leads to severe mental health issues. It is utterly inhumane and many of these men, women and children who have already experienced trauma in their home countries do not deserve to be mentally tortured even further," Mr. Bala Vigneswaran of the ATC said in a press release on Thursday.
The ATC statement further called on the Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Attorney General “to act as matter of urgency to bring an amicable solution immediately for those on the hunger-strike and a just solution for all in indefinite detention.”
Letters by the Canadian Peace Alliance, Canada’s largest peace organization, and the National Council of Canadian Tamils addressing the Australian Prime Minister on also urged the Australian government to release the refugees as per international law.