Saturday, May 28, 2011

The dark side of Australia"s refugee policies: Safe havens and the Balkans wars

Once again events of the past have been catapulted into our daily existence.

The arrest of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is a reminder of the terrible events of the Balkans Wars of the 1990s.

Mladic will stand trial accused of the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 and the deaths of 10,000 people (including 3000 children) during the 3.5 year siege of Sarajevo during the early 1990's.


Mladic led the Bosnian Serb armed forces during the Balkan Wars of the 1990's and was responsible for the worst ethnically motivated mass murders in Europe since WW 2. He was arrested in a small farming town north of Belgrade after Police were tipped off by a local source.

So while those events resonate around the world, they have a profound resonance here in Australia, particularly for people who fled the Balkans war and came to Australia under Safe Haven visas in search of sanctuary. Many found it, but others didn't, as Pamela Curr from the Melbourne based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre points out in this piece.

Pamela's piece reminds us that that some refugees from the Balkan Wars who came to Australia were treated appallingly by Australian Governments of both political persuasions, despite government rhetoric about safe havens.

Pamela's piece is a reminder that the "dark side" of Australian Government immigration policies and practices, something that is ever more evident by the day,  has a long history that should never be forgotten.
"It was dark and noisy in the Trades Hall Bar. The boy leant forward  as he told me about the day Ratko Mladic came to his village. The soldiers rounded up everyone then separated the men and the women. The boy stood beside his father at the back of the group.

Mladic called out for boys born in certain years to step forward. He was 17. His year was called. As he moved to obey, his father fixed his arm in a vice-like grip, wordlessly holding him back. The boy saw his friends marched around the side of the barn. Then the shots rang out. The father whispered to the boy- run- NOW. In the distress and confusion, he escaped into the hills.

This boy came to Australia in 1999 on a Safe Haven visa when the Australian government responded to a call to accept evacuees until they could safely return. He stayed at the Albury army camp and was welcomed by the local community who responded with generosity and hospitality to the Kosavars. Then overnight the Australian army left and the private security contractors took over and the open camp became a prison.

The boy and his friend escaped on the same day. They worked on farms along the Murray until betrayed and handed over to Immigration. Then they were detained in Maribyrnong Detention centre. There, they witnessed the terrible death of Viliami Tanginoa who dived head first off the basket ball post after being ignored all day. They saw his body lying in the rain for an hour. Then they were taken to the Melbourne Custody Centre and locked in isolation for six weeks. Then they were taken to the Fitzroy Police cells and locked up for 23 hours out of 24 for months. They were never charged with any crime.

Eventually they were released to report to the police station every day until they were deported."

1 comment:

Ciaran Lynch said...

Very sad. The Mladic arrest has brought up a lot of very unpleasant memories and forced many countries to look at their human rights failures record. This time from a little distance, and, regretably, it looks worse than ever.