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January 20, 2010

Charges against Christmas Island asylum seekers are vindictive

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release January 20, 2010

Refugee advocates have condemned the move by the Australian Federal Police to charge 12 Christmas Island detainees with offences arising from a fight inside the detention centre last November.

It is understood that twelve asylum seekers appeared in a specially convened Christmas Island magistrates’ court on Wednesday afternoon to face charges arising from last year’s fight between Sri Lankan and Afghan detainees.

The nature of the charges against the asylum seekers could not be confirmed by the Federal Police.

“The fight which erupted over the use of snooker tables was a direct result of tensions created by the government and the overcrowding of the detention center. The government has locked people up for months and months in a high security prison. Christmas Island was a tinder box waiting for a spark,” said Ian Rintoul

“If there is anyone guilty for starting the fight on Christmas Island, it is Immigration Minister, Chris Evans,” he said.

“Having created the conditions that caused the fight, the government is now looking to make the asylum seekers the scapegoats. The charges are just adding insult to injury. It is disgraceful that detainees have been told that being convicted of charges associated with the fight could result in them being denied visas,” said Ian Rintoul.

“The immigration department is inflicting more mental torture on already vulnerable people. They should withdraw that threat. There is nothing in the fight that in any way affects their refugee claims.”

The charges come only a day after a new report in the Medical Journal of Australia (vol 192, no 2) confirmed that detention has a dramatic detrimental affect on the mental health of detainees. The report by Janette Green and Kathy Eagar found “a clear association between time in detention and rates of mental illness.”

“Torture, trauma and mental health services on Christmas Island are stretched way beyond their capacity. They cannot meet the needs of the growing population of detainees. The detainees need support and services not criminal charges. This will only add to the anxieties and tension inside the detention centre,” said Rintoul.

“Asylum seekers have been punished enough. Christmas Island is the crime. It should be closed,” he said.

“We are very worried,” Rintoul was told by one detainee from Christmas Island, “There is no problem between Tamils and Afghans. Everyone was talked to, everyone thought nothing more will happen.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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