Australia: John Howard-Philip Ruddock "Pacific Solution" a death sentence for Afghan asylum seekers Print E-mail
The Sydney Morning Herald » Monday, October 27, 2008

It's hell for Afghans we rejected

Scroll down to also read from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Four Corners Program of March 13 2000 "A Well Founded Fear of Persecution: An insight into the previously hidden world of Australia's detention centres". International Criminal Court for John Howard and Philip Ruddock? In the interests of Justice, you betcha!!

Return to danger … Abdul Azmin Rajabi, who lost two daughters in a grenade attack on his home; right, a woman known as Zahra whose son has vanished since he was repatriated to Afghanistan (Photo: Glen Mccurtayne)

Cynthia Banham

IN THE depths of the harsh Afghan winter early this year, Abdul Azmin Rajabi took an Australian with him on a pilgrimage to the graves of his two daughters.

Mr Rajabi placed his hands on the snow-covered tombstones marking where his children now lie, and told Phil Glendenning, the director of the Edmund Rice Centre: "I put my life in danger to help my family, to help my children, but I couldn't."

Mr Rajabi is one of 400 Afghans Australia rejected under the Howard government's "Pacific Solution". His story, along with many others, is told in a documentary, A Well-Founded Fear, to be screened on SBS next month.

He had reason to fear the Taliban in 2001. His family had connections to the previous communist government, and as if this wasn't reason enough for the Taliban to want him dead, he had given up his Islamic faith and had married outside his tribal group.

The Taliban came looking for him and captured his father, who refused to say where his son was. So he was beaten with electrical cords. "When he came home he was unable to walk or talk or sit," the son says in the documentary.. "His entire body was blackened with bruises."

He died two days later. So Mr Rajabi fled to Australia, leaving behind his wife and children, in hiding in Iran, waiting until they could join him.

How his two young daughters came to be killed by the Taliban a year later is a tragic consequence of Australia's refusal to grant this Afghan father asylum when he came begging for refuge, say the makers of the documentary.

The decision to embark on such a perilous journey to Australia, aided by people smugglers, was a hard one. "I consoled myself hoping that, although separated from my family, at least I would find a way to keep myself and my family alive," Mr Rajabi says.

Mr Rajabi, a member of the persecuted Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan, arrived on Nauru in late 2001, where his claim for asylum was rejected and he was given no right of appeal.

He tells Mr Glendenning, whose search for rejected asylum seekers is at the heart of the program, that Immigration officials told him it was safe to go back. They offered to give him $2000 to return "voluntarily", or face indefinite detention. "They told us that even if we stayed there for 10 years we would never be accepted."

So in late 2002 Mr Rajabi went back. Four months later he was at home with his family in a town outside Kabul when an explosion ripped through the walls and windows of his house. He describes in the documentary how first there was one bang, then another. Shrapnel tore through the window, killing his daughter Yalda. Rowna, his youngest daughter, died a few minutes later.

It was a grenade attack, believed to be by the Taliban who, according to local medical authorities and newspaper reports, targeted the family.

Mr Rajabi drops his head into his hands and breaks down, unable to go on.

Today he lives with the remainder of his family in Pakistan, where he can't send his sons to school for fear of their safety.

He only came to Kabul so he could tell Mr Glendenning, and Australia, in person, what happened to him. "We could only speak from our heart, which we did," he says of the account he gave to Australian officials seven years ago, but which they didn't want to believe.

Mohammed Rizae is also a Hazara Afghan who was rejected by Australia. He believes this had something to do with the translators used by Immigration officials on Nauru who were all Pashtuns - the same ethnic group as the Taliban.

He was too scared to tell the translators some aspects of his story, such as the fact he is Ishmaili, a member of the pacifist Islamic sect targeted by the Taliban and the nomadic Kuchis, who are also Pashtuns.

Mr Rizae's grandfather had refused to fight the Soviet-backed communists. He was publicly hanged by the Taliban in a bazaar.

But Australian officials told Mr Rizae there were inconsistencies in his testimony, and they were unable to substantiate his fear of persecution because Afghanistan was now safe.

So in 2002 Australia sent him back to Afghanistan, where he was forced to flee to Pakistan because his old enemies returned to pursue him again. Today his province is in the hands of the Taliban.

"Those places where we live are not and never were secure," he tells Mr Glendenning.

Mr Rizae now spends his days moving between Pakistan and Kabul.

There are many other stories.

Gholam Payador, also an Hazara Afghan sent back to Afghanistan by Australia in 2002, holds up a photo of himself and two other Afghans standing together on Nauru. The other men are now dead, he says. One was shot by two men on a motorcycle.

Mohammed Hussain, another Afghan rejected by Australia, also meets with Mr Glendenning. "I was forced to leave this country, and seeking refuge in Australia worsened my crime," he tells him.

A self-described poet who was working in a coalmine, he disappeared soon after he met the filmmakers. Eyewitnesses saw him taken out from his workplace by gunmen who put him into a 4WD vehicle with blackened windows. Mr Glendenning said he is still missing and there are grave fears for his life.


The Sydney Morning Herald » Monday, October 27, 2008

Afghans sent home to die

Cynthia Banham Diplomatic Editor

THE Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, has demanded answers to allegations up to 20 Afghan asylum seekers rejected by Australia under the Howard government's so-called Pacific solution were killed after returning to Afghanistan, and others remain in hiding from the Taliban.

The claims are contained in a documentary to be aired on SBS on November 19. The film, A Well-Founded Fear, produced by Anne Delaney, is based on the efforts of Phil Glendenning, the director of social justice agency the Edmund Rice Centre, who has spent the past six years tracing many of these rejected asylum seekers.

About 400 Afghans detained on Nauru were returned to Afghanistan after having their asylum claims rejected. They were told by Immigration officials it was safe to go home, and that if they refused, they would remain in detention forever, according to accounts given to Mr Glendenning.

Another 400 who refused to go voluntarily were eventually found to be refugees and were resettled in Australia or other countries including New Zealand.

Mr Glendenning says he has documented the deaths of nine of the rejected Afghans at the hands of the Taliban, but he believes the figure is actually 20.

Of the other Afghans who returned home, many are hiding in Pakistan, or are forced to move between Pakistan and Afghanistan to evade the Taliban. They include a man whose two daughters were killed in a Taliban attack on his family's home near Kabul, after his asylum claim was rejected by Australia in 2002.

Senator Evans told the Herald he had asked his department to give him a "full briefing" on the matters raised by the Edmund Rice Centre.

He said the department's initial response, "and I am conscious this is the department's response - is that they don't agree with a lot of the claims made".

But he said he was "taking the claims very seriously" and had "asked for further information about the processes that occurred on Nauru and the robustness and integrity of those processes".

Much of the information Mr Glendenning used to locate the rejected asylum seekers was provided to him by sympathetic Immigration officials, concerned at what had occurred under the Howard government.

He believes the Afghans who left Nauru were "lied to" by Australian officials, and he wants the Government to reopen their cases.

"We now have the opportunity with the new Government to put the mistakes of the past to rest," Mr Glendenning said.

Senator Evans said he had an open mind about reopening some of the cases. It would be a big step, he said. "You would want to be convinced there was something very wrong that occurred.

"What some advocates are saying is you ought put them [the rejected Afghans] as a priority in the humanitarian intake over the claims of others. The reason for that priority is that they once came to Australia, were rejected as refugees, and returned to their country of origin," he said.

This would "fundamentally overturn" the basis on which such decisions were normally made, which was on priority of need.

Philip Ruddock was immigration minister until October 2003. Asked for his comments on the rejected Afghans, he said, "I would never say mistakes are impossible." But he added that Australia's asylum system was "robust and credible". He also said the Afghans left Nauru "voluntarily".

"It is the case that Afghanistan is a dangerous place but the [United Nations] Refugee Convention does not say you cannot be returned to a dangerous place," Mr Ruddock said. "The fact that somebody might tragically die [in Afghanistan] may well be as tragic as a road accident in Sydney."

| Asia-Pacific | Monday, 27 October 2008

Australia probes Afghan killings

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Many asylum-seekers had been held on the Pacific island of Nauru

Australia has ordered an investigation into claims that up to 20 Afghan asylum-seekers were killed by the Taleban after being returned home.

A television documentary reports that those who died were among 400 Afghan asylum-seekers denied entry to Australia by the former government.

Their fate was examined by a social research group, the Edmund Rice Centre, which says it has proof of nine deaths.

The policy under which the Afghans were returned home has since been dropped.

The previous Howard government's so-called Pacific Solution policy detained people with asylum claims on islands in the Pacific, preventing them from setting foot on Australian soil.

Incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cancelled the Pacific Solution and the forced returns policy.

Deaths reported
The deaths were brought to light by a television documentary due to air on the SBS channel later this month.

About 400 Afghans detained at the Australian detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru were returned to their homeland, having had their asylum claims rejected.

According to many in their own accounts, they were assured by Australian immigration officials that it was safe for them to return home, and told that they would be held in detention for the rest of their lives if they failed to do so.

But an investigation by the social justice group, the Edmund Rice Centre, has found that some were killed by the Taleban.

It documented the deaths of nine of the failed asylum seekers at the hands of the Taleban and believes the true figure is actually closer to 20.

The investigation also found that many Afghans who were returned home are hiding in Pakistan, or were forced to move between there and Afghanistan in order to evade capture.

They include an Afghan man whose daughters were killed in an attack on his home near Kabul, after his bid for asylum was rejected by Australia in 2002.

Controversial policy
The director of the Edmund Rice Centre, Phil Glendenning, has said that much of the information used to locate returned asylum seekers had come from sympathetic immigration officials, angry about the controversial asylum policies of the Howard government, which introduced the Pacific Solution.

The new immigration minister, Chris Evans, has asked his department to look into the claims.

Meanwhile, his predecessor Phillip Ruddock said that "mistakes were possible," but added that Australia's asylum system was "robust and credible".

He said that the United Nations Refugee Convention did not prevent asylum seekers from being returned to dangerous places.
March 13 2000

A Well Founded Fear of Persecution

An insight into the previously hidden world of Australia's detention centres.

CHRIS MASTERS: This is a picture of persecution.

These men are asylum seekers.

The images are drawn not from the country they escaped, but, here -- Australia.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: I told them that they are witnessing the death -- my death and God will punish them one by one, because it is inhuman to act this way.

CHRIS MASTERS: Here in Australia they endured a hunger strike, arbitrary imprisonment, repeated forced injections and expulsion towards the country they fear threatens their lives.

MANDY McNULTY, IMMIGRATION AGENT: Tape was placed over his mouth and he was able to push the tape off with his tongue, and he was crying and he began to scream in the aeroplane.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: I am not criminal, I am refugee.

I am not criminal, I am refugee.

CHRIS MASTERS: Tonight we look at how and why Australia is getting tougher on increasing numbers of asylum seekers.

We look at a range of abuses within Australia.

We also reveal how Australia is itself accused of illegal migration -- in this case dumping failed asylum seekers in South Africa.

PHILIP RUDDOCK, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: As many as 10,000 people could be packing up now, in the Middle East, with a view to trying to access Australia.

REPORTER: Nearly 4,000 illegal immigrants landed in Australia last year.

CHRIS MASTERS: Across the world there are more than 20 million displaced people looking for a home.

Working out whether the relatively small numbers who arrive here deserve protection or should fairly be returned to their home countries is an anguished task.

Australia takes a tough stance in managing it.

We are one of few like countries to mandatorily confine people for an undefined time while their claims are processed.

CHRIS SIDOTI, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER: This seems to be the whole approach -- keep them out of sight, keep them out of mind, process them as quickly as possible, don't tell them their rights, lock them up and lock them away, and get rid of them as quickly as we can.

JOHN TAYLOR, SENIOR ASSISTANT OMBUDSMAN: We receive sufficient complaints to raise concerns about the circumstances in the new detention centres.

STAFF MEMBER FROM PROCESSING CENTRE: This is the main entry to the Port Hedland Immigration Reception and Processing Centre.

Just going through the main gates into what we call the airlock.

This is where vehicles stop.

CHRIS MASTERS: Our tour begins at Port Hedland in Western Australia.

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has granted unique access to their immigration detention centre.

JENNY BEDLINGTON, HEAD, REFUGEE AND HUMANITARIAN PROGRAM: We were down to 43, I think it was, Richard, a year or so ago, in Port Hedland, and we've now got over 700.

CHRIS MASTERS: The media and particularly cameras are not normally allowed.

Four Corners gained entry having given an undertaking not to identify people who have security concerns.

There is no question the department, DIMA, and the contractor, ACM, have a difficult job.

Nor is it easy for the people who are stuck here.

STAFF MEMBER FROM PROCESSING CENTRE: This is a standard sort of room -- standard accommodation that we have at the centre.

Two beds in all these rooms.

As I said, common room down that end.

This is pretty much it.

They can have a variety of personal articles in here.

CHRIS MASTERS: So how long might they spend in a room like this?

Depends on how quickly the case gets processed and to what extent they pursue appeals.

I guess we'd be talking about an average of about three months, at this stage.

CHRIS MASTERS: The first responsibility of DIMA is to verify the identity of people, ensure they fulfil medical checks and sort through their stories.

While we could not hear the stories of the people currently confined, we were able to locate some of the newly released.

DAWOD JAWAD, FORMER DETAINEE: The situation in Afghanistan is very bad.

As you know, the Taliban has killed children and old men, old women --

HABIB JAWID, FORMER DETAINEE: I can say about 10 years I couldn't see the face of peace in my village because always we had problem.

CHRIS MASTERS: The stories are typical.

They come from Perth's new community of young Afghan males who've gathered for a service to commemorate a martyr.

Most escaped Afghanistan, camped out in neighbouring countries, then found their way to Indonesia.

They were smuggled by boat to Australia and confined in Port Hedland before receiving a three-year temporary visa.

They explain why they failed to apply for a visa offshore in this way.

RAMAZAN MORAD, FORMER DETAINEE: There was no embassy from Australia and we cannot go there, and we compelled to leave Afghanistan, and we have to come illegally.

STAFF MEMBER FROM PROCESSING CENTRE: At this stage, we'll just provide a basic school syllabus, till such time as they're graded.

CHRIS MASTERS: Can we interrupt your class?

And what sort of students are they?

TEACHER: Very eager students.

Very keen to learn English.

CHRIS MASTERS: A view that Australia is a soft target for asylum seekers is easily dispelled.

There is little that is soft about a system that locks up all illegal arrivals, their children too, for an undetermined period.

CHRIS SIDOTI: Now, I look at the quite atrocious mandatory sentencing laws in the Northern Territory -- quite atrocious laws, but I have to say that they are positively benign compared to what the Commonwealth is doing under its own laws in relation to these children.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: It's a position that the Government has taken and former governments have taken, in the face of opposition from a number of advocates, including the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

CHRIS MASTERS: Within the centre, detainees are segregated and isolated.

STAFF MEMBER FROM PROCESSING CENTRE: Essentially, this is our infectious diseases building.

We just keep it if we do have people coming through with hepatitis, or something like that, just keep them separate from the rest of the population.

CHRIS MASTERS: Beyond the need to quarantine potential disease and separate hostile factions, the prisons within a prison minimises the likelihood of people coaching one another to beat the system.

CHRIS SIDOTI: The policy is clearly designed to ensure that those who first come here are kept totally isolated so that they cannot be informed of their rights under Australian law -- and that itself is a human rights problem.

CHRIS MASTERS: The characterless interviewing rooms belie the life and death struggles they contain.

What has to be discovered is whether someone is at risk and needs protection or whether they are evading the normal migration regulations.

Why is it important to be vigilant, and, if you like, sceptical?

JENNY BEDLINGTON: It's very important for a number of reasons, and most particularly with this case load because the great majority of them are arriving without any documentation, so we don't know who they are and we don't know for sure where they came from.

STAFF MEMBER (TURNING ON CASSETTE RECORDER): The following is a record of an interview held on 25 February at Port Hedland between an interviewing officer of the Department of Immigration --

CHRIS MASTERS: What one side seeks is a single life-giving paper, a protection visa.

What the other side seeks is the truth.

STAFF MEMBER: So where are the travel documents you used?

(Translator translates into foreign language)

(Man answers in foreign language)

TRANSLATOR: My passport and my travel documents I have destroyed.

CHRIS MASTERS: DIMA re-enacted a typical interview.

STAFF MEMBER: Is there any reason why you do not wish to go back to your home country?

(Translator translates into foreign language)

CHRIS MASTERS: The so-called protection interview probes the background of an applicant to establish checkable facts and identify plausible risk.

JENNY BEDLINGTON: What we're dealing with in the protection stream are people who are claiming that they may be killed or very seriously harmed if they go back, and if we get that wrong and say that they -- that isn't going to happen, then it's a very serious outcome.

CHRIS MASTERS: The struggle to authenticate the stories is extensive.

Interviewers email questions to DIMA headquarters in Canberra.

21 staff at DIMA's Country Information Service have a database with comprehensive files on 119 countries.

They can check whether indeed a demonstration did occur in Algeria on the date asserted or that a particular minority group in Iraq does suffer persecution.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: We have situations where people pretend that they are a citizen of a country where it's known that refugees might have come from, but they have, in fact, an entitlement to live in an adjoining country where they are essentially safe.

CHRIS MASTERS: If their fear of persecution checks out, they themselves can check out after an average three months.

But under new laws their status is no longer permanent.

A new three-year temporary visa makes the prospect of staying and having their family join them uncertain.

So when they are able to contact their families abroad on the overworked public telephone lifeline, it's often with a sorry story.

KHADIM FAYAN, FORMER DETAINEE: When we come here we promised them to save our life and also save their life.

But temporary visa made a very big problem for us.

CHRIS MASTERS: Back at Port Hedland, as the 40-degree heat climbs through the day the detainees retreat indoors.

STAFF MEMBER FROM PROCESSING CENTRE: There's a children's playground behind you and the volleyball court over here.

Mainly used in the evening.

It's just -- the temperature sort of precludes it being used during the day a lot of the time.

Most of our activity tends to be during the evenings.

CHRIS MASTERS: While DIMA makes the crucial decisions and maintains responsibility for the centres, the running of them is ceded to a private contractor, Australasian Correctional Management.

STAFF MEMBER: We've got nurses on duty from about eight o'clock in the morning through to about five o'clock in the evening.

They're on call 24 hours a day.

We obviously have doctors on call as well.

CHRIS SIDOTI: It's a mixed bag.

On the whole, ACM is doing better than its predecessor as the detention centre manager.

Before ACM, Australian Protective Services -- a government protection authority -- was running the detention centres and I inspected the detention centres at that stage and I had very, very serious concerns.

Not all of my concerns have been addressed, but I have to say that in spite of initial misgivings on my part about letting the contract to a private sector provider, ACM is doing better than APS were doing.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: They have been a very professional organisation, that they have carried out their work in compliance with the protocols that have been developed to ensure that the detention centres provide a secure detention, but also a humane environment for those who are involved.

CHRIS MASTERS: ACM is a subsidiary of the American multinational Wackenhut.

It holds the contract for all six Australian immigration detention centres.

The company also operates prisons on Australia's east coast and across the world.

The Villawood detention centre is significantly different to Port Hedland.

It houses about 250 people, mostly east coast air arrivals.

It sits on the other side of the continent amidst an established western Sydney community.

So, Robin, what is it like living next door to a detention centre?

ROBIN: Noisy. It has been.

When the sirens go off and I can always hear whatever goes over the P.A. system.

CHRIS MASTERS: What do you hear?

ROBIN: If it's muster time, when visitors are coming, phone calls.

KEVIN O'SULLIVAN, FORMER ACM PSYCHOLOGIST: Ironically on the site at Villawood, there's a primary school which is a Moslem school and through the fence, these kids could see the little boys and girls of their own age or slightly older arrive in buses, arrive in cars with their parents, they could hear them play in their playground.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, let me say about Villawood, it's an old facility and one which we acknowledge needs to be rebuilt.

It's under enormous pressure because of the large numbers of people that have to be detained.

CHRIS MASTERS: And this time there was no tour.

We had to make do with what we could discover peering through the fence and into the experiences of a small community of former staff and detainees.

FORMER DETAINEE: I think we were in prison. I can't say another thing.

We were in prison. It's a prison.

ELSDIJA EISSA, ESCAPEE: Two years just in the centre in a small place, like the animal in the zoo, you know, and why I'm here, I'm asking myself all the time.

NASER ZUWAY, FORMER DETAINEE: He said to me, "You are animal, we will deal with you like animal."

He doesn't have to say that.

If he has a job, he just do his job.

He doesn't have to say to me, "You are an animal," or "We deal with you like animal," or "We deport you."

CHRIS MASTERS: The centre also has an isolation compound.

Families and children stay in the more open Stage 2 area.

Detainees who are seen as higher security risks are confined to Stage 1.

KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: Stage 1 in contrast to Stage 2 has very little open space.

It's a very cramped environment.

It's surrounded by a fence of razor wire which I found rather disturbing.

CHRIS MASTERS: These 1997 images from the Department's own stock footage bear little resemblance to images that emerged this year from Stage 1.

NASER ZUWAY: They put me, the first time, one week in Stage 1 -- really, I got shocked when I saw myself in Stage 1.

The first night I didn't sleep -- just I think, "Why they put me here?"

I'm in the jail or the detention centre?

P.A. ANNOUNCEMENT: Attention all detainees.

It's muster time.

Come to muster with your I.D. please.

CHRIS MASTERS: People inside and out of Villawood complain of how the phone rings out constantly.

There are headcounts day and night that detainees must attend.

KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: It's most intrusive.

It's also quite humiliating having to present yourself and say, "Yes, sir, I'm here."

NASER ZUWAY: There is a good officer from the ACM and understand, I think -- he didn't care about this thing -- but there is some of them, they make our lives hard.

CHRIS MASTERS: This woman, pregnant and bleeding, had trouble attending.

FORMER DETAINEE: I feel that it's like torture.

They used to come every day -- every day, "Come to muster, come to muster."

CHRIS MASTERS: She complains she begged for proper medical attention but was kept in the centre for two weeks before being allowed to a hospital where it was discovered she had miscarried.

FORMER DETAINEE: When the nurse come, I explain to her that I am pregnant, I am bleeding, I can't eat and I have this back pain.

I can't sleep.

It doesn't matter.

I was crying -- I told her, "Look at myself.

"I am dying. I need some attention."

And she go -- She didn't do anything for me.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, the only point I would want to make is that we go to very significant lengths to ensure that appropriate medical care and support is available to detainees -- to the point, I think, where some members of the Australian community start to question whether detainees are in fact being treated more generously than the Australian community, particularly deprived members of the Australian community.

Now, look, if people are -- or if a woman is pregnant and is in a detention environment our objective would be to provide appropriate care and support within the facility and if it requires an evacuation to an appropriate hospital or other institution that -- and the medical advice is that that's necessary, it would occur.

CHRIS MASTERS: A consequence of Australia's comprehensive system where determinations can be appealed to the Refugee Review Tribunal, the courts and the Minister means detainees might stay months.

They might stay years.

DR STUART McDONALD, PRINCESS ALEXANDRA HOSPITAL: If you're a prisoner, you are given a definite sentence with a parole date.

KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: That central variable was that these people did not know what was going to happen to them.

In this respect it was much harder than, for example, working with somebody in jail.

DR STUART McDONALD: So not only are you constantly under the threat of precipitous removal from Australia to what you perceive is a life-threatening situation, but you don't know how long it's going to be going on.

If that's not punitive, I don't know what is.

CHRIS MASTERS: The rationale for mandatory detention does seem to unravel with every passing day.

On one side, the long wait is blamed on DIMA for being authoritarian and inflexible.

On the other side, human rights activists and lawyers are accused of prolonging unworthy cases.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I mean, what is happening here -- and we need to be very clear -- is that people are arguing that if you delay long enough you should be able to be released into the Australian community.

And therefore if you have sufficient opportunities to be able to take the matters before various tribunals and to the courts, then there must come a time when you'll be released.

Now, I'm not prepared to reward people for that.

CHRIS SIDOTI: Why then are we punishing the individual asylum seekers?

Why are we punishing 5-year-old children, 8-year-old children, because for whatever reason the department has it in its mind that the lawyers and the activists who are taking up their cause aren't doing the right thing?

CHRIS MASTERS: Why should we punish the children too -- PHILIP RUDDOCK: It's not a punishment.

CHRIS MASTERS: ..because our system is slow?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Sorry, it's not the system that's slow.

It's not the system that's slow.

It is the opportunities within the system for people who want to continue to test in relation to cases that are at best marginal whether or not they can get a different outcome.

CHRIS MASTERS: The Human Rights Commissioner's 1998 report on our policy of mandatory detention condemned it as being in breach of international law.

CHRIS SIDOTI: The government says that it has a different view.

I'm sure that it holds the view genuinely, but it holds it in the face of universal opposition from human rights experts within Australia and internationally.

REPORTER: The Human Rights Commission claims in some cases their treatment is less than humane.

REPORTER: The group's so desperate some sewed their lips together with cotton thread.

REPORTER: Last week, crowded conditions and poor sanitation caused a diarrhoea outbreak affecting 40 people.

PHILIP RUDDOCK, TALKING TO REPORTER: I'm aware that the facility that we use is a gymnasium.

REPORTER: 17 illegal immigrants broke out of Villawood detention centre some time before 1:00 this morning.

REPORTER: Australia's newest detention centre has opened on the outskirts of Woomera in South Australia's arid north.


If people escape and don't try to use the road they're putting themselves in a very, very vulnerable situation.

CHRIS MASTERS: In the last 12 months, Australia has opened two new detention centres in response to increased arrivals.

Four Corners has found many examples, beyond those we can show, of a system under pressure.

DIMA and ACM are struggling with the case load at new centres like Woomera.

News does not flow freely from centres either remote or hidden.

You don't hear much about the attempted suicides and chemical restraint of detainees.

Which brings us to one particular case study -- the story of three Algerian men who staged a hunger strike at Villawood early in October 1999.

The men had escaped Algeria proclaiming in the main to be conscientious objectors.

They entered Australia by air after spending time in South Africa.

When asylum was refused here, they embarked on a hunger strike.

ELSDIJA EISSA: After they're getting worse so they're losing weight, they'll reach bad condition.

NASER ZUWAY: They're trying to punish these three people to give example to anyone -- the hunger strike don't do nothing -- just you will lose your health and you will lose your protection visa.

CHRIS MASTERS: On October 8 last year, reduced to around 47 kilograms, the men were driven out of Villawood.

According to DIMA they were moved in order to manage their health needs.

An immigration caseworker for one of the men recounts what he told her.

MANDY McNULTY: They said that they didn't want to go -- refused to sign documents allowing their movement and asked for their lawyer to be present, and they were denied an opportunity to call their lawyer.

CHRIS MASTERS: Two of the men have spoken to Four Corners.

Their identity is concealed for their safety.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: You see, we were very weak because we did lost too many weight.

So we were afraid that maybe it is deportation.

MANDY McNULTY: When they got to the airport, they believed that they were being sent back to Algeria because they had refused to sign the documents.

They thought that they were being punished and it was a truly ghastly moment for men who'd been on a hunger strike for a number of weeks and who were in a very weakened state physically and mentally as well.

CHRIS MASTERS: But the destination was not Algeria.

At least not at this stage.

Management does have the power to move detainees to prison without referral to judicial authority.

JOHN TAYLOR: The numbers currently held in prison are sufficient to warrant our investigating that issue.

CHRIS MASTERS: They were flown north to Brisbane.

They were taken first to a prison, the Arthur Gorrie Remand Centre -- as it happens, another ACM facility.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: They took us to jail where the treatment was very offensive.

They took all my clothes.

So I started crying, shouting, but nobody answered me.

CHRIS MASTERS: Within 24 hours they were to be moved again, to the Princess Alexandra Hospital Security Unit.

The intention was for them to be forcibly treated.

This presented the resident medical officer with a dilemma.

DR STUART McDONALD: Well, the law allows that, Chris.

So it is allowed, but that's inconsistent with what the Australian Medical Association's position statement is about the treatment of hunger strikers.

It's ethically inconsistent with treating the patient with respect and dignity.

CHRIS MASTERS: The men were cared for here for two weeks, in which time the doctor, among others, persuaded them to end their strike on an understanding their cases would be reviewed.

DR STUART McDONALD: Other hunger strikers that I've come across are usually trying to manipulate the system, they're trying to negotiate for something, they're bargaining, they're objecting against some perceived injustice.

But these three men were saying, "I'm sorry for the trouble we're causing you, "but we have decided to die rather than face removal from Australia "and subsequent imprisonment, torture and possible death "in Algeria."

Now that threw me.

CHRIS MASTERS: They were moved back to Arthur Gorrie and later returned to Villawood.

There they saw out Christmas and the new millennium.

They knew their cases were being revisited.

They knew of a general rule that asylum seekers are given 48 hours notice of impending removal.

So on January 24 when one of the men was confronted with his worst fear, the presentation of papers authorising his removal from Australia, it was not anticipated.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: I told her that it is illegal and it is animal and inhuman to send people where they can face persecution, or may be killed.

I told them that they are witnessing the death -- my death and God will punish them one by one.

So he ordered the nurse to give me an injection.

I did refuse but she give me an injection on my right hand.

CHRIS MASTERS: He says he was put in a security van without any of the certificates of education and other important papers he brought with him.

He says one of the guards made offensive comments.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: When the car turned I did fall on my left side.

The officer still holding my neck, and in this moment he directed my head to his penis and he showed the nurse how he use it to fuck.

So I was really upset that they are treating me worse than animal.

CHRIS MASTERS: Unwilling returnees have learned that making a fuss at the airport can stay a departure.

This is what the man planned as he was locked in a small room where he was to be handed over to a private South African company that had been contracted to act as an escort.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: So when the officers from South Africa came, there was three officers -- two officer and nurse who is a man.

They give me the second injection.

I was sleeping on my right, they give me injection on my left hand.

They took me to the aeroplane where I spoke to the pilot, but they put me on the last chair.

I started shouting and calling for help, but nobody helped.

In the plane, they took me by force, and give me the third injection in my left hand in the vein.

CHRIS MASTERS: The Algerian man says he was told he would be escorted to his home country via South Africa.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: So when the passengers came into the plane I prolonged shouting and calling for help.

At this moment the pilot came to me and ordered the officers to give me more injections.

So they gave me the fourth injection there.

CHRIS MASTERS: There was a brief stopover in Perth.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: And one passenger came to discuss the matter with officers.

This passenger told them that it is inhuman to treat people like that.

In Perth these officers where I prolonged shouting ordered the officers to give me injection.

When I saw the needle I was sure that my heart will stop.

So I told them I will not take the injection and I will be quiet.

CHRIS MASTERS: Although we don't know what drugs were used to sedate the men, ACM staff say Valium and Phenergan is commonly used.

DR STUART McDONALD: I can't see any justification for it.

I was appalled and ashamed that that sort of treatment can happen in Australia.

To me, it's just beyond comprehension.

CHRIS SIDOTI: Where it's simply a protest -- somebody even screaming out and trying to draw attention to him or herself by way of protest at the expulsion -- the use of sedatives is not justified, and it is not justified by departmental procedures.

CHRIS MASTERS: When people are sedated, particularly for removal, isn't that an example of how chemical restraint is used for the purpose of control?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, it's used for ensuring that they don't endanger their own lives.

CHRIS MASTERS: Two days later the second of the hunger strikers was again, without notice, prepared for removal.

Again we have only his account of what happened.

ALGERIAN MAN 2: When they took me to the doctor.

They put me in a room.

And they put two guards in with me.

I knew them, they were from ACM.

They had on their right-hand side an electrical device and they had handcuffs.

And I was frightened because their faces looked like monsters.

I thought, I'm going to die.

MANDY McNULTY: He said that he was told that he was going to be given an injection -- a sedative injection -- and he said, "I'm a Muslim. I want to be in my full mind," and they told him that no, they were going to give it to him anyway.

He put up his hands in a gesture to say "Don't touch me," and five ACM guards jumped on him all at once.

He was lying on his back and the five were on top of him.

One of them had a knee in his face and he actually has a bruise under his eye that's been documented from that knee in the face.

They injected him while he was on the ground.

CHRIS MASTERS: By now aware of the earlier removal, legal representatives and Amnesty International were able to react.

In this case there was a United Nations Committee Against Torture request to stop the removal.

Phone calls and faxes bounced between Sydney, Geneva and Canberra.

Amnesty believed the notification was sent in plenty of time.

DR HEINZ SCHURMANN-ZEGGAL, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, LONDON: I personally phone called Mr Ruddock privately and said, "Are you aware of this letter?"

And he said he was aware that something was in the pipeline but would not take any action until he has either seen the letter or talked to his advisers.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I'd agree with that, because the dates of the documentation suggest that the decision had been made quite a good time earlier, with more than sufficient time for people to have been able to bring it to our attention.

But I am not going to determine that a removal which has been planned and is being implemented will be aborted on the basis of a phone call.

CHRIS MASTERS: The plane took off again bound for South Africa on Australia Day 2000.

MANDY McNULTY: So the handcuffs were removed and he was tied up with plastic cord, and that's the best description I can get of what was used.

It was tied around his feet, it was tied around his hands and then around his waist and his hands were secured to his waist.

Tape was placed over his mouth and he was able to push the tape off with his tongue, and he was crying and he began to scream in the aeroplane.

ALGERIAN MAN 2: I am not criminal, I am refugee.

I am not criminal, I am refugee.

MANDY McNULTY: "Please somebody help me.

"Help me. Help me. Call the police."

ALGERIAN MAN 2: But nobody heard me.

CHRIS MASTERS: Does the fact that they have failed excuse being heavy-handed?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, what are you suggesting?

The fact that people will make it difficult for us to remove them should be a basis upon which they're allowed to stay here.

Is that what you're suggesting?

CHRIS MASTERS: I'm just wondering whether they should have a right to be treated with dignity in the circumstance.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Absolutely. Absolutely.

People should be treated with dignity and we should allow them to go with as much dignity as possible, and we would invite their cooperation in relation to securing that.

CHRIS MASTERS: The Australian Government intended to return the men to Algeria.

The responsibility was handed over to the carrier that had brought them in, South Africa Airways, and the private South African contractor.

The South African Government say they had no idea the men were coming, that they arrived without the proper papers, and they did not pass Immigration.

DR LINDIWE SISULU, DEPUTY MINISTER HOME AFFAIRS, SOUTH AFRICA: What it means to us is we've also got to be a little more careful about, you know, our transit laws, maybe tighten them up a bit, but I would certainly have hoped that the Australians would have dealt with it differently.

CHRIS MASTERS: The men were then held for as long as three days here in an adjoining hotel under guard.

There are serious questions about the lawfulness of the detention.

CHRIS SIDOTI: Anybody who is removing a person from Australia under a contract with the Australian government is acting as an agent of the Australian government, and if a person is unlawfully detained by an agent of the Australian government, no matter where in the world that occurs, it represents a breach of human rights by Australia.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: The contractual obligations we have with an organisation, as I understand it, that was to secure their return home, and South Africa was a country in which they were to transit and from which the further travel arrangements would be made.

But look, I'd also have to say, South Africa was a country in which these individuals transited also on their way to Australia.

CHRIS MASTERS: So what are you saying?

That they should be South Africa's responsibility?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, I'm saying that we have an expectation that our contractors will arrange for them to be returned home.

DR HEINZ SCHURMANN-ZEGGAL: It's a highly questionable area and we don't think that the Australian Government can simply shrug its shoulders and say, "Well, while these people are outside our hands "we've put them properly into these escorts, "we are no longer responsible."

That is nonsense.

CHRIS MASTERS: While Amnesty was now pursuing the case, in desperation the second man cut himself with a knife and later again with a broken glass.

ALGERIAN MAN 2: I was praying to God to get some help from the heavens or from anywhere.

CHRIS MASTERS: South Africa's Department of Home Affairs moved the men to another detention centre, Lindela, in Johannesburg.

Four Corners has learned that Government officials expressed anger that Australia was "dumping its rubbish".

DR LINDIWE SISULU: It has become our problem in a big way, yes, because we now have these two Algerian gentlemen and we are required to apply our minds from scratch as though these are, you know, recently arrived asylum seekers from Algeria.

Um, it indeed has become our problem now.

CHRIS MASTERS: The contracted escort company P & I Associates publishes on its bulletin board what appears to be an admission they have been circumventing regulations, transiting people without the necessary visas.

P & I deny they were doing anything wrong.

The South African Government is not so sure.

DR LINDIWE SISULU: So we are investigating the company, we're investigating what responsibilities, we as a government have towards them.

And I'm just wondering why the Australians would've found a South African company so useful for this particular purpose.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: If she has a view on it I'd expect her to put it to me.

CHRIS MASTERS: Did we dump them?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: If she has a view on it, I'd expect her to put it to me.

CHRIS MASTERS: The men marked time in South Africa, which as you can see, has its hands full managing its own refugee problems.

But the Lindela detention centre, brimming with anything but comfort, was the least of their concerns.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: We are happy that we are still alive, for this moment.

CHRIS MASTERS: A nasty conflict that has smouldered in their home country Algeria for a decade does make the prospect of return dangerous, but that is not in itself grounds for protection in Australia.

ALGERIAN MAN 1: You see, now I am considered like traitor in Algeria.

This is the problem.

I did run away, I didn't protect the regime, I didn't work for the regime, and I didn't want to work for the regime.

I did go to Australia, I did seek refugee in Australia.

Even my story with all the details are published on the Internet.

So you think that Algeria will receive me with flowers?

CHRIS MASTERS: The men were given a comprehensive hearing in Australia.

They complain the outcome of the determination was inconsistent with others and believe they were targeted because they agitated for their rights in Villawood.

They fear the publication of their cases on the Internet by Australia's Refugee Review Tribunal exacerbates their danger.

They also believe their lives are being risked in order to deter others.

ALGERIAN MAN 2: I did flee for a reason.

The military services are killing the people and I object to doing that.

It is against my religion.

I just want to live in a safe place.

CHRIS MASTERS: Nightfall in Lindela and one group of men is moved out.

These are Mozambiquans who will be trucked back across the border.

The two Algerian men hear them sing their way north.

In Australia they were detained for around 16 months.

At Lindela they were held for five weeks before being released.

They will wait in the community a determination about whether they can stay.

They know that another Algerian already sent back to Algeria from Australia has not been heard from.

Australia never follows up on what happens to people when they are returned.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, I mean we're dealing with rejected asylum seekers.

They are people who are free to go home.

We have no particular responsibility, nor do I think it would be feasible to be monitoring the situation of the tens of thousands of people who leave Australia each year when required to do so, because they have no lawful basis to be here.

CHRIS MASTERS: The goodwill among the people invested with difficult immigration responsibilities is clear.

Australia provides sanctuary to thousands of families.

It's also apparent that Australia's system of mandatory detention, condemned by Australia's Human Rights Commissioner, is looking ill.

How else do we explain the lengthy detention of children, the imprisonment of people convicted of no crime, the use of chemical restraint and the cruelty and bungling that surround these expulsions?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I think the Australia community expect that people who are not refugees, people who have no lawful entitlement to be here, should be removed and removed quickly.

DR STUART McDONALD: It must be accidental.

It must be a system that has gradually built up.

I can't believe that the country that my kids are going to grow up in has purposely created this system, but human rights are the very basis of civilised society.

They are not negotiable.

There is no excuse, there's no rationalisation, there are no exceptions to the violation of human rights.