"In mid-2004, I travelled to meet asylum seekers whom Australia had returned to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. My intention was to witness first-hand the circumstances into which Australia returns people it deems not to need protection. This is the story of that expedition." — David Corlett
"The Australian government has long declared that it owes no duty of care to those asylum seekers it deports, even after the deportees in question have spent years in our detention system. This duty of care has been boldly assumed by David Corlett…
His book becomes a necessary humanitarian account. But as a record of human struggle and voyaging, it makes good reading as well. In the vacuum of our government's policy, we all owe Corlett a debt."
— Thomas Keneally
Beyond detention centres and Australian shores, Following Them Home explores the lands that asylum seekers flee and in many cases, to which they are returned. Here, at last are the untold stories of Australia's returned asylum seekers. While the government investigates how it wrongly detained and deported its own citizens, this book is a timely reminder of the treatment suffered by non-citizens seeking protection. Through Corlett's account the personal cost of the government's policies and processes become horrifically clear. From asylum seekers brutalised by Iranian police to those living illegally and in constant fear, in the words of
Robert Manne "Corlett is inquisitive, compassionate and physically courageous".
As Corlett's analysis of the high profile Bakhtiyari case shows, Following Them Home is a complex and in-depth exploration of asylum seekers, their supporters and detractors. Above all, this is an argument for humane treatment rather than simple asylum. With a foreword by Robert Manne, this book tells the stories Australia has until now, been able to ignore. Hard-hitting, gut-wrenching — Not since Dark Victory have we seen such a powerful attack on government policy.
David Corlett has worked with refugees and asylum seekers as a case worker and a researcher. In 2003, he completed a doctoral thesis on Australia's response to asylum seekers. Written with Robert Manne, his Quarterly Essay "Sending Them Home" also focussed on Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and was shortlisted for the 2004 Human Rights Award. His writing has also appeared in the UNSW Law Journal, Dissent, Australian Quarterly and the Canberra Times.
David Corlett is available for interview
For review copies or author interview please contact Anna Lensky on
+61 3 9654 2000 or 0425 766 780 or email@example.com
ISBN 097 507 6965 — RRP $AUS 24.95 — July 2005 Release — Black Inc. Agenda
The Courier Mail Brisbane
David Corlett 11jul05
"The plight of Cornelia Rau has drawn the nation's attention to the culture within the immigration department. Mick Palmer, the former federal police chief enlisted to inquire into the affair, has called this culture one of "mindless zealotry".
In my recent book, Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers, I tell the stories of others who have suffered as a result of this culture. The book is the result of my travelling to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Thailand to speak with people who were rejected as refugees and deported from Australia.
Many of the people I met were returned to situations of fear and insecurity. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they were assured by Australian officials, and by others employed with Australian money, that the places to which they were being returned were now safe — places such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
Some of the people with whom I spoke were treated brutally on their return. Some were even tortured.
Almost all returned from Australia's duty of care as broken people — the result, in large part, of being detained for extended periods in Australia or offshore in the Pacific Solution.
To be sure, it is not only the culture of the immigration department that is the problem here. Consider the law. It empowers immigration officials to detain indefinitely, and without judicial review, people who are merely "suspected" of being "unlawful non-citizens".
Hence the legal basis for Cornelia Rau's plight.
But culture, as acknowledged by the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, and others, is a key aspect of the problem.
In 1993 — under a Labor government — legal academic Kathryn Cronin wrote about a "culture of control" within Australia's immigration bureaucracy. Asylum-seekers who arrive by boat without prior permission represent a challenge to the culture of control.
It was this culture that led the Labor government to introduce mandatory detention, following the arrival of several hundred Cambodian boat people in the late 1980s.
Control remains imperative, but there have been other developments since then. We have witnessed a culture of indifference emerge within the immigration department.
A culture of control leads to policies such as mandatory detention. A culture of indifference is what prevents the overseers of such policies from recognising or caring about the suffering that these policies cause.
A culture of indifference immunises officials from taking seriously the plight of the people they seek to return to places such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
But to say that this is only a problem within the immigration department is to miss the broader significance. The emergence of a culture of indifference is a political development. It is a product of government.
Though she is far from alone in this, Vanstone has been a key contributor to this indifference.
When I was in Pakistan, I met men who had returned from Nauru to Afghanistan in December 2003. The situation in Afghanistan had been deteriorating for some time.
The United Nations refugee agency had closed its operations in many parts of the country following the murder of one of its staff. Vanstone was asked in the Senate about the wisdom of returning asylum-seekers to such an environment. Her answer reeked of carelessness.
Vanstone told the Senate: "Australia does not repatriate people if we believe there is a risk to them — an inappropriate risk. I mean there is a risk in walking across the street obviously." This is to trivialise a situation in which lives are at risk.
Just months later, the UNHCR — the United Nations' refugee agency — and then Australia reopened the cases of the remaining Afghans on Nauru because of deteriorating security in Afghanistan. Many were found to be refugees and were sent to New Zealand or brought to Australia. It was too late for those who had already been sent back.
The Palmer inquiry will be scathing of the immigration department. It will suggest ways of improving the detention system, including the provision of health care within that system.
The report may also have something to say about how the culture within the department might be improved. There may even be a phrase in it about being more "client-focused".
The changes that follow from this, like the reforms Prime Minister John Howard reluctantly agreed to following the Petro Georgiou-led revolt, will be important. But they will not get to the heart of the matter, that under the leadership of the Howard Government, our political culture has grown indifferent to the suffering of people who are deemed to be different from ourselves.
The many broken lives I have encountered in the course of writing my book are testament to that.
David Corlett, who has worked with refugees as a case worker and researcher, is the author of Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers (Black Inc).
6. Refugees' fate beyond the wire ========================
Reviewed by Antony Loewenstein
August 14, 2005
Following Them Home
(Black Inc Books, $24.95)
For sale at Project SafeCom at http://www.safecom.org.au/following-them-home.htm
AUSTRALIA'S relationship with asylum seekers has often been based on misunderstanding, cruelty and occasional kindness. The Howard years have seen a deterioration of our international responsibilities, and our moral and ethical obligations. Despite an abundance of media coverage of the refugee issue in recent years, this book proves how unwilling many journalists have been to look past government spin.
David Corlett doesn't claim to be an objective reporter or witness. Rather, his aim is to chronicle the various lives often ruined by Australian authorities after detainees are sent back to their country of origin.
But this is no left-wing polemic aimed at conservative pundits and government officials. Asylum seeker supporters are taken to task, including Bob Ellis, an early supporter of the now infamous Bakhtiyari family (birthplace still unclear, but likely to be Afghanistan, despite various media reports "proving" otherwise).
The self-important Labor supporter released a public statement about the Bakhtiyari boys against their wishes, "because I believe more harm will come to them and others if I do not". Corlett rightly argues, "with friends of this sort, one cannot help but wonder, who needs enemies?" Lawyers acting for the family are painted as opportunists trying to score political points against the Government, forgetting people's lives were at stake.
Corlett travels to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and wonders whether the Howard Government considers the fate to which they are sending the refugees whose claims they have refused. Take the story of Qasim Ali, who was returned to Afghanistan during a period when conflict was still raging.
Ali had tried to arrive in Australia during the Pacific Solution, Howard's neo-colonial policy designed to deter future refugees. He spent two years in Nauru and slowly lost his mind.
The constant uncertainty of his situation and his inability to utilise Australia's legal system all contributed to his deteriorated mental condition. When Corlett meets him, he describes a "broken man" and an individual who sometimes spends hours "sitting in his room and just staring at the wall".
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the book relates to the forced repatriations to refugee countries. The Immigration Department is accused of threatening detainees with force if they refuse to accept the involuntary order. What kind of country - assisted by the UN, Corlett observes - drives a policy based on pragmatism alone? Refugee protection becomes secondary to the priority of sending people to another country.
I was particularly moved by the challenges Corlett offers to his readers, namely to recognise that Australia's name has been permanently sullied in the eyes of millions the world over. An unknown number of asylum seekers' lives have been ruined and families separated in the name of winning elections and keeping an electorate "alert and alarmed".
Corlett's exposure of media and government cynicism should be praised for articulating a highly unpopular message.
Robert Manne's introduction says it best: "At a time of great national self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, [this book] quietly tells the story of the human lives we have so carelessly allowed to be destroyed."
http://www.smh.com.au/news/books/refugees-fate-beyond-the-wire/2005/08/14/1123957935202.html (link does not work, even after registering with Fairfax.
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