by Claire Bruhns, introduction by Eva de Salis
Th[is] story demonstrates in action the profound flaw in many DIMIA arguments and practices. DIMIA systematically uses its knowledge base (from DFAT and other sources) to override an individual's personal testimony, even to find that someone lied.
For example, if an Iraqi claims to have crossed the Syrian border undetected, and DIMIA has information that this point of the border is well-guarded, a finding is easily made against the individual's evidence (and it is easy to understand DIMIA or the RRT officials' temptation to do so). DIMIA also systematically asserts that because it has procedures and policies, then many alleged abuses do not take place in detention centres. A person's lived experience is nothing against the edifice of DIMIA's protocols. Hundreds of former detainees' lived experiences are in effect erased.
This denial of the most potent evidence, that of an eye-witness, is deeply embedded in DIMIA culture. Phillip Ruddock sent me a four page letter first congratulating me on the success of the schools project [The Essay competition "Australia Is Refugees"] and the booklet publishing the winning stories, and then objecting in 16 paragraphs to the experiences of Gyzele Osmani in detention as explored in Melanie Poole's essay. His objection was in effect that Gyzele's lived experience could not be true because procedures in place ensure that what she experienced should not have happened.
If it is possible that the Sarwari family were telling the truth; if it is possible, if difficult, to achieve an escape an asylum seeker claims; and if it is possible that detainees receive verbal, psychological and physical abuse in detention; if it is possible that a child is suffering psychological damage fom incarceration; then, especially given that a life and future hang on it, DIMIA should be obligated to consider the individual's evidence as fact. The mess made of the Sarwari case is one example among thousands of endemic conceptual and reasoning errors that have had a direct consequences for people's lives. Must we go to the lengths Marion Le did in every case to prove it?
Dr Eva Sallis
President, Australians Against Racism
29 April 2003
Tears were streaming down my face as I read "Home at last: Refugee returns to a hero's welcome" (Launceston Examiner, 16th April). Exactly four months ago I first heard Mohib Sarwari's name, as I was travelling in a car with Marion Le. Her hands-free phone rang with the news of the family's TPV being cancelled and their re-detention. I remember telling the story to a local refugee meeting that evening. A concerned citizen rang a friend in Launceston to get more details. "Tasmanians for Refugees" were also meeting at that very moment and trying to work out what the hell had happened - why had this family been snatched from the bosom of their community?
Within days the picture began to emerge of a family wrongfully targeted by DIMIA"s "Pakistani Paranoia." The Refugee Advocacy Service of South Australia seemed to believe this family were innocent of the allegations being loudly put out against them and were looking for a migration agent prepared to take up the case. I begged Marion Le to take them as clients. So began a commitment that would take her not only into the snow-clad mountains of Afghanistan but into the darker areas of the psyche of a Department that has become so jaundiced against asylum seekers, that they seem prepared to "stop at nothing" to defame and demoralise some of the most vulnerable, but most dignified people on our planet.
For four months I have watched from the sidelines and helped in any way I could. I have been shocked at how difficult it has been to clear the name of anyone the Department has decided to target. The Department seems to be like a giant spider, who once they have their prey, bound up tightly in a web of their own construction, they are reluctant to ever release them.
Everything the Sarwaris said Marion would find in Afghanistan was there, their village, their home, their family, and their loved ones. Their village is not named on any official maps, but Marion followed hand written maps and travelled for days through dangerous territory, past Taliban checkpoints. She travelled with an interpreter and two local guides, who took them across country that had no roads, travelling instead up through a dry river system.
The little village was tucked away at the foot of a mountain. It lies in the shadow of active Taliban and Al Qaida. They have recently re-emerged and re-grouped and have begun persecuting the local village people again. Foreign soldiers and international aid workers have now been killed in the areas that Marion travelled through. Since she returned, MSF (Doctors Without Borders) has withdrawn from Afghanistan because it is sick of the UN's lie that Afghanistan is now "safe". It is not safe!
Mohib's village may not have been on published maps, but it was held dear within the hearts of the Sarwari family. If Marion had not travelled there, with her modern recording equipment it would be simply the Sarwari family's words against DIMIA's that the village even existed. And guess who's geographical expertise and credibility would have been given primacy? No prizes for guessing who's evidence, or who's story would have been the one that was "given the benefit of the doubt."
When I watched Marion's video footage of her walking towards Mohib's house at the end of the village and looking up at the view of snowy mountains that seemed to rise from the edge of his garden wall, she said, (on video, but almost to herself) "Why would you leave such a beautiful place if you were not in danger?" Why indeed, would a loving family set off across the planet, leaving everything they owned, if not to preserve their very lives and those of their children?
The Sarwari village may not be on any maps, but now Marion has recorded it's GPS position so she can prove it exists. Further to this, Marion has proved that this one family are who they said they are. But how many other Afghan/Hazara families have never made it out of detention, were never even given a TPV because DIMIA has either wrongly decided they are Pakistanis, or wrongly believed that Afghanistan is now safe and therefore Australia does not owe them protection obligations? How many other TPV holders who are in the community now, are about to have similar accusations levelled at them, are about to have their meagre level of freedom and safety snatched away?
How many people in detention are wrongfully detained? Not that detention is not wrong in itself, it is, but even within the current system, how many of those the Minister says have "been found NOT to be refugees and therefore have no legal right to remain in Australia" are actually like Mohib Sarwari and his family. The Sarwaris were subjected to an appalling case of mistaken identity, a mistake on the part of the Department. And although they were innocent of any crime they were rounded up like cattle and taken to Baxter.
Further to this, they were vilified in the media, on the basis of misinformation, the source of which, according to a journalist and a politician, was DIMIA itself. Can you believe that DIMIA would stoop to putting about unproven allegations, and incorrect personal details about a refugee family, despite the constraints of the Privacy Act? Well you had better believe it, because it appears that is what they did to the Sarwaris.
The dedication and the love of the Launceston community and the skill, experience and commitment of Marion Le has won the release of the Sarwaris, but what of the others? How many other people languish in detention who, even under our present appalling processing system, have no reason to still be held. No reason, except they have had no protection against the prejudices of the Departmental decision makers or the proclaimed bias our Government has against onshore applications for asylum.
Congratulations to the Launceston community and congratulations to Marion Le. To the Sarwari family - I am so sorry that your lives have once again been disrupted by the machinations of those who have power, but not the humanity to manage their power.
Refugee Action Committee, Canberra
Visa Victory for Sarwaris
but Ruddock says his department will "examine the decision" …
news.com.au story by Nick Clark
21jun03 THE refugee Sarwari family yesterday won a long battle, when the Refugee Review Tribunal accepted it was Afghani and restored a temporary protection visa.
The visa means Mohib Sarwari can return to work and the family receive social security benefits, while supporters get back a $30,000 security bond.
The Department of Immigration cancelled Mr Sarwari's visa last year, saying the family had falsely said it was Afghani rather than from Pakistan.
The Launceston community has raised about $70,000 to support the family since it was released from detention in January.
"We are very happy, very glad," Mr Sarwari said yesterday.
He said his immediate plans were to do a cooking course, an English language course and then seek work in a restaurant.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock said the department would examine the tribunal decision.
"We are not sure of the validity of the decision with regard to some aspects," he said.
"The tribunal has accepted that they are Afghans but does not appear to have dealt with the issue of prior protection in Pakistan."
Under migration law, refugees are not permitted to stop more than seven days in a country on the way to Australia.
Migration agent Marion Le, who went to Afghanistan to gather evidence of the family's background, said the cancellation should never have happened.
"To have done this to this family was something that generated total distaste with me for the means this Government puts in place," he said.
"I think it is appalling that people won't listen to other people's stories."
Supporter Suzy Archer, who went to Melbourne for the decision, said the outcome was fantastic.
"It is so emotional to think that you have done it and the family was so excited when I rang them," she said.
She said the result held the family in good stead for an application for a permanent protection visa.
Liberal Senator Guy Barnett congratulated the Sarwaris on their win and commended the Launceston community for its care and support.
"The outcome confirms that the system is working, where a tribunal independent of government can provide an objective assessment of the facts," he said.
Ms Le said the family was pressing ahead with an application for a permanent protection visa.
Last month, Mr Ruddock said Afghanistan was "perfectly safe", raising the possibility Afghanis could not claim a "well founded fear of persecution".
The Department of Immigration believed Mr Sarwari was the brother of high-profile asylum seeker Ali Bakhtiyari.
However, Ms Le said no evidence to that effect had ever been submitted.
Refugee Action Committee ~ LPO Box 8287,
ANU, Canberra ACT, 0200~ Tel 02 6249 8613
Email ~ http://www.refugeeaction.org/ ~ Webmaster ~
Page modified 23 Jun 2003