Sydney Morning Herald

Detainees vow to starve themselves to death

September 5 2005

By Lee Glendinning


Two men in Villawood detention centre have not eaten for 14 days and say they will continue the hunger strike until they die.

Entering the third week of their protest against their months in detention, the men are now so weak they cannot walk, but say they have no option but to continue the strike.

One has written diary entries entitled "Memoir of a starved person from intolerably inhumane immigration detention", which have been obtained by the Herald.

The memoir begins on day eight of the hunger strike. He writes: "The last couple of days I can barely keep my head up I think of Anne Frank, how beautifully she wrote down her feelings in captivity. Like her, I too don't know where things are going, because I am not going to stop.

"I can't tolerate it any more. This disgrace, this shame of being treated like animals. Is there anyone with heart listening? I am going to continue this hunger strike till the time I am compelled to do so up to my death this may be my last word."

The men, both 28 and from Bangladesh, are Shah Mohammad Sayan Mahmud, who has been in detention for 14 months, and Mohammed Masud Hay, who has been in detention 10 months. They have told other detainees that they fear they will be killed if sent back to Bangladesh.

They, like many other single male detainees, have watched as children and families have been released into community detention while there has been no change to their incarceration.

On August 27 they were transferred to hospital for an assessment and treatment, later returning to Villawood. They have been seen by a doctor for the past three days.

The Department of Immigration confirmed yesterday that both men had lodged protection visa applications and been refused. It is believed one them was given notice of deportation.

A spokeswoman said the department was continuing to closely monitor the situation and health of those involved. "Their protests will not change the outcome of their cases," she said.

But a Refugee Action Coalition spokesman, Ian Rintoul, said yesterday that the underlying problem was the need for real cultural change within the department so that decisions were not left to the discretion of the minister.

"One of the problems is a complete lack of transparency," he said. "Apart from all the talk about cultural change, there is just what people see as arbitrary decisions."

Similar Australian atrocities:

Sydney Morning Herald

Detainees do chores for $1 an hour

Date: September 8 2005

By Nick O'Malley Workplace Reporter


Detainees at Villawood detention centre are being paid in cigarettes and phone cards to do chores such as cleaning, gardening and food preparation by the centre's private operators, GSL, a detainee has claimed.

Motahar Hussein alleges in letters to the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, and the Australian Federal Police that detainees have had to work for the equivalent of $1 an hour.

Last night a spokesman for Senator Vanstone denied any detainees were forced to work but a spokesman for the Department of Immigration confirmed that inmates over the age of 15 were invited to "engage voluntarily in useful and meaningful activities so that they may contribute to the care of themselves and of the detainee community".

Detainees who did the activities, which the department confirmed included the work outlined by Mr Hussein, are given "merit points", which can be "exchanged" for items not freely available in detention, such as cigarettes and phone cards.

Mr Hussein said it took a detainee an hour to earn $1 worth of merit points. He said the centre's management, and departmental policy, in effect forced inmates to work by restricting the amount of cash available to them. There is no ATM in the centre and visitors are forbidden to give any inmate more than $10.

Mr Hussein said it was hypocritical of the department to lock up foreign students and cancel their visas for working illegally, only to have them work for a pittance in detention before demanding they repay the cost of their detention after release.

Mr Hussein said the policy affected even those detainees who chose to not work because demoralised inmates being paid a pittance did not do the work diligently and parts of the centre were not cleaned properly. Last night Unions NSW wrote to Senator Vanstone asking if the GSL's contract price assumed the company would have access to cheap labour from its detainees.

The department has yet to reply but a spokesman told the Herald the merit point system was written into the Government's contract with the British firm GSL. He denied the company profited from it.

A GSL spokesman said two clauses in the company's contract with the Government prevented him from discussing anything that happened in any detention centre.

Sydney Morning Herald

Villawood gets shock treatment

Date: September 15 2005

By Joseph Kerr and Lee Glendinning

Story picture- Razor gang member ... Amanda Vanstone at Villawood Detention Centre today.

The razor wire has come down - but the electric fence is going up. After months of battering over a string of departmental bungles and growing public concern about the effects of mandatory detention, the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, took personal carriage of a rare pleasant duty in her portfolio last week: removing the razor wire around the Villawood detention centre.

All the children had been let out, along with some of the longest-held detainees. Senator Vanstone thought of the idea herself, viewing it as symbolic of the shift she hopes to see in the departmental culture.

"OK, let's go and have a snip," she said to media crews, doing away with three coils of the wire.

The decision to remove the perimeter wire and leave razor wire in only one area for criminal detainees went further than reforms introduced after the inquiry into the detention of the mentally ill Australian resident Cornelia Rau, she said.

But what the Government cuts with one hand it apparently builds with the other.

Immigration officials admitted yesterday the razor wire was being replaced in some parts by an electric fence.

Over the next three months an "electronic detention system" will be built on top of one-quarter of the fences in higher security areas at Villawood.

They said it would deliver "a short, harmless shock" to anyone coming into contact with the fence but stressed it would be more than three metres above the ground and that warning signs would be put on the fence itself.

"Detainees would not come into contact with it unless attempting to escape," a departmental spokesman said.

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone said "the system is not an electric fence", but was only wire strung on top of the existing three-metre fences around one-quarter of Villawood.

"It provides for discreet added security where that security is justified," he said.

While all children have been released from Villawood into home detention since a small group of Coalition MPs won reforms in June, it remains the nation's busiest immigration detention centre, currently housing 330 men and 46 women.

Please note: A fence which delivers "a short, harmless shock" is - by definition - an electric fence.

They are used for containing cattle, are stunningly painful for humans, and typically operate at between 5 and 10 thousand volts.

Back to Homepage