The Australian refugee system lets down Zhang…

22 Jun

Mr Zhang who was forcibly returned to China by Australian immigration authorities - ABC The suicide of Bill Zhang (not his real name), a Tiananmen protestor and dissident who was forcefully returned to China, after having failed to apply for refugee status in Australia, has revealed the inadequacy of the country’s refugee system.

According to Mary-Anne Toy, the Chinese correspondent for Sydney Morning Herald, Zhang jumped from his friend’s housing estate after being despaired of trying to return back to Australia. According to the journalist, after arriving in China, Zhang was ‘arrested, beaten and tortured for “shaming” China by accusing its government of human rights abuses in articles he had written in the Chinese-language press in Australia.’

The newspaper had met up with Zhang after he returned to discover that he was living as a fugitive in his home country. A female friend of his tried to delay the cremation of his body as refugee advocates in Australia were trying to send someone from the Guangzhou consulate to identify his body. In the end, the Australian government did not send any representative.

Perhaps what is more worrying are the whereabouts of two other Chinese who were deported at the same time as he was. Given the secrecy and the authoritarian nature of the Chinese regime, these individuals are likely to have been subject to torture and imprisonment.

While Amnesty International Australia has applauded the government for implementing certain measures such as the closure of the detention centre in Nauru and abolition of temporary protection visas to improve refugee rights, more certainly needs to be done in this area. The policy recommendations by the human rights organisation include the closure of the detention centre in Christmas island, stopping mandatory detentions and abolishment of long term and indefinite detention.

The Refugee Council for Australia, in its public consultation with the Australian government, this year, has also put forward 12 key concerns including developing Australia’s ‘capacity to accommodate a larger refugee resettlement program’ and ‘significant reform to Australia’s refugee status determination processes’.

The suicide of Zhang is likely to be only one of the many cases in which deported refugees have faced persecution upon returning back to their home country. On Zhang’s case, Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties has said that Zhang’s plight is a ‘tragic example of how the system is flawed’. He also said that Zhang’s forceful deportation contravenes the Australian government’s obligations under the convention against torture. The organisation has also produced a statement on refugees and aslyum seekers explaining the misconceptions which stigmatises asylum seekers. It also focuses on  the Australian government’s human rights obligations under international law.

According to Green Left Weekly, another Chinese, Pang Pang, was deported back from Sydney’s Villawood detention centre recently even though his request to a case officer was not met.  Similarly, two Indians, a Peruvian, and four Chinese men from Villawood had also been sent back with one of the Indians, having been in detention for over six years.

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, has announced recently that the department would provide for 13,500 refugees from Africa, Middle East and Asia  (each 33% of the intake with one percent for contingent cases) within the year 2008- 9. This is in addition to the 500 places reserved for Iraqi refugees and another 600 for the year 2006-7 for Iraqis who have worked with Australian forces, and their families.

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One Response to “The Australian refugee system lets down Zhang…”

  1. Roger July 1, 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    The Australian refugee system lets down Zhang…
    Yes Charles and from a country that is where it is today only because of imigration . How things change when the patients take control of the asylum .

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