Villawood detainees held in solitary confinement at Silverwater prison - lawyers shocked at conditions

Refugee Action Coalition Press Release 24.4.2011 Solicitors visiting asylum seekers now incarcerated at Silverwater prison are shocked at what they have seen. Stephen Blanks, solicitor and secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties briefly interviewed two of the 22 (mostly Iranians and Kurds) locked up there. He said: “They are in solitary confinement, locked down for 18 hours a day with no access to communication, either with each other or with the outside world. There are no toothbrushes, no showers, not even any toilet paper.

“They’ve ended up in prison without any charges being laid and without any supervision from a court. I’ve lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. One of them told me that when he was forcibly removed from his bed in Villawood early in the hours of Good Friday, that a guard pushed handcuffs into his wrist, and laughed.

Mark Goudkamp from the Refugee Action Coalition added: “These conditions in Silverwater are unacceptable in a democratic society. It is also highly ironic given many Iranians detainees fled the Ahmadinejad government’s crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests in 2009. That Australian authorities think treating people in this way is acceptable is nothing short of scandalous. Australia frequently condemns human rights abuses in Iran, including in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.”

Meanwhile, a planned visit to celebrate Easter Sunday with Villawood detainees has had to be cancelled. Mark Goudkamp said, “When I rang Serco yesterday, I was told we couldn’t visit friends in detention because Villawood is a ‘crime scene’. Immigration and Serco are consciously trying to sow divisions among detainees, telling them that the reason visiting is banned indefinitely is because the rooftop protest is continuing. That this ban includes Stage 1, which was completely unaffected by Wednesday’s riots, is completely unreasonable and continues the rotten culture of collective punishment that was a feature of detention under John Howard and Phillip Ruddock. The ban on visits over Easter is diametrically opposed to the spirit of goodwill that this festive holiday is supposed to represent.

“Despite being prevented from receiving visitors, our asylum seeker friends are looking forward to a strong show of support outside Villawood tomorrow afternoon. Acting PM Wayne Swan’s view that our march is inappropriate because it coincides with Anzac Day are quite ridiculous when you consider that Afghanistan, where Australian soldiers are currently being killed, is also by far the largest source country for asylum seekers. 2267 of the nearly 7000 people now in detention come from there. Many democratically minded diggers, who themselves went to war thinking they were fighting against dictatorships and repression, will understand why we are protesting. They are welcome to join us.”

The Sydney action, which is part of a national series of protests against mandatory detention, will assemble at 12 noon at Chester Hill train station, before marching to the Gurney Rd side of Villawood. Former detainees from Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq will address the rally, along with psychiatrist Michael Dudley, the Greens, the Teachers Federation, and the Refugee Action Coalition.

Meanwhile at Curtin detention centre in remote WA, between 300-500 detainees are on hunger strike, and protesting against the length of time it is taking to process their claims. Around 60 protesters have arrived after a two day bus journey from Perth, hoping to visit detainees, and to protest against mandatory detention. There will also be a protest at Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne.



Is this the national soul? I am deeply ashamed.