Thousands protest Australia’s refugee detention policy

Demonstrators march during a protest to demand humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, in Sydney on July 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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Thousands protest Australia’s refugee detention policy

  • “Any country that openly rejects compassion and instead tortures people who we know are innocent, in order to make them a deterrent... has somehow lost its soul"
  • Canberra has tried to resettle those recognized as refugees to third countries such as the US

SYDNEY: Thousands of people marched across major Australian cities Saturday calling for an end to Canberra’s offshore detention of asylum-seekers.
The government sends anyone who tries to enter the country by sea to camps on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island or on Nauru in the Pacific for processing.
Protesters took to the streets to mark the fifth anniversary of the policy’s reintroduction, when in 2013 Canberra significantly toughened its stance, signing deals with the Pacific nations and declaring anyone arriving by boat had “no chance” of being settled in Australia.
“The policy that was introduced in 2013, to expel people — the ‘Fortress Australia’ policy that they (the government) put in place — that has to go,” rally organizer Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition told Sydney protesters.
“So we fight to close the detention centers on Manus and Nauru, but we fight in that process to bring them here.”
Hundreds marched through Sydney shouting, “Free, free the refugees,” with banners stating, “Five years too long, evacuate Manus and Nauru.” Joint rallies were held in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.
Canberra says its policy deters people from embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but rights groups and the United Nations have slammed the wealthy nation for turning its back on vulnerable people, as reports of abuse, suicide and despondency filter out of the camps.
“Any country that openly rejects compassion and instead tortures people who we know are innocent, in order to make them a deterrent... has somehow lost its soul,” said Father Dave Smith, who recently returned from a visit to the Manus camp.
An Iranian man died in a apparent suicide on Nauru in June, with his body arriving in Australia last week after what Rintoul said took much lobbying of a reluctant Australian government, which initially said the man would be buried in Nauru or repatriated to Iran.
The deceased man’s mother, who requested his body be buried in a place the family could one day visit, remains on Nauru with her younger son but has been refused entry to Australia for the burial, Rintoul added.
This was the fifth death on Nauru since Australia’s offshore detention ramped up in July 2013, rights groups say, while seven have died on Manus during the same period.
Canberra has tried to resettle those recognized as refugees to third countries such as the US, and more than a hundred have been moved there, according to the Refugee Action Coalition.
But they say some 1,600 people remain on Nauru and Manus.


Somali militant-turned-politician arrested before regional vote

Updated 13 December 2018
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Somali militant-turned-politician arrested before regional vote

MOGADISHU: A former senior Somali militant leader was arrested on Thursday, the government said, less than a week before he was scheduled to run for a regional presidency.
The government accused Muktar Robow, who defected from the extremist Al-Shabab movement last year, of “organizing a militia” in Baidoa, the capital of the southwestern Bay region, and seeking to “undermine stability.”
“These actions indicate that he never relinquished his extremist ideologies and is ready to harm the Somali people again,” the government said in a statement.
Authorities had been attempting to prevent Robow from standing in the December 19 election because he remains subject to US sanctions for his time as deputy leader of Shabab.
The Al-Qaeda affiliate Shabab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government for more than a decade.
Police sources speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that Robow had been arrested in Baidoa and taken to the capital Mogadishu.
Baidoa residents told AFP that hundreds of supporters took to the streets in protest of the detention of Robow, who enjoys the support of several clans and is regarded as a serious candidate for the region’s leader.
Sporadic gunfire was heard in the city, the residents said.
“This is a violation of democracy, Robow was standing in his region and his people wanted him. The government has no right to arrest him, this will lead to violence,” said Mohamed Sheik Ali, a Baidoa resident told AFP.
“The people are burning tires and the police are firing gunshots to disperse them. There is gunfire and there are casualties as well,” said Osman Adan, another witness.
“Armed militia and supporters of Robow have reportedly clashed with the police and the situation in town is tense as we speak,” he added.
Robow’s run for office has exposed the tensions between Somalia’s federal states, which want greater autonomy from a national administration keen to safeguard its central powers.
Robow defected from the Shabab in August last year. For a time the US government had offered a $5 million (4.4 million euro) bounty for his capture.
In 2013 Robow split from former Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and sought refuge in the nearby region of Bakool, without completely breaking off links to the group.
Forced out of Mogadishu in 2011, the Shabab have since lost the bulk of their strongholds though they still control vast swathes of mainly rural zones from where they launch guerilla operations on government, security and civilian targets.