Uta’s Diary continued

I am still on the subject of cleaning and home help. This morning I mentioned in my diary how Peter’s mother and my mother managed in old age.  This is what I wrote:

Both Peter’s father as well as my father did not live to a very old age. So age care was not an issue. Both our mothers though did live into their eighties. How were they cared for? Well, my mother paid her granddaughter to come in on a regular basis and do some work for her, and Peter’s mother paid one of her daughters to do some work for her. Both mothers lived in a very small apartment when they were at an advanced age.

Peter’s mother was actually towards the end of her life in a care home. She had one room in that place. She did not like to eat anything except for cake. I think she was 87 when she died.  My mum ended up in a hospital after a severe stroke when she was ‘only’ 83 and she very soon passed away then.

Peter’s mother trained to work as a child carer after leaving school early. Probably when she was only 14. But soon after her training she joined the postal service, where she retired from with an adequate pension after 40 years service. Since she had three children, she was lucky that her aunt, Tante Mietze,  offered to stay with the family. So there was always somebody there for the children when Peter’s parents were out working. Peter says, his father would have preferred his wife staying home and not going out to work. But since Peter’s parents separated and divorced after the war, the mother was only too glad that she had never given up her job and that she still had Tante Mietze to look after the family.

My mum had in the 1930s and until the end of the war in 1945 always some live-in home help. The home help was called ‘Dienstmädchen’. These girls were rather young when they were employed. During the war we had Maria, who was Polish from the city of Lodz. Before the war we had every year another girl, all of them German girls from the country. I think I wrote a lot about Maria in my ‘Childhood Memories’. It seems to me she was extremely intelligent and efficient. Even my very demanding mum could not find any fault with her.

By the way as far as I know, Tante Mietze was from the country. At age 14 she moved to Berlin to be employed by a prosperous Jewish family as one of their home helps. This was before World War One!

Now I want to mention my father’s parents. They were German citizens who lived in Lodz. The Germans in Polen at the time were going back several generations! The grandparents had six children, and all of them married and had children. Grandfather was a ‘Tischlermeister’ (joinery master) and all his life self employed. At some stage he had a lot of people working under him. I am not sure what sort of home help grandmother may have had when she had all these children. I am sure the older children would have helped with some of the younger ones. Anyhow when I knew the grandparents. grandmother always used to have two very young Polish girls to help her in the house. However, in January of 1945 the grandparents as well as all the family, that was still residing in Lodz, had to flee the city, for the Russian army was getting very close. Nearly all of them made it to Germany. They were  on the road in freezing temperatures. My uncle Ludwig, who was the grandparents’ younger son, had married late. I think he was in his forties and therefore not required to be in the army. As far as I know he was right to the last still doing his best filling army orders in grandfather’s furniture factory. Anyhow, Ludwig was married to Hilde and they had a young daughter and a new born son, who did not survive the escape from Lodz. I think it was so cold on the way that babies’ nappies did get frozen to their bodies! I think this casualty of the little guy was the only casualty the family had to suffer during the whole war!

So the family had to settle somewhere in Germany as very poor refugees. Grandfather did not survive this life of a refugee for very long. He died in Leipzig in March 1947 being aged 77. Everybody thought he did reach a very good old age. Here I wrote about his gravesite and about our visit to Leipzig:








Who is a refugee? How many refugees are there in our world? Where do they live?

I found some interesting information here:


The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home by conflict and persecution at the end of 2016. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.  .  .  .

And there is so much more on this subject on this UNHCR page! There is also this video:

Here is what one YouTube viewer wrote:

Pedro Heberle1 year ago

“OK, listen. I studied your report the whole day, and there are a few mistakes in this video. I hope you don’t find me obnoxious for pointing them out — and I do think I owe that to how much Global Trends helps me every year: 1) “One person is forcibly displaced every three seconds. That’s 65.6 million people.” No, actually that’s the 10.3 million newly displaced people in 2016 alone, whereas 65.6 million is the total, current population of forcibly displaced. Believe me, I did the math. 2) The number of refugees from South Sudan is 1.4 million! This is what the report says. Plus, the number of internally displaced is obviously higher than that of refugees — I’m not sure whether that always happens, but it surely is the tendency for a least developed country in war. 3) As to the discussion of the refugee-hosting countries, the figures for Pakistan are from last year (they fell in 2016, and today the country hosts only around 1.4 million refugees), whereas the figures for Turkey have risen, but not quite as much as you put it: it hosts less — not more — than 2.9 million refugees (2.869 millions, to be exact). Other than that, your work is beautiful, and I am a fan (I’m serious).”

I was especially interested to find something too about displacement due to climate change and natural disasters as follows:

“In addition to persecution and conflict, in the 21st century, natural disaster (sometimes due to climate change) can also force people to seek refuge in other countries. Such disasters – floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides – are increasing in frequency and intensity. While most of the displacement caused by these events is internal, they can also cause people to cross borders. None of the existing international and regional refugee law instruments, however, specifically addresses the plight of such people.

Displacement caused by the slow-onset effects of climate change is largely internal as well. But through its acceleration of drought, desertification, the salinization of ground water and soil, and rising sea levels, climate change, too, can contribute to the displacement of people across international frontiers.

Other human-made calamities, such as severe socio-economic deprivation, can also cause people to flee across borders. While some may be escaping persecution, most leave because they lack any meaningful option to remain. The lack of food, water, education, health care and a livelihood would not ordinarily and by themselves sustain a refugee claim under the 1951 Convention. Nevertheless, some of these people may need some form of protection.

All of these circumstances – conflict, natural disasters, and climate change pose enormous challenges for the international humanitarian community. ”

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Image result for unhcr


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a United Nations programme with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. Wikipedia

AbbreviationUNHCR, HCR
Founded14 December 1950

What sort of country are we?



Published by The Conversation

Julian Burnside: What sort of country are we?
September 28, 2015 7.30pm AEST

Julian Burnside
Adjunct Professor, Australian Catholic University

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Julian Burnside is a patron of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. He does not accept any fees when acting for asylum seekers, and any offers of payment for other services in this area are politely declined.

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Julian Burnside at a hearing during the Tampa case in 2001. AAP/John Hargest
This piece is based on the 2015 Hamer Oration, delivered by Julian Burnside on September 28, 2015.

It was with some surprise that I found myself engaged in such a hotly political issue as refugee policy. I had never been involved in politics, nor interested in it. My best explanation of how this happened lies in a story I heard a long time ago. It involves a family whose ten-year-old son had never spoken a word. The parents had passed from anxiety to despair to resignation: there was no organic reason for his silence.

One morning, as a novelty, the mother decided to serve porridge at breakfast. She had never served it before.

The ten-year-old took a spoonful of porridge, looked up sharply and said:

I think porridge is revolting.
His parents were astonished.

It’s a miracle! You can speak! Why haven’t you spoken before this?
He said:

Everything has been satisfactory until now.
Tampa, refugees and the collapse of values

The arrival of the Tampa in Australian waters was misrepresented to the public as a threat to our national sovereignty. The people on Tampa were rescued at the request of the Australian government. They comprised for the most part terrified Hazaras from Afghanistan, fleeing the Taliban. The Taliban’s regime was universally recognised as one of the most brutal and repressive in recent times.

The notion that a handful of terrified, persecuted men, women and children fleeing such a regime could constitute a threat to our national sovereignty is so bizarre that it defies discussion.

I was shocked to see Australia’s response to Tampa. The government denied the Tampa’s request to land is bedraggled cargo in Australia; it sent the SAS onto the ship. 438 men, women and children were held on the deck in the tropical sun, day after day. I knew nothing about our refugee policy, but I knew it was wrong to treat human beings that way.

By the time the case was over, I knew a lot more about refugee policy, and a lot more about the Australian character. I knew that it was not possible to stay in this country unless I tried to do something to combat these obvious injustices. It was my great “porridge moment”. On August 26, 2001, MV Tampa rescued 438 people whose boat, the Palapa, had sunk. It rescued them at Australia’s request. It acted according to the tradition of sailors the world over.

The people rescued by Tampa were, mostly, terrified Hazaras from Afghanistan: men, women and children. They were fleeing the Taliban. We knew all this. We also knew that the Taliban were a brutal and repressive regime. We knew that Hazaras, one of the three ethnic groups in Afghanistan, had been persecuted for centuries, but that the persecution had become increasingly harsh under the Taliban who come from the Pashtun ethnic group.

The captain of Tampa asked for medical help. Many of the women and children were ill or injured. When Tampa entered Australian territorial waters off Christmas Island, Australia sent the SAS and took control of the ship at gunpoint to prevent the refugees from coming ashore.

The arrival of the Tampa in Australian waters was misrepresented to the public as a threat to our national sovereignty. The notion that 438 terrified, persecuted men, women and children constitute a threat to national sovereignty is so bizarre that it defies discussion.

The idea that Prime Minister John Howard could revive his flagging prospects for re-election by using the SAS to keep those people from safety reflected a profound malaise in the Australian character.

The judgment in the Tampa case was handed down at 2.15PM Eastern Standard Time on September 11, 2001, nine hours before the terrorist attack on America. From that moment, the government ran two different ideas together: border control and security. The catch-cry “border protection” confuses national security with refugee policy. In that confusion we lost our moral bearings.

The government denied the Tampa’s request to land is bedraggled cargo in Australia. AAP/Wallenius Wilhelmsen
The Pacific Solution is born

During the Tampa litigation, the Howard government cobbled together the Pacific Solution. It is hard to believe, but the first incarnation of the Pacific Solution, terrible though it was, was more benign than the present version.

But it had its victims. One of them was Mohammad Sarwar.

On August 26, 2002, the Afghans who had been rescued by Tampa were preparing to commemorate the 12-month anniversary of their rescue. That morning, Sarwar woke, sat up, uttered two short cries and fell back dead.

His friends wrote to us:

We regret to inform you that in early morning of 26th August Mohammad Sarwar ID NO 391 an Afghan Tampa Asylum Seeker died.He was quite young and seemed to be in his mid 20s. He was a Hazara from Central Afghanistan. He was one of the 438 asylum seekers who were rescued from ocean by the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa. He spent almost one year on board the Tampa and Manoora and in detention on Nauru. He was hospitalised in Nauru for the first few weeks on Nauru.

He was refused refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Just a few days earlier to his death he was interviewed on his appeal to the negative decision he had received on his claim for protection. His close associates, who had seen him coming out of the interview room, had seen he was very concerned and unhappy for the ways he was asked question. In the recent weeks he was seen to be stressed, worried, depressed and almost isolated. But Mohammad Sarwar was proved to be a voiceless, quiet and would speak very little of his concerns and pains he might be suffering. Recently, he was seen sitting alone and thinking very deeply.

Eventually, he has sought the asylum only God can grant.
Both Australia and Nauru refused to conduct an autopsy.

At the time Sarwar died, the Australian government was forcing and cajoling Afghans to return to their country. Sarwar’s family asked that his corpse be returned to Kabul. Australia refused, saying it was unsafe to return a corpse to Afghanistan.

Sarwar was an early victim of the Pacific Solution. Another was Australia’s character.


In the wake of 9/11, the government sent a care package to every Australian household. It included a fridge magnet – a sure protection against terrorism – and a letter from Howard. The letter included this observation:

Dear Fellow Australian,

I’m writing to you because I believe you and your family should know more about some key issues affecting the security of our country and how we can all play a part in protecting our way of life.

As a people we have traditionally engaged the world optimistically … our open, friendly nature makes us welcome guests and warm hosts.
Don Watson wrote about this:

This rose-coloured boasting smells of some nightmare ministry of information … the phrase as a people might not be a lie, but it smells like one. And it sits askew to the element of conservative political philosophy that opposes all attempts to categorise people by class or historic tendency, or any other conceit that will serve as an excuse for eliminating them.

The people of Australia is not so rank because it does not carry the suggestion that some mythic or historic force unites us in our destiny. But if we must have as a people, then traditionally has to go, and not only because optimistically is sitting on top of it. It has to go because it is so at odds with Australian history it could be reasonably called a lie.

Traditionally we built barriers against the world we are alleged to have engaged so optimistically; traditionally we clung to the mother country for protection against that same world; traditionally … we took less of an optimistic view of the world than an ironic, fatalistic view of the world.

The smugness of the sentence about our being lovely guests and warm hosts is so larded by fantasy and self-delusion, it transcends Neighbours and becomes Edna Everage.

It will occur to some readers, surely, that it has been our nature recently to play very cold hosts to uninvited guests, the sort of people we don’t want here, who throw their children into the sea, who are not fun-loving, welcoming, warm, sunny, etc.

Given (our) recent history, we might wonder if the words are as ingenuous as they sound. The thought, even the subconscious thought, might have been of a piece with Medea’s “soft talk”. Thus – as a people Australians are very nice; people who don’t agree with this proposition are not nice people; people who are not nice are not Australians in the sense of Australians as a people. People who are not prepared to be Australian as a people should shut up or piss off back where they came from.
There is the problem: by our response to boat people since August 2001, we may have redefined our national character.

The Howard government set up the ‘Pacific Solution’ for dealing with boat arrivals. AAP/Laura Friezer

Mr Hamidi had fled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Within a couple of weeks of his arrival in detention in Australia, officers of the Immigration Department noted that he had suffered torture in Iraq at the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison and that the form of torture which most frightened him was being locked in a small room. In Abu Ghraib, he had regularly been held in a small cell where he was randomly electrocuted through water in the floor.

After about 15 or 18 months in detention, he fell into hopelessness and despair. It is typical for asylum seekers in Australia’s detention system to lose hope after about 15 or 18 months. When Mr Hamidi fell into hopelessness, he started self-harming. Whenever he could find a bit of broken glass or a bit of razor wire, he would cut himself.

When he cut himself, the Immigration Department did two things: they gave him Panadol (which seems to be the universal treatment in immigration detention) and they put him in solitary confinement – in a small cell. This did not help him.

After a couple of weeks in solitary confinement, he would come out even more desperate than when he went in. He would then harm himself again and the Department would give him Panadol and solitary confinement. This went on for five years.

Eventually, some lawyers in Adelaide took a case to the Federal Court of Australia seeking an order requiring that Mr Hamidi, and some others in similarly desperate circumstances, should be taken to the Glenside psychiatric hospital in Adelaide for assessment and, if necessary, for treatment. The Commonwealth resisted the application and fought the case for several weeks. Eventually, the judge determined that the detainees should be sent to Glenside for assessment and if necessary for treatment.

When Mr Hamidi was taken to Glenside he was assessed mentally and physically. The physical assessment showed that he had ten metres of scarring on his body from his self-harming in Immigration Detention. He subsequently got a protection visa, but his health is ruined. Saddam Hussein tried to kill him and failed. Australia tried to incapacitate him and succeeded. Chance bludgeoned him almost to death.

One girl

There was the case which, for me at least, forever changed my view of this lucky country. It concerned an Iranian family – mother, father and two daughters aged 11 and seven at the relevant time. They were members of a small, pre-Christian religion: a religion which, in Iran, is regarded as unclean. If ever you think chance has dealt you a bad hand, try being a member of a religion which is regarded as unclean. There are plenty of historical precedents which show what a hard time those people get.

This family stayed on in Iran for as long as they could bear it, because their parents and grandparents were buried there. But one day, after a shocking incident involving the 11-year-old, the family fled Iran and ended up in detention at Woomera.

After about 15 or 18 months, all of them were in a bad way but especially the 11-year-old. The 11-year-old girl had stopped caring for herself: she had stopped grooming herself, she had stopped brushing her hair; she was careless with her clothing; she had stopped eating. She was frightened to go to the toilet block, which was about 100 metres from their cabin, and she would wet the bed at night and wet her clothing during the day.

Back then, if you were held in Woomera and had serious psychiatric needs, you would get to see the visiting psychiatrist approximately once every six months. The 11 year-old-girl needed daily psychiatric help. A psychiatrist from Adelaide, who had heard about the case, went to Woomera and delivered a report to the Immigration Department saying that it was essential that the family be removed from Woomera and placed in a metropolitan detention centre so that the 11-year-old could get daily psychiatric help. The report emphasised that the child was at extreme risk.

Eventually, the Department agreed to move the family from Woomera in the South Australian desert to Maribyrnong in the western suburbs of Melbourne. There, although the purpose for moving them was that the 11-year-old should get daily psychiatric help, for the first two and a half weeks of their stay nobody came to see her: not a psychiatrist, not a psychologist, not a doctor, not a nurse, not a social worker – nobody at all. It was as if they hadn’t even arrived.

On a Sunday night in May 2002, while her mother and father and young sister were up in the mess hall having their evening meal, this little girl alone in their cell in Maribyrnong Detention Centre took a bedsheet and hanged herself. But she was only little and didn’t know how to tie the knot properly, so she was still strangling when the family came back from dinner. They took her down and she and her mother were taken straight away to the general hospital nearby. They were accompanied by two ACM guards so that, as a matter of legal analysis, they were still in Immigration Detention.

Kon from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, who had been looking after the family’s visa application, heard about the incident and went to the hospital at about 9.30 that night. He said hello to the guards, who know him well because he is a regular visitor of Maribyrnong. He said he just wanted to speak to the mother to see if there was anything he could do to help. They said: “No you’re not allowed to see them, because lawyers’ visiting hours in Immigration Detention are nine to five” and they sent him away. Kon then rang me at home and told me what had happened.

Are we a country which treats children that way? Apparently we are.

The Woomera detention centre in South Australia hosted hundreds of detainees. AAP
The 2013 election

By 2008 the boats had virtually stopped arriving. In July 2008, the first Rudd government introduced a number of reforms to the Migration Act which satisfied about 90% of the concerns of refugee advocates. A while later, however, chance played another wild card: Tony Abbott became opposition leader by one vote.

As soon as he became opposition leader, Abbott began complaining publicly and loudly about boat people. Kevin Rudd responded by mounting a ferocious attack on people smugglers. It seems that in the heat of the moment he had forgotten that his moral hero – Dietrich Bonhoeffer – had been a people smuggler, albeit a benevolent one. He had forgotten, it seems, that Oskar Schindler and Gustav Schroeder, the Captain of the St Louis, were both people smugglers.

When Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister, she ran a very ambivalent line about boat people. While expressing some concern for the circumstances which led them to flee, she said that she understood why Australians were concerned about boat people arriving in Australia. The asylum seeker debate went off on a new tack at about that time.

The lowpoint of the debate was seen in the campaign that preceded the federal election of September 2013. That election campaign, for the first time in Australia’s political history, saw both major parties try to outbid each other in their promises of cruelty to boat people.

Abbott won the election and made good of his promise to mistreat boat people. We now have the harshest imaginable policies in relation to boat people and arguably the harshest treatment of boat people of any country that has signed the Refugees’ Convention.

In broad outline it goes like this.

When boat people arrive

When boat people arrive at Christmas Island, they have typically spent eight or ten days on a rickety boat. They have typically come from landlocked countries and have typically never spent time on the ocean.

Typically, they have had not enough to eat and not enough to drink. Typically, they have had no opportunity to wash or to change their clothes. Typically, they arrive distressed, frightened and wearing clothes caked in their own excrement.

They are not allowed to shower or to change their clothes before they are interviewed by a member of the Immigration Department. It is difficult to think of any decent justification for subjecting them to that humiliation.

When they arrive, any medical appliances they have will be confiscated and not returned: spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, prosthetic limbs, are all confiscated. If they have any medications with them, those medications are confiscated and not returned.

According to doctors on Christmas Island, one person has a full-time job of sitting in front of a bin popping pills out of blister packs for later destruction.

If they have any medical documentation with them, it is confiscated and not returned. The result of all of this is that people with chronic health problems find themselves denied any effective treatment.

The results can be very distressing. For example, a doctor who worked on Christmas Island told me of a woman who had been detained there for some weeks and who was generally regarded as psychotic. Her behaviour was highly erratic for reasons that no-one understood. The consultation with this woman was very difficult because, although the doctor and the patient were sitting across a table from each other, the interpreter joined them by telephone from Sydney.

Eventually, the doctor worked out that the problem was that the woman was incontinent of urine. She could not leave her cabin without urine running down her leg. It was driving her mad. When the doctor worked out that this was the cause of the problem, she asked the Department to provide incontinence pads. The Department’s initial response was “we don’t do those”. The doctor insisted.

The Department relented and provided four incontinence pads per day: not enough, so that the woman needs to queue for more but the incontinence pads made a profound difference to her mood and behaviour.

When boat people arrive at Christmas Island, they have typically spent eight or ten days at sea. AAP
‘Pacific Solution’ mark two

Asylum seekers who arrive at Christmas Island are assessed to see if there is any medical reason why they cannot be sent offshore, to Nauru or Manus Island.

In either place, they are held in detention centres run by Transfield Services (an Australian company). Guards are provided by Wilson Security (another Australian company). Medical Services are provided by IHMS: International Medical and Health Services (an Australian subsidiary of a French company).

Nevertheless, Australia insists that what happens in offshore detention is nothing to do with Australia. That is not only absurdly false, it overlooks the small detail that we spend about A$5 billion a year on the detention system. If that number is unimaginably big, it is the equivalent of one million Geelong chopper rides a year.


A few days ago I got an email from a health worker on Manus:

… The situation as you can imagine is very grim. Around 80% of transferees suffering serious mental health issues. PNG staff are slowly being “trained” to take over various roles with mostly undesirable results. East Lorengau is not working. One refugee is lingering in hospital for over two weeks with undiagnosed stomach problems. One refugee doctor is suffering severe mental health issues…
Here is an extract from a statement by a doctor who worked on Manus whose professional experience includes the provision of healthcare services in maximum-security prisons in Australia:

… On the whole, the conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are extremely poor. When I first arrived at the Manus Island OPC I was considerably distressed at what I saw, and I recall thinking that this must be similar to a concentration camp.

The detainees at the Manus Island OPC are detained behind razor wire fences, in conditions below the standard of Australian maximum-security prison.

My professional opinion is that the minimum medical requirements of the detained population were not being met. I have no reason to believe that the conditions of detention have improved since I ceased employment at the Manus Island OPC.

The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of those detained in the Manus Island OPC. On a number of occasions the extreme conditions of detention resulted in detainees abandoning their claims for asylum and returning to their country of origin.

At the Manus Island OPC, bathroom facilities are rarely cleaned. There was a lot of mould, poor ventilation, and the structural integrity of the facilities is concerning.

No soap is provided to detainees for personal hygiene.

When detainees need to use the bathroom, it is standard procedure that they first attend at the guards’ station to request toilet paper. Detainees would be required to give an indication of how many ‘squares’ they will need. The maximum allowed is six squares of toilet paper, which I considered demeaning.

A large number of detainees continue to be in need of urgent medical attention.

Formal requests for medical attention are available to the detainees. The forms are only available in English. Many of the detainees do not have a workable understanding of English and the guards will not provide assistance.
Reza Barati

In February 2014 Reza Barati was killed on Manus Island. Initially, Australia said that he had escaped from the detention centre and was killed outside the detention centre. Soon it became clear that he was killed inside the detention centre. It took months before anyone was charged with his murder.

Just a couple of weeks after Barati was killed, I received a sworn statement from an eyewitness. The statement included the following:

J … is a local who worked for the Salvation Army. … He was holding a large wooden stick. It was about a metre and a half long … it had two nails in the wood. The nails were sticking out …

When Reza came up the stairs, J … was at the top of the stairs waiting for him. J … said ‘fuck you motherfucker’ J … then swung back behind his shoulder with the stick and took a big swing at Reza, hitting him on top of the head.

J … screamed again at Reza and hit him again on the head. Reza then fell on the floor …

I could see a lot of blood coming out of his head, on his forehead, running down his face. His blood is still there on the ground. He was still alive at this stage.

About 10 or 15 guards from G4S came up the stairs. Two of them were Australians. The rest were PNG locals. I know who they are. I can identify them by their face. They started kicking Reza in his head and stomach with their boots.

Reza was on the ground trying to defend himself. He put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.

There was one local … I recognised him … he picked up a big rock … he lifted the rock above his head and threw it down hard on top of Reza’s head. At this time, Reza passed away.

One of the locals came and hit him in his leg very hard … but Reza did not feel it. This is how I know he was dead.

After that, as the guards came past him, they kicked his dead body on the ground …
Australia regards itself as having no responsibility for Barati or anyone else held on Manus Island or Nauru. But we pay Transfield Services to run the detention centres there. We pay Wilson Security, the Australian company which employs the guards. When the government disclaims responsibility for what happens in offshore detention centres, it is deliberately misleading you.

Some will be aware that I have been running a campaign to encourage Australians to write letters to people held on Nauru and Manus. Just before Christmas last year, 2000 letters I had sent to Nauru were returned to me, unopened and marked “Return to Sender”.

So far, the Department of Immigration has not responded to the four emails I have sent them asking for an explanation why those letters had not been delivered to the people to whom they were addressed. They have told members of the press that the named recipients of the letters did not wish to receive letters.

Apart from being implausible, it stands awkwardly with the fact that, during the second half of last year, the Department assured me that the letters were being received and distributed.

Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed on Manus Island. AAP/Dan Peled
International criticism

Australia’s system of mandatory detention has been trenchantly criticized by Amnesty International and UNHCR. In late 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) delivered a report on conditions in the Regional Processing Centre (RPC) on Manus Island, saying:

UNHCR was deeply troubled to observe that the current policies, operational approaches and harsh physical conditions at the RPC do not comply with international standards.
It also reported on conditions in Nauru and said:

Assessed as a whole, UNHCR is of the view that the transfer of asylum-seekers to what are currently harsh and unsatisfactory temporary facilities, within a closed detention setting, and in the absence of a fully functional legal framework and adequately capacitated system to assess refugee claims, do not currently meet the required protection standards.
Just as a person’s character is judged by their conduct, so a country’s character is judged by its conduct. Australia is now judged overseas by its behaviour as cruel and selfish. We treat frightened, innocent people as criminals. It is a profound injustice.

It is a hard thing to be forced by circumstances to leave the country of your birth in search for a place that is safe. The play of chance is worse again for those who must seek protection in a country whose language and culture is radically different from your own.

How much worse must it be to find that your bid for freedom ends up with punishment as harsh as anything you might have experienced at home. I have received messages from many refugees from many countries over the course of many years which say, in substance: “In my home country they kill you quickly; in Australia they kill you slowly”.

Our politicians lie to us

One of the most distressing things about the present situation is that it is based on a series of lies. When politicians called boat people “illegals” and “queue jumpers” they are not telling the truth. When politicians say that they are concerned about people drowning in their attempt to reach safety, they are not telling the truth.

The Abbott government reintroduced temporary protection visas (TPVs). Temporary protection visas offer only three years’ protection, and they include a condition which denies they prospect of family reunion.

That has one obvious practical consequence: families who wish to rejoin the husband or father who is living in Australia on a TPV are not allowed to come to Australia by any orthodox means, so the only way in which the family can be reunited is by the women and children using the services of a people smuggler. TPVs are a positive incentive for people to use people smugglers.

Quite apart from that, there is something indecent about the idea that in order to prevent people from drowning in their attempt to reach safety you punish the ones who don’t drown. That is precisely what this country is doing right now.

The former Abbott government made an election pledge to ‘stop the boats’. AAP/Ava Benny-Morrison

Like most of you, I am aware that Donald Horne was speaking ironically when he wrote of Australia as “the lucky country”. But in most important ways, compared with the boat people who try to reach safety in Australia, we are indeed lucky.

Over the past 15 years, 94% of boat people have been assessed, by us, as refugees genuinely fleeing the fear of persecution. In Australia, most members of the community never have to fear persecution; never have to fear for the late night knock on the door; never have to fear for their human rights.

But it is all because of the play of chance. Imagine for a moment that you are a Hazara from Afghanistan. You have fled your country and you have come down the northwest corridor through Malaysia and Indonesia. You can travel through both of those countries because they give you a one-month visa on arrival.

While you are in Indonesia you can go to the UNHCR office in Jakarta and apply for refugee status. If you are a Hazara from Afghanistan, you will almost certainly be assessed as a refugee. But when your one-month visa expires, you have to hide because if you are found by the police, they will jail you.

You cannot work because if you work you will be found and then you will be jailed. You cannot send your children to school because if you do you will be found and then you will be jailed. If the UNHCR has assessed you as a refugee, you can wait patiently in the shadows until some country offers to resettle you. That may take 20 or 30 years.

Now, for just one minute, imagine that chance has put you in that position: you are that person. Will you wait in the shadows for 20 or 30 years or will you take your courage in both hands and get on a boat? I have never met an Australian who would not get on the boat. It’s a very strange thing that we criticise, revile and punish those who do precisely what we would do if by chance we had not the luck to belong to this country.

Whether this thinking will bear fruit may soon be tested. In the last weeks of its existence, the Abbott government shifted its position quickly in response to public opinion. It had initially resisted the idea of receiving Syrian refugees.

Public opinion could see however that bombing Syrians and turning our backs on them was not a good look. Germany conspicuously agreed to take 800,000 Syrian refugees, with very few questions asked. That made our claim to be “the most generous country in the world” look a bit hollow. Given that Germany’s population is about four times ours, we would have had to receive 200,000 refugees rather than the present quota of 13,750.

Abbott volunteered that we would take 12,000 Syrians. Whether the Turnbull government engages in cherry-picking remains to be seen. There is a real risk that the Howard government sentiment will survive: “If they come in the front door, they are (more or less) welcome; if they come in the back door, we will jail them”.

It’s too early to tell whether community attitudes have actually changed. If they have, government attitudes are likely to change.

The second matter was equally surprising and even more encouraging. Melbourne responded swiftly and decisively against the idea of Border Force officers cruising the streets and “speaking to anyone who crosses our path”. The original idea, apparently, was to have squads of public transport officers, police, and Border Force officers who would intercept people at places like Flinders Street Station and check their Myki card, their identity and their visa status.

Melbourne heard of the proposal on the morning of Friday, August 28. Melbournians turned out in force to protest. By mid-afternoon, the exercise had been cancelled, in a flurry of buck-passing.

In my view, Melbourne’s reaction – so swift and decisive – showed that we know when and where to draw the line. Perhaps I am an optimist, but I think it showed what sort of country we are. I think that, at heart, we are still the country that David Hamer and Dick Hamer served with such distinction. Perhaps someone should tell our politicians.

Asylum seekers
Manus Island
Offshore detention
Long read

What is the Fate of Europe?


U.S. is Destroying Europe,
an article by Investigative historian Eric ZUESSE | 07.08.2015

This is what it says towards the end of this article: “By weakening European nations, and not only nations in the Middle East, Obama’s war against Russia is yet further establishing America to be “the last man standing,” at the end of the chaos and destruction that America causes.”

I do not copy the whole article, but here is a bit more about what the author reckons is the weakening of European nations:

” . . . Libya has become Europe’s big problem. Millions of Libyans are fleeing the chaos there. Some of them are fleeing across the Mediterranean and ending up in refugee camps in southern Italy; and some are escaping to elsewhere in Europe.

And Syria is now yet another nation that’s being destroyed in order to conquer Russia. Even the reliably propagandistic New York Times is acknowledging, in its ‘news’ reporting, that, “both the Turks and the Syrian insurgents see defeating President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as their first priority.” So: U.S. bombers will be enforcing a no-fly-zone over parts of Syria in order to bring down Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad and replace his secular government by an Islamic government — and the ‘anti-ISIS’ thing is just for show; it’s PR, propaganda. The public cares far more about defeating ISIS than about defeating Russia; but that’s not the way America’s aristocracy views things. Their objective is extending America’s empire — extending their own empire.

Similarly, Obama overthrew the neutralist government of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine in February 2014, but that was under the fake cover of ‘democracy’ demonstrations, instead of under the fake cover of ‘opposing Islamic terrorism’ or whatever other phrases that the U.S. Government uses to fool suckers about America’s installation of, and support to, a rabidly anti-Russia, racist-fascist, or nazi, government next door to Russia, in Ukraine. Just as Libya had been at peace before the U.S. invaded and destroyed it, and just as Syria had been at peace before the U.S and Turkey invaded and destroyed it, Ukraine too was at peace before the U.S. perpetrated its coup there and installed nazis and an ethnic cleansing campaign there, and destroyed Ukraine too.

Like with Libya before the overthrow of Gaddafi there, or Syria before the current effort to overthrow Assad there, or the more recent successful overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, it’s all aimed to defeat Russia.

The fact that all of Europe is sharing in the devastation that Obama and other American conservatives — imperialists, even — impose, is of little if any concern to the powers-that-be in Washington DC, but, if it matters at all to them, then perhaps it’s another appealing aspect of this broader operation: By weakening European nations, and not only nations in the Middle East, Obama’s war against Russia is yet further establishing America to be “the last man standing,” at the end of the chaos and destruction that America causes.

Consequently, for example, in terms of U.S. international strategy, the fact that the economic sanctions against Russia are enormously harming the economies of European nations is good, not bad.

There are two ways to win, at any game: One is by improving one’s own performance. The other is by weakening the performances by all of one’s competitors. The United States is now relying almost entirely upon the latter type of strategy.”

Politicians must stop using language to strip refugees of their humanity



Politicians must stop using language to strip refugees of their humanity

June 11, 2015

Thomas Keneally
Instead of using the English language to support cruel policies and scapegoat victims, we should commit to finding an international solution to the refugee puzzle.

Hundreds of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa arrive at Augusta port in Sicily, Italy.

Technology cannot always change who we are. Each of us remains a peculiar kind of gifted animal and angel. Since our brain volume increased and our voice boxes evolved, we have been the kings of language. There is a wonderful theory that language began with young mothers putting their babies down because, through lack of fur, they had no capacity to carry them continuously, and thus language began as a mode of reassurance to the baby that having been put down it would be picked up again. A form of “motherese” might have been the first language. In any case I am grateful for a wonderful life being a sort of valet or gardener of language.

But like many other and better writers, I have made stories of love and animosity towards the despised people of the earth, about those who are ignored, and about people stuck on racial, religious and cultural faultlines. As an Australian redneck I’d always been engrossed in the question of why there was so much hate in Europe, and why it’s still found there, all crammed into such a small space. Since my father was an Australian soldier in North Africa, and regularly sent me home what I saw as souvenirs – German corporal’s stripes, Nazi pistol holsters and Very pistols and other items – I was always enthralled by the way European hatred emerged in World War II, stoked by the demagogue Hitler and by others.

Let me rush to say that writers do not use this sort of material because we’re noble people – many of us are terrible to live with, and my wife is willing to be interviewed on the matter after this! We write about race and other divisions because they are full of high drama. I have been fascinated by racial division ever since, as a little kid in a country town in the White Australia of the early 1940s, I saw Aboriginals from the local Greenhill settlement walk past our gate in Kempsey. It was not a moral fascination. But I could tell in a primitive, intrigued way of my own that these were a people bewildered by loss of land, loss of validity as a people, by loss of culture; and also that having had misery imposed on them, they were being blamed for being unable to escape it.

What a tribute it will be to our community if, with support of all parties, we acknowledge that ancient culture, and those towering millennia of occupation of Australia before settlement, in our constitution, as proposed by the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader. That will bring about the employment of language, of the ultimate “motherese”, to make peace with ourselves.


I cannot hope in obvious futility and because of my love of language, which is still my wonderful daily power tool that never needs recharging, that I might see the departure from our national discourse of some of the more outrageous and wilful mis-usages of English language with which, in both major parties, the Australian polity is afflicted. I am not the first to mention it – Paul Keating’s former adviser Don Watson, now a fine writer, wrote a bestseller on the use of what he called “weasel words”. But there is a further twist. Our leaders are not only so often misusers of language, but also deniers of our access to its better angels, its more humane colorations.

An example of what I think of as misuse: I know a young writer, Mark Isaacs, who was working on Nauru at a time when inmates were looking forward to a visit by the Labor government Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen. Knowing the desperate hopes that were harboured by fellow human beings in the tents and huts of Nauru, he was disheartened when he overheard an aide to the minister refer to the people they had come to deal with as “the undesirables”.

Now, the refugee problem is inconvenient for the world, though western governments sometimes help create it by our foreign policies and tyrants account for the rest. The refugee problem is a puzzle for the world, a test of policy and compassion. And there is the undeniable further problem of the criminality, brutality and, indeed, the poverty of the people smugglers, and the terrible perils of drowning for those who believe we are a beacon they must reach. But I ask, does any group of humans who have committed no crime deserve to be verballed as opening gambit on the enormous world refugee problem by the representative of a party, admittedly not the Minister, which has always declared its solidarity with the rest of us? Why do we have to kill them with words even before we confront them? What are we trying to justify?

May I set you an alternate scene. Recently, an Australian journalist took a camera crew aboard an Italian search aircraft looking for survivors among the vessels plying between North Africa and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

There, by the way, and elsewhere in Italy, 40 times the number of vessels that have landed on our north coast have come ashore, and even before the turn-back-the-boats policy, were high by comparison with Australia.

Back to the Australian journalist in Lampedusa: he asked a member of the aircrew about the exhaustion of looking through sectors of sea for boats and survivors. He said it was a wearisome search: an honest answer. And then the Italian crewmember said, “One has always to remember — they are human beings down there.”

Shipwrecked asylum seekers are rescued, aboard 20 miles north of Libya, by a frigate of the Italian navy on June last year. Photo: Massimo Sestini/AP

This is a scene not permitted to occur in an Australian context. An Australian journalist would be unable to get aboard an Australian search plane. He would be unable to ask our defence forces what they think, even though we know that they possess the same honourable impulses as the Italian crewmember.

I cherish the fact that I have an inherited right to say this without fear of arrest, facing no greater sanction than being considered dewy-eyed. I do not say I have an answer, though I will sketch out a possible one derived from wise sources. I just know that what we are doing is not the answer, and that using language to position our more baleful instincts is not the answer.

We have reacted to a genuine world crisis with verbal meanness and subsequent cruelty. The Italians have reacted with a reckless and, according to many, ill-advised humanity that may in the end cause of us all to look at the disease instead of persecuting the symptoms – and among the symptoms, the children that we continue to imprison with the approval of our major parties.

I wish devoutly that instead of pressing the English language into its more brutal gears and scapegoating victims, instead of enlisting our support in policies that are cruel and win the applause overseas only of the extreme right wing, we too could address ourselves not to international denial but to an international solution. This solution would involve more countries gathered together in goodwill – because the goodwill has to start somewhere. Let us forget the ridiculous proposition of writing everyone off as economic refugees. Let us lead a world crusade to enable, through the co-operation of all liberal democracies, accredited refugees to be absorbed into our populations. Fanciful? No, this was the position taken by our government after World War II when a forgotten Australian, Sir Robert Jackson, logistical genius and UN official, persuaded the entire world to resettle, according to reasonable shares, the 8 million displaced persons of Europe. It was the only policy that worked then. Let us not forget the conditions that create genuine refugees will continue to drive people onto the roads, across the borders and the seas, and cruelty will not stem that tide.

When Ben Chifley, our prime minister, took 170,000 displaced persons from the camps of Europe, a decision he made without convening a single focus group, the Age newspaper ran a 1947 poll on what immigrants Australians wanted. People said they wanted, above all, people from the British Isles, and if necessary, other northern Europeans. Germans were to be preferred to Jews. The Greeks and Italians, it was believed, would not make good citizens.

If Chifley had read that poll and been rendered as impotent as modern politicians are by such indicators, what a narrow and shrunken little place Australia would be now!

Remember too Malcolm Fraser was PM in the days when Vietnamese asylum seeker boats landed in great numbers in Northern Australia. He processed these people humanely. There was no long-term mandatory detention involved. The newcomers were not depicted as sinister invaders. Then, after the Tiananmen Square massacre, Bob Hawke announced that all 43,000 Chinese students then in Australia would be offered residency and could stay here if they wished. Language was not misused and neither were human souls.

So let’s use mandatory detention only for health, identity and security checks that do not take years, but weeks. Let’s have accommodation centres – not prisons. And for God’s own sweet sake, let’s release all children from mandatory detention. Let’s have an independent commission to decide on asylum seeker policy to stop politicians using it to improve their vote.

History warns us to be suspicious of politicians of any party, who try to concentrate our passion upon a small minority, and depict them as a bigger threat than they are. When we see this kind of trick played upon us, instead of succumbing to the race frenzy we all potentially carry inside us, we should ask, “Who is benefitting from this? Are our taxes validly being spent upon it? And who is being harmed in the name of getting a better percentage of the vote?” We should be suspicious of frenzy too, as Oskar Schindler was suspicious of Nazi ideology, because it means that leaders may be distracting us from some more important issue – like a conjurer who makes us concentrate on his right hand as he performs the trick with his left.

Citizens have always to ask questions about public hysteria over race and minorities and culture – over matters of “them” and “us”. Because, again, my lifelong experience of Australia is that the “them” can quickly become the “us”. And our freedoms are not set in stone. We know that liberties that go unguarded will be abolished for governmental convenience.

This is an edited abstract of a speech given at a graduation ceremony at University of NSW on Wednesday night, where Tom Keneally was given an honorary doctorate.

Australia – Cambodia Refugee Deal


According to the Australian government refugees who tried to come to Australia in one of these leaky boats, that are operated by people smugglers, refugees like this who are being held at present in some offshore detention centre, have eventually to be settled in a country other than Australia. Our government calls this a very successful border control policy. They are adamant that Australian voters do like this policy. The introduction of this policy has stopped the boats for quite some time now. People who dared to come near Australia in one of these leaky boats in the past and who are at present in some off shore detention centre, have to be settled in some country elsewhere, not in Australia, so our government says.

Cambodia apparently is willing to receive refugees as settlers. Australia does not want to settle these unwanted boat arrivals in our vast country.


Displaced Persons

The other day when I was awake in bed for a while, my thoughts went to the refugees from the Eastern Ukraine. I remembered pictures of women and children in Russian refugee camps. One woman had said she wanted to stay in Russia for a limited time only so that when the fighting stops she would be able  to go back to her home town in the Ukraine. Some people may have dual citizenship. These people are of course allowed to stay in Russia indefinitely, others would have to apply for permanent residency if they want to stay in Russia.

For sure it is not a very pleasant experience to have to live in a refugee camp for weeks on end. Who knows when there is going to be peace again in these places where Ukrainians are fighting the insurgents?

TIME FOR UKRAINE TO DIVIDE? The following is an extract of an article by Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald from 2014, July 20th:

It is more than 20 years since the orderly, democratic, bloodless dissolution of Czechoslovakia took place on January 1, 1993, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia came into being as two sovereign nations. Like Ukraine, this was a nation divided with geographic neatness between language and ethnicity.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/time-for-ukraine-to-divide-20140720-zv19c.html#ixzz38LX5O0Np


Here is another example where a two state solution ought to be possible and why this did not happen so far:

This is taken from an ABC Australia National program called Rear Vision.




Israel, Palestine and the problem with the two-state solution

Tuesday 22 July 2014 4:51PM
Annabelle Quince

With Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza and casualties rising, international attention is once again focused on the Middle East peace process. The two-state solution is generally accepted as the blueprint to end the decades-old conflict, but intractable issues and deep mistrust remain on both sides, writes Annabelle Quince. 

If it wasn’t clear before this week, the Middle East peace process is in tatters. Israel has launched a ground invasion of Gaza, resulting in the deaths of more than 500 Palestinians and around 20 Israelis.

. . . . . .


‘The majority of the people in Israel do accept the notion of a Palestinian state, but we suspect that most Palestinians don’t accept the notion of a Jewish state. This is the problem,’ says Eiland.

‘Everybody understands that what Clinton proposed nine years ago is probably the only practical solution if we are based on the two-state solution. In other words, it is not only that the concept is well known, but also the details are well-known. So if it is so important to solve the problem, if the concept is acceptable and if the details are so well-known, what is the problem? Why both parties don’t sit together and sign an agreement, and here is the paradox, both parties don’t do it because this solution is not really desired by both sides.’

‘The maximum that the government of Israel, any government of Israel, can offer the Palestinians, is less, much less, than the minimum that any possible Palestinian leader can accept. The gap between both sides is much bigger than the way that it is perceived. Everybody is committed to say that he is committed to this solution, but no-one really, really means it.’

Which leaves the peace process where it is today, mired in mistrust and nearly a century’s worth of grievances, with the blood of both soldiers and civilians flowing once again.

Rear Vision puts contemporary events in their historical context, answering the question, ‘How did it come to this?’

Surge in Refugees in Germany

A Publication by SPIEGEL ONLINE INTERNATIONAL from July 07, 2014

I copied this publication for I am quite distressed that all these wars, hostilities and fighting create such misery for so many refugees.

Growing Influx: Germany Caught Off Guard By Surge in Refugees

Photo Gallery: Germany's Crowded Refugee CentersPhotos

The German government is expecting around 175,000 people to file applications for asylum this year, the highest number in two decades. Regional politicians are acting surprised, but there have been signs of this development for years now.

Last Friday, the state interior ministers of Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) convened for a meeting at the stately Westin Bellevue in Dresden, with a view of the Elbe River and the baroque historic city center. But they weren’t here to discuss the views — the subject at hand was much grimmer: packed school gymnasiums, dwellings made out of shipping containers, cots and other logistical aspects of Germany’s refugee crisis.


Part of the job of state interior ministers in Germany is to ensure that refugees who make their way into country are provided with acceptable accommodations. If you travel through Germany’s cities, you can often see evidence that state governments haven’t been doing their jobs well — and that they’ve been overstrained by the sheer number of people seeking assistance, which has risen dramatically for months.Officials had been hoping that Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s federal interior minister and a member of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, might present a realistic solution at the Dresden meeting. Germany’s federal parliament passed a new law penned by de Maizière on Thursday that defines Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina — the sources of a massive wave of refugees to Germany during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s — as “safe countries of origin” and expedites the process of rejecting asylum applications for citizens from these countries.

Although de Maizière praised the law at the meeting, it is unlikely that it will be approved by the Bundesrat, Germany’s second legislative chamber, which represents the interests of the states — the CDU and SPD do not have a majority in the Bundesrat, and the Green Party has already expressed its displeasure with the proposed law. And even if it is approved, it isn’t clear if the new rules can slow the influx of refugees.

During their consultations, the ministers gave the impression that developments have caught the country by surprise — almost as if they were being overrun by it. But in fact, large numbers of refugees have been making their way to Germany from the world’s crisis zones for two years now.

Officials Moved too Slowly to Address Problems

The refugees in Germany are fleeing many things: the civil war in Syria, the recent wave of terror in Iraq, torturous regimes but also, in many cases, a life of poverty and no prospects, be it in Africa or as a member of the Roma minority in Serbia. Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) estimates that as many as 175,000 people will apply for asylum in Germany this year alone, the highest number seen in the past 20 years and double the figure for 2013.

In Munich, the state government even considered the idea of erecting tent camps to provide new arrivals with accommodation. What’s happening there is symptomatic of what other municipalities and aid organizations are experiencing: One of Europe’s richest countries is proving unable to provide humane accommodations for refugees. At least part of the problem lies in the fact that government officials failed to plan and properly prepare for the current wave. Cities have been complaining since the beginning of 2012 about having too little money available and too little capacity for providing assistance to refugees. Their complaints were either ignored or went unheard.

The federal interior minister and state governments have done too little to address the problem. There have been faint promises that municipalities and states would be given more money at some point in the future for the care of refugees, but the people are arriving here now.

At the end of June, Pastor Andreas Herden of Inner Mission, the Munich chapter of a Protestant aid organization, spoke openly about the situation in the state. He said it had become inevitable that tent cities would have to be set up at the preliminary reception center in Munich for refugees. In just two days’ time, he said 300 people had arrived at the former military barracks, which were already full. Herden’s public remarks sent a collective chill down the spines of members of the Bavarian state government — they feared that photos making beautiful Munich look no different than a Syrian refugee camp would make their way around the world.

Shortly thereafter, German President Joachim Gauck pleaded with his fellow Germans for a greater sense of humanity. He said the images of coffins in the hangar of Lampedusa airport didn’t fit in with the image “we have of ourselves as Europeans.” Thousands of mostly African refugees have perished in recent years as they sought to make their way to the Italian island, which is located just 113 kilometers (70 miles) from Tunisia.

Germans Growing More Empathetic to Refugees

Gauck’s words struck a chord with Germans. In contrast to the 1990s, there is a greater consensus among society today that refugees should be provided with protection in Germany. Empathy for stranded people — who have made the voyage from Africa, often having given their entire sayings to human-traffickers in the hope of getting to Europe — has replaced old fears of foreigners.

These days, Germans don’t seem to mind taking in refugees from Syria either. German politicians — from Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) right down to members of the Left Party in parliament — have said that Germany has to face up to its international responsibilities by taking in more Syrians. But what good is compassion for the needy if no one is taking care of the practical aspects of refugee relief?

When it opened in 2010, the Munich reception center for new refugees, located at the former Bayernkaserne military barracks, was only meant to be a temporary, back-up location to be used for six months. At the time, 400 people moved in and the Bavarian Interior Ministry promised it would quickly build a new reception center in the smaller city of Deggendorf, where the government had the opportunity to inexpensively purchase buildings that were part of an apparel factory. Munich city officials had originally planned to build new apartments at the site of the barracks.

But then the barracks filled with asylum seekers from the countries affected by the Arab Spring, families from the Balkans, refugees from Eritrea and Nigeria and Syrian war victims. By the winter of 2013, the interim facility had grown into a giant camp with 1,600 people. It became so cramped that a former military equipment hangar was converted into a sleeping facility with beds. As of the end of June of this year, some 2,000 refugees were being accommodated in the barracks.

Influx Exceeds Forecasts

Nowadays, smugglers simply drop their passengers off in small buses on side streets near the barracks. “The influx is exceeding any of our previous forecasts,” laments Bavarian Social Minister Emilia Müller.

The government district of Upper Bavaria, which includes Munich, quickly cleaned up an old truck storage facility on the barracks property and crammed 300 cots inside with stained, thin 5-centimeter (2 inch) thick foam mattresses. Anything had to be better than erecting tent cities, the thinking went.

The same day, officials led journalists on tours through the soot-covered hall, with rain water leaking through the roof. Officials wanted to show the media that the state still had capacity and that everything was under control. But they weren’t shown the quarantine area located just next door, where dozens of people were being kept locked behind iron fences because no doctors were available to give them the quick examination for infectious diseases required under Germany’s Asylum Procedure Law.

A Shortage of Money and Staff

Space problems aside, the reception center — like most German accommodations provided for asylum seekers — is short on money and staff. Günther Bauer, the head of Inner Mission Munich, says that at least 20 employees are needed to provide social counseling for the new arrivals at the Bayernkaserne facility. Currently, he says, there are only 6.5 employees and they are only allowed to enter into the quarantine area in cases of emergency.

Doctors with the public health office are unable to complete the close to 100 examinations that are currently necessary each day. This has created a bottleneck for the refugees who now face long waiting periods before they can obtain their medical certificates, without which they are not allowed to leave the barracks. As they wait, the five-to-10-day deadline in which they can apply to be brought together with family members already living in Germany expires.

After the medical examination, the refugees are taken to decentralized accommodations or community centers. Even after spending weeks in Germany, many refugees aren’t able to meet with the BAMF representatives who are responsible for listening to their stories and reviewing their cases. “Sometimes they spend months in a village waiting for a representative of the office,” says Alexander Thal of the Bavarian Refugees Council, an umbrella group of state organizations providing assistance to asylum seekers. It’s a period of time in which nothing happens. New arrivals are only permitted to seek employment nine months after they get to Germany, and those who haven’t been interviewed also can’t be deported.

The overcrowding in the shelters has been worsened by the BAMF’s personnel shortage, which has led to longer wait times and frustrated those who have already undergone dangerous travels to make it to Germany. On Friday, the police evicted 80 refugee claimants from the agency’s property in Nuremberg who had threatened to begin a hunger strike.

The current federal budget allowed for 300 new BAMF hires, but officials in Nuremberg seem to be struggling to fill those positions. Just recently, eight candidates backed out. The workers who decide on asylum cases usually come from Germany’s government-backed public administration colleges. But the graduates of those institutions are coveted, and now BAMF recruiters are going to job fairs and considering bachelors degree-holders who have learned the basics of public administration.

Besides, in the months it will take to train the new employees, the processing points will continue becoming more crowded. In addition, 150 employees who had been on loan to BAMF from the German Federal Police — to help with the past year’s increased number of refugee claims — will have to return to their original positions, despite the fact that the current number of refugees is considerably higher than it was in 2013. Last week, the staff council of the Federal Police turned down the Interior Ministry’s request to extend the temporary workers’ deputation.

The German Federal Police have little sympathy for their colleagues. They argue that the rising number of asylum requests isn’t some unexpected, new problem — people have aware of it for a long time. “People have known about this for years, and they’ve turned a blind eye to it,” says one high-ranking Federal Police employee.

In most German states, the search for refugee housing is just as disorganized. Refugees are geographically allotted according to the so-called Königsteiner Schlüssel (Königstein Code), which takes tax income and population into account. The western German state of North Rhine-Westfalia and the southeastern state of Bavaria are responsible for accommodating the greatest number of refugees, a container village is also being planned in the central German state of Hesse, where even a former garden center has been repurposed as shelter.

North Rhine-Westphalia is trying to acquire empty British-army barracks from the federal government in the city of Mönchengladbach to create additional capacity. In Upper Bavaria, local authorities want to use school gymnasia and tennis facilities during the summer months, if necessary. The northern German state of Lower Saxony is planning to outfit group accommodations in the Wendland region, in facilities intended to house police securing the transportation of dry-cask radioactive material to the nuclear waste facility in Gorleben.

Not In Our Backyard Complaints

In three years, Hamburg has increased the number of spaces in its refugee processing center from 70 to today’s 1,700. Now the authorities want to open a shelter in the well-heeled Harvestehude neighborhood, where a building belonging to the German armed forces is available. Some high-earners, however, have been resistant to the idea. It is inhumane, they argue, to expose refugees to an affluence that they themselves could never attain.

Protests have also been popping up in the countryside. In the Bavarian municipality of Salzweg, near the Austrian border, village locals have fought against the leasing of an inn for refugee families. In Anzing, near Munich, posters were recently hung in the old forester’s lodge that was supposed to house refugees: They included a rhyme claiming that the 30 men the inn was to house would be a burden for the community. In the Baden-Württemberg town of Fellbach, refugees had to move out of a container village located in the parking lot of a stadium because of neighbor complaints.


Both social welfare organizations and authorities are predicting that the number of asylum seekers will continue to increase until October. The stream of refugees supposedly won’t crest or plateau until the winter, at the earliest. Günther Bauer of Inner Mission Munich is convinced that “the strain from Africa will remain constant.” The German government should have delivered a real refugee policy strategy a long time ago, he argues.But such a strategy doesn’t exist in the EU, or in Germany or Bavaria. Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer has simply stated that his cabinet will now address the massive shortage of accommodations. Minister Müller promised 5,000 new spots for refugees by the end of 2014, an ambitious plan that will be almost impossible to achieve.

Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter, meanwhile, wants to provide the refugees with at least one good-will gesture: TVs for the Bayernkasserne facility so that the new arrivals can watch the World Cup.

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey and Thomas Rogers

Refugee Crisis

This is a Report published by ABC Australia:


This is another refugee crisis that personally I am very concerned about.

Refugees crisis grows as Ukraine conflict shows no sign of ending

Updated 44 minutes ago

As the MH17 tragedy focuses the world’s attention on Moscow and Kiev’s deadly battle for eastern Ukraine, thousands of locals continue to flee their homes amid widespread conflict.

Since fighting erupted between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country earlier this year, more than 100,000 people have packed their belongings and travelled to refugee camps, either in Ukraine or across the border in Russia.

In the space of a single week before the MH17 was shot down, the UN says more than 16,000 people fled their homes.

Their destinations are temporary camps elsewhere in Ukraine or in regions like Rostov in southern Russia.

Some have registered as refugees, and thousands more are staying in Russia without visas after Moscow announced Ukrainians could stay for 180 days.

UN officials say many people are reluctant to apply for official refugee status because of fears of reprisals if they return home to Ukraine.


Young mother Natasha fled her home near the city of Donetsk to try and secure a seat for herself and her three kids on a Russia-bound bus.

She told the AFP news agency she had no choice when her town of Krasnogorivka became the frontline in the battle between Ukraine and Russia.

“We left everything and fled in a hurry as they were bombarding the town,” she said.

“Everyone who was able to left at top speed.”


Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of manipulating the figures on how many people have made the journey, and the exact numbers are difficult to verify.

The latest estimate from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is that 110,000 people have crossed to Russia in 2014, with around 10,000 applying for official refugee status.

Russia’s figures are much higher. Anatoly Kuznetsov, Russia’s deputy head of federal migration, says almost 500,000 Ukrainians have crossed the border since the start of violence last year.


Politicians from Ukraine and the West say this is part of Russia’s propaganda campaign to paint Ukraine as the aggressors and Russia as saviours.

They point to the fact that pro-Russian rebels in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic have set up their own “refugee committee” to ferry busloads of people to southern Russia.

Russia has already declared emergency situations in six regions near the Ukraine border, and deputy emergencies minister Vladimir Artamonov says two other regions are in “elevated readiness”.


Regardless of the numbers, the UNHCR says the conflict in eastern Ukraine has created an urgent humanitarian crisis.

“The rise in numbers of the past week coincides with a recent deterioration of the situation in eastern Ukraine,” said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming before MH17 was shot down.

“Displaced people cite worsening law and order, fear of abductions, human rights violations, and the disruption of state services.”


Law and order is almost non-existent in the region, with pro-Russian separatist fighters wrestling for control with the Ukrainian military.

Russia continues to argue it is not allied with the pro-Russian militias, but most leading world leaders and intelligence analysts say there is little doubt Moscow is supporting and supplying the fighters.


Topics: unrest-conflict-and-warrefugeesukrainerussian-federation