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Easter At Woomera Remembered


"Ruddock has twelve months to remove the stench of Baxter from Australia's landscape"

Refugee activists who left yesterday and this morning from many locations around Australia reminisced about last year's Woomera convergence during the Easter weekend.

The contingent from Western Australia, which left as early as Wednesday evening, comment that "no distance is too far to travel to protest the racist and scapegoating shameful refugee policies of Howard and Ruddock". Speaking from one of the many vehicles bound for South Australia, Grant van Riessen celebrated the solidarity and support from the many groups around Australia in the lead-up to the Easter convergence.

Project SafeCom's Jack H Smit remembers that just one week after Easter Sunday last year, Ruddock issued a Press Release calling for architects to build the Baxter detention centre.

"Now that the news is out that the last six detainees are travelling from Woomera today to the new ultra-secure Baxter Hell, and Woomere is mothballed, exactly one year after refugee activists showed Woomera to the entire world, Ruddock has exactly one year from today to remove the stench of Baxter from Australia's landscape." Mr Smit said. "Baxter is a hell, more even than Woomera, and it produces permanently damaged men, women and children."

Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) guards, authorised by Department of Immigration (DIMIA) Manager Greg Wallace, have increased arbitrary and collective punishment of detainees inside Baxter, well in advance of protesters arriving in Port Augusta.

"ACM and DIMIA are desperate to avoid scrutiny of the brutal regime inside Baxter and have used the coming Easter protests as a pretext to confine people in conditions reminiscent of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay," said Melbourne's Refugee Action Collective protest organiser, Fleur Taylor.

"We know that on Sunday night, 6 April 2003, eight men were taken from the Red 3 compound to the isolation cells. They were bound hand and foot and had a special tape around them to restrict movement. At least one of these young men was severely bashed by an ACM guard - this has been confirmed by a GP who has talked to him. The Ombudsman and Refugee Advocacy Service of South Australia have tried to get in contact with these men but have encountered only obstruction from the Department of Immigration."

"Fourteen Iranian men were held in an isolation block at South Australia’s Baxter detention centre for more than two weeks, and were released only after several slashed themselves, according to their lawyers and friends."

"They also say they were initially handcuffed, had their possessions taken from them and were told they were being taken into the isolation block because it was suspected they were 'going to make fire' in the wake of the Christmas riots at the centre. Since being let out of the isolation block none of the men has been charged with any offences." (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 2003)

On the basis of this, Melbourne's Refugee Action Collective demands an independent investigation into the conduct of Baxter Manager Greg Wallace.

Wallace was the DIMIA officer in charge of the "Curtin hellhole" in the remote North-West of Western Australia, which has since been closed. Conditions inside Curtin Detention Centre were condemned by West Australian Inspector of Custodial Services Professor Richard Harding as "abominable."

Wallace's brutal management style was rewarded with a transfer to the purpose-built Baxter Detention Centre.

Heather Tyler, the author of 'Asylum - Voices behind the razor wire' says that Greg Wallace is "an absolute advocate of the system", meaning that Wallace sees it as his role to make life unbearable for the people to whom he has a duty of care. A former ACM guard questioning Greg Wallace: "What regulations govern these people?" - to which Wallace replied, "What regulations we say."

Baxter Reign of Terror

When questioned about the request for observers to be present in Baxter this weekend during the lockdown, Minister Ruddock is reported to have treated the idea with astonishment and sarcastically said, "why Easter, why not other times too?"

Baxter Detention Centre will be locked down from this Thursday afternoon. All guards and Detainees are locked in together for 4 days. No phone calls or visitors are permitted.

Visitors report that over the past four days 30 ACM guards in navy blue uniforms, full riot gear, helmuts, shields and padded vests have been marching around the visitors compound shouting "hup two-three-four". A visitor said "It would be comical if they weren’t so threatening."

"This is a recipe for disaster, ACM are out of control," says Pamela Curr Greens National Refugee Spokesperson "...we are dismayed that requests for legal or religious observers to calm the situation have been ignored."

The past two weeks have seen the following repressive measures instituted:

Eight people have been locked up in the Management Unit (MU) in a pre-emptive move on the basis that they are labelled 'troublemakers'.

Men in some compounds strip-searched daily. The strip searches involve men having to remove all clothing piece by piece, then to turn around, bend over and hold their bottom cheeks apart. This is humiliating. It makes them feel angry and ashamed.

Rooms in some compounds searched daily, turning rooms upside down.

Five men were "extracted" without notice last night. Two Palestinians sent to Port Hedland, removing them as far as possible from lawyers. Palestinians are likely to get favourable decisions under the Al Masri ruling which was passed in the Federal Court this week. Two Iranian and one Kurdish man sent to Villawood. The sudden unexplained disappearances of friends is frightening and unsettling for all detainees.

Children have been threatened with removal of "privilege" of school if they 'misbehave' over Easter. Four children in Baxter are permanently denied schooling.

Last year all Woomera detainees including women, children and babies were subject to universal punishment. We were all locked in the mess. "They used gas and batons on us, even the women and children" said one man. All the men were handcuffed. Their rooms were searched repeatedly. Possessions were broken and confiscated. They were called to a muster 3 times a day, made to stand for an hour each time. "They wiped their shoes on our clothes" said one detainee. "we were given bread and tomatoes with a little salad for 20 days", remembers another.

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