Asylum Seeker Peter Qasim Now Detained 7 Years
Kashmiri shepherd Peter Qasim has been detained in Australia longer than any other asylum seeker, beginning his 7th year of detention on 9th September. But this could just be the beginning of his life behind the razor wire. When Immigration Minister Vanstone declined to use power to issue him a humanitarian visa on 31 August, refugee advocates say she 'threw away the key'. Without release on compassionate grounds or even a date for the end of his incarceration, Qasim faces life long detention, although he has committed no crime.
Mr Qasim has been denied refugee status in Australia but cannot be returned to India because he has no papers proving his identity and the Indian government will not recognise him. He is stateless.
'My mistake was asking for help from a country that didn't want me,' says Mr Qasim. 'I have asked 80 countries to give me a home but all have refused.'
On 6 August, the High Court found that the Migration Act authorised the Australian government to detain stateless people indefinitely, regardless of the prospect of ever being able to deport them. Senator Vanstone said that the law was not unjust because her power to review cases provided a 'safety valve'. However she confirms that Qasim and 12 other stateless men have not been successful in their reviews. She has declined to say what will happen to them.
Qasim was born in Kashmir on 14 May 1974. When he was five his father was murdered by the security forces because of his political activities, and his mother died soon afterwards. As a young man, his own unarmed opposition to the government's policies in the region led to him being detained and tortured by the security forces. After some years in hiding and on the run, he fled country.
Peter passed through Singapore and Papua New Guinea on his way to Australia, but these were places where he had no legal right to remain and there was no way to have his claim for asylum heard.
After Peter's arrival, the delegate of the Minister for Immigration who assessed his claim accepted that he was an Indian citizen from Kashmir and had been tortured, but did not believe that he faced a risk of ongoing persecution. On 20 October 1998 his application for a protection visa was refused.
Peter has written: 'Living without the freedoms that ordinary people take for granted is very difficult. There are small humiliations in detention every day, and sometimes we are treated with great injustice, but the worst thing is not knowing when my imprisonment will end. Even a criminal knows the length of his sentence but I have no such comfort.'
Peter counts among his supporters Bob Brown, Carmen Lawrence and Natasha Stott Despoja, who have phoned him in Baxter detention centre to personally give him encouragement and support.
Supporters and friends of Qasim have declared 9th September a National Day of Shame and will hold vigils and rallies to draw attention to his plight and that of the other stateless people in indefinite detention.
No crime but life imprisonment
Peter Qasim and Eidriess Abdulrahman Al Salih are two of 13 stateless asylum seekers who face indefinite detention in Australia. They are currently in Baxter Detention Centre.
Australia has refused their requests for asylum but the countries of their births will not take them back. Up to 80 other countries have also refused their pleas for a home.
On 6th August the High Court decided that the Migration Act allowed for the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. In response to media questions, Minister Vanstone said her discretionary power to grant visas served as a safety valve. However, on 31st August she told the 13 stateless asylum seekers that she had reviewed their cases and would not be giving them visas.
'What is my crime?' asks Peter Qasim. 'I asked for asylum after my father was killed and I was tortured by the security forces in Kashmir. It was a mistake to ask people who didn't want me, but I have already been punished for my ignorance longer than some murderers and my sentence has no end. Please give me freedom, send me anywhere. You can't ask a human being to live the rest of his life locked up.'
Late last year Eidriess Abdulrahman Al Salih had his statelessness graphically demonstrated. Al Salih, who was born in Kuwait to Sudanese guest-worker parents, was subject to a bungled deportation attempt by the Department of Immigration. He spent 13 days in detention in South Africa and Tanzania while the Department of Immigration tried unsuccessfully to deport him to Sudan or Kuwait. Eventually he had to be returned to Australia.
'After proving that he was stateless Al Salih wasn't given asylum, but locked up again. Now the minister has thrown away the key,' said RAR spokesperson Kris Latona. 'Does she expect that he will die an old man in detention? Will he serve 60 years for being stateless?'
On September 9th Peter Qasim starts his 7th year of detention. Refugee supporters and human rights groups have declared it a National Day of Shame and will hold rallies across Australia.