PRESS RELEASE - BAXTER CONVERGENCE 2003
TO WORLD MEDIA
Woomera in the South Australia outback has been a bone of contention in Australia for the past three years. Most of the world has now heard of this desert hell-hole used to imprison asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat. Women, men, children, babies, grandparents and the disabled all are forced to live for months or years in tin sheds while their applications for protection are being held.
The inside is like a vast and deranged MAD MAX movie script. It is nothing but 20 acres of dust and gravel, no trees, no shade, no view, just desert, flies, heat and endless boredom.
At Easter 2002, after watching from vast distances of the country, thousands of activists descended on the town outskirts of Woomera to hold demonstrations and bring the conditions to the attention of the world.
They succeeded far beyond their wildest dreams when 50 refugees were broken out from behind the palisade fences and razor wire to escape into the desert and give interviews for the world media. Young men from Afghanistan told how the Taliban were better, they pleaded not to be treated like animals and children screamed behind the fences "freedom, freedom" as their mother collapsed in anguish.
Behind the fences the refugees were later handcuffed, teargassed and thrown to the ground, they were beaten with batons and then locked into tin sheds. This was all denied by the Australian government but was later revealed by former staff members at Woomera that even a 7 year old boy was beaten with a baton.
After a year of further breakouts, hunger strikes, fires and growing public dissent most of Woomera was burnt to the ground on 30 December 2002, and all the women and children moved to Baxter, 200 kilometres south of Woomera.
Unfortunately, Baxter is worse than Woomera, and a good deal of it was also burnt to the ground. In Baxter the refugees are surrounded by 9000 volt electric fences, they can only see the ground and the sky, the guards can do what they like as no-one can see in.
This is the new "humane" face of mandatory detention, which has been condemned by every human rights group in the world, including the UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, UNICEF, UNHRC, every Australian teacher, doctors, lawyers, every church and even the Pope last year.
However, in the face of such attacks the government of Australia recite a mantra "they are illegal, they should not have come, we have to protect our borders, it is their own fault, they can go home anytime" and it a whole of government mantra.
For the sake of honesty the people incarcerated have been locked up for as long as 5.5 years, without charge, without trial or hope of release and come mostly from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The situation has become untenable and this Easter thousands of activists from all over Australia plan to descend on Baxter for the purposes of demonstrating their dissatisfaction with Australia's xenophobic mandatory detention policies.
Please check the website http://www.baxterwatch.net for further details and offers of support for the refugees.