An asylum seeker seriously assaulted in detention speaks out, writes Shira Sebban.
An influx into detention centres around Australia of 501 Visa holders – non-citizens, many with substantial criminal records, awaiting deportation on character grounds – over the past few years is known to have exacerbated tensions with asylum seekers, leading to a steep increase in violence
At the end of January 2017, 420 detainees were being held in Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, including 149 “501s” and 84 “illegal maritime arrivals“, according to the latest Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) statistics.
Among them is Afghani Hazara asylum seeker, Sayed Akbar Jaffarie, who alleges that he was assaulted on the evening of 12 March 2017 by members of the Hells Angels bikie gang, at least one of whom was armed with a knife. Detained in Villawood since 2013, Mr Jaffarie had recently been moved, due to construction work, to the high security Blaxland compound, where the alleged assault took place. He has since been relocated to another compound, but only after a second altercation with gang members, this time involving a friend who was visiting him. Meanwhile, a fellow asylum seeker, who was a witness to the original assault, remains in the high security compound, with Mr Jaffarie concerned for his safety.
Forced down from his top bunk while trying to sleep, Mr Jaffarie said the bikies
“… put their feet on my left hand, fracturing my ring finger. I was shouting for an officer, but no one came. They started smashing my thigh and hit me in the stomach. They told me I had to give them $200 a week and that I had to give up my points and buy them whatever they wanted.”
Detainees earn points through the “individual allowance program”, supplemented by participating in authorised activities, allowing them to buy personal and recreational items, including newspapers and snacks, from outlets within the facility.
Serco officers, responsible for the management of Australian immigration detention centres, subsequently interviewed Mr Jaffarie, who identified the alleged perpetrators. After making a police statement, he was taken to hospital overnight. Serco ‘provides tailored services to detainees that support their wellbeing and personal security’, according to DIBP’s latest annual report (2015-16).
‘… efforts ensured that more than 100 non-citizen motorcycle gang members, associates or organised crime identities had their visas cancelled or refused on character grounds or under the Migration Act 1958.’
Section 501 of Australia’s Migration Act allows for the deportation of non-citizens who fail the “character test”, the threshold for which includes any prison sentence longer than 12 months. Whereas in June 2015, 23 per cent of those in immigration detention had their visa cancelled on character grounds, the number had increased to 31 percent by June 2016. In contrast, the percentage of “illegal maritime arrivals” had decreased over the same period, from 61 per cent in June 2015 to 32 per cent a year later.
“Introducing hardened and violent criminals into detention centres, without separating them from asylum seekers, is criminal in itself,” said longtime visitor to Villawood detainees, Dr Graeme Swincer OAM, a member of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group.
“Repeated calls for a change in these arrangements have fallen on deaf ears. The underlying trauma of sustained and punitive detention should not be exacerbated by having to live in constant fear,” he continued.
Mr Jaffarie has been in Villawood since 19 June 2013, when his Spousal Visa was cancelled, based on an allegation that he was involved in people smuggling. He has not been charged, let alone convicted, of that offence, but is currently fighting attempts to deport him to Afghanistan, which he left with his family as a young child, escaping to Quetta, Pakistan. He came to Australia by plane after his marriage to an Australian in 2006, but eventually offered his wife release from the marriage due to his uncertain future.