‘Deplorable’: Refugees Face Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets at Greece-Macedonia Border

Patrick Dodson’s Senate mandate

14/4/16 Frank Brennan

On 15 April 1991, 25 years ago this Friday, Elliott Johnston QC, Patrick Dodson and their fellow commissioners signed off on their final reports for the long running royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
That commission was set up by the Hawke government at the end of 1987 to investigate 99 Aboriginal deaths that had occurred in custody during the previous ten years.
When tabling the reports in Parliament, Robert Tickner, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, noted that of the 99, 43 had experienced childhood separation from their natural families through intervention by state authorities, missions or other institutions; 83 were unemployed at the date of their last detention; 43 had been charged with an offence at or before the age of 15; and only two had completed secondary schooling.
On Wednesday, Patrick Dodson on the eve of his entry to the Senate representing the Labor Party in Western Australia, addressed the National Press Club setting out very troubling statistics about what has changed and what has remained the same in the last quarter century.
At the time of the royal commission, Indigenous Australians constituted 14 per cent of the prison population; now they are 27 per cent of the prison population. In Western Australia, they are 38 per cent of the adult prison population.
Admittedly the number of Australians identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander has increased similarly in that time. In the 1986 census, there were 227,593 people who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. In the last census (2011), there were 548,370. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that there are now more than 713,600 Australians who are Indigenous. Having been 1.5 per cent of the population at the time of the royal commission, they are now 3 per cent.
At the very least, we as a nation need to admit that a person who identifies as Indigenous is just as likely to be in jail today as they were at the time of the royal commission — and ten times more likely than the rest of us. In that regard, nothing has changed.
-“An Aborigine in custody was no more likely to die in custody than a non-Aborigine in custody, just ten times more likely to be in custody in the first place.”
The royal commission definitely improved the systems for supervision of persons in detention, reducing the risk of deaths in custody. It also led to better coronial procedures. But it failed to reverse Indigenous imprisonment rates and it did little to counter the underlying causes of Indigenous imprisonment.
When Bob Hawke announced the royal commission in 1987, Bob Collins, who was a Northern Territory Labor Senator with an Aboriginal family, made three key points. An Aborigine in custody was no more likely to die in custody than a non-Aborigine in custody. An Aborigine was just ten times more likely to be in custody in the first place, and thus ten times more at risk of dying in custody.
In his maiden speech in the Senate, Collins said, ‘The attention paid quite rightly to the deaths of Aboriginals in custody should not overshadow the much more serious problem of the number of premature deaths of Aboriginal people out of custody.’
Collins was convinced that the underlying causes of disproportionate Aboriginal imprisonment had adverse impacts on all Aborigines, especially those in remote communities.
On Wednesday, Dodson suggested one major change which has occurred in the last quarter century. At the time of the royal commission, he saw police as the main problem. Now, he thinks it’s the legislators who are the problem — attempting to be overly prescriptive to police and judges.
He pointed to serious issues in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, including mandatory sentencing laws and the NT scheme of paperless arrests which has received the green light from the High Court.
Dodson offered a damning assessment of the legal system: ‘For the vast bulk of our people the legal system is not a trusted instrument of justice; it is a feared and despised processing plant that propels the most most vulnerable and disabled of our people towards a broken bleak future.’
He pleaded, ‘Surely as a nation we are better than this.’
It is good to see that the Australian Bar Association (the national body representing Australian barristers) has pledged to join a national campaign to amend or remove all mandatory sentencing laws, review fine default imprisonment, and invest in justice reinvestment.
It was distressing but ultimately reassuring to hear Dodson, the Father of Reconciliation and soon to be the nation’s most prominent Aboriginal politician, publicly telling his own people: ‘We will not be liberated from the tyranny of the criminal justice system unless we also acknowledge the problems in our own communities and take responsibility for the hurt we inflict and cause on each other.
“Having been a royal commissioner all those years ago and having remained engaged with grassroots communities, Dodson was not offering any short term solutions to the underlying causes of Indigenous disadvantage and imprisonment.”
‘Family violence, substance abuse and neglect of children should not be tolerated as the norm. And those that perpetuate and benefit from the misery caused to our people need to be held accountable.’
Having been a royal commissioner all those years ago and having remained engaged with grassroots communities, he was not offering any short term solutions to the underlying causes of Indigenous disadvantage and imprisonment.
But looking ahead to his role as a senator in light of his recent experience as co-chair of the expert panel on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, he did put out this challenge to his new colleagues in Canberra:
‘The Australian parliament needs to be more open to the idea of engaging in a formal way with Indigenous peoples on matters that affect our social, cultural, economic interests, as well as our political status in the nation state.’
He is ready to subject himself to caucus solidarity in the Labor Party and to compromise in the parliament. When asked by The West Australian about the cashless welfare card about to be trialled in the East Kimberley, he told the Press Club:
‘ It’s an attempt to deal with the set of circumstances at a regional level that people believe that’s going to deal with some of the social impacts that are occurring that they find difficult, troubling, concerning. It’s been devised by people in that part of the world, under the leadership of people from that part of the Kimberley.
‘I think the Labor Party would be open to matters where regional solutions are being worked through, where people’s rights aren’t necessarily being violated, but where there is a remedy brought about that will enable an improvement to the social circumstances. Sometimes you need some kind of a circuit breaker.’
While continuing to oppose such targeted, discriminatory measures as permanent arrangements, he conceded the need for some temporary arrangements and experiments, provided only they were sought by the local people and implemented with their consent.
This distinguished Aboriginal leader and proud Australian told us all, ‘We have a wonderful democracy.’ He will be an adornment to the Senate, and he may even help the nation address some of those underlying causes he identified as a royal commissioner a quarter of a century ago.

Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University and Adjunct Professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.


Australia, Aboriginal People


Pope Francis brings 12 Syrians to Vatican from Lesbos (1)

16/4/16; Humanitarian crises, Europe, Pope Francis, Syrian Refugees, Greece

Francis implores EU leaders to come to the aid of refugees in symbolic visit to Greek island at the centre of crisis. – Pope Francis has taken 12 Syrians, all of them Muslim, back with him to the Vatican after his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos to highlight the plight of thousands of people seeking to reach Western Europe from Turkey.
The three families, including six children, met with Francis on the tarmac and boarded his plane following his five-hour trip to the island on the frontline of the ongoing refugee crisis.
In a statement on Saturday, the Vatican said the pontiff wanted to “make a gesture of welcome” to the refugees, who were in camps on the island before the controversial agreement between the EU and Ankara to deport all “irregular migrants” to Turkey came into effect on March 20.
The Vatican said the three families, two of them hailing from the Syrian capital of Damascus and one from Deir az-Zor, had all fled their homes after they were bombed.
They were selected in a lottery-type process.
“Going back to the Vatican with 12 refugees – people who perhaps would have been sent back to Turkey otherwise – definitely sends not just a message of solidarity, but certainly a nudge towards Europe’s politicians to do something for the many people who’ve been here for weeks and months,” Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from Lesbos, said.
-‘We are all migrants’
Earlier on Saturday, Francis and the leaders of the world’s Orthodox Christians and the Church of Greece visited the Moria refugee centre on the island which has been converted into a closed detention facility as part of the EU-Turkey deal.
Ai Weiwei: Europe is not giving refugees dignity or love
Thousands of people are trapped at the camp, waiting to hear whether they will get asylum or they will deported back to Turkey.
“May we… recognise that together, as one human family, we are all migrants,” the pope said in a prayer in memory to the hundreds of people of all ages who died in the Aegean while trying to reach Western Europe. Francis said he wanted the refugees to know they are “not alone” and implored European leaders to come to their aid in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity. “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Baba said Francis spent a lot of time with the people stuck in the Moria camp, talking to them and “hearing how desperate they were to get some answers; to be given some hope whether they will be allowed to settle in Greece or elsewhere in the European Union. “He expressed a lot of sympathy with the people for the hardship that they are experiencing.”
Hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants have arrived in Lesbos in recent months on flimsy boats, while hundreds have died on the way.
The EU-Turkey deal as well as the processing centre have been criticised by rights groups, who claim refugees in Lesbos have been treated in a way that breaches basic human rights.
The Vatican insisted Francis’ visit to Lesbos was purely humanitarian and religious in nature, not political or a “direct” criticism of the EU plan.
Read more: Pakistani man threatens suicide in Lesbos camp protest; Read more: Refugees attempt suicide by hanging from tree in Greece; http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2016/04/murder-giulio-regeni-politics-coverage-160416072015897.html http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/pope-francis-brings-12-syrians-vatican-lesbos-160416131457007.html http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/18/pope-francis-lesbos-refugee-catholic-church-criticise

Pope, Refugees, Migrants


Syrian Refugees Sheltered by Pope Francis Describe ‘Miracle’ Journey (2)

19/4/16: Rosie Scammell, Religion News Service; Sojurners

Three Syrian families flown to Rome by Pope Francis are calling their trip from the battle lines of a five-year civil war to safety in the shadow of the Vatican a “miracle” journey.
The heart of Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, with its picturesque cobbled streets and vine-covered walls, could not be further from the asylum-seeker camp the Muslim families were living in just three days ago.
That was until the pope’s lightning trip to the Greek island of Lesbos on April 16 that drew attention to the plight of refugees and ended with him bringing the 12 Syrians back to Rome on the papal plane.
“It was a miracle for us — he saved us. It was wonderful news. We didn’t expect it,” said Osama, a 36-year-old printer, who spoke through a translator as he and the others met with journalists on April 18.
Osama and his wife Wasa, 29 — they just used first names for security reasons — were only told on April 15 that they would be leaving Lesbos with the pope a day later. Their two children, 6-year-old Masar and her brother Omar, 8, were said to be happy despite yawning and rubbing their tired eyes.
The families were selected by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic social justice group, after being identified as particularly vulnerable. Francis said on April 16 that the selection was not based on religion and those chosen had the necessary paperwork to leave Lesbos.
The 12 are among the more than 150,000 migrants and refugees who have arrived in Greece so far this year, half of which are from Syria.
Osama described a “terrible” journey to Europe from the family’s home in Damascus, the Syrian capital, ending when they were saved by the coast guard off the coast of Greece.
His story mirrors that of Ramy, 51, a teacher from Deir ez-Zor whose family was also saved while on board a boat from Turkey.
“We fled because of the bombardments and the war … which has lasted many years. For that reason we thought of escaping, because we didn’t know how it would end,” Ramy said.
He and his seamstress wife Suhali, 50, have a 7-year-old girl, Al Quds, who appeared delighted with the attention the family was getting. In fleeing Syria her parents thought especially of their teenage sons, 18-year-old Rashid and 15-year-old Abdelmajid, fearing they would be forced to join the Syrian army and kill — or be killed.
While Ramy described meeting the pope as a miracle and an unbelievable moment, it was tinged with sadness for Abdelmajid. He had been forced to leave a girl he had fallen for, a 19-year-old Spanish volunteer in the Lesbos camp, and the pair broke down in tears on hearing they were to part.
Abdelmajid’s father, however, remained focused on the future: “We want to learn the language, send the children to school, live in peace.”
The Syrian families formally sought asylum on landing in Rome and a Sant’Egidio official said the Vatican was covering the costs. Currently staying in accommodations run by the Catholic charity, they may be moved to other housing at a later stage.
The youngest Syrian to travel to Rome with the pope was 2-year-old Riyad from Damascus, who was busy playing with pebbles while his mother Nour, a 30-year-old atomic researcher, spoke to the world’s media.
His father Hasan, a garden designer, beamed at mention of the pontiff, whom the 31-year-old showered with praise: “The pope is an amazing person, an incredible person. We hope that every religious person could be like the pope.”
Last year, Francis urged each parish in Europe to take in a refugee family, and he led the way by first having the Vatican host an Eritrean and a Syrian family. The pope’s plea has been taken up by some churches, although Hasan hoped more would be done to ensure Syria’s nearly 5 million refugees are afforded a safe haven.
Hasan was aware of just how fortunate his family had been, describing their journey to Italy as a dream and recalling the welcome they received in Rome:
“They told us we were in a safe situation, because the pope has taken us into his care.”

Via Religion News Service. – See more at: https://sojo.net/articles/syrian-refugees-sheltered-pope-francis-describe-miracle-journey#sthash.cgOavemm.dpuf


Migrants & Refugees, Pope