Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Attempted illegal immigrants to Australia mount hunger strike  over 'hell hole' camps on Nauru

TENSION is mounting among asylum seekers on Nauru, with hunger strikers protesting against "hell-hole" conditions that are set to get worse with four boats carrying 355 asylum seekers having been intercepted since Saturday.

Contracts for a new detention camp on Nauru will be awarded soon, and work is expected to commence soon afterwards, the Immigration Department says.

The 377 detainees on Nauru have been living in tents on the island, and have staged an increasingly impassioned protest, seeking to come to Australia to have their claims for asylum heard.

But there have been mixed reports about the hunger strikes engulfing the camp. The men - who have set up a Facebook page to take their plight to Australians - and refugee advocates say 300 people are now taking part in the hunger strike.

The detainees wrote: "In Modern Period nobody wanna like keep even domestic animal in a tent at 42 Celsius temperature for a months, but the Human being are still living in hell hole Nauru.

"The Asylum seekers in Nauru think once they have taken the risk of deep Indian ocean, now they will take the risk during hunger strikes, untill getting their rights till the death."

The hunger strike entered its fifth day on Monday.

Another man, an Iranian identified by fellow asylum seekers as Omid, was up to his 25th day of hunger strike, the group said.

But the Department of Immigration has consistently cast doubts on the men's accounts of the protest.

A department spokesman said: "[The] department knows at least 200 meals have been claimed at meal times, and large amounts of snack food throughout the day."

The department does not use the term "hunger strikes", but defines "voluntary starvation" as people missing three consecutive meals. It says food and water are provided to asylum seekers at all times. We know steps are being taken to make sure people who don't want to take part can eat," the spokesman said.

"We know there's been a degree of pressure from people who've been unwilling to take part in the protest."

He confirmed that a senior immigration officer had met with the detainees at the weekend, but said it was stressed to the group that "these sort of activities" would not alter their situation. One of the asylum seekers on Nauru told the Refugee Action Coalition that the official "did not have answers" for them, aside from the fact they would be processed according to Nauruan law, and Nauru would be responsible for resettling them.

The Immigration Department spokesman could not confirm this, but said the group was told it would be at least six months before their claims for asylum were processed, in accordance with Australian policy.

Amnesty International said the situation confirmed the need for an independent monitor on the island.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said a Coalition government would not rule out expanding the Nauru camps, even to more than 15,000 capacity - 50 per cent more than Nauru's population. "I would do what is necessary to stop the boats because if you can't stop the boats, you can't govern the country," he said.

Meanwhile, refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said two asylum seekers had been handed summonses to appear at a Nauru court on November 19, "presumably" over a protest in September that led to property damage. A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police said the AFP had no operational jurisdiction in Nauru, and the matter was a question for the Nauru Police Force.


Computerized screening at Australian airports catching more illegals

Civil liberty groups have cautiously praised Australia’s decision to use more computer models and fewer stereotypes to catch illegal travellers.

The comments from Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) and the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) come on the back of Department of Immigration and Citizenship director of intent management and analytics Klaus Felsche’s announcement of a new computer system to screen all passengers arriving in Australia airports from March 24, 2013.

It comes after the successful trial of a system built on a shoestring budget in February 2011, which cost $9000 and used software bought from Harvey Norman.

Mr Felsche, who previously spent more than two decades in the Australian Army, said that where Customs previously relied on reading body language, movement patterns, profiling and mass interviews, it was now catching and deporting more people using fewer resources.

At Sydney Airport authorities were taking over 2500 passengers aside for additional checks every month, of whom 50 were found to have arrived on false pretences or documents. After the trial system was switched on. the number of interviews dropped to under 1300 but more than 60 passengers were caught per month.

“We were using business-based rules, which were manual to a large degree, and [officers] are very experienced, so they can tell things,” he said. “So they’d say, ‘we don’t like you because your shirt’s not tucked in, bottom button is not done up, you’re off for extra checking.’

“The computer can’t see whether someone in the arrivals hall is sweating but it sure as hell can predict that somebody should be. This means we’ve increased the refusal rate and reduced massively the inconvenience rate for people at the airports.”

Mr Felsche said the models were built by looking at the detailed records of people caught doing the wrong thing and sifting through huge amounts of personal information to find patterns.

“For example, it turned out if you had a Belgian passport, tried to get on board the plane to Perth or Brisbane on a variety of visas using Cathay Pacific flights, there was a 64 per cent chance match against imposters,” he said. “Things like ethnic or nationality profiling are misleading because everyone has weird people, so nationality isn’t a key indicator.

“The beauty with this analytics process is we are on solid ground because it’s all in the data, and I know the system works when we ping the first Brit or the first American or the first Swede because that means it is agnostic.”

EFA executive officer Jon Lawrence said the system could be a positive outcome for personal rights as long as individual privacy was protected.

“If this new system is able to give DIAC an objective evidence base that results in fewer innocent travellers being targeted for invasive questioning and searches, while enhancing their ability to focus on those travelling under false pretences, then to me it sounds like a positive, and in this case very good value-for-money use of technology,” he said.

APF vice-chairman David Vaile was also cautiously positive abut warned the rise of big data in government was being done without enough thought of the longer term impact on rights.

“The people behind Facebook and Google use the motto of ‘move fast and break things’ ... where you make a few things, make some mistakes and start again,” he said. “When you start using personal information and privacy you discover it’s not disposable.

“For example, other associations might come from having been flagged as a possibly suspicious person. If there’s still a record, the flag itself may feed into other big data programs run by other agencies because they’ve corroded the barriers that should exist between different programs.”


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