Shame on You: The Story of Kanth when Australia says I dont know I dont know I dont know

You would probably have a better chance of hearing Kanth’s story if you were a balloon.

Yes, and I am not the one going round the bend either. People do when, after a hard life in which migration occurred under hardship, they are told I don’t know when you will be let out of detention which is indefinite, I don’t know what you could do about it cos there is no right of appeal and I don’t know exactly what I could say about why you are here, on what information and who supplied it cos you have NO RIGHT TO KNOW.

Why this story of Ranjini and Kanth should be followed up on is that it is no ordinary sob-story. This is not just about freeing Ranjini but to create awareness of the need for justice by institutions and processes that control and influence the freedom of asylum seekers but also victims of wars who have in their past winessed terrible tragedies, personal trauma and loss of loved ones.

Mentally they are worse off than others to be told that they are to be locked away and perhaps forever with no right of appeal, no right to information. The supply of adequate mental health services and counselling does not make up for a system which leaves those on the inside with no answers and slowly tips them closer to the edge. However, both David Manne and activism in Australia by refugee rights advocates, community workers civil rights groups and citizens have produced orgs such as GetUP, Letters for Ranjini and others. They organised a vigil for justice and handed over a letter to the Attorney-General that was signed by 30,000. Not a bad tally.

The right of appeal is a cornerstone of remedial justice by any ordinary country standard. Sri Lanka has been much criticised for the hardships faced by the ex-LTTE cadres released into the community and rightly so. We need to strive for better protection of the rights of those who are most vulnerable to exploitation be they Tamil or Sinhalese or Muslim. After rehabilitation the ex-LTTE cadres went back to build their lives from scratch. The returnees from India were given 32 000 LKR  reportedly and sent back home to hopeless war-torn areas and are struggling. Pitiful. Yet, it may be the ground realities after a long and protracted war. Some detainees considered a heightened security threat are locked away and many are urging the information to be released to their families and loved ones.

In Australia surely  no person should be held indefinitely without charge, trial or appeal. Instead of saying I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know  some answers need to be found before the balloons slowly float away.

Read The Voices of those held in indefinite Detention by Maris Beck


( Excerpts below )
With the High Court set to hear a challenge to the policy, Maris Beck meets people who face spending the rest of their life in limbo.

IT WAS after he was assessed as a security threat by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and discovered he could spend the rest of his life in detention that Kanth began speaking to the balloons in his room.

He cannot remember much about that week in April, but the psychiatric notes on his file say: ”He kept three balloons in his room and was speaking to them as if they were his family.”

Kanth says he thought one balloon was his mother, one his brother, who had died while Kanth was detained on Christmas Island, and the last was his daughter, who he had not seen for three years. The file notes say Kanth, a Tamil, had stopped eating and had written to the Immigration Department requesting a ”mercy killing”.

Kanth, 29, said he did not know why he would be considered a security threat, except that he had lived at times in Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in northern Sri Lanka. He was five when war drove his family from their home, he said. His brother carried him on his shoulders as they ran. But the violence followed them. When he was 13, he saw soldiers tie people to posts with wire and shoot them.

He fled to Indonesia and took a boat to Australia. He left his wife and eight-month-old daughter. ”I was crying and my wife was crying. She is a wonderful and fantastic woman that I met in my life.”
His sinking boat was intercepted by the Australian customs vessel Oceanic Viking in November 2009. It was after he became detained on Christmas Island he received word his brother had died, three months after being beaten by Sri Lankan government forces.

He has heard his daughter speak only over the telephone. He said: ”She always asks me ‘Daddy, Daddy where are you? I want to see you, I want to play with you’.”

When he received news of his negative security rating in April, he said, ”something happened with me. I became hopeless and powerless. I don’t hope anything. I don’t expect anything. Just I want to die.”

The impact on the mental health of long-term detainees is well known. Associate Professor Suresh Sundram from the University of Melbourne’s Mental Health Research Institute last week presented a study of 131 asylum seekers and refugees living in the community, showing ”extraordinary” rates of mental illness.
Many people were ”broken” by long-term detention, he said. ”Even when these people are released into the community … they don’t get better. Twelve months in detention is the tipping point, if you can keep them less than 12 months people don’t appear to do as badly.”

Dr Sundram said for most people, even those who had suffered through war and torture, the refugee experience became ”the primary trauma”.

An ASIO spokesman said security assessments were given as advice to the Department of Immigration to help it decide whether to grant someone a visa. ”That advice is confidential. ASIO does not disclose confidential information to visa applicants as this would reveal details of ASIO’s methods and capabilities.

‘Adverse assessments are only issued where ASIO identifies serious security risks, which may include terrorism, espionage, sabotage and serious threats to Australia’s territorial and border integrity.’
The Department of Immigration declined to respond to questions. A spokesman has said previously: ‘The health and welfare of people in our care, including mental health, is of paramount importance to us. All people in immigration detention have access to mental health care and support including counselling, psychology and psychiatric services.’

The psychiatric report provided to Kanth noted his father suffered an unknown mental illness and recommended ongoing attention from the mental health team in the detention centre ”given [Kanth] has indicated that he will likely repeat an attempt to end his life by starvation if he remains at the detention centre”.

He told The Sunday Age: ”I am OK now but I am very close to losing my mind. Not only me, all the long-term people. We don’t want to stay even one more day in detention.”


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