Following the protests at the Woomera Detention Centre over Easter during which 30 refugees escaped, the first 8 asylum seekers who have been charged by the Australian Commonwealth Government for being unlawfully at large under the Immigration Act 197a appeared in Courtroom 3 of the Adelaide Magistrates Court today.
The 8 men, 6 from Afghanistan, and 2 from Iran, have spent the last few weeks detained in Port Headland, Western Australia following their arrest in South Australia, and were then transported to Woomera (5 hours north of Adelaide) just prior to today's court hearing. They were handcuffed and transported to Adelaide and kept at the Adelaide Watchhouse in an area that had been rented by ACM (Australian Correctional Management - now part of Group 4 Falco since they bought out Wackenhut) as a kind of temporary detention zone (as opposed to a temporary autonomous zone) for the duration of their stay in Adelaide. This is because they are actually released on bail in relation to the charges laid by the Commonwealth Government, and so the South Australian police have no jurisdiction over the men. Yesterday the refugees' lawyers and interpreters spent 5 hours with them in at the Adelaide Watchhouse. The men have not been allowed tea or coffee, or cigarettes, in the watch house.
A small group of people who wanted to express solidarity with the refugees were not able to attend the hearing of the first group as we had been advised by the Sheriff's Officer that it was a closed hearing. Personally I think he had been disinformed by powers above as he seemed pretty cool. We hung about anyway in the foyer of the courthouse exchanging stories and information. One of the group of supporters had a very joyful demeanour, as he had been released only 6 days previously on a 3 year Temporary Protection Visa after spending 14 months in the hell-hole at Woomera. He was wanting very much to be able to see his friends and for them to know that he was there for them. I spent some time talking with him, and with one of the interpreters, who had recently spent 6 months working at Woomera in relation to her studies in pyschology and suicide. Before the hearing of the second group of men the refugees' lawyer emerged from the courtroom and explained to us that it was not a closed hearing and we were free to attend. So in we went, to a very small court room.
The group were represented by a lawyer, and assisted by 2 interpreters, one speaking Persian Dari (for the Afghanis), and one speaking Persian (Farsi), for the Iranians. The defending lawyer explained via the the interpreters that they were awaiting a legal decision on people who escaped last year. As the outcome of that decision will affect the trial of the refugees' matters the refugees had agreed to a postponement of their trial. The refugees have bail on these charges so they are not being held by the Commonwealth or the Police in relation to those charges. They are still in immigration detention. If they are released from the Detention Centre they will not be detained on the charges of being unlawfully at large, however they will have to face those charges in court. The bail conditions have been changed so that the refugees can remain in South Australia so they can give instructions to their lawyer which was virtually impossible whilst they were being held in WA. They will be kept at Woomera until at least 22 June. After that date they may go back to WA or stay in SA, depending on the court's ruling.
The prosecutor confirmed these details, adding that the men were remanded on bail until August 29.
The magistrate set the date of their next court appearance as 10am on 29 August. He instructed the men that it was important that they keep in touch with their lawyer so that she can assist them with their case.
The men smiled and waved as best they could considering the handcuffs at the group of supporters as they were escorted from the courtroom. The recently released refugee and I accompanied the lawyer and one of the translators back to the Adelaide Watchhouse who were returning for post-trial conference with the refugees.
We heard afterwards that the refugees were very appreciative of the presence of supporters in the court. The next hearing will be at 9.30am on Friday June 5 at the Adelaide Magistrates Court (Cnr King William and Angas Streets) and it would be fantastic to have more people there again in solidarity with the refugees. To remain silent and invisible is to be complicit with the Power. So c'mon Adelaide, this shameful and cruel treatment of refugees is happening in our own backyard, show that you care!
PS. International messages of solidarity via adelaide indymedia (or email dollyoko) will be passed on to the refugees in Woomera