Friday, July 09, 2010


Mandatory detention destroyed my life: refugee

SMH, July 9, 2010 - 3:58PM
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A former immigration detainee has told a rally protesting the government's new policy on asylum seekers that mandatory detention destroyed his life.

Iranian refugee Mohsen Soltani says he lives with the scars of his detention.

"They destroy my whole life in detention," said the poet and musician, who spent four years in immigration detention centres in Western Australia and New South Wales.

"I run away from torture and execution in my country, but here they crush all my spirit."

Mr Soltani was sent to the Port Hedland detention centre in WA in 1999 and was later transferred to Villawood, in Sydney's southwest, before being released in 2003.

He told about 60 people outside the Immigration Department offices in Sydney's CBD today that detention centres were "hell".

The rally was held to protest against Prime Minister Julia Gillard's proposal for a regional offshore processing centre for asylum seekers.

Protesters waved banners and chanted: "Say it out loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here".

Mr Soltani told the rally that Ms Gillard's proposal showed she was the same as former prime minister John Howard and his immigration minister Philip Ruddock.

"We don't want the same history repeated with more mandatory detention - with more mental people released from that bloody hell," he said

"I have a huge mental illness from the detention."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is also proposing a return to offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Jenny Haines, spokeswoman for Labor for Refugees, said Ms Gillard's proposal was an election tactic.

"To cave into that idiot Abbott's idea that we can offshore process and then send (people) back to dangerous places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka is reprehensible," she said.

Mark Goudkamp from the Refugee Action Collective castigated both sides of politics.

"It seems like its a debate on who can be ... more tough in terms of stopping asylum seekers even getting to Australia," he said.

Ms Gillard this week announced East Timor was a possible location for a detention centre, but later had to tone down her remarks after Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao responded negatively.

The government has since had discussions with Papua New Guinea.