A groundswell of community concern has forced Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to back down and announce that Seena, the nine-year old Iranian orphaned in the Christmas Island disaster, will be released from detention on the island.
At the time Solidarity went to press, it was expected that Seena would be released on a residence determination order to live in Sydney with his aunt, uncle and the two children of their family that have been caring for him inside the detention centre.
Bowen had stonewalled for days insisting that Seena must be returned to Christmas Island.
Two days before Minister Bowen announced that Seena would be taken out of detention, he told radio announcer Neil Mitchell that Seena, flown from Christmas Island for the funeral of his father, would be returned to Christmas Island because, “…we have children in detention facilities on Christmas Island.” His mother also drowned in the boat tragedy off Christmas Island in December, but her body has not been recovered.
When asked, “He’s got relatives here; why can’t he go and live with his relatives?” Bowen replied, “Because we move people into community detention, which means they’re looked after by a church or a charity in an appropriate facility, and that will happen with him, and it will happen soon.”
But soon wasn’t soon enough and Seena, along with the other survivors who attended the funeral, was put on a plane back to Christmas Island, despite signing letters to the Minister requesting to stay in Sydney. Bowen couldn’t even allow the survivors to stay in Sydney while he re-considered.
Yet only hours later he made the announcement that Seena would be released.
However, many other survivors, including at least three other families, will remain in detention. Since the government’s announcement that it would shift children and families out of detention, made in October last year, only 100 have gone to residential accommodation. Over 1000 more are still in detention across Australia.
Get them all out
There are compelling reasons to get Seena out of detention and just as compelling reasons to get every survivor and every asylum seeker out of detention.
Madian El Ibrahimy has had to sleep for two months near the morgue in the detention centre which held the body of his daughter, wife and son lost at sea.
He was distraught at having to go back to Christmas Island and being separated from his brother who lives in Sydney.
There has been outrage at Scott Morrison’s flirtation with One Nation polices and his attack on the government for bringing people from Christmas Island to Sydney for the funeral of their family members.
Morrison’s scarcely veiled racism has diverted attention away from the disgraceful actions of the Labor government.
If Bowen and the Immigration Department had got their way, the survivors would never have spoken to the media.
They wanted to keep the funerals out of sight and out of mind. Madian El Ibrahimy had even been told that he could not speak to his brother in Sydney, Oday.
The determination of the survivors not to be silenced has pushed the refugee issue back into the mainstream press.
The news footage of the funerals has lifted the lid on the dark world of mandatory detention, confronting hundreds of thousands with the stark reality of the heartlessness and duplicity of the Immigration Department.
That concern can be galvanised into a campaign to close Christmas Island and get all the survivors, all the children and all the asylum seekers out of detention.
By Ian Rintoul