(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Members of Australia’s Iraqi community have expressed their shock and concern over the latest wave of unrest in their homeland.

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It’s been estimated that half a million people have been forced to flee the city of Mosul after Islamic militants seized control, before pushing further south.

Rhiannon Elston reports.

It’s a busy weekday afternoon in the Sydney suburb of Auburn.

But there’s no business trading inside a main street barbershop, where Iraqi born workers and their clients gather around a television, watching scenes of the military crisis in Mosul play out.

Ali Mohamad is among them.

His wife lives close to Iraq’s second largest city.

“It’s ok. I called my wife, she says that it’s ok because she says school is stopping and everything because of the situation problem.”

He says she’s safe, for now.

But there are many others in the country that remain at risk.

In the tobacconist next door, Essam Zaki is worried about his family, living in Baghdad.

Though it’s quiet there now, he isn’t sure how long that will last.

“We are closely monitoring what is really hapening in Iraq, especially in this past last week, when everyone was surprised and shocked when a proportion of rebels were taking over the second-largest city in Iraq, which is Mosul.”

And the 29-year-old, who came to Australia as a refugee six years ago, can’t believe the government capitulated so quickly.

“Last ten years ago, because there was bombing everywhere, assassination, killing people, the first time they were surprised, they were shocked. But now, this time, everyone’s taking it naturally. However, this time they’re taking over big cities, so that’s a big concern to the Iraqi people.”

Australia is home to about 50,000 people who were born in Iraq — many of whom came here as refugees.

Those who have remained in Iraq through more than a decade of conflict are again facing displacement.

Mohammad Kandil is the head of communications at the group, Islamic Relief Australia.

“We are already in the process of delivering non-food items, clean water and food commodities to those who have been internally displaced. They are currently living in mosques, tents, friends’ homes in the region.”

The organisation has begun a fundraising campaign to help those displaced by the upsurge in violence in Iraq.

But like many aid agencies in the region they’ve had to suspend day-to-day operations in the wake of the crisis.

“The security situation is kind of spiralling out of control and it’s moving into areas surrounding the region. As well, electricity is not constant in the area so that is causing a lot of trouble for people who are fleeing to find a place to settle with their family.”

Ali Mohamad hopes his wife will soon be able to join him in Australia.

“She is waiting for an Australian visa. She is studying there for TAFE and after she is finishing the studying she is coming here.”

Until then, he watches, and waits.

 

 


Police used pepper spray to scatter protesters at Hong Kong’s government headquarters in an angry rally against plans for a new town development, with 21 arrested, officials say.

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About 900 people gathered at the city’s harbourfront government complex with some trying to force their way into the building to oppose the project, which they say will displace villagers and turn farmland into housing estates – favouring property developers.

Television footage showed protesters pushing over barricades and surging towards an entrance to the Legislative Council as MPs met to discuss funding for the development.

Police cordons inside and outside the building pushed back the rally late Friday as protesters tried to prise the doors open with bamboo sticks, shouting “Withdraw the plan”.

They managed to smash a hole in a glass panel, which police inside then used to pepper-spray protesters, while MPs were forced to suspend the meeting.

About 200 protesters then chained themselves together for a sit-in outside the building and anti-riot police were sent in to disperse them and make the arrests.

A police spokesman said a “minimal level of force” was used to handle the protest.

He added police had acted to remove the protesters upon a request from the Legislative Council – the city’s top legislative body.

Jasper Tsang, speaker of the Legislative Council, condemned the protest.

“We feel very regretful that some people disrupted the committee meeting of the Legislative Council through such means,” he told reporters on Saturday.

Hong Kong suffers from a serious shortage of housing, and government leader Leung Chun-ying made increasing supply a policy priority when he took office in 2012.

He hopes to cool record-high housing prices, which have rocketed due to an influx of investment from mainland China.

But concerns have been raised that the new housing projects threaten the city’s nature reserves and will encroach on its country parks.


By Julian Burnside, Australian Catholic University and Daniel Reynolds

Several years ago an asylum seeker wrote a letter about his experiences at the now-decommissioned Woomera Detention Centre.

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This is an extract:

I have been in this cage for 13 months … Why should all these women and children … be in this cage? What have we done? Where should we seek justice? Who should we talk to and tell our story?

Aren’t we human beings? … Animals in Australia have more rights than we have! They worth more than we do.

He was right on the last point: animals do have greater rights than asylum seekers in Australia. In fact, Australian law requires that animals be treated humanely, yet allows humans to be treated like animals.

Let’s start with animal rights. Legislation to protect animals in Australia dates back as far as 1837. Today, every state and territory has an animal protection act.

The federal government has taken an active role too, developing the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy in 2005. The strategy was implemented to ensure “that animals under human care or influence are healthy, properly fed and comfortable, and that efforts are made to improve their well-being and living conditions”, so that they receive “proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care and humane handling”.

For its rationale, the strategy explains that “a sentient animal is one that has the capacity to have feelings to experience suffering and pleasure. Sentience implies a level of conscious awareness”. It concludes:

Sentience is the reason that welfare matters.

Contrast this with asylum seekers’ rights in Australia. Asylum seekers and animals are both sentient beings, but Australia does not treat them with equal tenderness at a practical level. Instead, the government is solely concerned with dissuading boat people from reaching Australia, indifferent to the impact of a deterrence policy on those who risk their lives to get here.

An asylum seeker fleeing to Australia today can expect to face not only the risks of drowning or indefinite detention, but also the risk of being seriously wounded or even killed while under Australian care.

Disparity enshrined in law

This disparity is even more pronounced at a legal level. In Victoria it is an offence to torment or terrify an animal; to load, crowd or confine an animal in a place likely to cause unreasonable pain or suffering; or being the person in charge of an animal that is confined or unable to provide for itself, to fail to provide the animal with proper and sufficient food, drink or shelter.

In New South Wales, it is an offence to convey an animal in a manner that unnecessarily inflicts pain; to fail to provide an animal in your care with proper food, drink, shelter and even exercise; to commit or authorise any act of cruelty on an animal; and to fail to take reasonable steps to alleviate the pain of an animal that is suffering.

Penalties range from fines (up to $100,000) to imprisonment for a maximum of five years. Conviction rates are relatively high.

Allegations of cruelty can halt live animal exports, but Australia ships asylum seekers offshore regardless of evidence of their suffering. AAP/Xavier La Canna

Asylum seekers do not enjoy such protections. In recent times the treatment of boat people has been actively hostile.

On arrival at Christmas Island, most people are fairly distressed. Typically, they have spent five or six days in a small boat on the open ocean; have not had enough water to drink or food to eat; and have had no opportunity for ordinary sanitation, so they are likely wearing clothes soiled with their own faeces and urine.

After disembarking, they are not allowed to wash or change before their initial interview with Immigration Department officers. There is no obvious reason for this humiliation.

They are searched soon after arrival. Any medications or medical documentation are confiscated. Packets of tablets are popped out of their blister packs into a bin and thrown away. Medical prosthetic devices – artificial limbs, dentures, hearing aids, spectacles – are confiscated and not returned.

System causes suffering and sickness

A group of doctors employed by International Medical and Health Services (IHMS) to work in the system wrote to their employer in 2013 to protest at the conditions. Their letter reported:

… numerous unsafe practices and gross departures from generally accepted medical standards, which have posed significant risk to patients and caused considerable harm.

The letter included statements that:

Patients are “begging for treatment”;Asylum seekers must queue for up to three hours for medication. Some have to queue four times a day;Basic medical stocks are low. Drugs requested by doctors are not provided; andThere is a high risk of depression among children and no effective system for identifying children at risk.

One doctor who had worked on Christmas Island told of a woman who was displaying signs of extreme mental disturbance, which continued for many days. Working out the cause of the problem was made more difficult because the medical consultation took place via an interpreter who “attended” by phone from Sydney.

Ultimately, the doctor discovered the problem: the patient’s clothes had been confiscated on arrival. She had been issued with fresh clothes but no underwear; she was incontinent, so she could not walk around without urine running down her legs. The humiliation was driving her mad.

The doctor had difficulty arranging incontinence pads – these are not normally available. Even when it was agreed that pads would be made available, the department provides an inadequate supply. The woman has to ask for more each day, thus keeping her humiliation fresh.

For some asylum seekers, the consequences of mistreatment are even more severe. The tragic case of Reza Barati, who was killed while under Australian care in the Manus detention centre in February, has still not been satisfactorily accounted for.

Asylum seekers in immigration detention slip into hopelessness and despair as an entirely predictable result of their circumstances. They have no legal remedy because this mistreatment is mandated by Australian law and ignored by PNG and Nauruan law. Amnesty International has described the conditions in which people are held in Nauru as “a human rights catastrophe with no end in sight”.

Australian law entrenches clear protections designed to ensure that animals are treated responsibly, humanely and with dignity.

Asylum seekers should be so lucky.

Julian Burnside is patron of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Daniel Reynolds does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


Laughing off Queensland’s claim for underdog status, NSW are on guard against a Johnathan Thurston backlash in State of Origin II on Wednesday night.

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With Test halfback Cooper Cronk already ruled out with a broken arm and fellow match winners Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Daly Cherry-Evans all said to be in doubt, the Maroons have applied a backs-to-the-wall mentality as they try to keep the series alive in Sydney.

But five-eighth Josh Reynolds said the Blues were having none of it and were wary of any team containing Thurston, the reigning world player of the year.

“Eight series (wins) in a row, I find it a bit hard for them to be the underdog,” Reynolds said on Saturday.

“Both teams have got injuries. We’ve got both the Morris brothers out and they’ve been a vital part of this side for a long time.

“In the end, I think whoever throws on that jersey – for both sides – is going to have a dig.

“I don’t think it comes down to the big players or the superstars. It comes down to the guy that’s willing to put his hand up, as a few of the boys did in that last 10 minutes in the last game (for NSW).”

Only The King – former Queensland captain Wally Lewis – has won more Origin man-of-the-match awards than Thurston’s four and Reynolds says subduing the champion No.6 is once again a key for NSW.

“I know what he can do so I’m definitely not not thinking of him,” Reynolds said of his personal five-eighth duel with Thurston.

“It’s more working with my right edge on how we can shut him down and just make sure we don’t give him too much time to play because, if you give that bloke enough time, he’s going to eventually put you to the sword.

“So we’ve definitely had a little chat about him, but our main focus has been about us.”

With Cronk out, Reynolds suspects Thurston might want the ball in his hands even more at ANZ Stadium.

“He might try to take more of a leadership role, whereas those two usually share it pretty well,” he said.

“We’re definitely ready to cop some massive plays on the right – but we’re ready.”