#refugees letter writing project (via @rranwa)

From ASCI (Asylum Seekers Christmas Island):

Hi All – There are men at Curtin detention centre who are patiently waiting for Australian penpals. Our friends are visiting over the weekend so will have more names!!

If you would like to write to these men, please contact Lisa: letters {at} asci.org.au! Please share this link – thanks for your support!

talking #refugees

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Zonta Club of Perth‘s Cultural Awareness Day. The day was aimed to ‘foster empathy, friendship and an enhanced understanding of the lives of women that come to Australia as refugees’ but I was there to talk about stories from CASE for Refugees. The stories from the other ladies, though: WOW.

I gasped and bawled.

Catrina Hoang showed us photos from her amazing book Boat People: Personal Stories From the Vietnamese Exodus 1975-1996

She made a pretty important point which is rather relevant to the current issues we’re having here, and that was that asylum seekers do not get into rickety boats and risk death on the high seas for a better life. They are doing it for life. Just life. They risk it all for life. Full stop.

Pretty powerful stuff.

One of things I think is really important in the whole debate about refugees is the fact that so few people really understand why asylum seekers leave their countries. This problem is only magnified but the offshore-processing system where asylum seekers are ‘out of sight & out of mind’ in remote locales around Australia, most often behind razor wire.

All these programs and policies that keep these incredibly vulnerable people isolated from our community (and away from services that they often desperately need) are aimed at appeasing sections of the electorate who are (allegedly) anxious about boat arrivals.

The thing is: people who understand the issues and the stories and the reasons why they have left their homeland are not anxious about the small percentage of asylum seekers that arrive here by boat. Just as no-one (at all!) fears the majority of applicants for protection visas that come here on tourist visas or as students or workers.

That’s why the event today sharing stories and discussing the issues was so heartening.

Speaking of debates and discussions – the Law Society of WA’s Young Lawyers Committee are holding a panel on the asylum seeker debate during Law Week featuring:

  • Senator Michaelia Cash, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration;
  • Robert Lindsay, Barrister-at-Law, Sir Lawrence Jackson Chambers;
  • Paul Murray, Radio Host, 6PR and former Editor, The West Australian; and
  • me!


The Young Lawyers Committee asked CASE, who were like “Oh. Well Sunili’s a Young Lawyer. Done.”

The deets are:

Date: Thursday, 19 May 2011
Time: 6pm to 7.30pm
Venue: The Law Society of Western Australia
Level 4, 89 St Georges Terrace, Perth
Cost: Free (bookings essential)
RSVP: Email younglawyers@lawsocietywa.asn.au by Wednesday, 18 May 2011

[PDF flyer]

I promise I will try not to get too shouty / ranty at Sentatorer Cash and P-Muz.

This event will foster empathy, friendship and an enhanced understanding of the lives of women that come to Australia as refugees

two decades too long #deathsincustody

The report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was released in April 1991.  In the 20 years since the Royal Commission’s 339 recommendations were handed down, 269 of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have died while incarcerated.

Along with the deaths in Australia’s immigration detention centres, this loss of life strikes at the heart of any claim we have to be a decent, humane society.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA and the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee of WA are holding a public event in Perth on Friday 15 April to mark the anniversary and to demand change – please see here for details.

Image: Indymedia.

Zimbabwean law lecturer faces death penalty for #Egypt lessons

Munyaradzi Gwisai is a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who has been charged with treason. The government is saying he showed internet videos about the democracy struggle in Egypt to his students. If convicted he faces the death penalty.

While he has been released on bail pending his next court appearance on 20 April, Gwisai testified at an earlier hearing that he and other accused were brutally tortured after their arrest by state security agents.

An event organised by Adele Carles MLA, Melissa Parke MP and Senator Scott Ludlam at the Fremantle Town Hall this week will call for the rule of law and freedom to be restored in Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, 20 April at 7pm.


I’m just about to start up fourth week at my Dream Job: I’m in the Civil branch at Legal Aid WA and I’m working on a whole range of things from Legal Advice Bureaus and Criminal Injuries Compensation claims to assisting asylum seekers in detention centres get through the hoops DIAC makes them jump through to ‘prove’ that they are genuine refugees.

Because, you know, people who come here on boats are sneakily trying to slip in through the ‘back door’ and jump those sensible and orderly ‘queues’ that exist in war-torn countries MIGHT ACTUALLY BE NASTY FOLK WHO ENJOY EXTREME ADVENTURE HOLIDAYS RIGHT ZOMFG INTERROBANG

The thing that pisses me off the most about the whole dog-whistle ‘debate’ we’re having is that asylum seekers and refugees are talked about, trollumnised on, statistified.  They are made into unhumans.

DIAC’s motto is “People: our business”.  But it hardly feels like that. My clients each have SEVERAL reference numbers that we need to note on all our correspondence – a client ID, a file number, an application ID, boat ID… Their name (sadly) isn’t enough. The government refers to asylum seekers who arrive by boat as ‘Irregular Maritime Arrivals”.  A friend of mine pointed out that it makes these people sound like packages that have been lost in the post.

Rarely do we talk to them or listen to their stories and see them as real men, women and (sadly) children – with hopes and (sadly) many fears and dreams and families.

In my volunteering work at CASE for Refugees and now with LAWA all I do is listening to real stories from real people who have had experiences our subconsciousness couldn’t even process to turn into nightmares.

When Ruddock said recently that unaccompanied minors are coming here as part of a dodgy immigration racket, I just wanted to jump up and down and point to my high-school-aged client whose father and older brother were murdered before they had to flee their homeland. My client’s mother didn’t come with them on the trip here because she stayed with my client’s younger siblings, who couldn’t make such a journey.

If helping that kid to avoid growing up in a war-zone and letting him have a chance to go to school and is a racket, I am damn proud to call myself a gangster.

As Omar Little wisely said on The Wire:

“I’ll do what I can to help y’all. But, the game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.”

Now. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’re totally wishing that they could help, but bemoaning that they can’t because they are not human rights lawyers like me.  (OMFG. I really am a human rights lawyer now, aren’t I? SQUEE-EFFING-SQUEE, MUTHAZ!!! I MADE IT!!!)

OK: NEWSFLASH! Human rights lawyers only do a teeny-tiny part of this game. We’re just like, the little hoppers on them corners, yo.

The best thing about this here game, is that it’s really easy to play and all’a y’all can be soldiers, aight?

Everyone, every single one of us, all of you peeps at the other end of the internets, no matter what your job, your income, your age, WHAT THE EFF EVER, can take part in supporting asylum-seekers and helping to change a conversation that has been trolling our “lucky” country for far too long.


Talk to your friends about asylum seekers. Request your own “Change the conversation” booklet from Amnesty by emailing your name and postal address to rethinkrefugees@amnesty.org.au or check out ASRC’s factsheets (summary; big booklet).

Check out ASCI for info on how you can be involved in the Christmas Island Letter Writing Project.

Donate to Dictionaries for DetaineesRefugee Rights Action Network‘s TOTES ORSM project getting bilingual dictionaries into detention centres to help asylum-seekers and refugees learn  English while they’re waiting for their applications to get processed.

Get involved with ChilOut – a not-for-profit community group of Australians who are concerned with the plight of children held in immigration detention.

Perth Peeps can:

In Melbourne and Victoria, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre does a PHENOMENAL amount of amazing things. Also, their CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM has got a show on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival called ‘The Hateful Humanitarian’ and all proceeds are going to ASRC. Check them out on the Twitters, too, they tweet good and stuff.

And lastly — for the wanna-be hoppers out there: lawyers and law-student types can volunteer with

NB: If there are more you know of that I don’t (I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING YOU KNOW!) please leave a note in the comments and I will update this list.

Awesome tweep Tony Thorpe reminded us the other night:

“None of us can do everything. All of us can do something. Together we can do a lot.”

And a quick message to all them haters out there: GAME ON, MOLES – we’re coming to talk to you politely and sensibly about Teh Boats and stuff over a cuppa. If you’re nice, we might even give you an ANZAC biccie.



MX on ‘Hamlet’ [QOTD]

“I read once, passingly, about a man named Shakespeare. I only read about him passingly, but I remember one thing he wrote that kind of moved me. He put it in the mouth of Hamlet, I think, it was, who said, ‘To be or not to be.’ He was in doubt about something — whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune — moderation — or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone — I don’t care what color you are — as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

–Malcolm X, speaking at Oxford University on December 3, 1964
eighty days before his death
via @studentactivism


nb—I’m not trying to advocate violence, here, OK? I think we’ve got more in our armory than just bullets. As the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya have shown in recent weeks: we have our hearts, we have our minds, and we have our words. An amazing champion who has rocked my Twittersin the last week, @AboriginalOz, is the perfect example of this. Go check out his blog.

I am. You are. We are.


On Australia Day this year I made a crass joke on the Twitters about how brown boat people under the age of 18 get locked up in detention while white boat people under the age of 18 get Young Australian of The Year.  Most people got that I was being facetious and tongue-in-cheek, but there was some feedback that I was being racist.

(There was also a suggestion that I was a Tamil Terrorist working for the Socialist Alliance via a hologram, or something, but I assume that guy was kidding too.)

If I caused any offence, I apologise.

Aside from my misgivings about whether Jess Watson was the most deserving recipient of the YAOTY* award, it was probably a bit harsh of me to use the brown/white dichotomy so flippantly.

In a country that draws its true wealth from its people, those who, as set out in the 2nd verse of our national anthem, have come across the seas and are of all the colours of the rainbow, it is important that we don’t create false divisions and invent tribes.

Obviously, I make lots of jokes about being brown, and I am very proud of my heritage (except when folks in the motherland are committing war-crimes, murdering journalists and establishing dictatorial monarchies, but that’s another story), but I am & always will be far more “Australian” than I ever was “Lankan”.

Despite the fact that I still remember quite clearly a day in Year 1 when a group of girls wouldn’t let me play with them because I had black hair (Yeah. Ouch.), my best friends since forever have been a pack of Skittles. (The men in my life have all been WHITE-white, though. I am totes sexually racist.)

And one of my mentors actually helped frame the multicultural policies of the 1980s mentioned by Chris Uhlmann that convinced my parents that this would be a wonderful country in which to raise their children.

So in the heart-breaking week when an orphan refugee was nearly forced back into detention a couple of days after his dad’s funeral (thankfully he’ll be with his family soon) and when we heard  that the Opposition’s Immigration Dicktwat Spokesperson might have maybe  suggested we should put religious considerations on our immigration criteria (allegedly), it was good to hear that the ALP has released a new ‘multiculturalism’ policy that aimed at ‘maintaining a socially cohesive and harmonious society’.

I look forward to seeking the initiatives that will be rolled out as part of the process.  I hope they are genuine attempts to address the problems we have been seeing, but equally, I hope they are no patronisingly didactic ads or fridge magnets.

The thing is, right—as much as I hope and wish that this works, I have to admit that I’m not holding my breath.

But let’s just cross all our fingers and toes.

* Wait. Did they give it to her because the acronym for the award looks kinda like “YACHT” if you squint? In that case, it totes makes sense now!