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Asylum-seekers in Australia remain in long-term limbo
Ahmed was not quite 11 years old when his family arrived in Australia seeking asylum. Placed in immigration detention, his mental health deteriorated alarmingly. Ahmed tried to hang himself twice in seven months and committed many acts of self-harm. After three long years Ahmed and his family were finally recognized as refugees and released.

This is just one of the stories contained in AI's June 2005 report, The impact of indefinite detention: The case to change Australia's mandatory detention regime (ASA 12/001/2005). There are hundreds more stories which could be told of lives blighted, sometimes irredeemably, by Australia's mandatory detention regime.

AI estimates that as at 29 May 2005, 210 people detained in Australian immigration facilities (including the offshore centre on the South Pacific island of Nauru) had been there for over 18 months. The longest serving detainee at that time was Peter Qasim, a rejected Kashmiri asylum-seeker who had been held since September 1998. Australian law requires that a non-national in Australia without a valid visa must be detained until he or she is either granted a temporary protection visa or leaves the country. Rejected asylum-seekers such as Peter Qasim, who cannot leave Australia because no country will accept him as a national or allow him entry, face being detained indefinitely.

Since the report was finalized, Peter Qasim's situation has improved slightly. He has been granted a Removal Pending Bridging Visa which allows a non-national in immigration detention to be released when it is not possible to remove them from Australia. To be eligible for this visa the visa holder must agree to leave the country when the Australian government requires them to do so.

Peter Qasim is now being treated for mental illness caused by his prolonged detention, but the uncertainty of his present situation only adds to his stress and does little to aid his recovery.

Australia's mandatory detention regime places it in breach of several of the inter-national human rights treaties which it has signed up to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In June the Australian Prime Minister announced several changes to the detention regime, intended to soften its edges without altering the fundamental policy.

While the changes are a step in the right direction, they have not adequately addressed the key recommendations made in AI's report. Unless further changes are made asylum-seekers who arrive without a valid visa will continue to be automatically detained in contravention of Australia's obligations under international human rights and refugee law. They will continue to be held without an assessment of whether their detention is necessary and proportionate, and without access to review by an independent body able to order a release.

The only safeguard against indefinite detention will be the Minister for Immigration's discretion – which she cannot be forced to use. And any alternative to indefinite detention for rejected asylum-seekers who cannot be returned will also be at the Minister's discretion.

Kept in limbo and unable ever to apply for permanent residence, Peter Qasim faces a lifetime of being in Australia but never being part of its community.

Yemenis held in secret US detention centres
"I couldn't bear it any longer… even if I was an animal I wouldn't put up with it." Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali speaking about his secret detention by US authorities

For almost two years Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah and Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali, both Yemeni nationals, were detained incommunicado without charge or trial in unknown locations, guarded by men "with American accents". They were never given any reason for their detention. When AI delegates visited them in prison in Yemen in June, they told how they were held in solitary confinement since 2003 with no access to family, lawyers or diplomatic representatives.

They remain in detention in Yemen, despite the authorities' admission that they have no reason to continue holding them. Yemeni officials told AI that the men are in continued detention at the request of the US authorities.

Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali was seized in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August 2003 and told by Indonesian officials that he would be deported back to Yemen via Jordan. He was detained on arrival in Jordan. Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah was detained in Jordan in October 2003. The two men were initially held in solitary confinement for approximately four days in Jordan. Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali says that he was routinely beaten by Jordanian officials. He was spat upon, verbally abused and threatened with sexual abuse and electrocution. He also described being subjected to the torture technique known as falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet).

The men described how they were then blindfolded, shackled and transported by plane to another location. Both men state that the guards were from the USA.

They were held in an underground facility with high walls. Western music was piped into the cells 24 hours a day. Neither knew the other was detained. Held in solitary confinement, they had "disappeared" from the rest of the world.

About six months later they were transferred to another unknown site which they described as a modern, purpose-built, underground detention facility run by US officials. It was fully air-conditioned with modern toilets and surveillance cameras in the cells. At no point did they have contact with other detainees. Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah estimated that there were about 15 or 20 others detained in the same facility.

The two men were released from secret detention and transferred back to Yemen in May, with no explanation. They remain detained in the central prison of Aden. Neither has been charged or tried with any offence and neither can understand the reasons for his continued detention. Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali now has a daughter nearly two years old who he has never seen. In June, Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah said: "In Yemen I thought they would open their hearts to me, but instead they opened the prisons. I thought they would appreciate the suffering I have been through".

ACT NOW!

Please write to the Yemeni authorities, urging them to release Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah and Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali immediately unless they are to be promptly charged with recognizable criminal offences in a trial that guarantees the minimum international standards for fair trial.

Send letters to: His Excellency, Dr Rashid Muhammad al-'Alimi, Minister of the Interior, Ministry of the Interior, Sana'a, Yemen. Fax: +967 1 332 511.

Worldwide Appeals

Bosnia and Herzegovina

'Disappeared' for 10 years
Colonel Avdo Palic was forcibly taken by soldiers of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) from the UN Protection Forces compound in Žepa, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), on 27 July 1995. He had gone there to negotiate the evacuation of civilians from the town which had just surrendered. He was commander of the BiH army in the UN "safe haven" of Žepa in eastern BiH. General Ratko Mladic, the VRS commander, was reportedly present during these negotiations, which were conducted by General Zdravko Tolimir. Avdo Palic was never seen again after reportedly having been taken by helicopter in the direction of General Mladic's headquarters in eastern BiH. Apparently still in custody in 1996, he was allegedly being considered for a prisoner exchange.

In January 2001, the BiH Human Rights Chamber ordered a full investigation into the "disappearance" of Avdo Palic.

In October 2001, following pressure from AI members, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Srpska (RS) verified that Avdo Palic was taken to Vanekov Mlin prison in Bijeljina in August 1995 and moved from there in September 1995 with a view to exchanging him. The Ministry stated that they had no further information about his "disappearance" and no knowledge of his whereabouts.

A letter sent by the RS Ministry of Interior to AI groups in March 2003 stated that an investigation into Avdo Palic's "disappearance" was still ongoing.

In February 2005, Zdravko Tolimir was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He is accused of crimes against humanity and violation of the laws or customs of war in the context of the events surrounding the fall of Srebrenica and Žepa in 1995. At the time of writing, Zdravko Tolimir remains at large.

Please write, calling on the RS authorities to carry out a full investigation into the fate and whereabouts of Colonel Avdo Palic and to bring those reasonably suspected of participation in his "disappearance" to justice. Call for the authorities to inform Avdo Palic's family and AI of any further progress in the investigation.

Send appeals to: Prime Minister, Pero Bukejlovic, Vuka Karadžica 4, 51000 Banja Luka, Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Fax: +387 51 331 366. Email: kabinet@vladars.net

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