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From a Laos jail to Woomera: a very short step

I was deeply disturbed finally to come home from spending almost a year held hostage in a dirty Laos jail to find the communist "brain washing" we were subjected to on a daily basis was perhaps not totally inaccurate.

We were told repeatedly the benefits of communism, the party and politics. When I found myself asking "why does the Australian Government make a deal with the devil that urges me to sign a confession of guilt?", the commander of the prison asked me what was the difference between Australia and Laos, between democracy and communism? I had to tell him that I really didn't know except that maybe one is a little more transparent, that being communism.

Now I am even more confused when I see the refugees at Woomera and I feel the chills run down my spine like a terrible case of deja-vue.

The UN are visiting only because the people force them. How lucky we are to still have a little power, but how many suffer in Woomera whose stories we will never hear before they are shipped off?

A facelift for Woomera? It sounds like something Laos would do if the UN ever got the chance to inspect its prisons. Could it be true that Australians treat people like the communists treated us? Our government tells the people "the Woomera detainees" are suspected terrorists. The Lao Government told their people we were Mafia.

It's said if you treat people like animals then don't be surprised if they begin acting like animals. When I was in solitary confinement for two months, I paced my tiny cell like a tiger, and now I understand his torment.

I believe our country has a lot to be ashamed of if we do not treat people with human decency, as seems to be the case at Woomera. How can we set an example to the rest of the world if human rights are not upheld in our own country? How can we make others accountable if we are not accountable.

Why are our refugee camps worse than our prisons? In Laos, you can be held 12 months before going to court - a direct violation of the UN Declaration for Human Rights. How long have the Woomera detainees (prisoners) been held now? "Democracy" means little when you have no freedom.

Kay Danes, Brisbane

Letters, The Age, 25 May 2002.
Kay Danes spent time in a Laos Jail and was returned to Australia with the help of the Howard government.

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