Think Globally, Act Locally

January 31, 2020

People have asked whether there is an “archive” of the various human rights actions which I’ve been involved in over the years. I have recorded some of these on this blog but I think one page which takes you to these stories may be useful.

I am aware that there are many people who have done some incredible work supporting social justice and human rights but no one knows about these. Many people across the world do think globally and act locally but we don’t hear about it. One reason is that mainstream media quite often does not tell or record these actions and we find these local actions don’t even make a footnote in a local history book, let alone in a “big” history book.

So, I’ve written about some of our local actions just so people do know about them.

2020 – what a time to be an activist! I can’t help but reimagine some of the stuff we did before Social Media, before Go Fund Me, drone photography. Maybe, the Flotillas of Hope could have raised so much money we could have chartered some boats?  We wouldn’t have needed a giant Kite with a camera to film the refugees in Woomera. A drone would have done the job magnificently.

Anyway, there’s lots of opportunities and means to fight for social justice today with the technology available to all of us.

What’s our local area? Newcastle, in the Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia.

Newcastle map Aust

Newcastle, Australia

I am listing these local actions in chronological order with a short description.

Cultural Stomp – Cultures in Action 

The Cultural Stomp had its birth in 1997 when Pauline Hanson launched her One Nation Party in Newcastle. We decided that she wasn’t going to launch it without hearing what we in the Hunter felt about it. We formed a group we called Cultures in Action and every year since 1997 for ten years Newcastle celebrated its cultural diversity in Civic Park.

Woomera Detention Centre – Good Friday, 2002 –  HOPE Caravan

Refugees and Asylum Seekers held a hunger strike in this detention centre stuck in the South Australian desert. Some people in Melbourne decided to organise a Festival of Freedoms at the Woomera Detention Centre. Hunter Organisation for Peace & Equity joined them and we became a Caravan, a HOPE Caravan.

Welcome Town for Refugees – 2002 – Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights

With all the racist crap pushed by the Liberal National Party we thought that Newcastle should become a Welcome Town for Refugees. For those not in Australia, the conservative right wing party which aligns itself more with the USA Republican Party & UK Tories is called the “Liberal” Party. Yes, one couldn’t get a more Orwellian name for a political party than that.

Baxter Detention Centre – 2003 – HOPE Caravan

This was another detention centre stuck in the desert. HOPE Caravan, along with many others from around Australia decided to pay it a visit.

Flotillas of Hope – World Refugee Day – 2004 – HOPE Caravan

While we talked about the possibility of visiting the most isolated gulag in the world at Nauru most thought it was an impossible dream. But we visited the island.

Flotillas of Hope – Another Aspect.

The whole project from its inception to the actual journey exhibited much more than just a sailing trip.





Free Gaza Movement >> Why We Care

June 2, 2010

Why we Care

Written by Free Gaza Movement    

From the Free Gaza Movement Website

April 2009

“This is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster created by policies that are not humane.”
John Ging, director of the U.N. Relief and Works

Agency in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. A 25-mile-long narrow coastal plain wedged between Israel and Egypt, Gaza is home to 1.5 million Palestinians, over half of them children. Most of its population are refugees or their descendants, driven out of Israel during its founding in 1948. Surrounded by 40-foot high walls of iron and steel, Gaza has only 3 points of entry or exit: the Erez border crossing with Israel, the Rafah crossing with Egypt, and the sea.

Israel has occupied Gaza since 1967, maintaining complete control over Gaza’s air space and territorial waters, imports and exports, and travel into or out of the territory. Since January 2006, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to an increasingly severe blockade, restricting Gaza’s ability to import fuel, spare parts, and other necessary materials. Compared to December 2005, less than 20 percent of the supplies needed for normal trade are allowed into Gaza by Israel, and foreign investment has fallen off by over 95 percent. As a result, the economy has completely collapsed. Most of Gaza’s industrial plants have been forced to close, casing steep increases in unemployment, poverty and childhood malnutrition rates.

 The siege has led to massive shortages that have rippled through the economy and society. Shortages in fuel have caused gasoline prices to spiral out of control, leading to sustained power cuts. Hospitals, dependent on diesel-powered generators, regularly lose power for several hours a day. Unable to operate irrigation pumps, farmers experience significant loss of crops. Most family homes have running water for less than six hours a day, and almost a third of homes have no running water at all.

Sewage treatment centers no longer function properly. Millions of liters of raw sewage have been pumped into heavilypopulated neighborhoods, and tens-of-billions of liters of untreated and only partially treated sewagehave been released into the Mediterranean. Gaza’s fishermen state that the sewage has killed off most of the sea life in the immediate vicinity.

In December 2008, Israel broke a ceasefire with Gaza and began a three week campaign of bombings, home invasions, and general destruction. During this massacre, homes, schools, mosques, and UN centers were all attacked by Israel. Thirteen Israelis, including 4 Israeli civilians, lost their lives, while over 1,300 Palestinian men, women, and childrenwere slaughtered. Since the end of the massacre it has become harder than ever to bring in humanitarianrelief, reconstruction aid, or developmental supplies.

The siege continues, and the humanitarian condition of the one and a half million human beings illegally incarcerated in Gaza is now at its worst point in the last forty years of Israeli occupation.

Help the Freedom Flotilla

Chilling Testimony from a Marmara passenger

Submissions for current Refugee Issues UNHCR >> Dadaab Refugee Camp

May 27, 2010


I received this today. Those who can please send in a submission for the Dadaab refugees.

Below the reminder is the document and submission form.



A reminder that the Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) is calling for brief submissions from individuals and refugee community groups regarding current issues of concern to refugee populations in and from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions.

The due date for submissions is 31 May. Please see the attached information sheet for further details on making a submission. Feel free to distribute this information to your networks. If you have any queries, please feel free to contact me as per the details below.

We look forward to receiving your submissions!

Kind regards, Lucy Morgan Information & Membership Officer Refugee Council of Australia

Suite 4A6, 410 Elizabeth Street Surry Hills NSW 2010 Phone: 61 2 9211 9333 Fax: 61 2 9211 9288 email:




The Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) is calling for brief submissions from individuals and refugee community groups regarding current issues of concern to refugee populations in and from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions.

ARRA is a coalition of Australian NGOs, refugee advocates and academics. Organisations involved in ARRA include the Centre for Refugee Research of University of NSW, Refugee Council of Australia, Amnesty International and Act for Peace (National Council of Churches).  Each year, representatives from ARRA travel to Geneva to participate in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ NGO consultations.

Prior to the UNHCR meetings, the group prepares a comprehensive set of documents addressing policy issues of shared concern. This process enables more effective advocacy at the meetings by ensuring coordinated and targeted action by the Australian delegation. In 2010, the meetings will occur in late June.

Individuals and refugee community groups are invited to make submissions on issues they would like to recommend that ARRA put forward during the meetings with UNHCR.

ARRA is particularly interested in current issues of concern to refugee populations in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions, however issues of concern to refugee populations in other regions of the world are also invited.

 Some possible themes you may choose to use include:

  • Women at Risk
  • Protracted Refugee Situations
  • Xenophobia/Racism 
  • Families at Risk
  • Urban Refugee Policy

 How Can I Contribute to the UNHCR NGO Consultations?

You can submit a brief submission to us, focusing on any current issue, but it should be limited to one page in length.  We will then read your submission contact you for more information if required and do our best to include your issues in our papers for discussion at the UNHCR in late June. 

 Please return submission application form with your submission to Lucy Morgan at the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

 All submissions must be received by 31 May.

Submissions must be received by 31 MayVia post or email:  
ATT: Lucy MorganRefugee Council of Australia (RCOA)  
Suite 4A6, 410 Elizabeth Street,Surry Hills NSW 2010

Tel: 02 9211 9333

Fax: 02 9211 9288




Submission Form        


Organisation (if applicable):  


Contact Information:


Contact Phone Number:  
Country of Origin:  



Topic of Submission:


Regional Focus (Asia, Africa, Middle East, other)  
Country Focus:  


Issues Covered in Submission:



Recommendations to UNHCR  





* * Please Attach your 1-page Submission

A Voice from the Voiceless >> Dadaab Refugee Camps Kenya

March 9, 2010


I received the following message from some African refugee workers I am in contact with in my day job. This is stuff you won’t see on ABC, BBC, PBS or written about in UN Reports. It is a Call from those whose voice has been voiceless in Dadaab, Kenya. I have not corrected any grammar, syntax or spelling. I am posting this as I received it.



Dear All the concerned Memebers,

With humble respect, on behalf of the refugees living in the camps of Dadaab, we would like to share our grievances with the world and ask for you to help us find our way to freedom.

Our lives in the camps are far worse than you can imagine. We live in an open prison, far away from justice and humanity. We talk, but our voices are never heard. We move, but only inside a cage. We have many skills and talents, but we are denied our chance to maximize our potential. We are chained to a life full of stress and despair; a life for which many would prefer death. We are denied opportunities for education and employment. We live in a condition without adequate water, food, or health facilities. We are arbitrarily beaten or detained by police within the confines of the camp. We lack the ability to freely express ourselves or have control over the decisions affecting our lives.

For those of us lucky enough to obtain employment with the agencies, we are exploited through the payment of mere “incentive” wages, while national and international staff receive much greater payment and benefits. How can you force us to live in a certain place that denies us our human rights and our basic needs?

 This note wishes to express some of the challenges we face here in the refugee camps of Dadaab in the hopes that we will be given a chance to have greater control over our lives, and have our fundamental human rights fulfilled. Although the challenges and abuses we face are numerous, we will only briefly mention some of our main grievances, including restricted movement, exploitative working conditions, poor service deliver, and false information and abuse by UNHCR and other agencies operating in the camps.

For many of us, the restrictions on movement and the conditions in our forced confinement have caused more psychological, economical, and health problems than diseases and wars have caused.

We ask the Kenyan government, the other governments of Africa, and the people of the world to hear our voices, see our condition, and look further into our situation. We only want our chance to thrive, to live our lives, to visit our family members, to attend school, to receive medical treatment, to help support our families, and to have control over the economic and policy making decisions affecting our lives. We only want the chance to live as other human beings live, with a hope for the future.

Please hear our cries, allow us to move freely from this open prison, and provide us the opportunity to live our lives, support ourselves, and pursue our dreams!

Restricted Movement

Some of us have faced the imprisonment of the refugee camps of Dadaab since 1991, while others of us are newly arriving. Although there have been changes and developments over the past nineteen years, our restricted movement has caused and continues to cause our underdevelopment and deterioration. Many people have died from simple diseases because they could not move to get treatment in Garissa (a town only 90 km from Dadaab). Many parents have remained separated from their children who disappeared from the camps because they could not move to search for them or inquire of their whereabouts. Many students have missed their chances for educational opportunities, have failed to take their final examinations, or have been unable to obtain education certificates earned because they could not receive the permission to move. Many people have been forced into greater poverty by being denied the chance to work and by having to pay three times the price of goods in other regions because they can not move to get cheaper goods for consumption or business. Perhaps worse still, many who have tried to move have been beaten, arrested, detained, and/or forced to pay heavy bribes or fines of large amounts of money they never imagined.

Exploitative Working Conditions

Ever since the creation of the refugee camps of Dadaab in 1991 and 1992 and thereafter, UNHCR and the agencies operating in the refugee camps of Dadaab have relied for their operations on the exploited labor of the refugee communities. Whether skilled or unskilled labor, refugee staff members have worked in conditions and received wages that are in violation of national and international labor laws. While many of the refugee staff in the agencies work tirelessly for the agencies and their fellow refugees, they still merely receive “incentives” for their hard work and dedication. Even highly experienced individuals, some of whom have graduated from Universities, colleges, and secondary schools in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Congo, Sudan, etc., receive unlivable wages, let alone wages commensurate with their experience. In addition to the dreadfully low, unlivable wage, refugee staff members are discriminated against in their payment. Specifically, although refugee staff members work as many hours and complete as many or more tasks as national or some international staff members, refugee staff members are paid significantly lower amounts and are called the derogatory name of “incentive” staff members receiving not wages or a salary but “incentives.” Indeed, though the work load given refugee staff members often exceeds that national/international staff members, refugee staff members are not given their proper respect or payment.

In a related manner, refugee staff often face harsh and discriminatory treatment by national and international staff of UNHCR and the agencies. Several national and international staff frequently use harsh commands and create a difficult work environment, and are given titles of officers even though they do not have as much experience or strong work ethic as the refugee staff members. As an example of the unfair treatment of refugee staff members, these staff members often have to queue for long hours simply to receive their payments and such long lines often cause staff members to miss the limited opportunities to receive their payment and in turn delay their receipt of their hard earned payments. As another example, refugee staff members have great difficulty receiving transportation services of the agencies, sometimes even when travel is required by their jobs. Also, refugee staff members are often not given opportunities for training or scholarships, or even if they do receive such opportunities they are not given work permits at the end of even multiple degrees. Moreover, refugee staff members are not allowed to take part in decision making about the refugee programmes ironically that the refugee staff members usually must implement and that are intended to benefit refugee beneficiaries. Similarly, refugee staff members are not afforded an opportunity to participate in planning, writing project proposals, or otherwise participating in any other management functions despite in many circumstances years of experience and knowledge about the refugee communities who are supposedly the beneficiaries of the agencies’ programs and the conditions in which they live and operate. Indeed, refugee staff members are not even provided meaningful opportunities to present feedback that is received, considered, and/or implemented. Incentive Wages At the heart of the exploitation of refugee staff members lies the entire system of “incentive workers.”

The agencies in the camps of Dadaab divide staff into three main categories:

§ International staff

§ National staff

§ Incentive staff

While national and international staff have relatively similar salaries, working conditions, and privileges, the so-called incentive staff are barely paid, are discriminated against, and are often treated with disrespect. The national and international staff members have every thing required for the fulfillment of the respective work such as transport, office tools and equipment, refreshments etc. at their disposal. At the same time, the refugee staff generally have no such access despite the fact that the national and international staff often greatly depend upon the refugee staff in order to carry out their duties, gain access to and understand the refugee communities, and break through language barriers and cultural differences. Yet, while the incentive staff are indeed the back bone of the agency operations in the camps, the relationship between these two sets of staff and the treatment of refugee staff members is horrible.

 The agencies and UNHCR continue to simply pay only meager incentives, which are minimal amounts in and of themselves and are not accompanied by any significant bonuses, benefits, allowances, pensions, separation payments, or other components of standard national and international staff contracts even for refugee staff members that have been working for over a decade. An incentive worker will earn as little as 50 – 90 USD per month, regardless of the number of years of experience, seniority in employment or academic qualifications. Indeed, the skills, academic credentials, and experiences varies significantly across the work force of refugees, ranging from primary school leavers to those with multiple Masters degrees and diplomas who have worked for more than a decade. Yet all are subject to harsh conditions and meager payment. In addition, the ill treatment and lack of respect for refugee staff and their tireless efforts has taken its physical and emotional toll on many staff members, and in fact some young professionals have developed psychological problems due to the frustrations they face while others have chosen to even risk their lives to return to their respective homelands in the hopes of finding an adequate means of survival for themselves and their families. Moreover, the vast disparities between refugee staff and national/international staff continues to create envy and hatred among the staff of the same agency.

 The incentive system is often claimed to be necessary because of limited budgetary resources and because refugee staff members are not allowed to officially work under Kenyan law. However, in actuality, these supposed justifications serve only as mere excuses for the agencies to hide behind so that they can continue to exploit refugee labor. With respect to the limited resources, first of all limited resources can not serve as an excuse for exploiting refugee labour. Moreover, the amount of money that is wasted if not skimmed off the top by the agencies reaches huge amounts; if there are indeed limited resources, the agencies could shift resources away from ineffective trainings, corrupted individuals, and high paid national and international staff in order to adequately pay incentive staff members.

In a related manner, in line with the problem noted above of not including refugee staff in decision-making and managerial tasks: the agencies should “open the books” and allow refugee staff members to be a part of resource allocation decisions. With respect to the inability for refugees to work under Kenyan law, again the agencies and not the Kenyan government are setting the amounts of the incentive wages and if the agencies are able to legally provide incentives at all then the agencies can not point the finger at anyone other than themselves with respect to the exploitative amounts that are arbitrarily set by UNHCR and the agencies. Moreover, UNHCR and agencies are able to obtain work permits for refugee staff members in Nairobi and elsewhere when they deem it appropriate. Further, it is the obligation of UNHCR to advocate on behalf of refugees’ right to work and pressure the government of Kenya to follow its obligations under the Refugee Convention to allow for such rights.

We ask members of the international community to step up for this matter and come forward to help us refugee staff members regain our human dignity and equality and fairness for all in terms wage earning, working conditions and decision-making. Furthermore, we ask that international human rights bodies and the International Labor Organization study and scrutinize the years in which our talents, skills and services have been exploited and abused by the agencies in Dadaab. The title “incentive worker” The title given to the refugees working with the humanitarian agencies is itself exploitative and demeaning. Literally the word incentive means something given to some in order that he/she keeps the same spirit in the course of an operation; however the magnitude of the incentive in the camps of Dadaab is negligible. Considering the workload carried out by the staff or employees drawn from the refugee community, it is the case that refugee workers form the backbone of the humanitarian operations in the Dadaab camps. Indeed, without these workers, the agencies would suffer an acute shortage of human resources. Given the fact that the title “incentive” does not actually sound proper, the refugee workers often feel discouraged and humiliated to be called an incentive worker, which even can weaken the productivity and output of the workers. Furthermore the title incentive widens the already expansive gap between the refugee workers and the national and international staff, which further hinders the cooperation necessary to achieve the important goals of the humanitarian operations in Dadaab.

The more favorable the working conditions, the more efficient an employee will be in her/his daily undertakings, and the more cooperative relations amongst different categories of staff members, the more likely the operations in general will be successful. Thus, if only from the point of view of improving operations in Dadaab, the title of the refugee staff should be changed, the disparity in wages must be closed, and the working conditions must be improved. Harmonization Incentive Document for 2010 A memo concerning the “harmonization of refugees incentive workers wages” was developed by UNHCR in collaboration with all of the NGOs working in the refugee camps; some of the NGOs have shown skepticism about the effects of the document but the policy has been passed without adequate input or consideration of the viewpoints of current refugee staff members. While we recognize the potential positive effect of raising the wages of those agencies paying the lowest amounts, harmonization should only result in a harmonization upward. Moreover, we believe that individuals should be paid wages that are both living wages and appropriate for their jobs and their level of expertise and experience. The document is totally contradicting the conventions to the refuges. Indeed this is a practical evidence that UNHCR is violating the international conventions and protocols relating to the provisions and service of the refuges instead of promoting, it.

Furthermore, the UNHCR has not increased a sigle coin to the refguee workers and what it done was a cheating withno consultation to the concerned parties; indeed the amount that was dedected from the fellow refugee workers were increased for the other fellow refguee workers thus, creating envy and hatered among the working refguee workers!. In this world it has never been noticed that somesone’s pay is lowered without proper justifications.

Despite the fact that many other irrlguralies that can not be not be summarized is ongoing on daily, weekly, monthly or annually basses within the confines of the refugee camps of Dadaab.

Poor Service Delivery

The Dadaab refugee camps were established in the wake the devastating civil wars and persecution in neighboring countries, such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, and Eritrea. While we are grateful for the support that has been provided to those who have had to flee from their home countries, it is incredible that nearly twenty years after their adoption, their remains terrible problems in the service delivery and operations of the various agencies operating in the Dadaab camps: UNHCR, WFP, CARE, NRC LWF, IRC GTZ –IS, WINDLE TRUST KENYA, DRC HI, MSF, etc. The food distribution sector, the education sector, the medical care sector, the water and sanitation sector, and the land allocation and shelter sectors provide just a few of the many examples of the continuing and sometimes worsening poor service delivery. Food While the refugees in the Dadaab camps do appreciate the relentless efforts of the international community to ensure that the refugees in the Dadaab camps are given food, we ask the international community if a three (03) kilograms of maize and 50 grams of oil is enough to feed a person for a period of 15 days. This meager amount does not meet international standards. Worse still, a quarter of the amount claimed to be given is often stolen during food distribution, in large part because the workers of the food distribution are not adequately paid and are thus encouraged to steal from the beneficiaries. How can refugees be forced to remain in camps, told for twenty years that they are not allowed to work and raise their own livelihood, and then not be given enough food to feed themselves and their families?


Education in the camps consists of several primary schools and secondary schools and other adult learning literacy institutions. While education, especially at the primary level, is a basic need and right, various factors have limited the quantity and quality of education provided in the camps of Dadaab. At the most basic level, the camps’ population has swollen thrice in recent years, while the capacity has only minimally increased. The focal organization for education in the camps, CARE international in Kenya, has not done a good enough job at increasing the education capacity. Poor quality education is matched with poor infrastructure, as many of the buildings remain the same as those built in 1992 to accommodate some 97,000 refugees while the population has currently grown to nearly 300,000. We have 18 primary schools across the three camps with an average of 3500 pupils per school. These large numbers of learners face many challenges in school. The general ratio of teachers to pupils is 1:80; a situation that has forced many learners to become dropouts, ending up on the market streets. All the 18 mentioned primary school are registered as Kenyan National examination centers while the learners in grade 8 (standard eight) must sit for the national exams in November of each year. The Kenya national examination law states that for a school to be a centre for national examination, there should be a least one trained teacher per class in that school; contrary to this law the schools in Dadaab do not have adequately trained P1 teachers. Yet the ministry of education of the government of Kenya officially has accepted this situation, which has resulted in poor performance in all these 18 schools. Another factor affecting education is the issue of payment. A teacher who is expected to serve as a role model, shape the study and character of various children, and teach the next generation of students, receive some of the lowest wages, lower even than donkey cart riders. The low payment causes more qualified individuals to seek other jobs, and for those who remain as teachers to have little motivation to do a good job in their work. Another problematic feature of the education system is that although as many as 4000 pupils sit for their national exams (KCPE), only roughly 120 students from each camp will have the opportunity to move on to secondary school, and even fewer of those who complete secondary school will have opportunities for further education after high school. Courses in Kenya University and colleges, despite funding by the international community, remains limited.

Medical Care

Medical conditions and nutrition have declined since 1992; down the line diseases are increasing while the interventions are relatively minimal compared to the number of patients in the hospital. In addition, as a result of acute malnutrition in the camps and anemia, child mortality rate is on the rise.

Further, due to ongoing fighting in neighboring Somalia, many refugees continue to come to the camps with numerous diseases, injuries, mental sickness, skin diseases and birth defects, many of which are not able to receive medical attention and are told that their ailment is too complicated to be attended to in the camps. As result many patients will converge at UNHCR field offices for their medical concerns but unfortunately UNHCR protection unit staff will keep refugees waiting and only refer them to the same doctors, nurses, and medical facilities that are already stretched too thins Which are expected to assist roughly three hundred deliveries per month in each of the camps. Currently, we have three medical charity organizations in camps MSF SWIZ in Dagahaley, IRC in Hagadera, and GTZ-IS in Ifo. Yet, especially due to the overcrowding, the medical facilities simply do not meet the incredible medical needs in the camps. Some of the most basic issues in the medical care sector include: – Lack of qualified personnel in hospitals – Lack of medicine/ procured – Lack of emergency equipment / ambulance theatre – Lack of adequate facilities or equipment to deal with many of the ailments Water and Sanitation Water and sanitation services are basic and essential; there are 15 boreholes in the camps which supply safe water to the refugee population since water is chlorinated before being supplied. Those boreholes are managed by borehole attendants or incentive workers who work from 6:30am to 6:30pm ever day, even on weekends or public holidays, since water is needed every hour of the day, and yet only earn minimal wages. Similarly, sanitation, waste management, and carcass collection and disposal, as well meat inspections/hygiene promotion are carried out incentives staff while the national staff seem to sit in the office browsing the internet and pretending to be busy in the offices. (Issues of latrine are handled by NRC whiles other sanitary and hygiene activities are done by CARE – RAP Watsan). In addition, the water crisis in the deeply populated Dadaab camps often results in fighting at the tap stands among families, village mates, and block mates. Sanitation and waste management is also worrying. The current network of latrines is hardly maintained and there are not nearly enough latrines for the Dadaab refugees in general. The latrine system in Dadaab camps is far below internationally accepted and minimum standards, such as 1 latrine for every 20 people.

Land Allocation and Shelter

For security reasons and because of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Somalia, many Somali refugees flee and escape ordeals in the war torn Somalia and seek protection in the Dadaab camps. Yet upon arrival in Dadaab, new arrivals often receive little guidance, orientation, or support to find land, obtain food, seek medical screening or vaccinations, etc. For instance, when a family comes to Dagahaley camp, where registration has been undertaken since 2005, the only thing they receive form UNHCR is a food ration card after waiting for around 10 days.

Finding shelter is often left to the good will of the refugees already living in the camps, despite the fact that severe overcrowding and congestion already exists in the camps. Most of the new arrivals simply build make-shift shelters that are susceptible being washed away by the heavy rains, or they resort to a living under the trees or a “house” where they are exposed to the elements. New arrivals thus face problems related to security, cold, wild animals, poor sanitation, etc. In addition, after registration the new arrivals often do not get non food items that they are intended to receive such as plastic sheeting, a cooking set, Jeri cans, and blankets; even accessing food is hard for new arrivals as they will start getting food from WFP up to 10 days after obtaining registration from UNHCR.

False Information Provided to Community Representatives and Visitors

Although there are the above problems and many more in the refugee camps of Dadaab, often visitors come to Dadaab and are shown a very different picture than the actual reality. Indeed, visitors of various high positions and organizations visit the worlds’ largest refugee camps of Dadaab in north eastern Kenya. Dadaab has in some ways become like a circus display or tourist attraction, with so many visitors coming in and out to see the camps and meet with refugees. Most visitors come with the intention of evaluating how the funds they have donated have been implemented for the target refugees. Visitors who individually only infrequently and occasionally pay visits to the refugee camps are thoroughly misguided about the real information on the ground. Visitors are often taken to pre-arranged places and meet with special people organized to supposedly speak on behalf of the refugees, who often give information that does not inform the visitors of the real circumstances of refugees’ conditions. It is believed that some agency staff members use bribery and other means of influence with refugee leaders whom they think can give substantial and fabricated information to the visitors that will protect and promote the agencies and their supposedly humanitarian work. It is believed that some agency staff members make false promises to such leaders, such as offering resettlement opportunities or contracts in order to entice these leaders to hide the true information about how agencies deal with refugees when high profile visitors come to the refugee camps. In addition, often when high profile visitors come to the camps, their time is scheduled such that they do not meet with many of the true leaders, intellectuals, young leaders, women’s groups and other stakeholders from the refugee community to hear and know from them directly without the presence of the Agency’s representatives. Moreover, the security guards (AGK) are given instructions to be on high alert and only allow those who had been chosen by the agencies to meet with the visitors. For instance during a recent visit by 17 embassies to the refugees camps, our community leaders, intellectual, young leaders and other stakeholders from the refugee community were only given an opportunity to present all of their pressing problems in a mere 45 Minutes, with agency representatives present who could note which refugees spoke and potentially deal harshly with those who spoke after the visitors had left. In addition, on the onset of the arrival of various visitors, agencies attempt to undertake various preparations intended to deceive visitors about the situation in the camps, such as intensive cleaning campaigns, having even senior officers wade through the rubbish, adding new/temporary infrastructure of all sorts (tables, seats, wall hangings/messages, computers, etc.), painting walls, putting up boards and signs to show orgnanized residential and office compounds, and so forth. As but one example, when some high profile visitors were coming to visit the camps in mid-2009, new buildings were constructed, walls were painted, old equipment was hidden, and intense cleaning efforts were undertaken at a surface level in order to deceive the visitors. If the amount of hard work that was taken to make these preparations was done on a daily basis to actually address the problems facing those in the camps rather than simply providing surface level window dressing to please visiting donors and officials, the situation in the camps could much improve. As another example, when an envoy of ambassadors visited the WFP food distributed centre, all of the former containers used for distributing food (which had been cut in size in order to limit the amount of food given to each refugee) were set aside and every individual was allowed to receive a full ration. But these measures only existed during the few minutes when the visitors were present.

 Taken together, the agencies make significant efforts to hide the truth of the situation of refugees in the camps of Dadaab when visitors arrive. We therefore make a heartfelt request to the Intentional Community, high profile visitors, media, government officials, human rights bodies, independent journalists and other concerned parties to always think beyond the box while visiting the Dadaab refugee camps, to be skeptical of what they are being shown, to try to ensure that they take some time to talk privately to a number of different refugees, and to visit unplanned areas in order to uncover the true living situation of the refugees and hear their voices longing to determine their uncertain future! Abuse from UNHCR Officers in Dadaab against refugee youth advocating for their rights. National and international staff members of UNHCR and other agencies in the camps of Dadaab often attempt to harass and intimidate refugees who advocate for their own rights. As a recent example, the UNHCR Head of Sub Office, in the presence of elder witnesses, threatened various refugee youth who intended to attend a meeting at his office, shouting that in case any youth came into his (UNHCR) office he would call the police and arrest them. Similarly, the senior Protection Officer has often failed to protect the rights of the refugees while allegations of harassment and human rights abuses flood his office in Dadaab. If UNHCR jeopardizes and denies the basic rights of the refugees in Dadaab Refugee Camps and denies the opportunity for refugees to advocate for their own rights; who will then advocate for the rights of the thousands of the disadvantaged societies in Dadaab camps? It can only be concluded that the UN and other agencies do not wish to see a community who can manage their own affairs independently. It can only also be concluded that the agencies in Dadaab are more political agencies than they are humanitarian agencies, with many agencies undertaking similar tasks and doing little to actually assist refugees as they claim. Moreover, the reports shared by the agencies with the donors often provide false information and figures, including but not limited to false information about living conditions, security, service delivery, movement, education, development, health, water and sanitation, food, and services they allegedly provide but often either do in a sub-standard manner or never have even undertaken at all. While agency staff often argue that refugees have no right to complain because the services they receive are free, it must be noted that agency staff also receive free of charge much better services than the refugees receive, including in the areas of water, medical care, food, housing, electricity, etc. We request from the international community and other concerned parties to help us mange our own affairs and that affect us by giving us a chance to get the jobs we can do for own selves.


 In sum, we wish to reiterate that we hope that the international community will hear our cries and undertake efforts to end the exploitation and abuse we face by pressing for an end to restricted movement, a reform of exploitative labor policies, an improvement in service provision, a greater allowance for participation in decisions about service provision to the refugee communities and refugee staff members, and the end to the deception and abusive practices of the Kenyan government, UNHCR, and the other agencies operating in the camps of Dadaab toward the refugees and the international community. Furthermore, the International community and the concerned goverments should watchout carefully the actions of the govermentof kenya, UNHCR and the other Agenceis opertaing in the region decissively and should held account for any inhuman acts. Thanks and looking forward to your immediate durable solutions.

Kind Regards,

Refugee Silent Welfare Committees

From the Archives – Newcastle, Australia becomes a Welcome Town for Refugees

September 11, 2009


Way back in 2002 I was part of two groups which had a focus on human rights and refugee issues.

The more “operational” and lobbying aspect had expression in the group Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights (NARR). My more “cultural jamming” and “Situationist – Anarchist” aspect had its expression in HOPE Caravan. It was through HOPE Caravan that I was involved in the Easter Actions at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002 and Baxter Detention Centre in 2003. It was also as part of HOPE Caravan that the Flotillas of Hope found expression.

Hope Caravan logo we used on our now absent website.

Hope Caravan logo we used on our now absent website. The drawing was based on an original pencil drawing made by a prisoner at Woomera Detention Centre. He gave us permission to use it.

As part of NARR, I, along with others presented a proposal to Newcastle City Council to make Newcastle, Australia, an official Welcome Town for Refugees. Here’s the link to the whole proposal we presented at Newcastle City Council >> Welcome Town Presentation – thanks Jack for taking the time to make it available on your website.

Now that the dark years of the John Howard’s Decade is over in Australia, it is important that we are reminded that there were people in Australia (many, many of us) that were ashamed at the opportunistic tickling of the xenophobic underbelly of the Australian people that Howard’s genius did. People say that he was not a racist. Maybe he wasn’t in a way that Hitler was, but his myopic vision and policies that demonised innocent people who were seeking a new life were.

Anyway, I don’t want to go on about him here, suffice to say that there were Australians around during the Dark Howard Decade who stood against his crap.

My social conscience is clear and I’m proud to say that I was one of them.

NARR conducted a sympathy fast with the hunger strikers at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002. This is the tent we lived in at Civic Park, Newcastle. The head on the corner is a paper mache of Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister at the time.

NARR conducted a sympathy fast with the hunger strikers at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002. This is the tent we lived in at Civic Park, Newcastle. The head on the corner is a paper mache of Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister at the time.


Excerpt from an Interview with Basarab Nicolescu

July 26, 2009

I first came across Basarab Nicolescu in “In the Valley of Astonishment, an interview with Basarab Nicolescu” by Jean Biès, in Parabola, Vol.XXII, No.4, Winter 1997, New York. Parabola is one of those magazines / journals which have the power to connect one with ideas that go beyond the “daily times”.  Since then, I read an essay of his in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings, called “Gurdjieff’s Philosophy of Nature.”

I find him an incredibly interesting thinker who is both a scientist and (he may not like this word) “mystic”. In fact, I am now waiting on delivery of his book titled “Science, Meaning, & Evolution: The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme”. (I can’t believe that I just bought thtreasure040-3is book for 0.01 cents at Amazon, but the postage was $12.50…. still an amazing bargain!)  Jacob Boehme was a German Christian mystic who was considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition. He is also a true “theosophist” from the Greek “theosophia” – knowledge of things divine.

The following interview excerpts I have included in “Journeys and Star Gazing” because he touches on the “journey” from specificity…the specialised field of knowledge to the world of transdisciplinarity. I work as an educator in the field of Multicultural Education (see my article A Ganma Odyssey). Nicolescu’s answer to a question on Education below gives, to my eyes, a crucial insight into how to work in the incredibly complex field of teaching non literate African refugees the English language.

Anyway, I hope the teachers which I have emailed with this link find it useful.  I did.


An Excerpt from an Interview with Basarab Nicolescu

From Ad Astra – Young Romanian Scientists’ Journal 2002

Basarab Nicolescu

Basarab Nicolescu

Liviu Giosan: Dr. Nicolescu, your name cannot be easily dissociated from the concept of  “transdisciplinarity”.  Let us start by citing from the Moral Project of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research ( that you co-founded in 1987: “its principal task is the elaboration of a new language, a new logic, and new concepts to permit the emergence of a real dialogue between the specialists in the different domains of knowledge…”. What was the trajectory that led you from physics to transdisciplinarity? Did your background as a scientist educated in a repressive communist society play any role in imagining and developing this project?

Basarab Nicolescu: When I was a student, I followed the debates between the fathers of quantum mechanics: Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, Max Planck. It was then that I learned that in fact most metaphysical questions are not disconnected from scientific research. First I read their books and articles. After some years I discovered that their correspondence was much more down-to-earth than the published scientific works. It is there that one can follow the genesis of their ideas. Strikingly, there is an incredible link between the quantum world and our day-to-day, macrophysical world, although they might seem disconnected.

For a physicist, the quantum world is a real world; I work inside it and I know that we can test it, we can experiment with it. So my first big intuition, only a long time after I arrived at a certain formalization of it, was the idea of the discontinuity between general concepts in quantum mechanics, or I would say, by extension, in quantum physics, and classical physics. Discontinuity does not mean contradiction. It means simply that different laws are at work in each domain, in such a way that you cannot move in continuity, in
the mathematical sense of the word, from the laws of quantum mechanics to the laws of classical mechanics. Now, of course, this was at the heart of the physicists’ quest at the beginning of the last century. In a sense, it is quite astonishing that almost all great personalities in physics were cultured people and they always tried to incorporate information from physics into their philosophical beliefs. Early in my career, around 1975, I began to realize that science contributes new information to philosophy,
but perhaps there is no philosophy that can integrate all new scientific ideas. Only by using concepts from various philosophical systems could you describe science. In this, I am in accordance with Bohr, Pauli, and Heisenberg’s ideas, expressed clearly in the latter’s Manuscript of 1942, that the main assumption of modern metaphysics is not valid in quantum physics. It is applicable in classical physics however. I use the word “metaphysics” in its academic sense, meaning the complete separation between subject and object. In the quantum world, we cannot reduce our study to either the subject or the object because we are faced with an interaction between the two. This idea is shared by philosophers like Husserl, Heidegger, or Cassirer. It is this interaction that leads us to the question of regions or levels of reality that are united through the coherence of our world. It might be called unity, but I prefer to use the word “coherence”. The coherence laws are not of a mathematical nature, that is the point. They are not quantitative, but law-like in the symbolic sense. Science alone is unable to describe this relationship due to the scientific methodology. Exact science by itself is imitation, it deals with that which can be replicated. It concerns not individual events but collective ones, large number of individual events that can be described probabilistically.

Humanistic sciences on the other hand deal with individual events. Unfortunately, contemporary humanistic sciences try to mimic exact science, and here is where they fail. This does not necessarily mean that science has limitations in itself, but there is a limitation of methodology. And this is normal, because exact science describes a well-defined region of reality. This region is accessible through this type of
methodology, but others might not be. To believe that exact science can describe everything is equivalent to saying that what we think today was always thought in the same way!

Transdisciplinarity is imagined as a solution to these types of problems, because it is able to describe the relationship between fields, or levels, or disciplines, as a whole. We use the term “transdisciplinarity” as an attempt to provide a very general framework for discussing the relationship between these various discontinuous parts of our experience, and indeed of reality itself. The idea of levels of reality can be a pillar of this new type of knowledge, a starting point for any attempt at unifying different fields. The other
principles include a new, non-classical logic and the principle of complexity. These three principles can be expressed as follows: 1. There are in Nature, and in our knowledge of Nature, different levels of Reality, and, correspondingly, different levels of perception; 2. The passage from one level of Reality to another is insured by the logic of the included middle; 3. The structure of the totality of levels of Reality or perception is a complex structure: every level is what it is, because all the levels exist at the same time. These three principles correspond to Galileo’s postulates for the modern science approach: 1. There are universal laws of a mathematical character; 2. These laws could be discovered by scientific experiment; 3. Such experiments could be perfectly replicated.

Coming to the second part of your question, I could say that indeed being educated in a repressive society influenced the development of my ideas. Repression generates a desire for transgression. And in fact, transdisciplinarity is a kind of generalized transgression. More generally, it is obvious for me that all great Romanian creators such as Brancusi, Eliade, Lupasco, Cioran, Tzara, Gherasim Luca, Andrei Serban went beyond boundaries between domains of knowledge and between cultures. Psychoanalyzing the Romanian
soul is not the scope of our discussion, but I wonder if the cruelty of History did not push Romanians to “invent” a genius of transgression for settling the scores.

Razvan Florian: Is the concept of “transdisciplinarity” applicable in education? What would be itsbenefits over more “classical” teaching and learning methods? Could this concept be of use in the day-today scientific research as well?

Basarab Nicolescu: I studied this problem for a long time (see my “Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity”which will be published by SUNY Press in February 2002), and in spite of the vast diversity of the education systems from one country to another, the globalization of challenges in our times require global solutions for education problems. Periodic upheavals in education in various countries are symptoms of the same flaw: a disharmony that exists between values and realities of a planetary life in a process of change.

The UNESCO report of the “Commission internationale sur l’éducation pour le vingt et unième siècle”, chaired by Jacques Delors, underlined four principles that we could use to build a new kind of education upon: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together with, and learning to be. In this context, a transdisciplinary approach could make important contributions to reforms in the educational system.
First of all, “learning to know” involves training people to distinguish the real from the illusory. This simple ability, if learned properly, will provide the student with intelligent access to the fabulous knowledge of our age. The scientific spirit, one of the most important characteristic of the human spirit, is indispensable in this venture. It is not the assimilation of an enormous mass of scientific knowledge which gives access to the scientific spirit, but the quality of the scientific information acquired by the student that
leads him or her into the very heart of the scientific approach: a permanent questioning in relation to facts, images, representations, and formalizations. “Learning to know” also includes learning the skill to build bridges – between different disciplines, between various meanings, and between all these and our inner abilities. A transdisciplinary approach is an indispensable complement to the disciplinary approach, because it leads to the emergence of continually connected human beings, that are able to adapt to changing demands of professional life, and who are endowed with flexibility in renewing their interior potential.

“Learning to do” certainly implies acquiring a profession, process which includes a phase of specialization. However, in our tumultuous world, where recent changes induced by the computer revolution are but the portent of large scale social changes to come, strict specialization can be dangerous. It could lead to unemployment, exclusion, or even to a debilitating alienation. If one truly wants to reconcile the demands of competition with the concern for equal opportunity, every profession should be woven into the whole of
human occupations. Of course, this is not simply a question of learning different skills at the same time. A flexible, knowledge core that could quickly facilitate reorientation to another occupation should be accepted as a teaching philosophy. In this context, the transdisciplinary approach is invaluable. In nuce, “learning to do” is an apprenticeship in creativity. The emergence of authentically transdisciplinary individuals requires a favorable environment for a maximal realization of their creative potentialities. The
social hierarchy, so frequently arbitrary and artificial, should be replaced by cooperation at new structural levels, for the advantage of personal creativity.

“To live together with” does not mean simply tolerating differences of opinion, skin color, and beliefs; submission to the exigencies of power; negotiating between the in’s and out’s of innumerable conflicts; definitively separating interior from exterior life. A transdisciplinary attitude can be learned, to the extent that each being possesses an innate, sacred, intangible core of transcultural, transreligious, transpolitical and transnational values. Yet, if this innate attitude is only potential, it can forever remain hidden, absent in act. To insure that community norms are respected, they must be validated by the interior experience of each being. In the end, the transdisciplinary attitude allows us to better understand our own culture, to better defend our national interests, to better respect our own religious or political convictions. As in all
relationships between Nature and Knowledge, open unity and complex plurality are not antagonistic.

At first, “learning to be” seems an insoluble enigma. We exist, but how can we learn to be? Understanding this principle involves discovering our conditioning, the harmony or disharmony between our individual and social lives, and testing the foundations of our convictions. In short, it means to always question everything. In this quest, the scientific spirit is again a precious guide. “Learning to be” presumes a permanent two-way communication where the teacher enlightens the student as much as the student
informs the teacher. Any training period inevitably passes through a transpersonal dimension and any disregard for this dimension goes a long way toward explaining the fundamental tension between the material and the spiritual realms, that is felt by our contemporaries.

There is one very obvious interrelation between the four principles of the new system of education: how to learn to do, while learning to know, and how to learn to be while learning to live together with? In the transdisciplinary view, there is a transrelation which connects the four principles. Any viable system of education should aim for an integral education that will activate all human potential and not just some of its components. At present, education favors the intellect relative to the body and sensibility. This was certainly fruitful in the past, leading to an upsurge in knowledge, but it cannot continue without sweeping us away in the mad logic of efficiency for efficiency’s sake that could lead to self-destruction.

Experiments performed by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman with children from disadvantaged neighborhoods of Chicago demonstrate this point: knowledge is assimilated faster and better when intellect, body, and feelings are all simultaneously addressed. This is a prototype of the new education that our modern society could use to reconcile effectiveness and affectivity. It is quite obvious
that specific differences among knowledge fields and experiences call for a diversity of transdisciplinary methods. And because transdisciplinary education is a long-term, global process, it is important to establish institutions that will help initiate this process and insure its development. On the other hand, universal sharing of knowledge cannot be functional without the emergence of a new type of tolerance founded on a transdisciplinary attitude that implies an active use of the transcultural, transreligious,
transpolitic, and transnational vision. Of course, if only to perform our everyday science, we do not need transdisciplinarity. On the other hand, transdisciplinarity, even if not identified as such, has always been an essential condition for great discoveries, for unified theories.

From the Archives >> Good Friday @ Woomera, 2002

February 6, 2009

This comes from an email newsletter I published between 2001 and 2004 called Imaginepeace Update. The newsletter was born due to the frustration and anger I felt towards the conservative Howard Government of Australia which was demonising asylum seekers and refugees. The climax came for me when John Howard, the Prime Minister, told the Australian people that the asylum seekers were throwing children overboard and the whole shameful  Tampa boat  incident. Just click on the links to get the historical picture.


 Just after I started sending out the Imaginepeace Updates I heard from a friend that some people were organising to go to Woomera to support those behind the razor wire. I then organised a group of people in the Hunter region of NSW to go at Easter, 2002.



This was a social experiment as well because it was one of the first Actions in the world which was organised by using the Internet.

 The Woomera Action to support the innocent refugees caged behind the razor wire in the desert was one of the world’s first social action protest to use the incredible organising facility of the Internet. Way back in 2002 when we were preparing the desert action the authorities did not think it was possible to organise a national protest action in the inhospitable Australian desert. The concept of a flat, non hierarchical matrix with networks which had no “leader”, no Central Control Commission (CCC) was a foreign concept to them. Ideas like  “clusters” and “affinity groups” born in action by anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, yes the one that George Orwell went to fight in, were also foreign and did not compute in their strategic mindset. These early 20th Century ideas translated into the 21st Century Internet have proved incredibly powerful in the struggle by grass roots groups against authoritarianism.

The government thought the whole idea was crazy and doomed to failure. It is because they didn’t know the possibilities of organising using this new technology that the Woomera Action was so successful. Successful? Apart from the breakout of the refugees, the Woomera Detention Camp was closed down soon after the Action.

I believe that because the Festival of Freedoms was organised by the net, we took the authorities by surprise and this is why they weren’t prepared for us. The government did not think it was possible to organise a protest action out in the inhospitable desert. It had not factored in the logistical and organising matrix of the world wide web. Indeed, the concept of affinity groups and decentralised organic action with no centralised leaders also derailed their expectations. Another term for the organising principle we used is Segmented Polycentric Integrated Networks (SPINs). It was this experience which made the Flotillas of Hope Action to Nauru possible.


The Woomera2002 "logo". The circles represent affinity groups, joined to the Spokes Council.

The Woomera2002 “logo”. The circles represent affinity groups, joined to the Spokes Council.

I remember talking with journalists, who just didn’t get it. They kept saying, “Take us to your Leader”. They didn’t comprehend a leaderless organising principle using a non – hierarchical web to facilitate Action. I kept humming to myself the song by Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man” with its chorus “Something is going on and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?” whenever a journalist would try to work out who was the leader. We obviously had the “Megaphones” who were trying to take away the anarchic spirit manifesting in the moment and to channel it into a “Socialist” box, but the Action and the Freedom energy was too big for the “Megaphones” to control.

The events at Woomera Concentration Camp, Easter, 2002 where refugees escaped and we looked after the escapees in our tents meant that those present had to look deep into their conscience and act from their hearts. The Howard government threatened to put us all in gaol for 25 years and labelled us “terrorists”. Woomera was closed down soon after the Woomera Festival of Freedoms Action. I am proud of being there.

 Anyway, go back in time and read an email I wrote in 2002.



Hard copy flyer for the Festival of Freedoms. Very few of these were made because the Action was web based.

Hard copy flyer for the Festival of Freedoms. Very few of these were made because the Action was web based. Flyer displayed in sections here and below.



This is the original Woomera 2002 "logo" for the website which helped create the Festival of Freedoms Action. The Flotillas of Hope, 2004 can be seen as a child of Woomera 2002.

This is the original Woomera 2002 “logo” for the website which helped create the Festival of Freedoms Action. The Flotillas of Hope, 2004 can be seen as a child of Woomera 2002.


Good Friday at Woomera, 2002

Only now do I feel that I can write my account of what happened on Good Friday at Woomera. The last couple of weeks I’ve been in another mental and emotional state. It is only now that I can see it was due to the life transforming events at the razor wire of the Woomera Concentration Camp.

I and ten others from Newcastle and Sydney travelled together on the HOPE Caravan. The HOPE Caravaners – Jane, Ruth, Norman, Sabrina, Dave, Ross, Melanie, Margaret, Paul, Elizabeth and myself  set off from Newcastle to go to Woomera at Easter. Woomera is a desert town in South Australia about 500 kms north west from Adelaide. It is a town in a huge, what the Times Atlas calls, Military Prohibited Area which covers about 200,000 square kilometers. Woomera is also near Maralinga, the only place in Australia which has had a nuclear bomb drop on it, wounding our country and releasing radiation which has killed many Aboriginal people and others.

Free the refugees!

Free the refugees!

Woomera is the place where Australia houses one of six concentration camps for innocent asylum seekers. Woomera,Curtin and Port Hedland because of their isolation can also be seen as gulags. So, the smiling hospitable face of Australia, with its beautiful fireworks and eternity on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Olympic Games, 2000 now in 2002, has razor wire braces with tear gas and capsicum spray replacing the fireworks. Eternity is now a leaking boat carrying desperate people seeking asylum…which we, as a country deter and deny. The open harbour is now a gulag in some inhospitable desert. Is this Australia? Which face is ours? Was the smiling, welcoming face shown to over 2 billion people across the globe during the Olympics just a public relations act? Whatever it was, our Prime Minister ensured that his smiling face would like wall paper blend into the Big Olympic Welcome Smile. In two years the self image of Australia and the image seen across the globe have undergone a transformation, like watching a movie – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Dorian Gray and Time, where the prince is now a toad – transformation in reverse.



A local Broken Hill newspaper article about us “spreading the word” as to why we were going to Woomera. The night at the pub was an amzing experience of open discussion and almost fist fighting then concluding with hugs. Talking beats fighting ALWAYS!

Funny thing happened along the way with our name. Hunter Organisation for Peace and Equity took on  new skin and became Hunter Organism for Peace and Equity. The transformation from an organisation to an organism became complete when we arrived at Woomera on Good Friday. There we saw and felt what it was like to be part of a living Organism. An organisation is too structured, it smells of committees and hierarchy, in fact, in the context of HOPE it can be nuanced as  corporate. 
The cry of FREEDOM from the detainees at Woomera Concentration Camp, resonated with our empathic and sympathetic cry of FREEDOM on the other side of the razor wire. We cried with them as they cried with us – real tears, wet ones.  The detainees freed themselves – we have footage to show this and will be available on the new hopecaravan website. We freed ourselves by our presence, actions and awareness. Whether it was a balls up by ACM and the State to allow the detainees to escape or whether it was a miracle, the fact is detainees now know that there are people, Australians, that care and don’t want innocent asylum seekers caged like animals. 

Sign on our bus, on the way to Woomera.

Sign on our bus, on the way to Woomera.

The living reality of travelling together for days to participate in a festival of freedoms precluded an “organisation” but allowed the living practice of inclusion and a trust that whatever a member did or said as part of HOPE Caravan was speaking and acting on all of our behalfs. One for all and all for one!  HOPE has many tongues, arms, legs, hearts and minds. I saw that we, ordinary people, together with a common intent can achieve wonders without hierarchy, without leaders. Working from a matrix of networks whose diversity reflects the diversity within each affinity group  achieved more than we dreamed was possible.

Broken Hill supporters made kites to fly when we passed through their town.

Broken Hill supporters made kites to fly when we passed through their town.

The combined presence by all woomera2002 activists gave hope to those without papers behind the razor wire.    



The first razor wire fence to fall on the way to supporting the refugees.

The first razor wire fence to fall on the way to supporting the refugees.

Two members of HOPE Caravan,  are maintaining a presence at Woomera having established the Woomera Refugee Embassy. By their presence the detainees have some hope and a clearing house for their voices. Other members of HOPE will be visiting the Refugee Embassy at Woomera. If you are interested in visiting and supporting HOPE’s efforts in Woomera become a member of the hopecaravan email group  and visit

A hand painted message by local Newcastle people to the refugees.

A hand painted message by local Newcastle people to the refugees.

Perhaps Woomera2002 at Easter will only be a short footnote in some Australian history text book in the years to come. Perhaps it won’t be recorded at all in any official version of history. As we all know, footnotes don’t tell the whole story. And, “History” as catalogued in the State’s book shelf has great need of revision to include  herstory and ourstory to reflect the diversity of time bodies and experiences of all Australians….better still as Earthlings. One Earth under One Sky.



imaginepeace update April 2, 2002

 hi everyone,

 some desert dust must have gone into my laptop so the shift key don’t work. spoke to dave last night just after returning to morpeth. He told me everything he said on the email. so, yes dave and ross obviously have all
our support. we must now consider ongoing support for both re money etc.
julian burnside qc will be defending the arrested ones in may along with dave…this is great news.

 yesterday i had an interview with sbs world news and this morning i’m waiting on a call from darwin abc. sbs was particularly interested in the stories about the viloent protest. i made it very clear that the whole event
was peaceful and that none of us expected the detainees to escape. they wanted info on our weapons….weapons indeed…all we had were our sympathetic hearts, open arms to receive the freed ones. the only rock thrown was one by our fellow hope memebr, paul, who wrapped a 50 dollar note around it and a detainee caught it like a good cricketer.



i just finished the interview with darwin abc and the reporter said that it will more than likely be broadcast nationally on abc radio, probably lunch time today. all journos are interested in the so called violence and planned
actions to free the detainees. i have made it clear to everyone who has spoken with me that there were no weapons, that we did not plan to liberate the detainees ..that we were thrilled with the outcome, that the freed
detainees came to the woomera2002 camp where we gave support and hid them from the authorities, that as far as i knew thru telephone contact that the detainees freed  had in some way been spirited away from woomera were safe and being looked after by fellow protesters, that i don’t know where they are, that yes, we realise that to support escaped detainees carries a jail sentence, that as far as i am concerned the detainees should be free because they are innocent asylum seekers who should never be incarcerated in a concentration camp, that the concentration camps are illegal from a global human rights perspective, that as far as i know, no escapees went wandering into the desert.

we have now entered the propaganda war phase. i told both sbs and abc that the whole thing could have been a set up to allow us to enter the area, to pull down the first fence with no resistance from police, that sand bags
were left on the ground which we used to keep the razor wire covered so that our brothers and sisters could walk on the fallen fence without any fear of being cut. when the detainees wriggled and squeezed through the iron bars of the cage, no police tried to stop tyhem. i believe that the authorities who knew about the woomera2002 event beforehand moved a whole bunch of 
detainees before we arrived and had kept only 300 there, the detainees that could not be processed, “the ones who more than likely were criminals etc”, funny about that because there many children still in detention…criminal kids! So, I think that the authorities made it easy for us and the detainees whoescaped so that they could then orchestrate stories using one off pictures to “prove” their point that we are a bunch of “soccer hooligans”. In other words, the demonisation of asylum seekers is now being perpetrated on australian citizens, peaceful protesters. But, they will not get away with this…we have our own footage, we have our own voices, we have our own support and we are articulate – we speak english and we have our own
alternative media thru the internet.

The propaganda wars have begun. Truth will prevail! thanks to all of you who have shown support  in every conceivable way.  We now have to write letters to newspapers, write articles, talk with the media. I will work on the HOPE Website today and see if i can upload images etc . i have hundreds and Paul has great video footage which I will pick up on saturday which I will transform into didgital images to be uploaded.

See you all soon.
peace, love and joy
steve g AKA stavros




“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis” – Dante









This picture as adapted from an original pencil drawing done by an inmate of Woomera. He gave us permission to use this image on our Hope Caravan Group Homepage.

This picture was adapted from an original pencil drawing done by an inmate of Woomera. He gave us permission to use this image on our Hope Caravan Group Homepage.

We brought along a giant kite which flew the FREEDOM banner in the sky! Refugees who escaped told us in our tent that they could see it flying high in the sky above their razor wired prison.

We brought along a giant kite which flew the FREEDOM banner in the sky! Refugees who escaped told us in our tent that they could see it flying high in the sky above their razor wired prison.

At the camp.

The Guards in their Darth Vader get ups during the Blockade. No journalist was allowed in and no one was allowed out.

We met, as affinity groups, to discuss and strategise during the Spokescouncils. Democracy - in - Action!

We met, as affinity groups, to discuss and strategise during the Spokescouncils. Democracy – in – Action!

We had to bring our own water because we were in the desert. This is our water tank draped over by HOPE Caravan's FREEDOM Banner.

We had to bring our own water because we were in the desert.                   The  water  tank was organised by Melbourne groups and is here draped over by HOPE Caravan’s FREEDOM Banner.

Flyer distributed by No One Is Illegal group in Melbourne.

Flyer distributed by No One Is Illegal group in Melbourne.


Woomera – Saturday Night is the loneliest night

There is a buzz around the camp after a successfull 48 hours of direct
action. People believe that we are now able to permantly close down
the concentration camp. 2000 people at Easter, 10,000 at Christmas.
Live gigs have started and the party is begining to rock.

A protester’s account of being arrested for being ‘suspected of being
a detainee’

not easy being brown. But it can be a lot of fun. Late last night
we found
our campsite completely surrounded by cops and APS officers
waiting to nab
the friends that we had rescued from Woomera. I thought
it would be both
amusing and a good waste of their time and resources
if they did catch a
detainee — if that `detainee’ was me.

So I headed for the police
roadblock where I was surrounded by seven
or eight cops who grabbed me
sneering “You’re one of those escaped
detainees, aren’tcha?”

denied this (in a very bad, stereotypically Middle-Eastern accent),
and then
started yelling that I wanted a lawyer, that I was a citizen,
I had rights,
etc. etc. These morons actually fell for what was
becoming the most pathetic
impersonation of a detainee ever performed
and decided to search me, removing
lethal weapons such as tic tacs,
extra shoelaces and my

I was freaking out that such a ridiculous plan was
actually working,
so I dropped my silly accent and told the cops that I was
in fact an
Australian citizen with identification back at camp. Not good
enough –
this little darkie got arrested. They forced me into the back of
van, locked me in and drove me to the station.

When I was
removed from the van I was photographed and then had all my
stuff — beanie,
shoes, necklaces — confiscated. A religious necklace
that I couldn’t remove
was cut from my neck. I colourfully told the
cops how badly they had screwed
up their arrest and about my rights,
to which one of them responded that I
was suspected of being a
detainee AND HAD NO RIGHTS. Well, that’s just
fucking dandy, isn’t it?
If you happen to be brown and near a detention
centre, some pigs in a
van can rock up and do whatever they like to you
because you happen to
be the right colour. Never mind that I was a
Bangladeshi immigrant
speaking fluent English — I could just as easily have
been one of
those damn Afghani terrorists who escaped and are a threat to
at large.

So I was handcuffed and put in a cell with 12
detainees who told me
about how they had been beaten when they were captured.
Among them was
a 12 year-old boy who we had seen bashed earlier as well as a
year-old and a man who had been savaged by APS pigs.

All the
detainees had scars and bruising either from beatings or
suicide attempts.
They told me about how they would rather fight to
stay in the jail cell — a
bare concrete floor with an open ceiling —
than be taken back to Woomera.
The men told me about the `jobs’ they
have (toilet cleaning, dishwashing and
maintenance) which pay around a
dollar an hour. The money they earn goes
towards buying things like
shoes and thongs from a `shop’ in the

Finally, an APS official called `Mr Dan’ came in. I can’t think
anything about Woomera that made it seem like a concentration camp
than watching a group of men call out serial numbers instead of
their own

When the police realised their mistake, I was driven back to
camp. I
don’t know what will happen to my friends who were in the cell
me. But being arrested for being brown reflects what is driving
entire refugee debate: ignorance. People too culturally ignorant
tell one kind of person from another, people too stupid to
diversity and people too stubborn to accept others. It scares me
we live in a country where you can be arrested for the colour of
skin. But it scares me more that you can be locked away
for it while a nation turns its back on you.


Spectacle – there’s neither violence or
non-violence out here — it’s pure

all the talk and text, and among all the hype and hyperbole
surrounding the
actions of the last two days, the poles of “violent”
and “non-violent” have,
as is typical, been the ends we are supposed
to have swung between. But I beg
to differ.

Pure SPECTACLE has been the master of our desert

We all came here spurred by the image of spectacle, and
from the
moment we arrived we assumed lead roles in its temporary

It was neither violence or non-violence that saw us march
across the
dusty span between us and them. Nor did the circus music we
to, or the pink PVC clad activo-expressionists have anything to
with violence or non-violence — it was pure spectacle.

It was
the spectacle of the absurd — absurd tactics countering absurd
politics and
policy. We were all moving pictures, media sluts once
removed. The whole
action was captured on film at every angle —
spectacular fodder for the
spectacle machine. I saw a guy asked to
start drumming again — by a channel
7 cameraman! — of course he

So if we think of the
intensity and degree of spectacle involved here
I think it’s clear that we’re
not trapped in the dichotomy of violence
or non-violence, but willing actors
in the spectacle of the desert —
and, may I say, it’s working.

at Woomera Jail

A small, peaceful
support group spent today in front of Woomera police
station, offering our
support (and bail sureties) to the people inside
as best we could. Protestors
from inside and outside the detention
centre fences were held there, and
could often be heard singing
between negotiations with the police. The police
were friendly,
letting us pass in cigarettes, food and legal contact numbers
treating those inside the jail with respect as negotiations
bail conditions went on.

In the afternoon, our crew walked
closer to the fence and yelled
‘We’re still here’ to make sure they knew they
had support. We
realised we could see some of the people inside if we angled
our heads
around a few tarps, and waved and exchanged hellos with the
inside. After a few minutes an officer politely asked us to move
and we did, happy to have seen our friends and comrades smiling
at us.

The town was quiet, but a few locals walked by, some
offering words of
support. One offered to get us some fresh water from his
house if we
needed it, and joked that the locals understood it had all been
accident and that the wind had knocked down the fence. His
offered elaborate advice on how we could fold newspapers to
that wind power at future protests. It was very encouraging to
reminded that some people in town are supportive of our presence
our actions. We are proud of the fact that we’ve maintained
nonviolent presence outside the prison all day, and we hope for
speedy release of all the incarcerated.

to a post: “Summing up the

What has
happened at Woomera is a huge morale boost for the refugees,
who now know
that there ARE many Australians who care about them. The
secrecy around
detention of refugees has finally been broken down in
the last few months,
and the refugees have finally been given a human
face and voice and more
truth is coming out.

Ruddock/Howard and co. will have a lot of
brainstorming to do for
their public image.

If anything…
consider this. The detainees have consistently been
told that no-one in
australia cares about them, even been told they
are there for their own
protection from an australia that hates
them…  their plight. Well now they
at least can sleep at night with
hope. Hope knowing that they aren’t alone.
Aren’t totally isolated.
That there ARE people on the outside who care …
and maybe just maybe
those of us on the outside can see what a group of
determined people
can achieve. Shut em all down!!! Lets finish the job at
Woomera and
move on to the next one.

red-dust dawn

It was strange spending a
night in a camp surrounded on all sides by a
police line. Even at midnight,
when the shifts changed and there were
very few cops on the ground, it was an
eerie feeling. It must have
been worse for the detainees that were with us,
surrounded by
unfamiliar faces, by a line of cops that wanted to put them
back in a
cage, and finally by the desert. But this is not some
activist grief session — they knew that any chance was better
than no
chance. And we had worked together to make the escapes
(spontaneous as it was). They told us during the night of the
and the suffering inside the camp. They told us of the endless wait

24 months, 26 months,… – just to know whether they could stay
Australia on a temporary visa or whether they would be deported back
face persecution, imprisonment or death.

All wanted to get out of the
camp and to Adelaide or some major city.
Some struck out on their own, others
went with drivers from the camp
to see how far they could get. We knew of the
road block down at Pt
Augusta, but some figured that there would be back ways
around the
town. The police say they have over 20 in custody, and 17 people
were helping them, but we also know that the detainees within the
have been protesting all night so they couldn’t do a head
Inside and out, we were doing what we could.

Dawn was
quiet. The police sweep we expected didn’t happen. The police
presence around
the camp was light. The rumored truckloads of federal
police didn’t appear.
And we had all heard the talk of a fall out
between the SA police and the
APS. But the morning turned into
afternoon, set-up continued, and (yet more)
meetings happened. The
direct action planned for the afternoon turned into a
peaceful ‘colour
and movement’ march through the prohibited area check point.
And we
are taking it slowly through the rest of the weekend, trying to
clear and focused on why we are here.

Personal Account

I don’t know were to start
except that I am still left with this
strong feeling of responsibility out of
my depth. Having people in my
care, having no idea how to deal with

I never expected this to happen. Suddenly we have these people
way out, and what seems like a hopeless situation, theres only so
you can disguise someone, we’re trapped in the desert, everywhere
run, but no were to go.

We were so tired, the campsite
surrounded by riot police, road blocks.

All you want to do with this
big secret is divulge, tell everyone and
share the burden, but you can’t.
There were people more involved than
me, people willing to drive

One of my friends was arrested with detainees, – today he’s on
apparently there is some tension between the south australian
who want to press charges, and the Federals who want to press
It’s a serious offence, aiding and abetting, my friend faces 4
in jail. It seems so unfair.

What would you do, if a refuge
arrived on your doorstep? Suddenly we
had people in our tents, and amongst
the crowd. People with bruises
and scars, with pleading eyes, and their own
long stories. There is no
choice, like the guys who helped the Jews in
Germany said, – it was
not a question of whether to help but

This guy was from Afghanistan; he has a sister my age and 3
he is hardly older than me, and hasn’t seen or heard from his
for a year and a half. He’s been in Woomera for a year. We wanted
to decide what he wanted to do.

His quiet unreadable face is
suddenly tense, `Please, I don’t want to
go back, I can’t go back inside.’ I
asked what it is like – `it is
like prison, we are not allowed to sleep at
night, all we do is walk
around [the room,] there is nothing to do, no work
to fill up the
time, all we do is eat and sleep, eat and

He was there, sitting, expecting me to help, to know what to
do, I
have no idea, I try to be honest that his chances aren’t good, to
out what all the best options are, I want to go to bed and pretend
will all go away.

It seemed that for him this was just more of
the same, the hiding,
fleeing, the persecution and the fear…. I asked if he
had to fight
in Afghanistan, he said no, asked if I knew there had been 24
years of
fighting in Afghanistan, that the Taliban were persecuting people.
said that there were many people who did not want to fight, but
they had ways of taking people and making them fight.

morning he is gone, It is not clear that he’s been caught I don’t
know what
happened, perhaps he might get away.

No one expected this to happen,
I don’t have very much in the way of
analysis right now, all I have is a very
strong sense of the real and
human side of what is happening. But that there
are some people
amongst my friends and the people here who were much braver
selfless than I was, that there is a lot of suffering in the
and when it landed on my doorstep, I didn’t know how to deal with

And someone posted this
comment in response:

we all share the same anguish – the story of
those who were asked to
help the refugees escape is a mirror to the question
each australian
must ask themselves shall i allow others to suffer when i can
it. all the protesters did a great job fought for something a lot
australians strongly believe in ‘free the refugees’


have made the world hell with racism, colours, religionism,
ethnics and so
on. Businesses and wrong diplomacy. ACM is bad,
Australian Government is bad,
Australian people are good. Detention
centre still continues day by day. You
will see what is going on.”

This statement was given to my friend
from the refugees on a piece of
paper. They have told my friend who was
locked up in the same cell
today that “ACM are evil” and that they called
them “the Mafia”. They
all said that they are beaten every day and never get
let outside.
They also said that they are not fed properly. They say that if
escape 3 times they get deported, and they said that some of them
commit suicide before they get deported.

My friend talked to
the police and saw the police books and said that
47 refugees escaped the
compound of which 37 have been arrested. 10
refugees are still unaccounted
for. 9 protesters have been charged
with harbouring.

In jail my
friends said the refugees danced and sang for them. In
return my friend
rapped a rhyme about refugees to them which they all
danced to.
They thank
us for all our support.

by Mick Lumsden & Sarah Nicholson
8:22pm Sat Mar 30

The Woomera
Legal support group expresses its concern over the
statements and actions of
the Australian Protective Services and the
South Australian Police over the
last two days.

The legal support group is supporting the 16
protestors that have been
charged with Harbouring Escapees under the Criminal
Law Consolidation

The Woomera Legal support group understands
that the only violence
perpetrated has been initiated by the police. The
police have a lawful
right to use reasonable force to arrest people, but they
have to
accept the moral responsibility for violence they initiate —
cannot shift that blame onto non-violent protestors. Again we
witnessing breaches of the fundamental right to protest.

strongly dispute the police’s assertion that the behaviour of the
has caused injury to the Asylum Seekers and to themselves.
Reports of what is
occurring inside the detention centre describe
gross injustices. The
detainees themselves have stated that there are
reprisal beatings for those
taken back to the detention centre after
escape. Not only is their detention
a breach of international refugee
and human rights law, but the conditions in
which they are being
detained are inhumane.

We are extremely
concerned about the lack of legal and other support
for the detainees,
particularly those in police custody. The Woomera
Lawyers have already been
refused access to those inside the detention
centre over the long weekend.
The detainees being held by the South
Australian Police have none of the
usual rights accorded to Australian
citizens on arrest.

The Legal
Support Group believes that the actions of the nonviolent
protestors during
this demonstration at Woomera contribute to
destroying the veil of secrecy
and silence that surrounds the
detention centre by publicising and making
transparent the conditions
inside the centre.

We believe the
existence of the detention centre is a disruption to
the peace and security
of the community of Woomera and the rest of
Australia and until it is closed
this situation will continue.

Mick Lumsden: 0409 626

%d bloggers like this: