A deeply disturbing scandal has emerged in Australia’s immigration detention centres where Christians and other non-Muslim asylum seekers have been “stoned, assaulted, sexually harassed and abused by Islamic fanatics”.
Reza, an Iranian Christian, was blinded in one eye last August when a group of Afghan Muslim men stoned Christians leaving the dining hall in Woomera detention centre. In another incident a Christian man was kicked to the floor and his cross was ripped from his neck. In December 2001 an eighteen-year-old Mandean girl (a small religious group which follows the teachings of John the Baptist) was shouted at by Muslim men in a dining hall who called her a “dirty, filthy infidel” who shouldn’t be allowed to serve food to Muslims. When she attempted to argue back she was “pushed to the ground and kicked and abused.” In a similarly shocking incident a blind Mandean man was seized by Muslim men, held down and defecated on before being left in a locked toilet. In other incidents non-Muslim girls have faced sexual harassment and verbal abuse because they do not wear Islamic headscarves, the doorways of Mandean asylum seekers have been defecated in, and a local Islamic mullah has even called for a jihad (holy war) against Mandeans at the Port Hedland detention centre.
Non-Muslim men, women, and even children, many of whom fled Muslim-majority countries like Iran in the first place because they were being persecuted for their faith, are now facing widespread abuse of a horrific nature from Muslim conservatives in Australia’s detention centres. The majority of asylum seekers in Australia are Muslims. Witnesses say that extremist Shiah Muslims, particularly Iranians, Afghans and Iraqis, are often those behind the violence. The BBC quotes Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s Refugee Co-ordinator, as saying “The reports we’re hearing say that Mandeans, Tamils and other Hindus, Christians – in particular Christian converts – are facing violence or threats of violence from certain Islamists within the detention centres. They are being called infidels. They are being refused access to kitchens and things like that because people think they are unclean as infidels. This has escalated at times when there is a serious breakdown of order within the detention centre when there are riots and things like that and these groups, who often refuse to participate in riots, are physically assaulted.”
Chaplains, pastoral workers and staff at the Woomera, Curtin and Port Hedland detention centres in Australia have spoken up about an atmosphere of Islamic intimidation and terror in which the authorities seem powerless to protect the non-Muslims. Whilst Muslim asylum seekers have access to halal meat and mosques, many non-Muslims’ religious and dietary needs are not being met. In Woomera Mandeans are now even allegedly forced to hold their religious meetings in secret, and in Curtin no Mandean services are being held at all because the authorities simply cannot guarantee the protection of the participants, and even Christian services, including baptisms, have been severely restricted. The widespread suffering and “constant discrimination” is leading to deep emotional distress and psychological trauma. Jim Monaghan, a Christian chaplain at Woomera, says that “at present the families there are very vulnerable. There have been attempted suicides and other forms of self-harm ... they are desperate.”
These shocking reports, which have been publicised by Australia’s The Age newspaper, the BBC, and Amnesty International, have raised a new factor in the debate surrounding Australia’s immigration policy, which is often criticised as being harsh.
The reports also raise disturbing questions about the state of asylum centres in Europe, America and other countries in the developed world. Could Christians and other non-Muslim asylum-seekers be suffering similar discrimination in other contexts where Muslims also make up the majority of asylum-seekers?