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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Government failing 'silent asylum seekers'

By Meredith Griffiths for AM Posted Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:05pm AEST The Australian Immigration Department has been criticised for failing to adequately protect people facing human rights abuses in their home countries. A young Kenyan woman who came to Australia for World Youth Day wants to stay because she claims she will be circumcised if she returns to Kenya. She has been told she does not qualify for refugee status, but the Catholic Church has taken up her cause. When Teresia Ndikaru Muturi arrived in Australia for World Youth Day last year, she knew she never wanted to go back to Kenya. "Because I'm fearing my own mum for how she's forcing me to marry [an] old man, to leave school and yet I don't want to leave my school. Also I'm fearing to be circumcised," she said. Her mother is a member of the outlawed Mungiki sect which practices female genital mutilation. Ms Muturi says the sect believes you can only become a full woman and get married once you are circumcised. Five years ago when Ms Muturi was 16, her mother suddenly told her that she had arranged for her marriage to an older man, and that she had already received a payment of cash, cows and goats. "He brought cows and goats for my mum, so no way I could escape from it, I have to get married," she said. Ms Muturi ran away and lived with her step-sister until her uncle, who is a priest, arranged for her to come to Australia. Knocked back Her application for asylum has been rejected and she was also unsuccessful at the Refugee Review Tribunal. In January she was put in touch with Franciscan nun, Sister Aileen Crowe, who applied to the Minister Chris Evans to intervene. That too was knocked back. Sister Crowe says Ms Muturi falls into a certain group she dubs the silent asylum seekers. "There is nothing for them. Australian law up until now does not recognise them at all. The only way they can be recognised is if they go to the Minister," she said. Sister Crowe has now made a second application to the Minister, adding new information about Ms Muturi's psychological state But earlier this week, Immigration Department staff told her she had to buy a plane ticket to leave the country next month. A spokesman for Chris evans says Ms Muturi will not be forced to leave the country until the new information has been thoroughly assessed. Sister Crowe says it is a hit and miss approach. "Four girls in this house once got permanent protection and the other three haven't and they're all from Kenya," she said. "Four Ugandan girls suffered the same possibilities, all got protection on the first go. It's just a lottery, but people's lives are at stake in this lottery." Sister Crowe says Chris Evans is not receiving all the information he needs to decide on cases. The Government has introduced legislation to Parliament to establish complementary protection visas for people who are not covered by the Refugee Convention. Sister Crowe is calling on the Minister not to send anyone away until that legislation has completed its passage through Parliament.