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Refugees’ identical tales suspicious

The Australian, Australia
Nov. 24, 2003
Trudy Harris
www.theaustralian.news.com.au

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday November 24, 2003

Cases of persecution almost identical in their detail have been presented to the Refugee Review Tribunal, raising concerns a migration agent is using the same story for multiple clients.

The tribunal expressed concern when two identical cases were presented on the same day of a Falun Gong practitioner seeking refugee status after fleeing China to Australia.

Falun Gong is a meditation and religious organisation banned in China. Its practitioners claim persecution by Chinese authorities including imprisonment and torture, forcing many to flee overseas.

Falun Gong spokesman Michael Pearson-Smith said he was aware people were posing as practitioners to immigration officials in an attempt to gain refugee status.

He said he was suspicious of strangers who turned up to videotape public meditation sessions or buy a book to learn their exercises.

“Then they just disappear,” he said.

One practitioner said: “It’s a miracle that they make it out of China alive and many are successful here with their refugee status applications.

“This behaviour (of posing as a practitioner) hinders the genuine practitioners who flee here and does damage to our reputation,” he said, adding that Chinese detainees in Villawood detention centre often joked who were real and fake practitioners.

Several thousand practitioners live in Australia, although official membership records are not kept. Some have suffered severe trauma escaping from China.

The Chinese embassy denies the persecution of Falun Gong, which it describes as an evil cult the practitioners of which are brainwashed.

In the tribunal, a Chinese woman said she was twice detained and interrogated after police discovered she was a practitioner. Officers escorted her home, searched her possessions and seized tapes and a book on Falun Gong. She was forced to sign documents about being a practitioner but was later released. Fearing for her life, she fled to Australia via Hong Kong.

“I have another Falun Gong case this afternoon and the thing that I find interesting is that it’s almost chapter and verse identical in many, many respects with your case,” the tribunal member told the woman, during her hearing earlier this year, after reading her statements.

“In January 2001, the applicant received a phone call from the local police who asked her to go to the local police station, that was about 8pm in the evening,” the member said.

“It’s extraordinarily similar. It’s case by case identical.”

In response, the woman said she had dumped her migration agent, concerned he was making mistakes in her story in the lead-up to the hearing.

Her lawyer told the tribunal that practitioners in Australia had concerns about the agent. The woman was last week granted refugee status. The outcome of the second case is unknown.

The agent involved denied any wrongdoing when contacted by The Australian. He said he could not remember the specific cases in the tribunal.

“There’s quite a few of these Falun Gong cases. Most of them have the same background,” he said.

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