2019.2

Stefan Nystrom’s deportation ‘led to criminal relapse’

By Andy Park, SBS

In classical mathematics, the ‘Stefan Problem’ tries to explain equations that are altered by an environmental change, such as ice melting into water.

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Stefan Nystrom is no different. A complex problem, in a transitional state of meltdown, away from his home environment.

In his first interview from a Swedish prison – Nystrom has received 47 criminal convictions since his deportation there from Australia – he appears bewildered and unable to understand simple questions.

“It’s more that I’m upset, you know? I can’t handle this, it’s wrong,” he says.

Watch the full interview with Stefan Nystrom:

CRIMINAL RELAPSE

According to Swedish court documents obtained by SBS, Nystrom is serving a three-month term for six charges, ranging from the unlawful use of amphetamines and shoplifting to damaging and threatening official property and persons.

Born in Sweden, Nystrom and his mother moved to Australia when he was 27 days old – he was raised here and believed he was a citizen until he received a letter from the government in 2004.

The letter revealed that his Australian visa had been cancelled due to his lengthy criminal record.

“All the [Australian] crimes I have been charged with I have done my time so they shouldn’t be giving me another… they shouldn’t deport me,” Nystrom, 39, said from prison.

Since his deportation to Sweden, where he does not speak the language, Nystrom has battled depression, anger and drug addiction issues.

Court testimony reveals he sometimes hears voices and he freely admits to carrying around a knife.

Nystrom’s supporters say his deportation to Sweden triggered a relapse into criminal behaviour – a belief supported by an Australian expert on the mental health of displaced people.

Psychologist Amanda Gordon, who advises the Department of Immigration on the mental health of asylum seekers through the Detention Health Advisory Group, said his recidivism was unsurprising.

“It was inevitable that he was going to decline in his mental state and therefore in his actions and behaviours,” Ms Gordon said.

“We know that he behaved properly for the nine or so years after his release from prison here – we assume that he found a way of managing,” she said.

AUSTRALIA IGNORING UN HUMAN RIGHTS RULING

A landmark ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee last year found that Australia’s deportation of Nystrom was a breach of his human rights and ordered the government to assist with his return.

The Federal Government has refused to recognise the ruling.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said “all non-citizens who wish to enter or remain in Australia must satisfy the requirements of the Migration Act and Regulations, including the character test – and this individual did not.”

“The government is aware of the UNHRC’s judgement and responded accordingly.”

Nystrom, who alternates between a life on the streets and time in prison, seems to be unaware of these developments.

“I think it’s pretty shit you know, pretty shit. I don’t really know what to say at the moment – it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Nystrom’s barrister, Brian Walters QC, said Australia’s international standing could be damaged by not respecting the UNHRC’s decision.

“Disrespect for the institutions of the United Nations, which this is a pretty glaring example of, is not going to help us at all in our bid for a seat on the security council,” Mr Walters said.

“Why should the nations of the world respect us when we don’t respect the institutions we said we would respect,” he said.

In the nine years between his release from prison in Australia and his deportation to Sweden, Nystrom said he lived a happy life picking fruit around Swan Hill in Victoria.

“It was good, I had work, I have me own caravan, I had everything, it was good. I had a life,” he said.

“I’m an Aussie, I’m 100 per cent Australian. I don’t speak Swedish. I’ve been here for a while but I have a learning difficulty I can’t pick up on this language. But I’m an Aussie, through and through,”

‘A VERY SAD MAN’

Ms Gordon, who has implemented psychological welfare programs for asylum seekers in Australian detention centres, said at least they are provided with peer and language support.

“[Nystrom is] a very sad man talking about a very sad life, he’s been disconnected from anything that is important to him. I hope that, if he can return, he can feel that it’s a good enough life again,” she said.

But it seems Nystrom is not coming home. He, his family in Australia, and his legal advisors worry that the perception of his overseas crimes may damage his case for repatriation.

“[They] could have, I’m not too sure but they shouldn’t take that into account,” Nystrom says.

“It’s got nothing to do with Australia what I get charged for here so I hope it hasn’t damaged it.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take. Maybe a change of government.”

In the Swedish regional remand centre, Nystrom is asked if he wants to add anything.

“Hello Mum!” he laughs, adding: “No, look, see in your hearts to take me back home”.

As with his mathematical namesake, the problem of Stefan Nystrom is proving difficult to solve.

(This interview was recorded with the assistance of Sweden’s TV4.)


Syria steps up assault as UN moves to send monitors

Fierce clashes erupted after Syria’s regime sent reinforcements into rebel areas despite a truce pledge, as the UN said it was rushing a team to Damascus to pave the way for peace monitors.

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The surge in violence on Tuesday killed at least 38 people, including 25 civilians, mostly in north and central Syria, and saw a string of arson attacks on homes, activists and monitors said.

It came a day after peace envoy Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council that President Bashar al-Assad had given assurances he would “immediately” start pulling back his forces and complete a military withdrawal from urban areas by April 10.

The United States accused Assad of failing to honour his pledged troop withdrawal, as monitors reported heavy fighting in opposition strongholds in the southern region of Daraa, the central city of Homs, northwestern Idlib province and near the capital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has charged that the army is torching and looting rebel houses across the country in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.

Dozens of armoured personnel carriers arrived in Dael, a town in Daraa province where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, as well as in Zabadani, a bastion of the rebellion near the border with Lebanon.

Clashes in the Atbaa area of Daraa left three civilians and two soldiers dead, according to the Observatory.

In Idlib, heavy fighting took place on the outskirts of the town of Taftanaz, where five civilians, four rebels and seven soldiers were killed amid heavy machinegun fire and shelling, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Clashes killed two civilians elsewhere in the province.

In central Homs, 10 civilians were killed in shelling and five others died in fighting elsewhere in the province.

With international concern at the situation growing, a draft UN Security Council statement was drawn up asking Syria to respect an April 10 deadline to halt its military operations in protest cities, according to a copy of the text seen by AFP.

The draft also urges the Syrian opposition to cease hostilities within 48 hours after the Assad’s regime makes good on its pledges.

It also calls on all parties to respect a two-hour daily humanitarian pause, as called for in Annan’s plan.

Negotiations on the text — distributed by Britain, France and the United States — began on Tuesday. France’s UN envoy Gerard Araud said he hoped it would be adopted late Wednesday or on Thursday.

Russia, Assad’s veto-wielding ally in the Council, has rejected the idea of a deadline, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying “ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters.”

Washington said on Tuesday that Assad was failing to live up to pledges for a truce.

“The assertion to Kofi Annan was that Assad would start implementing his commitments immediately to withdraw from cities. I want to advise that we have seen no evidence today that he is implementing any of those commitments,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

In Geneva, a spokesman for Annan said the office of the UN-Arab League envoy expected a “UN advance team on the deployment of monitors to arrive in Syria in the next 48 hours.”

In a briefing Monday to the Security Council, Annan sought a broad mandate for the monitoring mission as he reported “no progress” on reaching a ceasefire, according to diplomats.

Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, confirmed the April 10 date had been agreed “by common accord” between Annan and his government.

Seeking to assuage some of the humanitarian concerns, foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged Syria would do its utmost to ensure the success of a Red Cross mission as he met the organisation’s head, Jakob Kellenberger, who was in Damascus to seek a daily ceasefire.

International Committee of the Red Cross chief Kellenberger, on his third mission to Damascus since it launched a protest crackdown which the UN says has killed more than 9,000 people, said ahead of his latest trip that he would seek to secure a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire.


Guns and the US Constitution after Newtown

By Timothy Lynch, University of Melbourne

The horrific Newtown school massacre has again raised the question of why effective gun control is beyond the capacity of American politicians.

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The question is necessary, natural and appropriate. But it also misreads the constitutional character of American politics which, for both good and ill, remain far more ideological than those of all other liberal democracies.

Change and regulation, which in an Australian or western European context, would entail a technocratic debate over their utility, often raise fundamental questions about the relationship between citizen and state in the US .

In Canberra, healthcare is framed by a competition between two parties each claiming they can deliver it better. Deference to “experts” is high on both sides. In Washington, healthcare is a proxy for a centuries-long struggle between proponents and opponents of federal power – deference to experts takes second place. “Obamacare” is a debate about first principles; Australian Medicare is about technocratic delivery.

The US Constitution largely accounts for this difference. Unlike its Australian counterpart, it gives practical form to an idea, first posited in the Declaration of Independence, that some rights are so basic (“unalienable”) they remain beyond the power of government to abrogate. The United States is an experiment, now in its 24th decade, to see whether government can be so constituted that these rights remain secure.

Initially, these were the right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, passed in 1791) they were further extended to include, among others, the right to freedom of speech and of religion, and to trial by jury. In the 221 years since, constitutional rights have been further extended to include voting rights, the right to privacy and, from that asserted right, the right to reproductive choice.

The constitutional right to bear arms continues to invoke an ideological clash of a similar intensity to the abortion issue. Proponents of each right acknowledge there are consequences to the exercise of it. Reproductive choice campaigners recognise that since Roe v. Wade (1973) there have been more than 50 million abortions in the United States (1.2 million per year or 3000 per day).

Similarly, advocates of gun choice can’t fail to acknowledge that guns, over the same period, have been used to kill almost 400,000 Americans (about 9,000 per year or 25 each day).

In response, pro-gun and pro-abortion lobbies both argue a variation of “so what?” and “who cares?” The holding of the right is more important than the consequences of its holding. If a woman wants an abortion the government cannot second-guess her. If that same woman wants to own a gun, what right has the government to ask her why and how many? The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Organization for Women (NOW), whilst they differ on most issues, are nevertheless engaged in the same political strategy: to make their asserted rights secure in the Constitution, sufficient that mainstream politicians will steer clear of the issue – as both Obama and Romney did this year.

Abortion and gun rights campaigns each offer a slippery slope argument: restrict abortion in the third trimester and eventually women will be denied the procedure in their second; ban assault rifles and a precedent for ever more restrictive gun control will be established until all firearms are banned. Give the government an inch and it will take a mile.

In the days ahead, the NRA will campaign in identical fashion to Planned Parenthood when abortion restrictions are mooted. Denying the right to bear arms, the NRA will claim, invites government to regulate the behaviour of citizens in violation of the US Constitution. The freedom to own guns, like the freedom to make decisions about one’s own body, are the province of the individual; they brook no governmental intrusion. Regulation of either would alter fundamentally the relationship between citizen and state – in favour of the power of the latter.

Importantly, the fervour with which each right is claimed should give us an indication of the practical political impossibility of altering the Constitution so each right is denied, weakened or even substantially regulated. The US Constitution has been amended only 27 times since its ratification – or only 17 times since 1791. Amendments require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress (impossible on Obamacare and that was mere legislation) and then ratification by two-thirds (or 33) of the 50 states.

Amendments are thus only really possible when there is a genuine national consensus or ambivalence on the issue at hand. Neither guns nor abortion are marked by consensus or ambivalence. Their significant regulation is a political non-starter. The greater surprise after Newtown will be a President Obama making gun control a central issue of his second term. Politicising the issue now would only further alienate the Republicans he needs on-side to cut a budget deal, as David Smith argues.

My argument is not about the moral rights and wrongs of access to guns and abortion. Rather, it is to observe why and how the US Constitution, by enshrining a right to them, renders both issues immune to political compromise and thus to technocratic regulation.

Gun rights will continue to lead to gun deaths; abortion rights will continue to lead to abortions. The willingness of both rights claimants to defend these consequences fiercely and often absolutely goes some way to explaining why neither guns nor abortion will be subject to greater federal regulation anytime soon.

Timothy Lynch does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


Syria’s ‘friends’ pledge urgent help

Yet even as they prepared to step up their own contribution to a war that has killed nearly 100,000 people, they demanded that Iran and Lebanese movement Hezbollah stop supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

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Top Qatari diplomat and host Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said a meeting in Doha of foreign ministers of the “Friends of Syria” had taken “secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground”.

A final communique said “each country in its own way” would provide “urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment” so that the rebels could “counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people.”

Sheikh Hamad said two of the 11 countries participating had expressed reservations, with diplomats saying they were Germany and Italy.

Also attending were the foreign ministers of Britain, Egypt, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Washington and Doha had called for increasing aid to end what US Secretary of State John Kerry called an “imbalance” in Assad’s favour.

Kerry said the United States remained committed to a peace plan that includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition.

But he said the rebels need more support “for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground”.

Sheikh Hamad echoed Kerry’s remarks, saying a peaceful end “cannot be reached unless a balance on the ground is achieved, in order to force the regime to sit down to talks.”

On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army said it needed anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.

A Western diplomat in Doha said on Saturday that FSA chief of staff General Selim Idriss had presented a wish list and that it had been agreed to for the most part.

“Everybody is going to help and help better,” the diplomat said, adding that there would be on “important qualitative and quantitative leap”.

Later on Saturday, French President Francois Hollande arrived in Qatar for talks with the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

He was expected to highlight the “need for trust, clarity and coordination” in backing the rebels, as Qatar is accused of “supporting Syrian opposition groups it does not know,” a French diplomat said.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the ministers demanded that predominantly Shiite Iran and Hezbollah stop meddling in the war by supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

“We have demanded that Iran and Hezbollah end their intervention in the conflict,” said Fabius.

“We are fully against the internationalisation of the conflict,” he told reporters.

Kerry also accused Assad of an “internationalisation” of the conflict by bringing in Iran and Hezbollah.

And the final communique said that the entry into Syria of militia and fighters that support the regime, a clear reference to Hezbollah, “must be prevented.”

In that respect, they emphasised that neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon need to “actively safeguard their borders in order to ensure that fighters and equipment do not escalate current tensions”.

The ministers also warned of the “increasing presence and growing radicalism” and “terrorist elements in Syria.”

Western powers have hesitated to arm the rebels for fear weapons would fall into the hands of radical elements among them, such as the powerful Al-Nusra Front, which wants to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

Sheikh Hamad also voiced support for a peace conference but insisted there could be no role in the future government for “Assad and aides with bloodstained hands”.

He accused Assad’s regime of wanting to block the Geneva conference in order to stay in power, “even if that costs one million dead, millions of displaced and refugees and the destruction of Syria and its partition”.

And the final communique stated that Assad “has no role in the transitional governing body or thereafter”.

On the ground, loyalist forces pressed a fierce four-day assault on rebel-held parts of Damascus, while insurgents launched a new attack on regime-controlled neighbourhoods of second city Aleppo.

Saturday’s developments come as the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs in central Syria, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

They also come a day after at least 100 people were killed nationwide, it added.


Take storm ‘very seriously’, Obama warns

President Barack Obama warned Americans on Sunday to take Hurricane Sandy “very seriously” as authorities prepared a virtual shutdown of the Eastern Seaboard due to the impending mega-storm.

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More than 5,000 flights out of East Coast hubs were cancelled and ground transport was due to grind to a halt on Monday as non-essential government staff were told not to show up for work and public schools were closed.

“My first message is to all people across the Eastern Seaboard, mid-Atlantic going north. You need to take this very seriously,” Obama said, urging everyone in the vast region to heed the instructions of their local authorities.

The president, who spoke after being briefed at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), cautioned that Sandy was a slow-moving storm that certain areas would take a long time to recover from.

Residents of the densely-populated East Coast, home to 50 million Americans, stocked up on emergency provisions like batteries and water as forecasters warned of widespread damage, mass power outages and disastrous flooding.

After laying waste to parts of the Caribbean, where it claimed 66 lives, most of them in Cuba and Haiti, Hurricane Sandy was predicted to come crashing ashore in New Jersey and Delaware late Monday and early Tuesday.

New York state authorities ordered evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people in low-lying areas, including 375,000 people in New York City alone.

Forecasters warned that New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound could see seawater surges of up to 11 feet (3.35 meters) above normal levels.

“This is a serious and dangerous storm,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference after state Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered subway, buses and commuter trains to close down from Sunday night.

Amtrak, which operates trains and buses up and down the coast, said all services would be suspended on Monday.

Forecasters warned that the massive storm was far larger and more dangerous than last year’s devastating Hurricane Irene that claimed 47 lives and caused an estimated $15 billion in damage.

It was the sheer size of Hurricane Sandy that was so alarming, and the fact that it was expected to collide with a cold front moving south from Canada just as it makes landfall.

“Sandy will be more like a large nor’easter on steroids,” warned Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist for Accuweather.com.

The storm, currently packing hurricane force winds upwards of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour), was about 530 miles (850 kilometers) south of New York at 2100 GMT Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Winds stretched out more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the storm’s center, meaning everywhere from South Carolina to southern Canada was due to be affected and heavy rains and snow were expected as far inland as Ohio.

“The system is so large that I would say millions of people are at least in areas that have some chance of experiencing either flash flooding or river flooding,” National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb warned.

Nine days out from election day, the hurricane also threw the US presidential contest into disarray, with Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney cancelling events and preparing for the unexpected fallout.

Romney cancelled appearances in Virginia to head for Ohio before the hurricane’s arrival, while Obama moved up his planned departure to Florida in order to be back in Washington before the storm made landfall.

Residents from Washington DC to New York to Boston queued for bottles of water, bread, fresh foods, batteries in long lines that stretched out the doors of some supermarkets.

Television images from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a chain of low lying islands, showed wild surf and torrential rain already hitting the coast.

Flooding had also reached parts of southern Virginia. One Chesapeake Bay-area resident posted a photo on Facebook showing waters lapping well up onto the slide of her backyard swingset.

The photo was taken well before high tide, Petra Holden told AFP, saying when the tide comes in, “its actually going to get a lot worse, because its a full moon.”

Current projections showed the storm making landfall early Tuesday on the Delaware or New Jersey coast, then bending north and inland as it merges with the cold front descending from Canada.

Weather experts say that the collision of Sandy with the cold front could create a super-charged storm bringing floods, high winds and even heavy snow across a swath of eastern states and as far inland as Ohio.

Public schools were to be closed for millions of students Monday in districts from Washington through Boston.

Governors declared states of emergency in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the US capital Washington and parts of North Carolina.