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July 13, 2009

Government policies are forcing asylum seekers to use people smuggers

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release
13 July 2009
The drama and uncertainty that still surrounds the fate of many of the asylum seekers whose boat got into trouble almost a week ago, has thrown the spotlight on the Australian government’s refugee policies – in particular its attitude to people smugglers and interception of asylum seekers in Indonesia.

“Asylum seekers would not have to use people smugglers if the Australian government had pro-active policy and began to process asylum seekers in Indonesia, said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“It is Australian government policies that are forcing asylum seekers to risk their lives making the boat journey to Australia. The government then processes asylum seekers on Christmas Island where they have less rights and jails the Indonesians – many of them poor fishermen –who crew the boat that brings them to Australia. It is hypocritical really,” said Rintoul.

“The demonisation of people smugglers is the new code for being tough on asylum boats. It ends up saying that asylum seekers are not welcome in Australia. Asylum seekers who arrive by plane are not subject to the same hysteria. Are Qantas bosses called people smugglers for bringing asylum seekers to Australia? It’s the same old double standard.

“The Australian government is paying for the Indonesian government to warehouse and harass asylum seekers that are trying to get to safety in Australia. There are people still in Indonesia having been turned back by the Australian navy after the Tampa incident in 2001. Why are they still waiting? This policy is driving people to take risks using boats that are less prepared for the dangerous sea journey.

“The UNHCR is notoriously slow in processing refugees and Australia will not comitted to taking those refugees from Indonesia. They can spend millions of dollars putting federal police all over Indonesia. They could spend that money more usefully, and with more humanitarian effect, by processing asylum claims.”

“Worse, it now seems that the Australian government is not prepared to throw its resources into assisting distressed asylum boats. There needs to be a full inquiry into the communications between Australian authorities and the Indonesian authorities to find out why there was no assistance for these people.

“It will be a miracle if everybody if safe, although Australian and Indonesian authorities had co-ordinates for the boat the first night it got into trouble. They did nothing for them.

“Phase one of the Rudd government’s refugee policy like re-establishing permanent visas has been a step in the right direction. Now it is time to look at the next steps needed for a genuine humanitarian and non-discriminatory policy.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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