Tamil Christmas Island protest wins visas refugee advocates call for UNHCR refugees to be brought to mainland
Media Release January 8, 2010
Late Thursday afternoon (7 January), the Department of Immigration and Citizenship announced that 16 Sri Lankans and 5 Afghan asylum seekers presently on Christmas Island will be granted visas next week.
The announcement came after days of protest action earlier this week and a day long series of meetings on Wednesday between Immigration department representatives and Tamils on the island.
The Wednesday meetings were called by DIAC in response to protest boycott action by Tamils over lengthy delays in the processing of their refugee applications.
In response to questions from detainees asking why other countries could process refugee applications more quickly, DIAC officials told the detainees not to compare Australian with other countries.
In an attempt to defuse the situation, Immigration officials told the detainees that the delay in the processing was the fault of Australian security agencies and that DIAC should not be blamed. And that overcrowding was causing more difficulties. But detainees were also issued with veiled threats that any action by the detainees could delay the processing of their applications even further.
“They told us the same thing that we are told every time – we have to wait for clearances,” said one detainee speaking by phone to Ian Rintoul, from Refugee Action Coalition. “People were angry after the meetings. No-one was happy. There were discussions about re-starting the boycott. Some people were suggesting that we start a hunger strike.”
But late yesterday (Thursday), DIAC announced that 16 Tamils people were getting visas. Those Tamils granted visas all come from the boat load that had been the focus of the protest action – the 196 that arrived in June last year. Of the 196, around 130 have now been granted visas.
“The announcement is welcome,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson from the Refugee Action Coalition, “but these people have been waiting six months. And over 60 people from the same boat are still waiting. The Tamils on the Oceanic Viking were all processed within six weeks.
“If that processing can be done from Indonesia in that time, there is no excuse for taking six months and longer on Christmas Island. There has not been one adverse security finding among the Tamils. The least the department could do is to bring all detainees with UNHCR identity cards to the mainland. What excuse can there be for locking up recognised refugees?
“Christmas Island should be closed, not expanded. It is a relic of the Howard years,” said Ian Rintoul. “Replacing tents with demountable houses won’t stop the detention centre being an administrative nightmare. The Human Rights Commission condemned Christmas Island last year. Every day of detention on Christmas Island is one day too long.”
For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713