Union leaders join International protests to say No to Indonesian Solution
Media Release January 19, 2010
“International protests have put the Rudd government on notice that the world is watching what happens to the asylum seekers at Merak. Kevin Rudd’s Indonesian Solution is a matter of international concern,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
The 250 people on the boat are still in limbo, 100 days after Kevin Rudd called on the Indonesian navy to intercept the boat heading for Australia. One hundred and nine of the people are recognized UNHCR refugees.
In Perth, despite the 41 degree heat, fifteen people held a picket of Immigration Minsiter’s office. In Newcastle, over 50 people rallied to say No to the Indonesian Solution. A live phone link with the boat at Merak heard from Alex, a spokesperson for the Tamil asylum seekers and a heartfelt plea from Brindha, the 9 year old on the boat held the rally spell bound and determined to continue the campaign for justice for the Merak refugees.
In Sydney more than 60 people staged a lively protest vigil outside Kevin Rudd’s office, with representatives from the Tamil community, the NSW Greens and the Refugee Action Coalition addressing the protest.
In Melbourne, around 100 people braved the rain to hear messages of support from Paul Howes, national secretary of the AWU and Sharan Burrow, president of the ACTU.
Sharan Burrow said,” We must not return to that shameful period in our recent history where Australia avoided its international obligations through processing people off-shore. The so-called Indonesian solution is no solution to what is a global problem in which wealthy nations like Australia must play their part in helping to resettle refugees…We call for the quick and efficient processing and resettlement of the Tamil asylum seekers at Merak.” (Sharan Burrow’s statement in full below)
Thirty people, including a large contingent from the Tamil community protested outside the Australian consulate offices in Auckland, while in Malaysia refugee supporters delivered over 1750 postcards to the Australian High Commission.
Details of the protests in Canada and London were still to come in.
Refugee advocates are expecting a proposal from the Indonesian government to help resolve the situation at Merak to be put forward by the end of the month.
“The Indonesian government has indicated that they expect the Australian government to play a role in processing and resettling the Merak asylum seekers, in the same way they did with the Oceanic Viking refugees.
“With Australia’s special envoy on people smuggling, Richard Woolcott, visiting Indonesia this week, we are hopeful that a just resolution to the plight of the people at Merak may be in sight. The Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O’Connor, has stated that the Australian government is willing to play a role in resettling the Merak people after UNHCR processing,” said Ian Rintoul.
“With a guarantee that that they will not be held in detention, there is nothing stopping immigration verification and for the UNHCR to start their processing. It took less than six weeks on the Oceanic Viking.”
For more information contact Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.
(New Zealand contact Priyaksha Pathmanathan, +64 21 228 6538)
Message from ACTU President Sharan Burrow to refugee rally, State Library, Melbourne, Monday, January 18, 2010:
The union movement joins you today in calling for a humane solution for all asylum seekers who seek sanctuary in Australia.
Australia has a proud history as a tolerant, compassionate and multicultural nation, and people from all over the world have contributed to the development of our economy and society.
In recent months, there has been an increase in the numbers of people fleeing turmoil in the world, including from conflicts in Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
This has led to a small increase in those people coming by boat to seek asylum in Australia. It should be recognised that these numbers are small in comparison to those people fleeing to other.
Unions call for international action to achieve peace, equitable development and decent work for all to address the push factors which are affecting this situation and we reaffirm our strong belief that asylum seekers should be treated with respect and dignity. We must not return to that shameful period in our recent history where Australia avoided its international obligations through processing refugees off-shore.
The so-called ‘Indonesian Solution’ is no solution to what is a global problem in which wealthy nations like Australia must play their part in helping to resettle refugees.
The Indonesian Solution puts lives at risk, and involves the forcible return of boatpeople to a country that is not a signatory to the refugee convention, where they will then remain in limbo for potentially many years in sub-standard conditions.
The Tamil asylum seekers, who have now been detained at Merak for 100 days, are the most visible case of the negative consequences of this approach.
We call for quick and efficient processing and resettlement of the Tamil asylum seekers on Merak.
Australian unions are extremely disappointed with the use of rhetoric to demonise asylum seekers who are fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries and have asked Australia for help and safety.
The demonisation of asylum seekers for political gain, or the abrogation of Australia’s international obligations towards refugees is not in the national interest and does enormous damage to Australia’s international reputation and standing.
We call for strong leadership from all sides of politics to counter these views and ensure that asylum seekers’ rights are respected.
Unions call on the Government to take firm action to ensure the rights of asylum seekers and all migrant workers are respected.