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December 19, 2010


by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media release December 19, 2010

Refugee groups have been astonished at the reported comments from UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle, that Australia’s detention system is clogged with rejected asylum seekers who should be sent home.

“Towle’s reported comments have been an unhelpful contribution to the current debate on refugee policy. It is the government’s own policies, in particular, mandatory detention itself, that are responsible for the dramatic expansion of Australia’s detention regime,” said Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson, Ian Rintoul.

“Thousands of asylum seekers were unnecessarily held up by the months long freeze on Sri Lankan and Afghan refugee applications. Asylum seekers are spending months and years in detention not because they are rejected but because there are insufficient resources to process their claims in a timely fashion.

“Some refugees are waiting over 18 months to get security clearances. It is only six weeks since the High Court found that there were flaws in the offshore processing system used by the Australian government. Rather than rushing to judgment, Richard should respect Australia’s refugee determination process. Rejected asylum seekers have the right for their claims to be properly assessed.”

Refugee groups have also rejected Towle’s reported comments that improved conditions in Sri Lanka are leading to more rejections.

“Richard’s comments fly in the face of the UN’s own reports on Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The latest report on Sri Lanka states clearly that human rights abuses remain in Sri Lanka and there should be no blanket rejection of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

“The increased rejection rates of Sri Lankan and Afghans are the result of political interference in the offshore processing system. Large numbers of initial rejections are being overturned on appeal. The UNHCR’s own determination processes in Indonesia have found that all but nine of the Tamil asylum seekers who were on board the Merak boat are genuine refugees.

“The challenge is not as Towle is reported to have said, ‘to find fair and humane and effective ways of allowing them to leave this country to go home,’ the challenge is to establish a humanitarian policy that does not rely on mandatory detention or offshore processing and will process asylum seekers quickly and properly.

“The government has not even been able to keep its commitment to get children out of detention. Only between 20 and 30 children will be out by the end of the year. There are over 800 children in detention and under existing settings, hundreds will still be in detention by next year. It’s a complete disgrace.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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