The Refuge Action Coalition has renewed its call for a full independent inquiry into Australia’s response to safety-of-life-at-sea (SOLAS) situations involving asylum boats.
The latest boat tragedy may have cost the lives of 140 or more people. This is the second time in three months in which the delayed responses of Australian authorities have cost lives. In June, 90 asylum seekers were drowned despite calls to Australian authorities over a period of 40 hours.
“We were told in June that this wouldn’t happen again. There is meant to be an agreement in place to co-ordinate rescue operations so this does not happen. This is yet another tragedy that may have been avoided had Australian authorities responded properly,’ said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“Australian authorities seem to have known about the boat at the same time the distress call went to the Indonesians, around 10am (AEST) yesterday, but left responsibility to the notoriously ill-equipped Indonesian search and rescue authority, Basarnas. Australian authorities were concerned enough to issue a call to commercial shipping in the region, but not concerned enough to initiate rescue arrangements.
“Home Affairs Jason Clare has to stop playing politics with asylum seekers’ lives and actually do something to ensure no more lives are lost.
“After the boat sinking in June, the government announced a new arrangement with Indonesia to allow Australian authorities to respond to distress calls in Indonesian waters. It is clear that nothing short of a full independent judicial inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of what protocols are actually in place to stop this needless loss of life.
“The tragedy of Howard’s Pacific Solution is being repeated. Three hundred and fifty three lives were lost when the SIEV X sank in the first months after the Howard government declared the Pacific Solution in August 2001.
“Now the Pacific Solution 2.0 is costing more lives. Desperate asylum seekers will still need to get boats if it is the only way to gain permanent protection. Nauru offers the hope of ultimate protection in Australia, in a way that staying in Indonesia does not.
“The government should scrap its Pacific Solution and get on with providing safe alternatives for asylum seekers to gain protection in Australia. Read more
A Brisbane rally called by the Refugee Action Collective for 1pm, Sunday 26th August, Brisbane Square to mark Tampa Day will also declare its support for the protesting asylum seekers on Christmas Island. (Details below).
Messages from Christmas Island indicate that there are around 67 Afghan asylum seekers on hunger strike on Christmas Island.
The 80 asylum seekers who arrived at Christmas Island on 16 August were told on the afternoon of Friday 24 August that the government intended to send them to Nauru to be processed.
Scores of Federal Police have been mobilised to occupy the North West Point detention centre on Christmas Island. A large number of the police are in the compound housing the protesting asylum seekers.
One Iranian asylum seeker told the Refugee Action Coalition that they “are like special forces in Iran, we see these kind of forces when there are protests against the Islamic regime.”
The hunger strikers say that their treatment is unfair – they were not aware of any changed policy by the Australian government, and they were actually rescued on the 12 August on their way to Christmas Island.
“We are not happy to go to Nauru island, as far as we know this rule was passed by Senate in 17 August but we arrived in 16th August,” one hunger striker said.
The rally will call for an end to the Gillard government’s Pacific Solution 2.0 and an end to off-shore processing.
“It is black political irony that the 11 years after the Howard government turned back hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers on the Mv Tampa, a Gillard Labor is holding 80 Afghan asylum seekers to expel them to Nauru,” said Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition. Read more
Six long term immigration detainees, four refugees and two asylum seekers, being flown from Christmas Island to Villawood on Sunday morning have been told that they will be handcuffed for the entire journey.
Despite protests to both Serco and the Immigration Department, immigration officers have told the detainees that the handcuffs are a condition set by the company doing the charter flight.
One of the Iranian refugees told the Refugee Action Coalition that he is deeply offended by the action. “This is a serious humiliation. No-one will look at us as normal civilized people. I have been taken from Christmas Island to Curtin and even taken to Hakea prison and have never been handcuffed before,” he said.
“This a denial of their basic human rights,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “Refugees are not guilty of any crime. The department says these people pose no risk to anyone, yet it is allowing these refugees and asylum seekers to be treated as criminals, actually worse than most criminals.
“We want the Minister to cancel this charter flight and guarantee that these people will be treated with respect. Four of them are actually recognised refugees, people who Australia has an obligation to protect.
“It is a disgrace that the Minister is allowing refugees to be treated in such a way. The government seems to be deliberately promoting the view that refugees are some kind of threat,” said Rintoul.
This latest mistreatment comes only days after the Home Affairs Ministers Jason Clare claim that asylum seekers had been aggressive and had threatened the crew of a ship that rescued them, was exposed as untrue. Read more
The Refugee Action Coalition has welcomed the government’s announcement to immediately increase Australia’s refugee intake to 20,000. But the government could and should have increased the intake without re-opening Nauru.
“The bitter pill of violating refugee rights on Nauru is not going to be sweetened by increasing Australia’s overall intake,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The increase to 20,000 places is welcome, if long overdue. Even with the increase, the refugee intake is still lower as a proportion of refugees to population than it was in the early 1990s, before the Howard government cut it in half.
“There are many details still to be announced. And the Expert Panel recommended that 3,800 of the extra places should go to refugees waiting within the region. So taking only an extra 400 refugees from Indonesia is only a small start– and they need to know now, when they will be coming to Australia,” said Ian Rintoul.
“One crucial issue is timely processing and resettlement. The four hundred recognised UNHCR refugees in Indonesia should be brought to Australia immediately.
“Twenty-seven Tamil refugees who were told in January that they had been accepted by Australia, are still waiting to be resettled seven months later.
“Only one family has even had a resettlement interview. There are around 80 of the Merak Tamils promised resettlement by the Rudd government in 2009 still waiting in Medan. If the government expects its announcement to have any impact, they can’t make the refugees in Indonesia wait another month let alone another year.
“These are the kinds of delays and broken promises that push asylum seekers and refugees onto boats.”
“The announcement also exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy in the government’s new Pacific Solution. Under the Pacific Solution, Sri Lankan asylum seekers who arrive at Cocos Island are liable to be sent to Nauru. But Sri Lankan refugees who have to make longer boat trips to travel to Malaysia or Indonesia will be a resettlement priority.
“If the government was truly concerned to save lives at sea, it would not be making Tamil refugees travel further by boat. The boats should be welcome in Australia.” Read more
“The passing of off-shore processing legislation allowing asylum seekers to be expelled to Nauru and Manus Island will go down as a day of shame in Australia’s history,” said Ian Rintoul spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The legislation allows for even greater mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees than was the case under Howard’s Pacific Solution. The government is turning Nauru into a neo-colonial island prison which will condemn recognized refugees to indefinite detention.
“While the government continues to demonise people-smugglers, it will now be engaged in people trafficking on a grander scale. The same navy ships that the government will use to take asylum seekers thousands of kilometers to Nauru could be used to bring asylum seekers safely from Indonesia to Australia. But the government is not really interested in saving lives.
“The government is expecting Nauru and PNG to administer a policy that will violate the Refugee Convention and would be unacceptable and unlawful on Australian territory. Julia Gillard wants to keep them as far away from scrutiny as possible.
“Under Howard, asylum seekers, many of them unaccompanied minors, were coerced to return to danger in Afghanistan. Last time, Nauru collapsed under its own contradictions – botched processing, hunger strikes, dengue fever, and mental breakdown. The lack of reliable water and electricity, the indefinite detention of innocent people will create intolerable conditions on Nauru. Australia will again be the international refugee pariah it was under Howard.
“The Labor government has surrendered control over its refugee policy to the Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party. Not only will Gillard’s Pacific Solution not stop the boats, it won’t stop Labor’s slide in the opinion polls either.
“The government’s refusal to accept Greens MP Adam Bandt’s amendment to limit incarceration on Nauru to one year already shows that the government is picking apart the Exert Panel’s recommendations and is only committed to deterrence. Read more
REFUGEE GROUP CALLS PROTEST: NO OFF-SHORE PROCESSING: IMMEDIATE REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT FROM INDONESIA – MERAK TAMILS STILL IN LIMBO
The Refugee Action Coalition has called a protest, at Sydney’s Immigration office, 26 Lee Street, Wednesday, 15 August, 12.00 noon.
The government is selectively choosing recommendations from its Expert Panel to impose drastic off-shore processing while recommendations to increase resettlement from Indonesia are being ignored.
“The Expert Panel’s recommendation that another 3,800 refugees from Indonesia and the region be resettled in Australia has been sidelined by the government. The government is ignoring the one thing that could make a difference to refugee lives,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The hypocrisy is astounding. Labor has embraced Howard’s Pacific Solution with unseemly haste, while UNHCR refugees in Indonesia are being left in limbo.
“In October 2009, Australia promised to help resettle the Merak Tamils but almost three years later, they are still in Indonesia. In March, the government announced that 24 Merak Tamils had been accepted. But six months later, not one of them has actually arrived in Australia; most have not even had interviews.
“The Expert Panel’s suggestion of 3800 is about equal to the number of both UNHCR refugees and asylum seekers registered in Indonesia.
“The government’s new-found concern about deaths at sea is a smokescreen for imposing drastic anti-refugee policies that suit its domestic political agenda.
“Providing safe passage for asylum seekers and refugees from Indonesia does not require legislation. The government could provide safe passage for the Merak Tamil refugees and all the others in Indonesia, but the government would rather impose Howard’s Pacific Solution, than save lives.” Read more
The Refugee Action Coalition has strongly condemned the Houston panel’s recommendations for offshore processing as made public at their press conference this afternoon.
“Mr Houston and his colleagues had an opportunity to listen to the experts, escape the major parties’ persecution of refugees and inject reason into the asylum seeker debate,” said Nick Riemer, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“But the panel has made no recommendation that will improve the situation for refugees who have no other choice than to get on boats. All we have seen is a return to the cruelty and inhumanity of the policies of the past.
“If the panel’s arrangements are implemented, refugees will suffer and languish on Nauru and Manus Island, just as they did under the Howard government. The only people these recommendations will help are the major parties.
“The panel has claimed to be motivated by humanitarian considerations,” Riemer continued. “But all its recommendations are about outsourcing Australia’s responsibilities to poorer, less-equipped neighbours. People desperate enough to sacrifice everything to get on a boat deserve our help. But the panel wants to shunt them off to places in our region where they have no hope of living in safety. The only place that can give refugees the security and support they need is Australia. Refugees should be welcomed into the community,” Riemer said.
“The panel stressed that its aim was to provide incentives for ‘regular pathways’. But by giving the green light to the Malaysia Agreement, the Panel has not provided any credible regular pathway for refugees to get to Australia. Would Australia really turn away asylum seekers fleeing the desperate circumstances in Syria?
“While the panel recommended increasing Australia’s overall refugee intake, without guaranteed resettlement to Australia, refugees will still have no alternative but to resort to boats.
“As the direct arrival of Tamils to Australia shows, war, torture and persecution are not the kinds of situation that allow regular pathways. No one with any knowledge of refugee movements thinks that there is any way to prevent dangerous ocean crossings.
“The no advantage provisions for boat arrivals are extremely callous. The panel’s real attitude is revealed by the fact that they haven’t excluded turning back the boats.
“Refugees quite simply have the right to risk their lives at sea if they think that those journeys are worth that risk. Six hundred people have died at sea, but thousands have successfully reached Australia. Tony Kevin’s authoritative figures show that the overwhelming majority of boat arrivals get here successfully. Howard’s Pacific Solution didn’t save lives either.
“The only way to save lives at sea is to decriminalize people smuggling, to open Australian processing centres in the region, and to massively increase our humanitarian intake without making vulnerable boat arrivals pay for it.”
“To add insult to injury, the one positive measure the Panel proposed – to de-link the onshore and offshore humanitarian programs (recommendation 21) has been left for two years to review.” Read more
The Refugee Action Coalition has welcomed the release of Tamil asylum seeker Dayan Anthony from custody in Sri Lanka, but has rejected reports of Dayan’s recanting his claim of torture as a product of duress.
“After 16 hours of questioning without legal representation by the Sri Lankan CID, comments at Dayan’s press conference cannot be considered to be freely given. The CID has the power of life or death over the people they question. It is highly likely that his recantation was a condition of him being released at all,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“There is too much evidence both of Dayan’s mistreatment and the reports of torture of other Tamils for the comments at the press conference to be believable. Human Rights Watch reports that there are more than a dozen cases of asylum seekers tortured after being returned from Britain.
“Reports of Dayan’s comments such as, ‘Sri Lanka has become the safest place on the earth after the LTTE was wiped out from the country,’ smack of a script prepared by the CID for its own propaganda purposes.
“We are calling on Australian government officials to publicly report what they witnessed at Dayan’s questioning and to explain why they were not present for the entire interrogation.
“We do not believe that Dayan is out of danger. In other cases, returned asylum seekers have been subjected to harassment and imprisonment months after being returned. Indeed, the families of asylum seekers and refugees are being harassed years after the their relatives have fled Sri Lanka for Australia.
“We are calling on the Australian government to call a halt to all forced deportations to Sri Lanka. The concerns of the UN regarding Dayan and the threat of torture in Sri Lanka need to properly investigated. Read more
Despite urgent attempts to initiate legal action this afternoon (Wednesday), the Tamil asylum seeker known as Mr X was deported from Melbourne around 2.30pm.
He was placed on a direct flight to Bangkok and is expected to be taken directly from Bangkok to arrive in Sri Lanka later tonight.
He is the first Tamil asylum seeker to be forcibly deported from Australia.
“This deportation is a shameful and dangerous precedent,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The government has acted in a completely underhand way to prevent any court challenge to this deportation. The Minister knows that a High Court judgement is expected very soon that will potentially give further rights of appeal to asylum seekers facing deportation.
“The Minister is recklessly playing with this man’s life. The government has ignored the concerns of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and shows exactly why decision to deport must be subject to court review.
“It seems highly likely that this was decision to push through this deportation is directly tied to recent government negotiations about asylum seekers with the Rajapaksa government – a government internationally tainted by allegations of war crimes.
“There must be an immediate moratorium on deportations until the High Court case is settled. There have been too many instances of people deported from Australia facing arrest, torture and even death when they were returned. The government has an obligation not to deport asylum seekers to danger. Sri Lanka remains a very dangerous place where human rights are not respected.” Read more
Urgent attempts to initiate legal action are being made this afternoon (Wednesday) to try to prevent the deportation of a Tamil asylum seeker to Sri Lanka.
The Tamil man, known in the media as Mr X, has already been taken by Immigration authorities to Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.
Mr X has been the subject of an appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in September 2011. A request from the Special Rapporteur in October 2011 has been unanswered by the Australian government.
The Tamil man was taken from the community to the Maribyrnong Detention Centre on the 17 July.
“The Department of Immigration has ignored its own regulations by not giving this man any actual notice of his deportation. They are also desperately trying to get around a pending High Court judgment that would allow Mr X further appeal rights.
“The department has ignored that High Court action. He has been prevented from sending faxes for the last two days. The lack of notice is a deliberate measure to thwart possible legal action against his deportation,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The human rights abuses of the Rajapaksa government are well known. In June the British High Court prevented the deportation of around 40 Tamil asylum seekers because of the Court’s concerns that forcibly removed Tamils could face arrest and torture in Sri Lanka.
“We are urging the Minister to urgently intervene to prevent this man’s removal. The Minister well knows that other Sri Lankans who have been forcibly sent back to Sri Lanka have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned.” Read more