Andrews denies Tamil refugees entry


Seventy-two Tamils from Sri Lanka who have been held in detention on the Pacific island of Nauru for more than six months were granted refugee status by the immigration department on September 12. But that does not mean they will be able to live in Australia.

As with those asylum seekers who arrived on the MV Tampa in 2001, these men will now have to wait on Nauru as the federal government casts around for another country which is prepared to take them.

Federal immigration minister Kevin Andrews told the media on September 12 that because the group tried to enter Australia "illegally" by boat none of them will be allowed to settle in Australia, despite their being assessed as genuine refugees.

"We'll have discussions with various countries around the world and we will try and expedite this as quickly as we can," Andrews said.

"Most of these people have paid thousands of dollars to people smugglers, they've put them in leaking fishing boats, we think this is unsafe and reprehensible.

"Our message is quite clear. If you want to apply to become a refugee in Australia then there is a proper process of doing that. But if you don't, if you pay money to people smugglers, then you're not going to come to Australia."

Sri Lanka is in the grip of a civil war, in which disappearances and systematic persecution are commonplace.

We keep hearing about "queue-jumping", and sure, if people are able to go through the "proper" channels, the government accepts them as refugees, but desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. In many cases, the level of danger is so high that there is simply not time to hang around long enough to go through a lengthy and bureaucratic application process.

Australia was one of the original signatories to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees back in 1954. The convention requires that people fleeing persecution are entitled to apply for it. There is nothing in the convention limiting this to people who entered a country "legally".

Once again, refugees are being treated as something less than human by the Howard government.

[Dr Tim Kirchler is the Socialist Alliance candidate for the Gold Coast federal electorate of Moncrieff.]