Gov. to blame for refugee deaths

December 16, 2010
Refugee rights protest, Sydney, August 7.
Refugee rights protest, Sydney, August 7. Photo: Mat Ward.

At least 30 people are reported dead in the terrible tragedy of the refugee boat that sunk near Christmas Island on December 15. The media are reporting that those on the boats appear to be mainly from Iran and Iraq.

The news comes as US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveal the terrible cynicism with which both major parties have treated the asylum seeker issue.

They reveal then PM Kevin Rudd refused advise to approach the issue rationally and explain those seeking asylum in Australia on boats were a small number, dwarfed by the number of visa overstayers. They also reveal a “leading Liberal Party strategist”, whose party sought electoral gain by whipping up fear over boat arrivals and insisting only the Liberap Party could “stop the boats”, had cynically argued boat arrivals were “fantastic” and “the more boats that come the better”.

Below are two statements released by the Refugee Action Coalition, Sydney, placing the blame for the tragedy on the government’s inhumane and cynical policies and calling on the Gillard government to release the survivors of this latest disaster.

* * *

Government policy to blame for Christmas Island tragedy

December 16, 2010

“Government anti-refugee policy is responsible for the tragedy on Christmas Island,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Our heart goes out to the people and their families of the asylum seekers who have lost their lives, so close to the possibility of protection.

“But the blame lies with the Australian government. If the Australian government was willing to properly process asylum seekers in Indonesia and resettle successful refugees in Australia, then far fewer people would get on boats to travel to Australia.

“The government needs to stop pushing Indonesia to harass and detain asylum seekers. The intimidation in Indonesia is itself pushing people to leave Indonesia to find safety.

“The government also needs to drop its people smuggling laws so that boats travelling to Australian would be able and willing to notify Australian authorities of their travels and arrange to rendezvous safely.

“The government recently increased its quota of resettled UNHCR refugees from Indonesia to around 500 but as of the beginning of November only 50 had been resettled from Indonesia. No amount of talk about a regional processing centre will alter the realities for asylum seekers.

“Unless the government changes its policies and adopts a welcome refugee policy there will be more tragedies.”

“The race to the bottom on refugee policy between the Labor government and the Opposition is costing lives – inside and outside of detention. Australia urgently needs a welcome refugee policy,” said Rintoul.

* * *

Christmas Island survivors should be freed to live in the community

December 17, 2010

Refugee groups have called for the survivors of the Christmas Island tragedy to be freed from detention to live in the community while their refugee claims are being processed.

“The survivors of the Christmas Island tragedy have suffered a terrible trauma and there will be more grief suffered in the days and weeks to come. They have suffered enough.

“A genuine humanitarian response from the government would see them freed from detention while their claims are processed. The Minister has the power to issues bridging visas to allow them to live in the community. He should do that as a matter of urgency. It would be a small step, but one that could make all the difference to the survivors,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“There are no adequate services for counselling and other assistance that these asylum seekers need on Christmas Island on an on-going basis. The needs of the asylum seekers already on Christmas Island are not being met. Christmas Island is no place for the survivors or any other asylum seekers.

“To inflict mandatory detention onto those that have survived the horror of the tragedy at Christmas Island would be a national disgrace. At the present rate of processing, the asylum seekers from that boat will still be
in detention in twelve or eighteen months’ time. To treat the survivors in that way would be unconscionable.

“Mandatory detention itself takes a terrible toll of people’s mental health. Asylum seekers have committed no crime but in too many cases mandatory detention imposes a life sentence on them.

“Freeing the survivors could be a first step to undertaking a thorough review of the government’s policies. If the government truly wants to avoid more tragedies, we need more than political posturing. Instead of a
committee of politicians, the government should be calling a roundtable of refugee advocates to implement a truly humanitarian policy, that would end mandatory detention and off-shore processing,” said Rintoul.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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