Outdoing the Coalition on refugees?

Issue 

Sarah Stephen &
Roberto Jorquera, Sydney

Labor's newly appointed shadow immigration minister, Laurie Ferguson, told the October 28 Melbourne Age that he was a "bit sick of being lectured to by people". He claimed that refugee advocates were "usually people whose contact is limited to a few niche cases that they get very emotionally involved in" and that they would have a more realistic view if they lived in areas where most refugees resided.

Ferguson said some advocates failed to understand that "a sizeable proportion" of asylum seekers had fraudulent cases and manipulated the legal system to stay in Australia. Ferguson's Sydney electorate of Reid is where 25% of Australia's temporary protection visa holders live.

Ferguson's outburst, just two days after his portfolio was announced, has shocked and angered refugee supporters. Many people have pointed out that 93% of asylum seekers who have come by boat to Australia in the past few years have been granted refugee status, refuting Ferguson's use of the term "queue-jumpers".

Reverend Elenie Poulos, national director of Uniting Justice Australia, said on October 28: "Mr Ferguson's comments that rejected claims are somehow fraudulent show a complete lack of understanding of the protection system, and a clear disregard for the natural justice upon which refugee determination processes should be based.

"If a person's claim for protection is rejected, this simply means that the person is not a Convention Refugee. It does not mean that the person acted fraudulently."

Reid resident and Afghan refugee Riz Wakil is angered and dismayed by Ferguson's claim that asylum seekers manipulate the legal system to stay in Australia. Wakil spent nearly two years in detention and three years on a temporary protection visa before recently receiving permanent residency. He told Green Left Weekly: "I am disgusted with Mr Ferguson's ignorance. He should know better and I am ashamed to have him as my local member.

"As a refugee from Afghanistan who has had to personally deal with the system here, it is clear to me that Mr Ferguson has turned a blind eye to the truth of what refugees have to face."

Lisa Macdonald, a refugee-rights advocate in the local area for many years and the Socialist Alliance's candidate for Reid in the federal election, told GLW: "Ferguson should apologise for his remarks and, rather than vilify and condemn his constituents, do something to help the thousands of refugees here get permanent residence, to access much needed services and to exercise their basic human right to security, good health and happiness."

Wakil and Macdonald said that they would be happy to publicly debate the issue with Mr Ferguson, and have written to him to request his participation in such a meeting.

From Green Left Weekly, November 3, 2004.
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