Refugee advocates protest one year of PNG solution

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Refugee Action Coalition held a rally on July 19 demanding the Sri Lankan asylum seekers imprisoned on an Australian Customs boat in an unspecified location, be brought to Australia.

During a High Court hearing on July 22 it was revealed there are 157 asylum seekers on board the boat, not 153 as previously reported, and they are allowed only three hours of daylight a day.

The rally was held on the first anniversary of the PNG solution, a policy introduced under the former Labor government that expanded the detention centre on Manus Island and refused to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to be resettled in Australia. The rally called for an end to this inhumane policy.

Several speakers addressed the rally. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young condemned the federal government’s lack of courage over the PNG solution and the cruelty of allowing refugees to languish on the boat.

Bala Vigneswaran, from the Australian Tamil Congress told the rally: “Did Aboriginal people check with national interest when people came by boat? This is a sad situation we are working in — where the current [Tony] Abbott government has a policy of not talking about their policy.

“[Immigration minister Scott] Morrison just visited Sri Lanka and said it was wonderful country. Why was Morrison rubbing shoulder to shoulder with Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa? Why not meet with clergy or community members to get a real feel for the situation in Sri Lanka?”

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney said: “This boat is gathering news around the world — BBC, Austria and Japan. The Tamil community has rallied outside the Australian embassy in London. We want a record of what happened on the boat — what was decided and who decided it. This government is clearly hiding information. They have gone to court to stop information getting to the community.”

Penny Howard from Unions for Refugees said: “Our group has gathered support from Unions NSW and we have 350 unionists involved.

“I worked as a merchant marine and it is against every law of [the sea] to turn back the boats. It is a perversion of people's skills that the government is ordering our community to do this. There are health issues when people are at sea and being locked up inside on ship is a disaster waiting to happen.

“We support the call of organisations and people demanding these people not be sent back to danger. We need to give our solidarity as workers to our low-paid asylum seeker sisters and brothers. The Tamils who recently set themselves alight were low waged workers.

“The scapegoating politicians use against refugees makes it more likely they will carry out the same kind of attacks on all of us. We see this with the recent federal budget. We need to demand the right of refuge for asylum seekers but also the right to Medicare, to education, to dignity on the workplace.”

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From GLW issue 1018