Four lies Morrison has told about asylum seekers

Saturday, August 2, 2014
Scott Morrison is 'desperate to avoid the High Court assessing the legality of its actions.'

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has spun many lies in his role as “border protector”. They have come hard and fast as the government tries to deal with the 157 Tamil refugees kept at sea aboard a Customs ship for weeks.

Below are the four biggest lies that have underpinned this case and the Coalition's entire anti-refugee policy.

WHY THE BOAT WAS BROUGHT TO THE MAINLAND

Morrison said on July 26 the 157 people would be brought to Curtin detention centre in remote north-west Western Australia so identity checks could be carried out by Indian officials.

Many refugee advocates, however, see it as a clear attempt to circumvent the High Court.

A full bench of the High Court was due to hear the asylum seekers' case that they, as lawyer Ron Merkel QC said, “were detained on the high seas pursuant to a power we say the government did not have”.

The case aimed to prove the government did not have the power to detain people and return them to the place from which they were seeking asylum without hearing their claims for protection, which is still the government's intention.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said on July 29: “The government was desperate to avoid the High Court assessing the legality of its actions.”

He said the government had told the High Court it was “their intention to hold the asylum seekers on board the Oceanic Protector until the High Court hearing on August 5”.

However, two days later they were being brought to Australia under “a deal” Morrison made with India. The case has been postponed and lawyers say they are now making a case of “false imprisonment”.

INDIA IS SAFE FOR REFUGEES

“I would be surprised if anyone was seriously suggesting that people were being persecuted in India by the Indian government,” Morrison told ABC radio's AM on July 28.

“If we can't take people back to India, what is next? New Zealand?”

The deal with India to let its officials identify those on the boat is deeply problematic. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis said the situation in India is not as simple as Morrison claims.

In fact, he said, Australia has granted more than 400 refugee protection visas to asylum seekers from India since 2008.

“There are people in that 157 who might be fleeing persecution from India,” he said. “And we're handing them over to potential persecution.”

India is not a signatory to the refugee convention and does not have domestic refugee law. The UNHCR says refugees and asylum seekers are protected by India's constitution, but reported in 2012 that many live in harsh poverty.

“We live on railway station platforms and in open fields,” one refugee told the refugee agency. “We have nothing to eat. The world is watching our plight, but no one is doing anything.” Others said they faced discrimination.

THEY ARE 'ECONOMIC MIGRANTS'

“Passage to Australia here is nothing more than an economic migration seeking to illegally enter Australia,” Morrison said as the 157 were being brought to shore, despite the fact that none have yet been able to make any case for asylum.

“Economic migrant” is just another way of saying “fake refugee”. And it only makes sense to have a hardline, deterrence policy if those trying to get protection are not “real refugees”. It is a heavily twisted and racist way of turning the public against asylum seekers in general.

Most do have a genuine fear of persecution. In the case of Tamil asylum seekers, many of those on board the boat likely ended up in India because they were in real fear for their lives in Sri Lanka.

Morrison and foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop are some of the only politicians in the world to visit Sri Lanka and find no “evidence” of persecution of Tamils.

But independent, well-documented reports continue to be released into the abuse, disappearances and human rights violations the Sri Lankan government is perpetuating against Tamils.

THEY CANNOT MAKE A CLAIM FOR PROTECTION

“Despite the Minister’s claims, it is highly likely that these asylum seekers will be entitled to settlement in Australia,” Rintoul said. RAC explained: “The fact of their interception by the Customs vessel means that the asylum seekers are not unlawful arrivals and cannot be sent to Manus Island or Nauru for processing.”

Karapanagiotidis said the government was trying to outsource its responsibilities: “We're a sovereign nation. You don't outsource our human rights and legal obligations to another country … We already have a legal process in place.”

Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh De Kretser, representing the asylum seekers, said: “The minister is admitting in court documents that they have claimed refugee protection, and the case before the High Court is proceeding on that basis that they are claiming refugee protection.”

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From GLW issue 1019