Refugee advocates protest one year of PNG solution

Green Left Weekly

Saturday, July 26, 2014
By Rachel Evans

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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Indian officials to begin processing asylum seekers in WA

ABC Online
Indian consular officials to begin processing asylum seekers in Western Australia

Indian consular staff will this morning begin processing a group of Tamil asylum seekers after they were transferred from Cocos Islands to mainland Australia last night.

The 157 people were flown to the Curtin RAAF base near Derby in Western Australia's far north.

The group had been detained on a Customs vessel for several weeks after their boats were intercepted in June.

The Government had previously refused to reveal the location or status of the group, but on Saturday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed they would be brought to Australia to be interviewed by Indian officials.

India has reportedly agreed to take back any of its nationals among the group.

Guardian Australia journalist Michael Safi was on Cocos Island as the group was removed from the Customs ship.

"The first group were driven straight to the airport. And then the second - once the airport had reached maximum capacity - were taken to the Government's quarantine station," Mr Safi said.

Turnbacks 'make pointless deterrents'

Australia's policy of mandatory detention is not what is stopping the boats, and we should put an end to the untold damage that is being inflicted on people's lives, writes Mike Steketee on The Drum.

"They seemed pretty tired. They seemed a little bit glum. I wasn't able to speak to any of them but then I was able to sort of gesture at them through the tinted bus windows.

"They were giving thumbs up back and they were waving back and I think they just seemed to be pleased that somebody knew they existed."

The group are the first asylum seeker boat arrivals to successfully make it to Australia in six months.

The Government has been locked in a High Court battle over the future of the group, with a directions hearing to be held next week to examine the implications of the Government's decision to bring the Tamils to the mainland.

Calls to the Immigration Minister's office have not been returned.

Previously, Mr Morrison has insisted no asylum seekers who come by boat would reach the Australian mainland, but he was forced to make an exception because India wanted to interview them.

He has said the safest and most convenient way of doing that is in Australia, although he insisted they would never be settled here.

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