Unions and refugee advocates call for humane response on refugee stand-off aboard Oceanic Viking

Photo by cactusdude666 on Flickr - Australia's Shame - Nov 2, 2009
Refugee advocates and the Australian Union Movement have called on the Rudd Government to take the 78 Sri Lankans on the Oceanic Viking to Christmas Island where their claims as refugees and asylum seekers can be processed. Many of them have languished in Indonesian Immigration Detention for several years and already have been determined as refugees. They are refusing to leave the Australian Customs ship Oceanic Viking to go to the Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre resulting in a standoff between the Australian Government and the Indonesian Government.

See also: Australia's refugee resettlement program from Indonesia grossly inadequate | Tell Kevin Rudd: respect refugees’ rights

The incident is testing the political relationship between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia maintain with Australian financial assistance a system of 13 immigration detention centres. There is skeleton assistance provided by the International Organisation for Migration, with refugee claims processed by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow appealed for Australians to show our humanity and end the stand-off aboard the Oceanic Viking. "The Government should demonstrate Australians' strong humanitarian values by stepping in and bringing these people to Australia," Ms Burrow said.

"Everyone deserves a fair go. These unfortunate people have been through enough. Their ordeal should be brought to an end and they should be given immediate shelter and proper care by Australian authorities. We should deal with their claims for refugee status under Australian laws in accordance with our international obligations and not allow them to become pawns in a political game." she said.

"Working Australians will respect strong political leadership that shows a humane response rather than a blind adherence to hardline border security policy." Ms Burrow said. The ACTU placed a half page add in the Australian newspaper at the start of this week whic expressed disappointment with the use of rhetoric to demonise asylum seekers for political gain, and called for Australia to meet its international obligations towards refugees.

"There also needs to be international action to deal with the push factors that cause people to seek asylum. Australia can play an international leadership role by working towards peace, equitable development and decent work for all." said Ms Burrow "Australian unions are longstanding supporters of multiculturalism and the role of immigration in Australia's development,"

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the CFMEU (Mining and Energy Division) have decided to donate $10,000 to the refugees to help them in their crisis. "It's Australian seafarers who have been with these people through their ordeal and they have been moved to make a meaningful humanitarian gesture." said Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.

"This is about two Aussie unions stumping up to help people fleeing dreadful persecution," said CFMEU President Tony Maher.

"As the future of these people has hung in the balance, our blokes and others on the Oceanic Viking have just got on with the job of providing as clean and safe an environment for these unfortunate human beings. In doing that job they set aside political arguments," said Mr Crumlin. "Our members pick up these flotsam and jetsam from a badly stuffed up world from their ships rigs and floating platforms, sometimes at great risk to their own safety."

Pamela Curr, Campaign Coordinator Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Melbourne said "As the wishes of the refugees on the Oceanic Viking collide with those of the Indonesian and Australian governments, values of respect for human rights will be sorely tested."

At least 35 of these people are already recognised refugees according to Pamela Curr.

"We also know that they have been warehoused in Indonesia since Howard's time under a cruel policy of deter and deny, in an effort to force them to give up and go home. Events in Sri Lanka for Tamils have made this impossible. No way forward- no way back - just fed and watered like cattle by IOM at Australia's cost with no future." she said.

"These people have been our responsibility long before they were rescued and taken on board the Australian Customs vessel. We have paid to warehouse them for the past few years. We do not have the exact data becasuse the Australian government has denied access. We have this information becasue of the ingenuity of the refugees who have been messaging the world in bottles." she said.

Pamela Curr called for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to live up to his statements of respect and hero worship for German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who smuggled Jews to safety during World War II and was killed by the Nazis, by acting with generous compassion to these refugeees.

"We can assist in this difficult decision making by emailing the Prime Minister and asking him to Bring the refugees to Christmas Island where their claims can be processed now." she said.

"For a range of communication options- no bottles" Pamela Curr called for people to visit
www.pm.gov.au/PM_Connect/Email_your_PM to communicate with Kevin Rudd on this issue.