interne verweise
Links zum Artikel:
Weitere Artikel zum Thema:
Texte zur Rubrik:

[ 21. Jun 2006 ]

Refugee Day: Kill Howard's offshore migration bill

'let the boats land'

June 20, 2006: Opponents of John Howard's recent push to make Australia "out-of-bounds for Boat-people," say the Prime Minister should use World Refugee Day to kill the migration bill...


The Howard government is pushing for all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, whether or not they reach the Australian mainland, will be sent to remote, off-shore immigration detention centres in places like Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Opponents say changes to the Migration Act to expand Howard's much condemned "Pacific Solution" dishonours Australia’s commitment to human rights and represent a backward step in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

Cracks in the Howard Wall

There is increasing tension within the Coalition party over the issue of detaining asylum-seekers in remote detention centres. A group of Liberal/National backbenchers are concerned by Howard's plan to send all refugees who arrive by boat to remote offshore detention facilities for processing.

The rebel group of around a dozen, includes senators Judith Troeth, Marise Payne and Russell Trood and MPs Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Bruce Baird.

John Howard is "unfazed" by dissent to his new beefed-up migration bill. He will meet with the Indonesian President next week for the first time since a bitter row erupted between the two countries over 42 Papuan asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat in January this year (2006).

The Immigration Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, says she is still negotiating with the dissident Coalition backbenchers.

Gitmo Ozstyle

The Law Council of Australia says if the federal government goes ahead with tougher laws it could create Australia's own Guantanamo Bay. The LCA say the detainees would be guilty of nothing more than arriving as asylum seekers without a valid visa.

The Law Council's, John North, says the changes would remove basic legal protection provided under Australia's legal system - including access to legal advice, independent review and appeals to courts.

There are also concerns that Australia cannot guarantee standards for detainees sent offshore. Instead of being an extra-territorial processing centre, Nauru, for example, would assume full responsibility for the detainees who would be under the authority of Nauruan law.

Howard's recalcitrant backbenchers are concerned that Nauru's laws cannot guarantee access to Australian agencies such as the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Refugee Review Tribunal.

Despite his "strong desire" for the bill to be forced through before Parliament's winter break, John Howard has shied from his previously expressed hope for the issue to be resolved urgently, stating he was a "patient man."


The ALP has said it would scrap overseas processing of asylum seekers if it wins the next election - because Australian laws did not apply. "There would be no overseas processing," Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said. "We don't support the principle that when someone arrives in your country you go and dump them in another country."

Mr Burke said refugees should be processed in a timely manner. He said the Government did a reasonable job of processing temporary protection visas for 42 Papuan asylum seekers fairly quickly. "They made an independent decision, not made by the executive but made by the appropriate officers."

Mr Burke said the Government should not try to appease Indonesia by changing our immigration laws.

Human Rights First

Critics say the government’s policies should not infringe people’s human rights. Amnesty International refugee coordinator Dr Graham Thom says on World Refugee Day, fundamental human rights must come first:

"You cannot put international relations and diplomatic relations ahead of the rights of individuals, particularly those who are fleeing persecution," he said.

John von Doussa QC, President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes AM say the new laws "undermine Australia’s commitment to human rights and represent a backward step in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers."

HREOC say the changes will "reverse important recent reforms to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, including the removal of children from immigration detention."

The Commission is concerned the proposed changes breach Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. HREOC say that children will be detained in conditions which "endanger their well-being and mental health. Being held in an offshore processing centre is, without doubt, a form of detention."

These concerns are not new. HREOC's 2004 report - "National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, A last resort?" - warned that Howard's "Pacific Solution" breached several of Australia’s human rights obligations.

The proposed changes do not address the possibility of excessive or indefinite detention. This raises serious concerns about arbitrary detention. HREOC say it may also result in Australia being in "breach of its obligations under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention which requires that asylum seekers are not penalised for arriving illegally."

The "disastrous consequences of long-term detention on the mental health of asylum seekers are now beyond dispute. The proposed changes do not provide proper measures to address mental health concerns." HREOC say the tragic cases of Vivian Solon and Cornelia Rau show that mistakes do happen at a departmental level. The Commission says "it is crucial that offshore processing centres are subject to the same level of independent scrutiny as immigration detention centres in Australia."

More Opposition

Last week, Greens Leader Bob Brown will tabled a petition, coordinated by GetUp, of more than 32,000 signatures calling on the government to drop its legislation to ship asylum-seekers offshore.

"More than 75% of Australians disagree with the new immigration laws, more than 32,000 people have lent their name to this petition. A Senate committee has recommended the government scraps the laws and it is time the Prime Minister stopped ignoring Australians," Senator Brown said.

"These new laws contravene Australia's obligation to asylum seekers under the UN refugee convention and they will ensure women and children are locked up with no access to legal recourse in Australia. They are a national disgrace."

Cruel an Unnecessary

Anglicare has expressed "grave concern" at the proposed changes that excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone.

Anglicare Sydney's CEO, Peter Kell says that the system of off-shore mandatory detention is "cruel and unnecessary." He says, "placing asylum seekers in off-shore detention centres is an unnecessarily punitive way to treat these people and tantamount to punishing them for no crime."

Mr Kell says that given Anglicare knows first hand just how vulnerable people and particularly women and children who have fled persecution and oppression are.

"Many of the people who come to Australia as asylum seekers have a genuine fear of persecution in their homelands, with many having suffered physical, mental and emotional trauma as a result of their experiences," said Mr Kell.

"Australia has both a moral and a legal obligation to offer safe haven to those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. Claims for asylum must be assessed, but we must not further diminish Australia’s long reputation as a compassionate nation and a good global citizen".

This article by Karen Elliot was published first on 21 June 2006 at :: Perth Indymedia. Sources: :: SBS :: :: ABC :: The Australian :: Sunday Times :: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission :: Greens Media :: Anglicare