Australia shares responsibility for asylum seekers’ deaths at sea: Refugee Action Coalition

Australia cannot evade its share of the responsibility for the tragic sinking of another asylum boat off Java, according to advocates from the Refugee Action Coalition. The boat is believed to have been carrying Afghan and Iranian refugees.

“Australia’s push for Indonesia to detain asylum seekers and to criminalize people smuggling directly leads to the kind of tragedy we’ve seen yet again today,” said Ian Rintoul, RAC spokesperson.

“There’s nothing inherently dangerous about the passage from Indonesia – if it’s in proper boats. If the government is worried about people losing their lives at sea, they should decriminalize people-smuggling so that the voyages can be planned in the open and seaworthy boats can come here without having to sneak into Australian waters in secret.”

“But the policy of detaining asylum seekers in Indonesia means asylum seekers risk imprisonment if they contact authorities if they are concerned about the seaworthiness of any boat. The fact that Australia impounds and destroys the vessels that bring asylum seekers here means boats used are more likely to be unseaworthy. The crossing from Indonesia is these boats’ last voyage.”

“This time we tragically have hundreds of people likely to be dead. No doubt we’ll hear a lot of hypocrisy from government and opposition about the tragedy of lost lives. They’ll say the sinking shows Australia has to deter people from undertaking boat trips. But talk of stopping the boats only makes the situation worse. It doesn’t matter how unsafe the boat is, refugees will try to get to Australia because that is often the only place where they can be safe.”

“According to reports earlier this year, there were 1462 civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the first half of 2011 alone – a 15% increase. May this year was the deadliest month of the war for civilians since 2007. It’s no surprise that people are willing to risk their lives on the trip to Australia.

“Sending people to Nauru or Malaysia will make no difference. People trying to escape war and persecution in Afghanistan or Iran are still going to try and come here because they have no other option. And any refugees who are prevented from coming to Australia by government policies will just undertake other dangerous journeys to Europe or America, with just as much risk to their lives.”

“Australia’s obligation is to welcome asylum seekers. We have resettled a minuscule number of refugees from our region.”

“If the government and opposition really had a concern for asylum seekers’ lives they would institute the humane refugee policy Australia has needed for so long. They’d massively increase our refugee intake from the region, they’d end mandatory detention, decriminalize people-smuggling, remove offshore processing as a policy option, and process and resettle refugees from Indonesia.”

More information: Ian Rintoul, 0417 275 713

Originally posted at

Australia's anti-refugee policies contributed to the drowning of asylum seekers, say advocates


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