Inquiry needed into government response to distressed asylum seekers

Refugee Action Coalition MEDIA RELEASE

The drama and uncertainty that still surrounds the fate of many of the
asylum seekers whose boat got into trouble almost a week ago, has thrown
the spotlight on the Australian government’s refugee policies – in
particular its attitude to people smugglers and interception of asylum
seekers in Indonesia.

“Asylum seekers would not have to use people smugglers if the Australian
government had pro-active policy and began to process asylum seekers in
Indonesia, said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It is Australian government policies that are forcing asylum seekers to
risk their lives making the boat journey to Australia. The government then
processes asylum seekers on Christmas Island where they have less rights
and jails the Indonesians – many of them poor fishermen –who crew the boat
that brings them to Australia. It is hypocritical really,” said Rintoul.

“The demonisation of people smugglers is the new code for being tough on
asylum boats. It ends up saying that asylum seekers are not welcome in
Australia. Asylum seekers who arrive by plane are not subject to the same
hysteria. Are Qantas bosses called people smugglers for bringing asylum
seekers to Australia? It’s the same old double standard.

“The Australian government is paying for the Indonesian government to
warehouse and harass asylum seekers that are trying to get to safety in
Australia. There are people still in Indonesia having been turned back by
the Australian navy after the Tampa incident in 2001. Why are they still
waiting? This policy is driving people to take risks using boats that are
less prepared for the dangerous sea journey.

“The UNHCR is notoriously slow in processing refugees and Australia will
not comitted to taking those refugees from Indonesia. They can spend
millions of dollars putting federal police all over Indonesia. They could
spend that money more usefully, and with more humanitarian effect, by
processing asylum claims.”

“Worse, it now seems that the Australian government is not prepared to
throw its resources into assisting distressed asylum boats. There needs to
be a full inquiry into the communications between Australian authorities
and the Indonesian authorities to find out why there was no assistance for
these people.

“It will be a miracle if everybody if safe, although Australian and
Indonesian authorities had co-ordinates for the boat the first night it got
into trouble. They did nothing for them.

“Phase one of the Rudd government’s refugee policy like re-establishing
permanent visas has been a step in the right direction. Now it is time to
look at the next steps needed for a genuine humanitarian and
non-discriminatory policy.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713


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