Australia still wrong on refugee rights
Sunday February 25th 2007, 9:29 am

image: Peter Nicholson
image: Peter Nicholson, 1999

The interception near Christmas Island of a boat carrying 85 asylum seekers and the Howard plan to ‘Pacific Solution‘ these people once again brings to fore the inconsistencies between Liberal Party refugee policy and Australia’s obligations to assist those fleeing persecution.

According to UNHCR, a refugee is any person who:

[has a] well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

The history of international cooperation in protecting refugees goes back to the displacement of civilians in Europe after World War II. War caused the breakdown of several governments, with the attendant inability to issue travel and identity documentation. As such, lack of documentation is recognised and specified in the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees as not being just cause to deny refugee status or grant protection to those who appear on the shores or borders of UN Refugee Convention signatory nations.

Australia was one of the drafting signatories to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees- yes, Australia helped craft the language in the Refugee Convention- yet these days does not fully honour the agreement, particularly with regard to asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

In terms of actual numbers of undocumented or ‘illegal’ migrants, Anglos who arrive by plane and overstay their tourist visas outnumber Asian boat people transported by people smugglers by a very significant margin. It’s a lot easier for an Anglo to blend in with the general Australian herd. Even in terms of the actual headcount of illegal migrants to Australia by boat, the numbers are miniscule, certainly in comparison to the overall numbers of all ‘illegal’ migrants.

Asylum seekers have a right to a speedy assessment of their claims to refugee status. Parking them on an offshore island prison camp for several years doesn’t cut the jam when per the UNHCR, the test is provision of sanctuary. These people are in desperate enough need for sanctuary that the clear and present danger of staying where they are is greater than the risk of drowning- or being jailed for years while their refugee claims are assessed by the Australian government.

Whether the most recently intercepted group of boat people sabotaged their own vessel or not, I somehow don’t see the crime in forcing a UN member nation to comply with the terms of the UN Refugee Conventions they’ve signed up to defend.

Exactly who is breaking the law or is failing their internationally agreed obligations when refugee vessels are turned (or towed) back, or immeasurably worse, allowed to sink?

-weez


9 Comments so far
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Couldn’t agree more on your viewpoint on this whole saga.
Sri Lanka is is one hell of a mess, I saw a post from a socialist party on Indymedia Sydney, they said a few political activists, even an MP, have been harassed by police, that there is a huge climate of political repression there, not enough coverage of it.
Indonesia has said today they would take them back to Sri Lanka, believing their ‘reassurances’.
I just wrote a very angry letter to the UNHCR, who were quoted on ABC news online saying they ‘accepted the government’s assurances’ the asylum-seekers would not be harmed(Aust. govt. of course).
I told them I wouldn’t believe a word that came out of Australia’s mouth on refugees. I also said much the same about the convention on torture and the same legislation as you mention above. I don’t expect a response, they would be too embarrassed at their ‘lack of elementary research’ as I put it.
With friends like those, who needs enemies!
Brilliant blog btw…ggrrr!

Comment by Matthew 02.28.07 @ 1:40 am

Thanks for the compliment, Matthew.

Of course, I’ve written my own flurry of letters to those who will (and to those who won’t) do something about this ‘Pacific Solution’ debacle.

If it wasn’t for people like you & I raising a little necessary hell, these Sri Lankan asylum seekers would presently be on an Indonesian aircraft, winging their way to Colombo.

Comment by weez 02.28.07 @ 5:57 am

I’m so absorbed in the war-mongering in Iran at the moment

(See http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/ if you’re interested, it’s very detailed)

But I agree this issue is too important to be sidetracked without something to say!

I am wondering if you are worried about copyright on the cartoons, etc. I’m just curious because I’ve just started a blog myself ;0)

Thankyou for your reply. I think Howard’s ego is getting more bruised than usual, so I expect him to crank up the racism in response.

Comment by Matthew 02.28.07 @ 11:26 am

I am wondering if you are worried about copyright on the cartoons, etc.

No, not worried in the least. mgk is based on servers in the USA and functions under US copyright law, which has a ‘fair use’ exemption. A single citation of a certain artwork, particularly for non-profit, non-business republishing or discussion of current events qualifies as ‘fair use.’

As a courtesy, I always credit the source of cartoon citations and also link to the publication where I found the image. I do on occasion receive thank-you notes from cartoonists who have noticed their work cited on mgk.

You’re right- Howard is RATtled. 😉

I’ve been counting on Howard ramping up up fears of ‘terrorist asylum seekers.’ In fact, I predicted a solid week before this most recent event that Johnny may even have a few rusty boats full of brown people ready to head for Xmas Is.

Comment by weez 02.28.07 @ 2:36 pm

Thanks for the information on ‘fair use’. I’ll check out my options.

The stock markets really took a hammering today, New York and Asian stock markets in particular, poor value of US real estate and China beginning to slow down.

I also expect that a recession will just increase Howard’s racialism at the polls. I think they are goners but;

I’m a bit worried of a 1969/1998 type election, where the strength of the swing against the tories is not good enough given the large majority they won last election. :0(

Comment by Matthew 02.28.07 @ 5:03 pm

The workings of Australian elections are a bit odd- I’m still trying to work out how AEC tabulates all the preferences. I’ve had 10 years to get used to it, though. I’ll be doing some historical reading on the 1969 and 1998 elections (I was temporarily out of Australia for the ’98 poll) to see what you mean.

The Coalition only won by 4.72% in 2004; does that count as a large majority?

The current 2-party preferred PM polls recently have Labor at some 57-59% compared to their primary vote in 2004 of about 47% to the Coalition’s 52%. You’d think that 57% would be enough to put Labor in government.

Comment by weez 02.28.07 @ 6:41 pm

I’ve been wondering about the impact of the market ‘correction.’ Will be interesting to see the reaction from the Rudd camp.

Comment by weez 02.28.07 @ 9:35 pm

Yes, 4.72% is a biggish margin. But I too would expect Labor to win more than that. With Greens preferences I think two-party preferred they would look pretty hard to beat, unless Labor shits in it’s own nest, which is always possible as you can see from recent corruption inquires here in Perth.

Lenin once said you can’t really know the state of the economy without having a revolution. Industry figures from Howard, Bush, China – are really just median average extrapolations from “model” factories and offices.

It is true Wall Street rallied in 1987, after 9/11 back in 2002, even after the collapse of the Thai Bhat sent the once “invincible tiger economies” Japan and South Korea into 10% unemployment, etc.

“Recession” technically means three successive periods of negative economic growth. News South Wales has been in recession since last year, and Tasmania satisify that criterion. But not so Queensland or WA, which are booming if you are lucky enough to share in that growth!

I expect a general recession given the energy prices will pick up again before years’ out. But as they say, who could really know?

Financial Slump Links:

(Satirical)

(Serious)

Comment by Matthew 03.01.07 @ 12:15 am

[…] From Machine Gun Keyboard: In terms of actual numbers of undocumented or ‘illegal’ migrants, Anglos who arrive by plane and overstay their tourist visas outnumber Asian boat people transported by people smugglers by a very significant margin. It’s a lot easier for an Anglo to blend in with the general Australian herd. Even in terms of the actual headcount of illegal migrants to Australia by boat, the numbers are miniscule, certainly in comparison to the overall numbers of all ‘illegal’ migrants. […]

Pingback by Sri Lankan Refugees Fate (Un)Settled at Illusive Mind 03.16.07 @ 10:53 am



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