After winning a guarantee of re-settlement in Australia, the 78 Tamils on the Oceanic Viking left the ship. All of them, including women and children, are now being held in Indonesia’s Tanjung Pinang detention centre.
If the Rudd government lives up to its promise, that UNHCR refugees will be re-settled in Australia within four to six weeks, some of the Tamils should be in Australia by Christmas. Others found to be refugees should be here within 12 weeks.
But there is no such deal for the 250 Tamil asylum seekers who remain on the boat at Merak, Indonesia, demanding that they too be re-settled in Australia.
They are desperate to avoid the fate of other refugees trying to get to Australia, who remain in limbo in Indonesia.
The controversy has revealed some stark statistics. Australia accepted only 35 refugees from Indonesia last year and only 121 in the two years before that. If it simply increased the refugee intake to that of the Keating Labor government (around 21,000), all the people in Indonesia, registered with, or recognised by, the UNHCR (about 2200 people) could be brought to Australia and there would still be space for thousands more.
Australia funds persecution of asylum seekers
Rudd talks about being “tough on people smugglers” but this is a dog whistle for being tough on asylum seekers. The Australian government is paying Indonesia to police Australia’s borders to physically prevent asylum seekers reaching Australia. An Afghan asylum seeker was shot in the hand when the Indonesian navy, using an Australian supplied pursuit vessel, intercepted a refugee boat in November.
Then on November 25, two weeks after Foreign Minister Stephen Smith signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sri Lankan government on “people smuggling”, the Sri Lankan navy intercepted four refugee boats heading for Australia. One hundred mostly Tamil asylum seekers were detained.
Stephen Smith handed the Sri Lankan government another $11 million (making a total of $49 million since May) but said nothing about human rights abuses of Tamils in military-controlled internment camps. The Australian government is paying the persecutors of the Tamils to intercept and detain the victims of that persecution.
Astonishingly, Smith told a press conference that, “..if someone comes to Australia and claims asylum…we conduct ourselves in a manner which discharges our commitments to the Refugee Convention and our international and domestic legal obligations.”
The vast majority of both Afghans and Tamils processed on Christmas Island are being found to be refugees. But Australia is paying Indonesia and Sri Lanka to make sure they never get to Australia to make a claim! “Protecting” borders from refugees fleeing persecution makes a mockery of Australia’s commitment to the Refugee Convention.
Close Christmas Island
A fight between Afghans and Tamils at the Christmas Island detention centre has also exposed the deteriorating conditions for detainees being held on the island.
One of the detainees told the Refugee Action Coalition that Tamils and Hazaras live together in all the compounds, but “…people are angry, they are frustrated. We are waiting so long and don’t know what is going to happen to us.”
Mandatory detention—and all the misery and mental health abuse that goes along with it—remains central to Labor’s policy.
The detention centre is getting crowded. Originally built to accommodate 400 people, there are now over 1000.
The number of detainees in each compound has gone from less than 50 to 150 and more. Internet access has also been cut off.
While Afghan asylum seekers are taking four to five months to process, a growing number of Tamils have been detained for over six months.
Welcome refugees rallies calling for an end to the Indonesian Solution, the closure of Christmas Island and an end to mandatory detention have been held in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Indonesian human rights and socialist groups will protest at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry Jakarta office on December 5 calling for the Indonesian government to give humanitarian aid to the Tamils at Merak and to not restrict the rights of Tamils to seek asylum.
To get involved in the campaign, contact Refugee Action Coalition, email email@example.com or call Ian 0417 275 713
By Ian Rintoul