Tony Abbott is taking the Liberals back to the refugee bashing policies of the Howard era, saying he will re-impose temporary protection visas and turn boats around at sea. Abbott claims that Howard’s policies stopped the boats. Not surprisingly the truth is different. Temporary protection visas (TPVs) were introduced in October 1999. Over the next two years, boat arrivals actually increased —from 2939 people in 2000 up to 5516 in 2001.
But TPV holders were denied family reunion. That was why there were so many wives and children of refugees on the SIEV X when it sank in October 2001.  Of the 353 people who drowned, there were 146 children, and 142 women.
Neither that tragedy nor the Liberal’s Pacific Solution stopped the boats. But the government stopped recording the numbers of asylum seekers who were towed or taken back to Indonesia.
After the Tampa in late 2001 at least four boats (SIEVs 5, 7, 11 and 12) were towed back to Indonesia. Three others (4,6,10) sank when they were intercepted or were being towed between 2001 and 2002. UNHCR estimates that at least 1600 people were “diverted” to PNG or Nauru over the years of Howard’s Pacific Solution.
Labor finally ended detention on Nauru and the cruel practice of temporary protection visas in May 2008.
But Labor opened the high-security detention centre on Christmas Island in December 2008, using the same arguments linking asylum boats and border security as those used by the Howard government. Rudd’s Indonesia Solution is an attempt to use the Indonesian government to detain asylum seekers and get its navy to intercept boats, to do exactly what the Liberals did in 2001—stop asylum seekers getting to Australia.
The fate of the more than 200 Tamils, still on the boat at Merak, five months after Kevin Rudd called on the Indonesian president to intercept it, is a graphic reminder of what the Indonesian Solution means in practice. 
And on Christmas Island, all the same problems of long term detention—the isolation, the self-harm, the mental illness—are re-emerging.
To mark the visit of Indonesian President Yudhoyono to Australia and 150 days at Merak, protests are being held in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and London calling on Kevin Rudd to close Christmas Island, end the Indonesian Solution, and bring the Merak refugees to Australia.
By Ian Rintoul


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