The ACT Refugee Action Committee has condemned the Howard Government's intended harsh changes to the way asylum seekers arriving by boat will be treated in the future. The committee organised a snap protest at the front of Parliament House today. Several federal politicians, refugee activists and a spoksperson for the 42 West Papuan asylum seekers, Mr Herman Wainggai, addressed the gathering. Speakers included Senators Nettle and Bartlett, along with ALP shadow spokesperson, Tony Burke, and refugee activist, Marion Le. Following is the Committee's media release
"This abject reaction to Indonesian criticism of the recognition of 42 West Papuans as refugees distorts the process of determining refugee status and leaves it open to diplomatic and political pressure. Australia desperately needs to retain a fair and independent refugee system, not adopt a corrupted process open to secret abuse.
The UN High Commission for Refugees has made it clear it is very concerned with the proposals and is unlikely to help make refugee decisions on Australia's behalf this time round.
The proposals are a more radical version of the Tampa legislation and the discredited Pacific Solution. They ensure that no asylum seekers arriving by boat will be processed under Australian law, but will instead be sent to offshore destinations such as Nauru, Manus Island or Christmas Island.
The changes will threaten breaches of international human rights and undermine the basis of the international refugee system, sending a message to other countries that it is OK to manipulate the Refugees Convention for domestic or foreign policy reasons. We should make it clear to all governments that we have legal obligations to refugees and asylum seekers that we will honour, and then seek to address the root causes of persecution to the best of our ability.
The policy will have the following additional damaging outcomes:
* Those processed offshore will be denied the safeguards of the Australian appeals and accountability system, and will be isolated from all forms of support and assistance from the Australian community.
* The reforms agreed to last year, allowing families and children to live in the Australian community during processing, will not apply.
* Australia refuses to say whether it will accept for resettlement those who are successful in their refugee claims, and other countries are unlikely to do so, meaning that bona fide refugees will either remain offshore indefinitely or Australia will have to take them and upset the Indonesians!!
* The new laws will have no regard to whether a refugee comes directly to Australia or not (contrary to earlier Government policy), which will of course affect West Papuans directly fleeing persecution. They may also be forced back to a persecution situation by the Navy or Customs in direct contravention of Article 33 of the Refugees Convention.
We betrayed bona fide refugees fleeing from Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Will we now betray West Papuans and others fleeing persecution? We call on all MPs and Senators to oppose these laws which place both bona fide refugees and the whole international refugee system in danger."
You can download a poster on refugee rights by clicking here.