Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Refugees in Australia: UN ‘troubled’ by Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers - Rudd does a 'Howard' on boat people!

The United Nations said Monday it was "deeply troubled" by Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers, as rights group Amnesty International condemned the reopening of a remote detention centre.

Amnesty's media release follows:

"Amnesty International has condemned the Australian government’s suspension of the processing of new asylum claims by Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals, labelling it an appalling act of political point scoring, and fundamentally inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

The organisation, which has repeatedly called on the government to show leadership on asylum and refugee issues, said the move smacks of opportunistic politics ahead of this year’s expected Federal election. Amnesty International is gravely concerned that this move will result in the arbitrary detention of people who have genuine protection claims.

“This decision is outrageous. Sadly, it appears that the government has caved into political pressure and is now attempting to override the rights of the most vulnerable to score political points,” said Andrew Beswick, Campaigns Manager for Amnesty International Australia. “People fleeing persecution should not be used as political footballs”.

The decision to suspend processing the claims of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers pre-empts the UNHCR’s official review of the security situation on the ground in either of those countries.

“This will compromise Australia’s international reputation as a leader in the region,” said Andrew Beswick.

Amnesty International calls upon the Australian Government to release the information on which it has based its claim that the security conditions in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have improved to such an extent as to justify this sudden blanket suspension.

“The government’s rationale for this apparently unilateral decision conflicts with the information Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have received regarding the situation on the ground for many people in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka,” said Andrew Beswick.

Amnesty International believes the Australian Government’s move sends a dangerous message throughout the Asia Pacific region. The possibility exists that as a result of this decision, other governments within the region could begin to pressure UNHCR to cease processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Australian Government has a rigorous process of assessing asylum claims according to the internationally agreed criteria set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under that process, individuals who are found to be at risk of torture, persecution or death, are offered our protection. Those people who are not found to have genuine claims are returned to their country of origin. As Australia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, that process should stand.

Well over 90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to have genuine protection claims. This means the overwhelming majority of Afghans and Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia have largely been found to have genuine claims for protection. This statistic demands that the Australian Government further explain a blanket ban on these two groups.

Situations for many groups in Sri Lanka, including activists, journalists and some Tamils remain tenuous and dangerous. Similarly in Afghanistan, many individuals, in particular activists and journalists, have fled real threats from the Taliban or government-associated warlords, while women, single heads of households, unaccompanied minors, victims of trauma, people requiring medical attention and people with disabilities are at significant risk.

“There is no justification for the Australian Government’s application of a blanket suspension of the assessment of asylum claims from Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals,” said Andrew Beswick.

Amnesty International will be investigating whether the move also puts Australia in breach of its obligations under the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination."

Amnesty International is calling on the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Immigration and Citizenship to:

* Reverse their decision to suspend the processing of new asylum applications by Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals.

* Respect the rights of all refugees and asylum seekers regardless of where they come from.

* Stop over-riding the rights of the world’s most vulnerable people for political purposes.

You can take action by clicking here.

Getup has a campaign underway to tackle the Rudd Government on its backsliding path toward human rights violations. I did'nt expect to see this from Labor but it is happening and my worst fears are being realized. Click here to hear Riz's powerful story.

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