Australia can have stronger borders and a bigger heart

Tim Costello; 19/7/10; (12 Items)

It is already clear that asylum seekers and ”stopping the boats” will be a critical element of this election. Yet the politics of asylum seekers is both deflating and confounding. Little wonder Immigration Minister Chris Evans, in an unguarded moment, reflected on his frustrations on the issue, which he said was ”killing the government”. Evans later said his frustrations were historical and things had changed since Julia Gillard became prime minister. Nevertheless, the issue remains perplexing. One poll last week showed tougher rhetoric on asylum seekers had boosted the government’s electoral support, despite a significant proportion of people polled saying they had little faith the government’s


Off the island, next stop the WA outback

Paige Taylor & Paul Maley; 6/6/10;

The mass transportation of asylum-seekers from the overcrowded Christmas Island was stepped up yesterday, with 86 touching down in the remote mining village of Leonora as another 300 prepared to leave for the Curtin detention centre. A small Afghan boy blew a kiss and another waved and smiled as he was carried from a charter jet to a Hertz minibus on the way to their new home in the West Australian northern Goldfields yesterday afternoon. The child was among 21 family groups who spent their first night at a refurbished miners camp in the remote town of 1200 permanent residents, 400 of them indigenous. As the 86 people arrived at the newly revamped site, the Rudd government was reeling from a new poll showing Kevin Rudd’s popularity in freefall and overwhelming support for the Coalition’s border protection policy.


Refugee policy a complex moral and practical issue

9/6/10; Editorial

The uncompromising moral certainty shown by a passionate minority opposed to tight border controls puts it out of step with both sides of federal politics and majority public opinion. And the issues are more complex, practically and morally, than many care to acknowledge. The case for treating asylum-seekers humanely is unanswerable. The Australian has consistently supported a generous intake of refugees. There are strong arguments that our current annual intake of 13,750, which puts us among the top nations in the world for resettlements on a per capita basis, could be increased. Immigrants and refugees have made a considerable contribution to the nation’s economic and civic life for more than 200 years, and we strongly favour a “big Australia” with immigration playing a big part.Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Bishop Christopher Saunders recently deplored “a national attitude lacking in compassion and care for those who have suffered so much already”. And on Sunday night on ABC radio, Catholic Loreto sister Libby Rogerson, Rosemary Hudson-Millar from the Uniting Church in Western Australia and John Langmore of the Anglican National Public Affairs Committee also derided “populist” opinion over boatpeople and argued that Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott


 Smugglers shipped east for court date

Michael McKenna; 11/6/10

Ten alleged people-smugglers were yesterday transferred to Queensland for prosecution, in an apparent backdown by the Rudd government to the West Australian government’s threats that it would not take any more crew from the illegal boat arrivals into its jails. The alleged people-smugglers, all Indonesians, will appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court today after being moved from immigration detention in the Northern Territory. More than 70 alleged people-smugglers, waiting in detention in Darwin and Christmas Island to be charged and prosecuted, are expected to be farmed out to Queensland and NSW over the next month. Victoria is understood to be resisting the move, sparked by the complaints of West Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter that his state was carrying the overwhelming burden of housing and prosecuting people-smugglers from the flood of illegal boat arrivals over the past 18 months.


A small, wooden “Welcome to Curtin” sign will greet about 200 asylum-seekers

Debbie Guest; 11/6/10

A small, wooden “Welcome to Curtin” sign will greet about 200 asylum-seekers as they arrive in the red dust and isolation of the Curtin detention centre in the coming days.  The single Afghan and Sri Lankan men, in limbo because they arrived after the federal government’s suspension in April of claims by asylum-seekers from their countries, will live behind two high fences. Half the men will sleep in the same dongas (transportable rooms) as boatpeople processed under the Howard government before the centre shut in 2002. Keen to illustrate that much had changed since the days of riots and self-harm attempts at the notorious centre, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship opened it yesterday. “You are in the desert, you are in the outback, there’s no denying that,” department spokesman Sandi Logan said. “Fortunately, compared to 10 years ago there’s a degree of shade. It compares favourably with all of our other detention centres.”


Hanson’s ghost still haunts our refugee policy

Mike Steketee; 12/6/10

Courage is a thing of the past as both sides of politics callously pander to xenophobia. Petro Georgiou, the Liberal backbencher who has led the fight in the Coalition for a more humane policy towards refugees, told parliament in his farewell speech last week that he remained optimistic that politicians would “elevate hope above fear and tolerance above prejudice”. However, that requires courage of the kind shown by Malcolm Fraser, Georgiou’s former boss, who accepted 70,000 refugees from South Vietnam when the corpse of the White Australia policy was still warm. It needs the leadership of Ben Chifley, who opened the doors to Jewish refugees after World War II, and of Robert Menzies, who was prime minister when Australia became the sixth country to sign the UN refugee convention. Today the leadership on refugee policy comes from beyond the political grave in the form of Pauline Hanson. She came up with the idea in 1998 of temporary visas for refugees, a proposal considered so offensive that then immigration minister Philip Ruddock called it “highly unconscionable in a way that most thinking people would clearly reject”.


Merak passengers among 12 boatpeople drowned

Stephen Fitzpatrick; 14/6/10

Up to 12 asylum-seekers are believed to have drowned last week after a failed attempt to reach Australia from Indonesia, including at least two Sri Lankans from the Merak boat intercepted last year at Kevin Rudd’s request. The Afghans and Sri Lankans who died are understood to have been trying to transfer from a small fishing boat to a larger Australia-bound vessel in stormy weather at night when their craft capsized. Only two asylum-seekers and one crewman escaped, according to fellow refugees who have been in contact with the survivors. Indonesian authorities say they have no record of the incident, which the survivors have said took place last Monday. The two survivors, as well as two of the dead, were from the Jaya Lestari, the 30m wooden cargo boat bound for Australia that Indonesia seized off western Java last October as a favour to the Prime Minister in order to send a message to people-smugglers.


Twelve feared dead after capsize

15/6/10; (2 Items)

Indonesia has arrested two asylum seekers whose boat capsized in an attempt to reach Australia, a refugee advocate says, and a dozen others from the small fishing boat are believed dead after trying to transfer to a larger vessel in stormy conditions. Australian Tamil activist Sara Nathan said the survivors and two men who died had previously attempted the boat journey to Australia on the Jaya Lestari. That boat was turned back to Indonesia at Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s request and was moored for months in the port of Merak


Indonesia guards use Tasers on detainees

Stephen Fiztpatrick, 11/6/10;  Additional reporting; Lanai; Vasek

Inodnesian immigration guards are using Taser-style weapons to subdue detainees in the Australian-funded detention centre at Tanjung Pinang, despite regulations that limit their use to emergencies only.

Detainees in the centre claim the stun guns, which they de­scribe as “electric torches”, have been used in attacks by guards.

According to one asylum- seeker who has experienced con­ditions at Tanjung Pinang, the guards “use electric sticks … there is some new device like a torch and the other one is like an electric stick, when they use it that causes electric shock, some say they have seen it at the slaughterhouse for weakening the oxes”.

The head of the Tanjung Pinang facility, Sugiyo, told The Australian electric stun devices were part of the equipment provided, but were not supposed to be used in general operations.

“We have them, but they are not allowed to be used,” Mr Sugiyo said. “There are strict rules about that; they may not be used. What’s more, here we have the UNHCR, we have the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), everything is open, if that sort of thing is being said, it’s not true.” But asylum-seeker sources confirmed their use, with one saying guards “carry the electric weapons since seven months, many times they used, once I witnessed someone wanting to go the clinic, they didn’t let them go, one of the asylum-seekers protested and they used the weapons”.

More evidence of Tasers being used in the Australian-built centre at Tanjung Pinang was aired on the ABC’s Lateline program last night.

Atiqullah Mairi, an Afghan asylum-seeker who was recently in Tanjung Pinang, said he experienced the device first-hand.

“More than 15 times they gave me an electronic shock … it was like a gun, a small gun with an electronic shock,” he told Lateline.

Pamela Curr of the Asylum- Seeker Resource Centre said the weapons were being used on detainees in an attempt to get them to agree to return to their country of origin.

“It seems the conditions that are being imposed on people are to force them to sign to go back voluntarily, because under an agreement IOM will not remove people by force,” Ms Curr said.

The multi-million-dollar refurbishment of the Tanjung Pinang centre, on Bintan island, was conducted by the IOM with Australian funding.

It was finished just in time to receive the 78 Tamils from the Australian Customs vessel the Oceanic Viking at the end of last year.

Part of the project to produce the detention centre at Tanjung Pinang was the creation of an operating manual which, according to the IOM’s annual report, “provides guidance on the care of all detainees in relation to food, healthcare, communication, grievances and other aspects of daily life in a detention facility”.

The centre houses about 122 people from the 254 Tamils who were aboard the Jaya Lestari, the boat intercepted last October.

Afghans lead global flight for sanctuary

Paul Maley; 16/6/10;

One in four of the world’s refugees are Afghans, with more than 95 per cent of those driven from their homes now living in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.  The latest refugee snapshot produced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows the number of refugees remained relatively stable, with 10.4 million under UN mandate last year. However, violence in Pakistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo led to a sharp increase in the number of internally displaced people, with 15.6 million on the UNHCR’s books over the same period. The figures emerged as Immigration Minister Chris Evans vowed to investigate claims that asylum-seekers in Indonesia’s Tanjung Pinang detention centre had been Tasered by guards.


33 asylum-seekers on intercepted boat

Lanai Vasek & Paul Maley; 16/6/10;

A boat carrying 33 suspected asylum-seekers was last night intercepted in Australia’s northern waters, making it the 69th vessel to arrive this year.  The boat was intercepted southwest of Ashmore Islands. Its passengers and three crew were being taken to Christmas Island for security, identity and health checks. Their nationality is yet to be confirmed, but if they are Sri Lankans or Afghans, their claims will be suspended in line with the Rudd government’s April change in policy. The arrival came as UNHCR figures revealed one in four of the world’s refugees is an Afghan, with more than 95 per cent of those driven from their homes now living in Pakistan and Iran. The latest refugee snapshot shows the number of refugees remained relatively stable, with 10.4 million under UN mandate last year.

However, violence in Pakistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo led to a sharp increase in the number of internally displaced people, with 15.6 million on the UNHCR’s books over the same period. Start of sidebar. The figures emerged as Immigration Minister Chris Evans vowed to investigate claims that asylum-seekers in Indonesia’s Tanjung Pinang detention centre had been Tasered by guards. And a spokesman for Senator Evans’s department acknowledged it could be “difficult” to implement schemes such as the troubled AliceGhan housing project 30km north of Kabul, given the poor state of infrastructure and the uncertain security environment.

However, the spokesman said concerns raised by The Australian yesterday about access to Kabul from the homes and lack of running water were being addressed.”The settlement now has a bus service to Kabul, which is addressing the issue of AliceGhan’s distance from the capital,” the spokesman said.”(And) the department has allocated funding for the completion of the permanent water supply.”

See: Asylum freeze slows boats; Tom Allard, Yuko Nrushima; 16/6/10;

Flood of offers to house boat people

Yuko Narushima; 17/6/10

The federal government has been inundated with offers to house asylum seekers from companies, charities and ordinary Australians. But the search for places to accommodate the growing number of detainees that cannot all be held on Christmas Island has put some noses out of joint. The mayor of the Queensland town of Dalby, Ray Brown, told The Age he had his ”first decent communication” with the Department of Immigration this week after learning from journalists that his region was a possibility.


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Australia, Indonesia, Migrants & refugees; Helping refugees dance to a new rhythm of life; Andra Jackson: