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    Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard target boat arrivals

Labor compassion and decency freezes over in Election Hell

Boat arrivals become Kevin Rudd's election fodder

Image: thanks to Cathy Wilcox and Fairfax newspapers.

On April 9, 2010, Rudd Labor finally blinked, and it blinked with populist fear.

Some had expected it sooner, but finally Labor buckled under the weight of the attack dogs.

At a joint and televised joint press conference by Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, Immigration Minister Chris Evans and Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor - a sad affair where they resembled The Three Stooges - they announced Canberra's Big Freeze.

In response to the policy announcement, a letter to the Editor appeared in The Australian here:

Peter van Onselen, in an excellent article in The Australian (Commentary, 3-4/4) posed the question: "Who's afraid of 4500 boat people?" Like a naughty schoolboy at the back of the class Kevin Rudd has now raised his hand and replied: "It was me, sir."

From the safety of opposition he was more than happy to attack John Howard for similar actions, with biblical references to the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the moral duty to protect the stranger in our midst. What of these ideals now?

His explanation for his moral backflip is full of the usual spin, and takes voters for fools. Even casual observers know that the situation in Afghanistan remains dire, and, in Sri Lanka, at best uncertain. Mr Rudd, you are a hypocrite. Pity the genuine asylum-seeker who gets in the way of a politician and a vote in an election year.

April 12, 2010
James Sharp, Roleystone WA

What's on this page

This page brings together most of the breaking news and initial commentary from around Australia following the policy announcement. Criticism quickly became condemnation, liberally sprayed at the Rudd camp, although it came from different camps for very different reasons.

Eventually the condemnation came from human rights organisations right around the world. That news, and the implications for international convention and international law, is brought together in a second page about Rudd's Big Freeze (see below).

Related pages

21 April 2010: Rudd re-opens Derby's Curtin detention hell - Temps climbing to 44 C. Guards that treat refugees with violence and disdain, telling them they're illegals who will never make it into 'Australia proper'. Immigration officers who screw up formal requests for medical or other assistance and throw them in the rubish bin. That's how many remember the Curtin detention centre...

18 April 2010: World Outrage about Kevin Rudd's Big Asylum Freeze - From psychiatrist Jon Juredini to Malcolm Fraser, from human rights lawyer Greg Barns to Andrew Bartlett, outrage swelled fast around Kevin Rudd's processing freeze of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers. The anger did not stop just there, it went international within a week.

Quick links:

Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.

Kevin Rudd shuts refugee door

Matthew Franklin and Paige Taylor
The Australian
April 10, 2010 12:00am

Kevin Rudd has frozen asylum applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans after receiving advice that people-smugglers were preparing to launch a new wave of vessels for northern Australia.

Sources confirmed yesterday that the decision, announced yesterday, came partly in response to new intelligence that people-smugglers were forming "new ventures" overseas expected to boost the boat traffic.

While the government presented the move as a well-considered response to improving security circumstances in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, the opposition said it was proof the government's previous approach had encouraged people-smugglers.

It also accused the government of making the change so it could put the refugee issue into "suspended animation" rather than debate it during the forthcoming federal election campaign.

The government also faced attack from the Left, with refugee activists rejecting the new approach as "a freeze on fairness".

The government acknowledged its decision could create tension among detainees at Christmas Island, as a team of Australian Federal Police flew to the island yesterday with riot gear to bolster security arrangements.

An AFP spokesman said the officers went immediately to a meeting with senior officials from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The detainees sat quietly as a departmental official explained the government's new position.

It is understood many spent the day contacting family and friends in Malaysia and Indonesia who had hoped to board asylum boats soon.

Tensions have been rising at the centre, particularly among long-term detainees. About 4.30am yesterday, a Tamil asylum-seeker who arrived last year tried to hang himself inside the Immigration Detention Centre's green compound using a bedsheet and a security camera fixture.

The Weekend Australian has been told a fellow detainee stumbled across the suicide attempt while walking to a communal phone and alerted a guard, who cut the man down.

More than 100 asylum-seeker boats have arrived in Australian waters since the Rudd government took power.

Sources said intelligence suggested that in light of the increased traffic, it was likely that up to six asylum-seeker boats were headed for Australia, with another six being prepared for transit. But they cautioned that the intelligence varied in its reliability.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said yesterday he did not expect the policy change to have an immediate effect on boat traffic.

The arrivals have fuelled opposition charges that Labor's dismantling of the Howard government's Pacific Solution regime has boosted people-smuggling.

Yesterday's announcement - the first major policy Labor has revealed since Tony Abbott began his nine-day Pollie Pedal bike ride from Melbourne to Sydney - came a day after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia, Manuel Jordao, warned that people-smuggling was "out of control".

Last night, there were 2161 detainees on Christmas Island, including 67 people and three crew rescued from the sea late on Thursday or early yesterday.

A pregnant woman and a man who suffered a suspected heart attack were among the first brought to the jetty, along with several children aged under five.

Also yesterday, 50 passengers and four crew from a boat intercepted near Ashmore islands last Sunday were brought ashore.

Soon after news of the rescue emerged, Senator Evans said that, effective immediately, new applications for asylum from Sri Lankans would be frozen for three months, and for Afghans for six months. In the interim, the government would review changes in the political situations in the two nations to determine whether some of the applicants should be sent home.

"The combined effect of this suspension and the changing circumstances in these two countries mean that it is likely that, in the future, more asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will be refused," Senator Evans said.

He said his department was already accepting fewer asylum-seekers from the two nations than in the past because of changing civil circumstances, with Sri Lanka in transition after years of internal strife and Afghanistan providing new constitutional and legal protection for its citizens after the collapse of the Taliban.

"It's sending a very clear message that people-smugglers cannot guarantee people a visa," Senator Evans said.

The change makes it almost certain the government will have to ship some asylum-seekers to its Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin, with the Christmas Island detention facility already over its 2040-person capacity.

The Opposition Leader seized on the policy shift as vindication of the opposition's criticism.

"This is an admission by the government that it was always pull factors - not push factors - that was causing the flow of boats," he said in Wangaratta, Victoria. "I've got to say this is no solution; it is just an election fix."

He speculated that the announcement was timed to affect the government's standing in the fortnightly Newspoll, to be published next week in The Australian based on interviews conducted this weekend.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said that while the government had accepted that its previous approach was flawed, it had admitted that the changed system would not stop the boats, which was the true measure of success in refugee policy.

The Prime Minister, campaigning in Bundaberg, Queensland, dismissed the criticism. "The government's view is simple: if someone's claim for asylum is not legitimate, they'll be sent home," Mr Rudd said.

"This suspension has been made as a result of the changing circumstances in those two countries."

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/kevin-rudd-shuts-refugee-door/story-e6frgczf-1225852045905

Clampdown: processing of Lankan and Afghan asylum claims suspended

Sydney Morning Herald
April 9, 2010 - 11:37AM

Australia has suspended the processing of all immigration claims from Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers.

"The decision has been made in the light of changing circumstances in both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka," Immigration Minister Chris Evans told reporters today.

The announcement came shortly after the government revealed the interception of a boat, carrying 70 asylum seekers, near Christmas Island on last night.

It was the 38th boat to arrive in Australian waters this year.

'Out of control' people smuggling

The new measures also follow the concerns of a United Nations official who said governments needed new solutions to deal with "out of control" people smuggling as thousands of asylum seekers try to reach Australia via Indonesia.

Manuel Jordao, a senior representative of The United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia, says a large number of almost 4000 asylum seekers on the UNHCR's books in the archipelago will try to reach Australia by boat, rather than wait for resettlement via official channels.

Evolving information from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka was likely to have a significant effect on the outcome of assessments.

"The likelihood of people being refused visas and being returned safely to their homelands will increase," Senator Evans said.

The suspension is effective immediately.

The government will review the situation in Sri Lanka after a period of three months and in Afghanistan after a period of six months.

Processing claims

Senator Evans said the government would continue processing claims from those already on Christmas Island or on the way there.

Senator Evans said all "irregular" maritime arrivals would continue to be taken to Christmas Island, where people would be treated humanely.

While new asylum claims from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals would not be processed in the suspension period, health and security checks would continue, he said.

Senator Evans says the detention facility on Christmas Island is "stretched" to the limit because of the recent influx of boat arrivals.

But further capacity will be ready in "a matter of days", he said, adding the detention facility in Darwin was also available for use.

Hard line

Senator Evans said the government had taken a hard line approach to people smuggling and this decision would further strengthen the integrity of Australia's immigration system.

He would not speculate on what impact the suspension may have on boat arrivals.

"But I will say that today's announcement makes it clear to all that the change in circumstances in both these countries will make it more likely that a visa application will be refused," he said.

New measures to combat the financing of people smuggling will also be introduced.

"The changes we're announcing today send a strong message to people smugglers that they cannot guarantee a visa outcome for their clients," Senator Evans said.

It sent a message to those seeking to employ people smugglers that they may be returned to their country of origin.

Protect people

The government would continue to protect people in need, but would not hesitate to "act decisively" against those who sought to profit from them, Senator Evans said.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Sri Lanka was a country in transition, following its recent parliamentary election.

"That evolution is the basis of the government's decision to suspend processing so far as new asylum seekers from Sri Lanka is concerned," he told reporters.

In Afghanistan there was now better security as well as constitutional and legal reform, Mr Smith said.

The decision to make the changes had been taken very "carefully, thoughtfully and methodically".

He noted a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees review had also been taken into account.

"We have always had uppermost in our minds the need to ensure that we continue to discharge our obligations and international law."

Criminal intelligence fusion centre

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said part of the government's new approach to combating people smugglers would be the creation of a so-called "criminal intelligence fusion centre".

"Stronger regulation is needed to ensure more reliable financial intelligence," he told reporters.

"We need to ensure we change Austrac's rules.

"The government also proposes a more comprehensive regulatory regime for remittance dealers to be implemented following consultation with the financial services sector."

Mr O'Connor said the new measures built on the legislation already before the parliament.Under the laws, people found to provide material support to people smuggling will be subject to 10 years imprisonment, and fines of up to $110,000.

"I urge the opposition to pass this bill as soon as the Senate resumes in May," he said.

Senator Evans said he did not expect the suspension would immediately stem the number of boat arrivals.

"We still expect boats to arrive," he said, adding the government was hopeful that "over time" it would have an impact on people-smuggling operations.

"The message is the circumstances in Australia have changed and that increasingly persons from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are being refused asylum," he said.

AAP

http://www.smh.com.au/.../immigration-clampdown...afghanis-suspended-20100409-rwcd.html

Government changes rules for asylum seekers

ABC Online News
First posted Fri Apr 9, 2010 11:08am AEST
Updated Fri Apr 9, 2010 11:17am AEST

The Federal Government has announced an immediate suspension of all new asylum seeker claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, as news emerged that an asylum boat with 70 people on board sank off Christmas Island early this morning.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the Government has decided to implement the suspension due to changing circumstances in both countries.

The news came as the Government released details of the rescue of asylum seekers from a boat which was intercepted last night 73 nautical miles east south-east of Christmas Island.

The Government says some of the asylum seekers ended up in the water but were rescued by crew from HMAS Wollongong.

"Just after 2am (AEST) the engine failed on the vessel which began to flounder," a statement from Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said.

"The transfer of passengers to HMAS Wollongong commenced immediately. Approximately 16 passengers were transferred immediately however some passengers abandoned the vessel.

"Passengers were rescued from the water by the crew of HMAS Wollongong.

"HMAS Wollongong is now proceeding to Christmas Island with the passengers for security, identity and health checks. Defence will provide an operational brief on the matter this afternoon, at a time to be advised."

The Federal Government has been under pressure from the Coalition after a spike in boat arrivals last year and this year.

The Coalition blames softened Government policy for the rise but the Government says it is due to international "push" factors.

More to come.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/09/2868398.htm

Re-election reality hits asylum seekers

Crikey
Friday, 9 April 2010
by Bernard Keane

While the numbers of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat remains small, the political impact was growing. Seemingly every day, a new media alert would appear from Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor's office announcing yet another boat had been intercepted.

The issue has yet to ignite with the public in the way it did in 2001, but the steady stream of boats gave the sense that a highway into Australia had been opened via Christmas Island and it was becoming packed with traffic.

The bulk of the arrivals were from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Last year, Afghanistan once again became the world's biggest source of asylum seekers, with more than 26,000 Afghans seeking refuge outside their country, mainly in Europe.

The UNHCR's review of circumstances in Sri Lanka has given the Government the cover it needs to send a signal that it is prepared to be tough on asylum seekers as well as people smugglers. Essential Research polling released earlier this week showed most voters thought the Government was too soft on the issue.

The Government's announcement of temporary suspensions of processing of asylum claims by Afghans and Sri Lankans will induce a furious reaction from refugee advocates, the Greens, and perhaps even some Labor MPs. That will be exactly what the Government wants -- criticism that it is mimicking the Howard Government on the issue will play well with mainstream voters who voted Labor in 2007, but who might be prepared to let their anti-refugee views sway their vote this time around.

The Government was justifiably proud of its amendments to remove the excesses of the Howard Government's treatment of asylum seekers, which had in any event been softened over time.

But there is no way it will permit asylum seekers or their local advocates to endanger its re-election. This is straight-out, brutal realpolitik.

http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/04/09/re-election-reality-hits-afghan-and-sri-lankan-asylum-seekers

Rudd backflip slams asylum seeker door

The Age
Katharine Murphy and Michelle Grattan
April 10, 2010

All asylum seekers arriving from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will go into limbo for three to six months under a dramatic toughening of Australia's border protection policies aimed at curbing the boats.

Sri Lankans will not be processed for at least three months while Afghans will face a wait of at least six months, as the government flagged that people from these countries will face a much tougher battle for entry.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the shift coincided with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reviewing its guidelines.

But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott branded yesterday's move an ''election fix'' that would not stop the boats.

The policy reversal, which jettisons Labor's election pledge to process arrivals quickly, was announced yesterday by Senator Evans, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor.

Senator Evans insisted the government was not abandoning its humanitarian principles. ''People aren't being denied their right to seek asylum, but it's been suspended,'' he said. ''It's humane because people will still have access to consideration of their refugee status, they will still be treated with dignity and treated as human beings.''

But refugee and human rights groups condemned the move and some experts questioned whether the changes would breach the UN Refugee Convention.

Police have been deployed to Christmas Island in anticipation of trouble as asylum seekers react to the new regime. Detention facilities on the island are overflowing.

People already on Christmas Island will not be hit by the crackdown and a boat carrying about 70 people intercepted on Thursday has also escaped the new rules. People from that vessel - which sank - were being ferried to Christmas Island yesterday.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Cathy Branson, QC, said the suspension could result in the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, ''including families and children already in distress''.

Refugee lawyer David Manne said that placing asylum seekers in limbo was worse than granting them temporary protection visas, as the former coalition government did. ''It appears to be a fundamental betrayal of the government's own detention reforms, which promised a prohibition on arbitrary and inhumane detention.''

Bassina Farbenblum, director of the University of the New South Wales migrant and refugee rights project said: ''Australia will be violating its international obligations to detain people for the minimum necessary period, and honestly it's morally abhorrent.'' But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defended the changes as necessary to create a deterrent. ''The combined effect of this suspension and the changing circumstances in these two countries will mean that more asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will be refused,'' he said.

So far this year 38 boats have arrived. Senator Evans insisted the new policy was within Australia's obligations under the UN refugee convention.

He admitted the policy would not bring an early end to boat arrivals and signalled people would be accommodated on the mainland as necessary. But future unauthorised arrivals sent to the mainland will still have restricted legal rights due to their initial arrival offshore.

Mr Smith said Hazara people from Afghanistan were safer now and Sri Lanka was witnessing a parliamentary election.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs website says Afghanistan is extremely dangerous, with a ''high threat of terrorist attack'' and Sri Lanka remains in a state of emergency, with a ''volatile'' security situation. Mr Smith admitted Australia ''may well be'' the first country to suspend applications from Afghanistan.

Senator Evans gave no guarantees on whether the suspensions would be lifted after reviews at the end of the three months and six months. If the suspension was lifted, the government ''would then seek to process their asylum claims''.

The UN High Commission for Refugees is reviewing conditions in both countries.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/rudd-backflip-slams-asylum-seeker-door-20100409-rys7.html

Immigration changes sending asylum seekers to 'no man's land'

Sydney Morning Herald
Stephanie Peatling
April 11, 2010

Asylum seekers aboard the first boat to arrive since the federal government announced it would suspend processing of claims are being taken to Christmas Island.

The opposition said it showed the government's new policy was ''hollow and shaky''. ''People on boat 107 won't be considered and yet people on boat 106 were,'' said immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.

The boat was carrying eight passengers and two crew when it was intercepted by HMAS Maitland on Friday night in the Ashmore group of islands. They will be taken to Christmas Island for health, security and identity checks, Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor said.

But if they are found to be Sri Lankans or Afghans, their claims will not be processed for at least three or six months respectively under changes announced on Friday, said to be necessary because of the changing situation in those countries. The suspension was criticised by the opposition, Greens, refugee and humanitarian groups because it would leave people in detention with no visa status.

''This government is in a no man's land where it is neither tough nor humane,'' Mr Morrison said.

The UN High Commission for Refugees said the situation in Sri Lanka was changing, and many of its displaced persons could now return home, but that Afghanistan was more complex.

http://www.smh.com.au/....sending-asylum-seekers-to-no-mans-land-20100410-rzs8.html

Asylum-seeker policy changes likely to backfire, say refugee advocates

Chris Merritt
The Australian
April 10, 2010 12:00AM

The federal government's changes to the processing of asylum-seekers are likely to backfire, triggering a spike in the number of unauthorised arrivals and potential legal challenges, refugee advocates say.

They say the changes are not a breach of Australia's obligations under refugee conventions.

But Julian Burnside QC predicts lawyers will seek to overturn the government's changes.

"I am sure we will be looking for ways to invalidate this suspension," he said.

"It's a disgrace. It really is John Howard lite.

"They have created a way of warehousing people offshore that just happens to be part of Australia."

Although the suspension of processing does not affect those asylum-seekers who are already on Christmas Island, Mr Burnside said that this would also apply to those who had applied for asylum before being brought to the mainland.

Mary Crock, professor of public law at Sydney University, said the number of asylum-seekers would probably rise as more tried to reach Australia ahead of even tougher restrictions.

"This change assumes that it will stop the boats from coming -- I predict it won't," Professor Crock said.

"All it will lead to is a spike in arrivals -- people will think the doors are closing.

"The word has been going around in Indonesia and Afghanistan that Australia is going to tighten its rules again and if they want to come they had better come now."

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/.../asylum-seeker-policy...advocates/story-e6frg6nf-1225852031143

Sri Lankan lawyers slam asylum freeze

ABC Online News
By South Asia correspondent Sally Sara and staff
First posted Sat Apr 10, 2010 6:08am AEST
Updated Sat Apr 10, 2010 6:22am AEST

Human rights groups in Sri Lanka have condemned the Federal Government's decision to suspend the processing of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers.

Some refugee lawyers in Sri Lanka say the Australian Government has made a bad decision.

Lakshan Dias from the South Asian Network for Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants says Sri Lanka is still not safe for members of the minority Tamil population.

"The human rights community in Sri Lanka believe that the Sri Lankan human rights conditions are not improved," he said.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced changes to the Government's refugee policy yesterday, saying he had decided to implement the processing suspension due to "changing conditions" in both countries.

New applications from Sri Lanka will be suspended for three months, while those from Afghanistan will be suspended for six months.

The Government will review whether the suspensions need to be extended at the end of those periods.

This means any new asylum seekers now arriving in Australian waters from those two countries will not have their refugee applications processed until the suspension is lifted.

The Government's decision comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reviews the international protection guidelines for both countries.

Senator Evans says the changes will mean that more asylum claims from the two countries will be refused.

Promise to unite Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government has promised to unite the country during its next term in office, and says there is no need for Tamils to seek asylum in Australia.

Minister for national integration and reconciliation, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, says the safety of Tamils can be guaranteed.

"I can tell only one thing. Our country is perfectly safe for the people now," he said.

The ruling alliance of president Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed victory in Thursday's parliamentary election, although final results are not expected for several weeks.

Ruling party candidates have secured at least 60 per cent of the votes counted so far, more than double the total won by the main opposition party.

Re-runs will be held in two electorates because of alleged violence and intimidation.

The turnout for the parliamentary poll was just over 50 per cent in many parts of the country.

Election monitors say thousands of people in the Tamil-dominated north were unable to vote freely, but the government says the poll was fair.

The election was the first since Mr Rajapaksa declared victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers almost a year ago, and returned the entire island to government control after 25 years.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/10/2869170.htm

US report says human rights 'remain poor'

The Age
Josh Gordon
April 11, 2010

The federal government's prediction of an improving human rights situation in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka that underpins its decision to suspend refugee applications has been thrown into doubt by a major review released by the United States government.

The US State Department's 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released last month, has painted a bleak picture for both countries.

It found that Afghanistan's human rights record ''remained poor'', while the security situation in the country had ''deteriorated significantly''. It said social discrimination against Shiite Hazaras continued ''along class, race, and religious lines''.

The report said human rights problems included extrajudicial killings, torture, violence against women, abuses against minorities, abuse of children, abuse of worker rights, and child labour.

While the situation in Sri Lanka appears more positive, the report detailed widespread human rights abuses. ''The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion,'' the report said.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/us-report-says-human-rights-remain-poor-20100410-rzy6.html

Afghan refugees say thank you, Australia, please don't stop

Sarah Elks
The Australian
April 10, 2010 12:00AM

When Afghan refugee Mohammad Ali was detained on Christmas Island after arriving in a small boat, every moment away from his family felt like an age.

For his wife and sons -- who fled to Pakistan shortly after Mr Ali embarked on his perilous voyage in early 2001 during the last flood of refugee boat arrivals -- the wait was equally painful.

Now reunited and happily settled in Brisbane, the Ali family is pleading with Kevin Rudd to continue speedily processing the asylum claims of their compatriots who, they say, still face great danger in the war-torn nation.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans yesterday announced the government would suspend the processing of new asylum claims from Afghans and Sri Lankans, for six and three months respectively, as the situation in each country had improved.

But Mr Ali, a 33-year-old ethnic Hazara from Kabul, said this was not the case.

"The situation hasn't changed for Hazaras," he said. "There are killings every week.

"If it is not as dangerous, why is the Australian government still sending soldiers to Afghanistan?"

Mr Ali arrived on Christmas Island in May 2001, in a leaky boat with 131 other asylum-seekers.

He was kept in detention on the island for four months. As soon as he was granted permanent residency, he began working to have his family join him in Australia, a process that took a year.

Finally, Mr Ali and his wife Khataima and their five sons were reunited in Australia in 2005. He now runs his own export business and his sons are thriving at school.

"If the government gives them a chance to come to Australia, people from Afghanistan are not bad people or criminals," he said.

"They are hard-working, they look after their families."

Mrs Ali, using her eldest son as an interpreter, said the government decision was not fair.

"To the Prime Minister, I say don't close the way for refugees to come to Australia," she said.

"They're just coming to help their families to survive, they are not here to do anything else.

"They put their lives in danger to save their families."

For 15-year-old Tahir Ali, the couple's eldest son, Australia is a land of endless opportunities.

"We can do anything we want here, we can achieve our dreams," he said. He and his brothers have received a proper education for the first time. Tahir now plans to study to be a doctor, before returning to work in Afghanistan when it is safe.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/.../say-thank-you-australia.../story-e6frg6nf-1225852034158

UNHCR slams government's hard line on arrivals

Amanda Hodge, Stuart Rintoul
Additional Reporting by Joe Kelly
The Australian
April 10, 2010 12:00AM

Afghan refugees returning to their home country face a dire security situation, serious economic hardships and community tensions over limited resources, the UNHCR has warned.

As the Australian government prepares to close the door on new Afghan and Sri Lankan refugees fleeing their war-torn nations, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has cautioned against forced returns to Afghanistan in such a climate.

The government's decision sparked outrage yesterday among refugee advocates, who accused both sides of politics of being in a pre-election "race to the bottom".

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison described the policy as a "a quick election-year fix". "This isn't a plan to stop the boats: this is a plan for the election," he said.

Sri Lanka's acting high commissioner to Australia, Sashikala Premawardhane, said conditions in Sri Lanka were normal. "There is absolutely no reason for any to seek asylum in Australia or anywhere else."

The UNHCR is bleak about Afghanistan in its latest assessment, which warned that "security has become more problematic".

More than 5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban government in late 2001, increasing the population by more than 20 per cent. But only a tiny fraction of that number have done so since 2006, when security in the war-torn nation again deteriorated.

In Melbourne yesterday, Pamela Curr, campaign co-ordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the federal government and opposition were in a pre-election "race to the bottom to show who can be the toughest, the hardest and the meanest".

She said asylum-seekers now in Indonesia had already told her the suspension of immigration claims would not deter them from trying to reach Australia. She dismissed Immigration Minister Chris Evans's suggestion that there were "changing circumstances" in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Human rights barrister Julian Burnside said the decision was a case of "hard-nosed politics" that was not very different from the position taken by the Howard government.

The Australian Humans Rights Commission said the changes could see asylum-seekers detained indefinitely.

"We have real concerns that this policy shift could lead to arbitrary detention and take Australia down a path that is at odds with our international human rights obligations," said commission president Cathy Branson, QC.

Amnesty International said the government decision was inconsistent with Australia's international obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/.../unhcr...the-governments-hard-line.../story-e6frgczf-1225852031159

Uniting Church condemns suspension of Afghan, Sri Lankan visas

Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly
Media Release
9 April 2010
National Communications Unit (02) 8267-4233

President of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev. Alistair Macrae has condemned the announcement today by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Evans that Australia has suspended the processing of all protection applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers.

Rev. Macrae said, "the Government has broken its promises to uphold the rights of asylum seekers by returning to what is in essence a form of indefinite, mandatory detention.

"While we commend the Government's continued commitment to the humane treatment of people in detention, it is inherently inhumane to keep people who have fled persecution, torture and deep trauma detained and in limbo with no indication of when or if their claim for protection will ever be heard.

"The Government has up until now committed itself to the speedy processing of protection claims because they understand that indefinite detention is inappropriate," said Rev. Macrae.

On 29 July 2008, announcing the Government's "New Directions in Detention" policy, the Minister for Immigration said,

Labor rejects the notion that dehumanising and punishing unauthorised arrivals with long-term detention is an effective or civilised response. Desperate people are not deterred by the threat of harsh detention - they are often fleeing much worse circumstances. The Howard government's punitive policies did much damage to those individuals detained and brought great shame on Australia .

The fourth value of the Government's Seven Immigration Detention Values states:

Detention that is indefinite or otherwise arbitrary is not acceptable and the length and conditions of detention, including the appropriateness of both the accommodation and the services provided, would be subject to regular review.

"While the Government claims that this decision is in response to changing circumstances in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, it is very difficult to interpret it in any way other than a response to domestic political pressure and designed to achieve maximum favour in the Australian electorate," said Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice.

"Yet again we see asylum seekers being punished to order to satisfy the call to send a tough message to people smugglers. This tendency of successive governments to punish the victims is of deep concern and out of step with Australia's reputation as a hospitable community," said Rev. Poulos.

"All of the evidence and views of Australia's most respected mental health professionals, including those of 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, attest to the devastating effects of mandatory, indefinite detention on asylum seekers' psychological state ability to fully participate in the community once they have left detention to start their new lives," said Rev. Macrae.

"I call on the Prime Minister to explain to the electorate how this decision is not contrary to all that the Government has so far stood for. The Uniting Church is extremely concerned about the welfare of extremely vulnerable people who are confined in detention without any sense of future," said Rev. Macrae.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact Amy Goodhew at the Uniting Church National Assembly Communications Unit on 0421 785 488.

SOS sees boat beat deadline

Brendan Nicholson and Paige Taylor
The Australian
April 10, 2010 12:00AM

A desparate telephone call for help from a group of 67 Afghan asylum-seekers lost in the Indian Ocean to the Jakarta office of the Australian Federal Police set off the dramatic night-time rescue of the last boat to beat the Rudd government's deadline on refugee applications.

The plea for help came from a mobile or satellite phone used by one of the leaders of the group of men, women and children aboard the wooden Indonesian fishing boat about 148km east-southeast of Christmas Island.

The asylum-seekers, bound for Christmas Island, said they were lost and feared for their lives. The police relayed the distress call to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Surveillance technology used by border protection command to seek out smugglers of people, drugs and other contraband was used to pinpoint the boat's location and the RAN gunboat, HMAS Wollongong, made the dash to help.

Several sailors from Wollongong boarded the vessel at 8.42pm on Thursday.

They found 70 people on board, including pregnant women and children, some of them five or younger.

The passengers said they were seeking asylum and asked to be taken to Australia.

The ADF's deputy chief of joint operations, Allan du Toit, said the vessel appeared to be fully seaworthy and Wollongong began to escort it to Christmas Island.

Rear-Admiral du Toit said the passengers indicated they were happy to remain on board their vessel.

But just after 2am the Australian sailors on the Indonesian vessel signalled to the Wollongong that the engine had failed and the boat was taking in water.

Wollongong moved in close and sent across rescue teams in rigid inflatable boats. They collected about 16 passengers, including the women and children, from the deck of the Indonesian vessel, which then began to sink quickly.

The passengers, crew and the Australian sailors, all kitted out in navy lifejackets, leapt from the boat into the ocean.

They were rescued within minutes and some were treated for shock and minor ailments.

By this stage, a second gunboat, HMAS Broome, had arrived.

Rear Admiral du Toit said an English-speaking asylum-seeker picked up by Wollongong assured the crew that all members of his group had been saved.

He said those rescued had no significant health issues.

Yesterday, island residents said one of those brought ashore had had a suspected heart attack.

Wollongong left Broome to continue the search in case anyone had been missed in the darkness, and the RAAF sent an APC-3 Orion maritime patrol plane to the scene to carry out a wider search.

"Obviously, rescue operations like this are always extremely difficult and the fact this rescue took place in the dark is a credit to all involved," Rear Admiral du Toit said.

A navy investigation is under way to find out whether the vessel was sabotaged or sank for another reason.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/.../sos...beat-deadline/story-e6frg6nf-1225852045845

Mystery over why boat sank

The Age
Ari Sharp, Canberra
April 10, 2010

Pregnant women and children were among about 70 suspected asylum seekers rescued by an Australian navy vessel after their wooden-hulled boat started sinking in international waters on its way to Christmas Island.

Senior sources praised the ''incredible efforts'' of officers aboard HMAS Wollongong for the rescue carried out in darkness in the early hours of Friday.

But questions are being asked as to why the boat started to sink in the Indian Ocean, 131 kilometres east-south-east of Christmas Island.

The defence force yesterday refused to comment on whether it suspected the boat had been sabotaged.

Navy spokesman Rear-Admiral Allan Du Toit said all those who had been on board the sunken boat were safe and heading to the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island aboard the Wollongong.

The asylum-seeker boat came to the attention of Australian authorities after a distress call to the Australian Federal Police in Jakarta on Thursday, Admiral Du Toit said.

The message was relayed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra, which asked the Wollongong to respond.

A little after 8.40pm (AEST), four officers from the navy vessel approached the asylum-seekers' boat and were given permission to board. The approximately 70 people on board said they were lost at sea and bound for Christmas Island.

The Wollongong then escorted the boat, which was deemed seaworthy and travelled without assistance, towards Christmas Island but about 2am the engine failed at the vessel began to sink.

A group of about 16 passengers, including two pregnant women and children, were transferred to the navy ship. But the asylum seekers' vessel continued taking water and the remaining passengers, including the four navy staff, donned lifejackets and jumped overboard.

Navy officers aboard the Wollongong, and also the newly arrived HMAS Broome, then rescued the asylum seekers and took them aboard, where they were treated for shock and minor ailments.

Once all those in the water had been taken on board the navy boat it headed towards Christmas Island. Navy command yesterday said that an English speaker on board the boat assured them that all passengers had been accounted for, but the Broome and an RAAF AP-3C Orion remained to search the area for anyone who may have been left in the water.

Once on Christmas Island, those on board the boat will be subject to security, identity and health checks. Their timing means they will not be subject to the government's suspension of processing of new asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan even if they are from either of those countries.

Immigration detainees at Christmas Island were informed of the new restrictions on asylum applications yesterday not long after the government announced the policy.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/mystery-over-why-boat-sank-20100409-rysm.html

Defence probes asylum boat sinking

ABC Online News
Posted Fri Apr 9, 2010 2:11pm AEST

The Defence Department says it will investigate why a boat carrying asylum seekers sank in the Indian Ocean last night.

HMAS Wollongong responded to a distress call from the boat which was found south-east of Christmas Island.

Defence says the boat initially appeared to be in good condition and it was being escorted back to the island.

The Deputy Chief of Joint Operations, Rear Admiral Allan Du Toit, says the 16 women and children were transferred off the boat before it sank and the other passengers were rescued from the water.

"[They] are now safe with no apparent health issues," he said.

"Rescue operations like this are always extremely difficult and the fact the rescue took place safely in the dark is a credit to all of those involved."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/09/2868669.htm

For those seeking safety in Australia, a policy change won't alter their plans

The Age
Tom Allard, Jakarta
With Matt Wade & Farah Farouque
April 10, 2010

When Abdullatif Ali, a teenage Afghan asylum-seeker surviving on charity and his wits in Jakarta, speaks of Australia, it becomes apparent why the government's six-month freeze on processing asylum seekers is unlikely to deter boat people.

''I have many friends who have arrived in Australia,'' says Ali, who has made to two failed attempts to reach Australia during his 18 months in Indonesia.

''They are now refugees. They are happy, they are working. When they ring me on the phone and we are chatting, they are always laughing. When they are laughing, there are tears in my eyes. I want this life too. I cannot go back to Afghanistan ... my family depends on me to get to Australia.''

It was a widespread sentiment yesterday when The Age contacted Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia, where detention can be harsh and resettlement takes many years.

''This stop in processing visas is not a big issue for Afghans,'' said ''Dr Ali'', an ethnic Hazara waiting in Jakarta to catch a boat to Australia.

''We know we would be more comfortable waiting in detention in Australia. You are treated like humans over there. In Indonesia, it is inhumane.''

In Sri Lanka, a Tamil calling himself Muna, who told The Age last October he wanted to travel to Australia by boat, said yesterday the government's change of policy would not deter him. ''I will still go if I get the chance,'' he said.

However in Australia, Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, who is a mental health expert, said the suspension of processing asylum seekers raised concerns.

''Any policy change which results in prolonged detention for no good purpose and with no clear end in sight, or the manufactured uncertainty and stress of temporary protection visas, will result in serious mental ill-health for people already highly vulnerable and traumatised,'' he said.

Siva Sivakumar, of the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations, said genuine humanitarian crises had been politicised. ''There are reasons people are getting into leaky boats and coming to Australia,'' he said.

''In Sri Lanka, there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of movement and there is intimidation of political opponents of the government.''

http://www.theage.com.au/.../...seeking-safety...policy-change-wont-alter...plans-20100409-rysq.html

Humiliating backdown for Labor

The Age
Analysis
Michelle Grattan
April 10, 2010

The Government is sending strong signals internationally and to the home audience with its king-hit to stop the escalating numbers of boat people.

It was a humiliating moment as three ministers fronted the media to announce that processing of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan would be suspended for three and six months respectively.

The Rudd government (especially Immigration Minister Chris Evans) arrived in office full of hope and confidence that Labor could run a more humane policy that kept people detained for a minimum time, without spurring the boat trade. It hasn't been like that.

About 38 boats have arrived this year. Christmas Island is bursting; the issue is starting to explode politically. The government has both an objective problem and a political one.

But it is unwilling to admit the truth - that its policy has failed and it has had to turn to a draconian and less humane one. If it takes a while to curb arrivals, people could be detained a long while.

The government was also being disingenuous when it hooked its policy on to the review by the High Commissioner for Refugees of guidelines for assessing people from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

First, it is pre-empting the review. Second, Australia is at the front of the line in relation to Afghanistan. It's a stretch for Stephen Smith to paint a relatively rosy picture of conditions in Afghanistan - we have soldiers there fighting the Taliban.

The government wants to get its border-protection credentials shipshape well before the election. The measures may be necessary but they mark an unfortunate new stage in Australian policy.

One would have liked the government to have admitted as much and had some reg- rets, rather than rely on the fig leaf.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/humiliating-backdown-for-labor-20100409-rysp.html

Tough stand takes us back to where it all began with first fleet of arrivals

The Age
Mark Davis
April 10, 2010

The government's clampdown on Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers is a reversion to the norm in Australian political responses to boat arrivals.

Since the first wave of ''boat people'' from Indochina in the 1970s, the dominant response by governments has been hardline measures to stem the flows.

A paper by Parliamentary Library researchers Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks chronicles three decades of attempts to deter asylum seekers.

In 1978, the Fraser government approached regional governments to hold vessels in transit so claims could be processed while asylum seekers were in refugee camps.

In 1982, Liberal immigration minister Ian Macphee introduced individual determination of asylum claims so only ''genuine'' refugees were admitted.

The Hawke government in 1983 endorsed a UN plan for ''durable solutions'' to the Indochinese refugee problem that made resettlement in countries such as Australia a last resort. In 1992, Labor immigration minister Gerry Hand introduced mandatory detention for all non-citizens in Australia without a valid visa.

From 1999, the Howard government introduced temporary protection visas for asylum seekers found to be refugees after arriving unlawfully. Then, following the 2001 Tampa incident, the government cut back the legal rights of arrivals by excising parts of Australian territory from the migration zone. John Howard also adopted the Pacific Solution - sending unauthorised arrivals to Nauru and Papua New Guinea while their asylum claims were processed.

The Rudd government bucked the historical trend. In 2008 it ended the Pacific Solution, announcing that unauthorised arrivals would be processed on Christmas Island. Then it scrapped temporary protection visas, giving permanent visas to people found to be refugees regardless of whether they arrived lawfully or unlawfully.

Two months later Immigration Minister Chris Evans ruled that mandatory detention would be a last resort rather than standard practice for people found in the country without visas.

Those policy softenings in 2008 were followed by a resurgence in unauthorised boat arrivals over the past 18 months.

Now it has suspended processing of asylum claims by all people arriving from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan.

http://www.theage.com.au/.../tough-stand-takes-us-back-to-where-it-all-began...20100409-ryso.html

A refugee 'solution' without decency

The Age
Daniel Flitton
April 10, 2010

No decency is found in this new policy, dumping people in legal deep freeze for months while the government hopes for a change in the definition of who qualifies as a refugee.

This does not target the smugglers, it is collective punishment of the victims.

The government has now suspended asylum applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans, referring time and again yesterday to ''evolving circumstances'' - a glib and gutless code to disguise what many will find an extraordinary claim: that these are now safe countries.

Perhaps Australia's spy agencies have warned that smugglers are telling their clients to hurry to Australia before the United Nations alters its assessment of the dangers in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. But that's a generous assumption and the government gave no hint of this in announcing this suspension.

So why not wait until the UN makes its determination? If the government is correct and a change is on the way, that will cut the market for smugglers.

But instead, rushing this change smacks of a panicked reaction to a political problem.

This issue defies easy solutions. More asylum seekers are risking the journey by sea to Australia than at any time in the past decade. At the present rate, this may mark the largest number of people arriving in any calendar year. No government can ignore this. Don't be taken in by simplistic demands - granting asylum to any person who arrives by boat is neither an answer nor humane.

People must have their claims tested, else the number of arrivals will continue to grow as smugglers exploit the vulnerable. Just look at the overcrowded boats and remember the lives lost when things go wrong. A pregnant woman had to be rescued from a vessel that ran into trouble this week.

But Labor is fighting a rhetorical battle it cannot win. Tough yet humane, delay with dignity. These are contradictions, not a coherent policy.

Labor was too timid after the last election to shift the refugee debate away from the hard line of the Howard era.

Labor might have told the public the truth - that Australia will always have an asylum-seeker challenge, but when compared with other wealthy nations, only a tiny number arrive here. The idea we can cut ourselves off is fanciful.

Instead, Labor persisted with hardline rhetoric and the false promise of zero arrivals, while trying to wind back the more extreme aspects of the Pacific solution. It was easy for smugglers to portray this as a change in Australian policy - and for the opposition to bleat about Labor's ''soft touch'' on border protection.

No one emerges well in this poisoned debate. Refugee advocates have been willing to work with Labor and shied away from criticising the government, but many of these campaigners are now complicit in a situation that leaves more than 2000 people stranded on an island in the Indian Ocean. Some solution.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/a-refugee-solution-without-decency-20100409-rysn.html

Government could face court on asylum seeker freeze

ABC Online News
By Samantha Hawley
Posted Sat Apr 10, 2010 4:14pm AEST

The Federal Government could face legal action over what has been described as a "redneck" policy on asylum seekers.

The Government says conditions in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are improving and applications from asylum seekers from those countries will not be processed for up to six-months.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Federal Government's decision to freeze certain asylum seeker applications is a redneck policy.

Senator Hanson-Young says it is a clear breach of the Racial Discrimination Act and she is concerned it will lead to children being held in detention.

She says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd simply cannot be trusted to handle the asylum seeker issue.

"Kevin Rudd's announcement yesterday has proven that he is a coward when it comes to standing up for what is right," she said.

"He's simply bowing to the pressure of Tony Abbott and the Opposition and following them down the low road of electoral politics that was so well laid out by John Howard."

Refugee lawyers are considering taking the Commonwealth to court, arguing it has breached administrative law by discriminating against a race of people.

The Human Rights Commission has condemned the move as a breach of Australia's international obligations.

Greg Barnes, from the Australian Lawyers Alliance, argues the Government's freeze on processing asylum claims could be unlawful.

"I think that a number of lawyers would want to look very carefully at this," he said.

"On this basis that one of the key principles of administrative law and in other words, the law which applies to decisions which are taken by governments against individuals is that they shall be done on the basis of being free from any discrimination based on race, and alternatively that people have procedural fairness," he said.

"The second point to make is that the law in Australia and the rule of law is such that laws have to be applied equally irrespective of where a person comes from or their race."

Mr Barnes says there is a possibility that the courts could reject the Federal Government move.

"The courts have been prepared to strike down government policies and government decisions where they say the legal advice on which the government was acting was flawed," he said.

ABC Radio's AM has also spoken to another refugee lawyer who says a legal challenge under administrative law is being considered.

Julian Burnside QC says there may be legal avenues that could be pursued, but he is not as confident.

"The Government it seems will now say 'okay, people who arrive here by boat seeking asylum will not be sent back; will not be processed. Their application for protection won't be processed; we won't determine whether they're refugees or not; we'll just leave them to rot'," he said.

"It's a sort of new version of the Pacific Solution. These things aren't too difficult to authorise by statute, but of course, the human rights implications of them are terrible."

Human Rights Commissioner Cathy Branson says there is a risk the Government is discriminating on people based on race.

"Well, the Australian Human Rights Commission is fearful that it will lead to breaches of Australia's international human rights obligations," she said.

"In particular our obligation under the Refugees Convention not to treat groups of people differently based on their country of origin; our general obligation not to discriminate."

The Commissioner says she is also concerned about conditions on Christmas Island where the detention facility is at capacity.

"We already had under consideration when we should return to Christmas Island and this will add impetus to our consideration of that question," she said.

Extra Australian Federal Police officers arrived on the island last night.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/10/2869294.htm

Legal bid likely on refugees

The Age
Josh Gordon
April 11, 2010

The Rudd government's decision to leave asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in limbo on Christmas Island is out of step with ''normal practice'' and is ''problematic as a matter of principle'', according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

In an attempt to stem the flow of refugee arrivals by boat at Christmas Island, the federal government has said any asylum claims made by Afghans would not be processed for six months, while claims by Sri Lankans would be suspended for three months.

In a dramatic toughening of Australia's border protection policies, the government is claiming that yet-to-be released guidelines from the UNHCR and ''evolving country information'' will see more people being rejected as refugees and sent home.

But the UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle, said the decision to delay processing applications in anticipation of a UNHCR review was unprecedented.

''I'm not aware of suspensions like this applying in any other part of the industrialised world,'' Mr Towle told The Sunday Age.

''The normal practice is to make assessments based on current information and to keep that information updated as much as possible.''

Mr Towle also said that the prolonged detention of asylum seekers on Christmas Island or the mainland was questionable from a humanitarian point of view and went against UNHCR principles that mandatory detention should be avoided where possible.

''We are primarily concerned that if there is a suspension that the humanitarian and psycho-social needs of those suspended are properly taken care of,'' he said.

The comments came as Border Protection Command intercepted another boat, the 39th to arrive this year, carrying eight suspected asylum seekers and two crew.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said if the asylum seekers were found to be from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan, which account for about 80 per cent of claims, they would face the moratorium.

Refugee lawyer David Manne, who yesterday travelled to Christmas Island to speak with detainees, said the move was a clear attempt by the federal government to avoid obligations owed to asylum seekers.

He said the move was a ''radical deviation from established international practice''.

''We'll be vigorously pursuing their claims for protection from brutality in their homelands,'' Mr Manne said. ''To put a freeze on cases on the off chance that the situation in a person's country might improve some time down the track flies in the face of our international obligations to properly assess claims at the time they are made.''

After speaking to asylum seekers on the island, he said many were deeply distressed by the announcement and confused about the potential consequences.

The Australian Greens have also vowed to investigate a legal challenge.

''The question now is whether this is also a breach of Australia's own Racial Discrimination Act,'' Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said.

Greg Barns, of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said courts had been prepared to strike down government policies and decisions where they found the government had acted on flawed legal advice.

''One of the key principles of administrative law, in other words the law which applies to decisions which are taken by governments against individuals, is that they shall be done on the basis of being free from any discrimination based on race and alternatively that people have procedural fairness,'' he told ABC Radio.

''The law in Australia and the rule of law is such that laws have to be applied equally, irrespective of where a person comes from or their race.''

Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, QC, was less confident, saying the government would not find this too difficult to do by statute. The human rights implications were terrible, he said.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the government did not generally comment on what legal advice it might have received.

But he said the government was confident the legal basis for its actions was sound.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/legal-bid-likely-on-refugees-20100410-rzy5.html

Extra police sent to Christmas Island

ABC Online News
By Simon Cullen and Alexandra Kirk
Updated Fri Apr 9, 2010 11:38pm AEST

Extra Federal Police have been sent to Christmas Island to deal with any fallout from the Government's decision to change its refugee policy.

The Government has suspended refugee processing for Sri Lankan and Afghani asylum seekers, although it will not affect those who are already on Christmas Island.

The Opposition's Justice and Customs spokesman, Michael Keenan, says that could lead to tension between asylum seekers.

He is concerned other police operations may suffer.

"We're very concerned about the conditions on Christmas Island," he said.

"You wonder what duties [the AFP] have been redeployed from to have to go up there to make up for the Rudd Government's failures."

A Government spokesman says the AFP makes its own deployment decisions.

Refugee advocate David Manne has slammed the new policy, saying it could lead to a violation of asylum seekers' human rights.

He described the suspension of refugee processing as "indefinite, prolonged periods of incarceration in prison like conditions."

"It may well cause considerable confusion and frustration," he said.

Last month, Immigration Minister Chris Evans told the Senate that the Government did not want to hold people in detention for long periods of time.

There are now 2161 asylum seekers in the island's detention centre - about 120 above the official capacity.

The Immigration Department is preparing to fly more people off the island as early as today.

Two boats that have been intercepted in recent days are still to arrive.

UN reviews guidelines

The Government's path was smoothed by the fact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is reviewing its protection guidelines for asylum seekers fleeing from those two countries, as revealed on this program a month ago.

Doctor Sam Pari, from the National Tamil Congress, says the Government's move will not make much difference because Tamils continue to be persecuted and oppressed.

"The only way that the Australian Government can deter asylum seekers from coming here is by looking at the root cause," he said.

"The problem is the Sri Lankan government. The Australian Government should put pressure on Sri Lanka to start treating its Tamil citizens equally and justly."

Refugee lawyer David Mann, who headed to Christmas Island on Friday, says the suspension will undermine Australia's international obligations.

"This strategy is essentially designed to avoid obligations which are currently owed to people seeking refugee status," he said.

"This strategy... flies in the face of our international obligations to properly assess refugee claims at the time they're made.

"The other real concern here is that we face a situation of asylum seekers being held in prolonged detention without just cause leaving people in legal limbo in detention, cause profound harm and in many cases crush people.

Amnesty says the asylum suspension is inconsistent with Australia's international obligations, but the UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle, is reserving judgment.

"I haven't had a chance to look at the policy or the implications of the policy to see how it matches with the Refugee Convention or any ... other obligations that Australia might have, but we'll be looking at those sorts of thing in the fullness of time," he said.

"The key thing is to make sure that people who are in the suspended position are able to live dignified and humane lives while they're waiting this period."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/09/2869137.htm

Rudd seeks to send message to people smugglers - and voters

The Age
Tony Wright
April 9, 2010 - 12:23PM

Just as another boatload of 70 asylum seekers arrived at overcrowded Christmas Island, the Rudd government rolled out its big guns to announce the suspension of processing of all immigration claims for new arrivals from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Under fire from the opposition for having ''softened'' its border protection rules, leading to the arrival of 105 boats to date, the government was clearly desperate for a strategy to send a message to people smugglers. The message? Your clients will sit in limbo on Christmas Island and probably be sent home.

''The decision has been made in the light of changing circumstances in both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka,'' Immigration Minister Chris Evans told a press conference this morning.

The suspension, pending a review, followed the announcement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that it was reviewing security conditions in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan - major source countries for asylum seekers arriving in Australia.

It also follows a statement by a senior official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia who declared people smuggling was out of control. Manuel Jordao said there were 4000 asylum seekers registered with the UN in Indonesia, and large numbers of them would try to get to Australia by boat. He called for new solutions to get the situation under control.

Senator Evans, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith and Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor fronted a press conference shoulder-to-shoulder this morning to deliver the new hardline policy. The government will review the situation in Sri Lanka after three months and in Afghanistan after a period of six months.

Senator Evans denied the decision to suspend processing was because the government had lost control of its border protection policy. Instead, it followed the UNHCR's announcement that it was reviewing the status of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and improving conditions in those countries meant fewer asylum seekers would be able to prove they needed refugee protection.

He said he did not expect the suspension would immediately stem the number of boat arrivals.

''We still expect boats to arrive,'' he said, adding the government hoped that over time it would reduce people-smuggling operations.

''The message is the circumstances in Australia have changed and that increasingly persons from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are being refused asylum,'' he said.

He announced the interception of a boat, carrying 70 asylum seekers, near Christmas Island on Thursday night. It was the 38th boat to arrive in Australian waters this year.

The new measures also follow the concerns of a United Nations official who said governments needed new solutions to deal with ''out of control'' people smuggling as thousands of asylum seekers try to reach Australia via Indonesia.

Senior UNHCR representative in Indonesia, Manuel Jordao, says a large number of almost 4000 asylum seekers on the UNHCR's books in the archipelago will try to reach Australia by boat, rather than wait for resettlement via official channels.

Tony Wright is The Age's national affairs editor.

http://www.theage.com.au/.../...send-message-to-people-smugglers--and-voters-20100409-rwi8.html

Govt visa move 'cruel and inhumane'

The West Australian
April 9, 2010, 1:32 pm

The Federal Government's suspension of refugee claim processing for Sri Lankans and Afghanis is "cruel and inhumane" and will ramp up distress among asylum seekers, an academic says.

Professor Linda Briskman, of Curtin University's Centre for Human Rights in Perth, says the suspension could lead to lengthy periods of detention on Christmas Island or the mainland.

"We know the mental health impact of long term detention," she said on Friday from Christmas Island, where she is conducting research on asylum seeker detention.

People were already distressed because they did not know what the outcomes for them were going to be, Prof Briskman said.

She questioned whether the new policy was in response to overcrowding on Christmas Island or concerns about public opinion in an election year.

"I think it's cruel and inhumane in subjecting people to this for political purposes."

The Federal Government today announced an immediate suspension of processing of all new refugee claims by Sri Lankans and Afghanis.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans denied the new regime meant asylum seekers could be detained indefinitely on Christmas Island or in mainland detention centres.

"People aren't being denied their right to seek asylum but it's been suspended," he told reporters in Canberra.

"It's humane because people will still have access to consideration of their refugee status.

"They will still be treated with dignity and treated as human beings."

The government says the new policy is a response to changing circumstances in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is reviewing conditions in both countries and UN protection guidelines.

The Australian Humans Rights Commission said the changes could see asylum seekers detained indefinitely.

"We have real concerns that this policy shift could lead to arbitrary detention and take Australia down a path that is at odds with our international human rights obligations," commission president Cathy Branson, QC, said.

She also expressed concerns about the effects of prolonged immigration detention on the mental health of asylum seekers, especially children.

Subjecting children to mandatory detention breaches Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires children only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

"We have consistently maintained that the small size and remoteness of Christmas Island makes it an inappropriate place to hold people in immigration detention," Ms Branson said.

"Detainees cannot get adequate access to crucial support services such as legal advice, health and mental health care, and religious support."

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/7042450/govt-visa-move-cruel-and-inhumane/

Rule changes leave asylum seekers in limbo

ABC Online News
By online political correspondent Emma Rodgers
First posted Fri Apr 9, 2010 11:08am AEST
Updated Fri Apr 9, 2010 3:06pm AEST

All new asylum seeker claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are being suspended, as news emerges that 70 people were rescued from a sinking asylum boat off Christmas Island early this morning.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the Government has decided to implement the processing suspension due to "changing conditions" in both countries.

New applications from Sri Lanka will be suspended for three months, while those from Afghanistan will be suspended for six months.

The Government will review whether the suspensions need to be extended at the end of those periods.

This means any new asylum seekers now arriving in Australian waters from those two countries will not have their refugee applications processed until the suspension is lifted.

The Government's decision comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reviews the international protection guidelines for both countries.

Senator Evans says the changes will mean that more asylum claims from the two countries will be refused.

"The changes we are announcing today send a strong message to people smugglers that they cannot guarantee a visa outcome for their clients, and a message to those seeking to employ people smugglers that they may find themselves not to be refugees and returned to their country of origin," he said.

Senator Evans denies the suspension is inhumane and says new arrivals will still be subject to the same legal protection as other asylum seekers.

"They will still be treated with dignity. They will still be treated as human beings," he said.

The vast majority of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat are Sri Lankans and Afghans.

The Government will also bring in tougher measures to target those facilitating the flow of money to people smugglers in the region.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has defended the decision as "methodical" and says the safety of minority groups is improving in both countries.

"As we speak we are witnessing in Sri Lanka, for the first time in two decades, a parliamentary election," he said.

"In our view, again reflected by the UNHCR's own review processes, it is not now automatically the case that just because you are an Hazara Afghan that you automatically fall within the provisions of the convention."

The Government will continue processing claims from those asylum seekers already on Christmas Island or who are en route to Christmas Island after being intercepted.

All intercepted asylum seekers will continue to be taken to the already crowded detention centre on the island, where the Government is hastily increasing capacity to cope with the influx of arrivals.

Senator Evans has reiterated the Government's intention to use the Darwin detention centre, which can hold more than 540 people, if the need arises.

The news came as the Government released details of the rescue of asylum seekers from a boat which was intercepted 73 nautical miles east south-east of Christmas Island.

The Government says some of the asylum seekers ended up in the water but were rescued by crew from HMAS Wollongong.

"Just after 2:00am (AEST) the engine failed on the vessel which began to flounder," a statement from Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said.

"The transfer of passengers to HMAS Wollongong commenced immediately. Approximately 16 passengers were transferred immediately, however some passengers abandoned the vessel.

"Passengers were rescued from the water by the crew of HMAS Wollongong.

"HMAS Wollongong is now proceeding to Christmas Island with the passengers for security, identity and health checks."

The Federal Government has been under pressure from the Coalition after a spike in boat arrivals last year and this year.

The Coalition blames softened policy for the rise but the Government has said it is due to international "push" factors.

The issue also came to a head last year during the Oceanic Viking affair, when a group of Tamils being held on the Customs ship refused to disembark unless they were taken to Australia.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/09/2868398.htm

Human trafficking 'getting worse everywhere'

ABC Online News
Posted Fri Apr 9, 2010 3:10pm AEST

A senior representative with the UN's High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia says human trafficking is getting worse everywhere, not just in Indonesia.

Manuel Jordao has denied telling an Australian newspaper that people smuggling in Indonesia is "out of control".

Mr Jordao says it is no secret human trafficking is increasing but he says Indonesia is not the only place battling the problem.

He says newspaper reports in Australia, quoting him as saying people smuggling is "out of control" in Indonesia are incorrect.

He says the numbers in Indonesia are not that alarming.

"No I don't think it's out of control. What I think is needed is inter-state cooperation, that is what I discussed," he said.

He says less than 4,000 asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia.

"Most of the people of concern to the UNHCR who arrive in Indonesia arrive after having used trafficking services and have paid for it," he said.

Mr Jordao would not comment on the Australian Government's decision today to suspend processing all immigration claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/09/2868766.htm

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