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Welcome to Woomera!

Boatpeople: those that 'come by the sea'

Recently, a new organisation was formed in Australia, one of the many groups that protest against the Australian Government's treatment of Asylum Seekers.

As part of their launch, projected a giant image on the side of Sydney Opera House under the slogan "We are all Boat People". See the image here.'s establishment is typical of many, many groups in Australia which formed in response to the 2001 Federal election in Australia, the events at MV The Tampa, and the hardline attitude of the Australian Conservative Government - and the absence of a gutsy response by the Labor opposition at the time of the election.

The Howard Government created a sub-class of refugees through its policies and treatment of those asylum seekers who come by boat. Many of them go to "Woomera, the Detention Camp in the desert. And at Project SafeCom Inc. we are repulsed by the government's human rights abuses; we suspect that many of the direct abuses happen in Woomera, far away from other people.

Letter to Woomera 2002 protesters

iratiwanti - the poison leave it

12th February, 2002

Dear Greenies,

The Government don't bother about Aboriginal People. They still don't realise that Aboriginal people belong to the country. We have nothing against the refugees. We don't mind people from far away coming here, but the Government hasn't even asked us Aboriginal people.

They never have.

It makes me upset to see those people locked up in cages, like animals. On our country. Being punished and hurting themselves, sewing their lips up. It's terrible. And the children, we feel really sad about them being in there. We are like them people, fighting for our country, our culture.

White people have got full control over our country. Mining at Roxby, Woomera, doing whatever. And now they want to bury all that nuclear waste in our country. They got the cheek for all the blackfellas to vote for them and then they really don't listen.

When you mob come up to Woomera please think about how we been fighting for a long time. Against Roxby. We have been busy all these years, trying to get control over our country. We don't get anywhere with them.

Everyone came here without asking Aboriginal people how they felt before they came and ripped up the country, our special places, all our sites.

Mrs.Eileen Wingfield
Kokatha Elder
Coober Pedy, South Australia


The UNHCR Rules

In November 2001 the United Nations High Commisioner issued revised guidelines pertaining to several newly developed circumstances of refugees. In the light of the Australian Government's reluctance to acknowledge the validity of refugee status of boatpeople, which remains strong, and which lies in the background of diverting the refugees to remote islands ("the Pacific Solution") it is an important document. Here is an excerpt:

"Having a well-founded fear of persecution is recognized in itself as 'good cause' for illegal entry. To 'come directly' from such country via another country or countries in which s/he is at risk or in which generally no protection is available, is also accepted as 'good cause' for illegal entry. There may, in addition, be other factual circumstances which constitute 'good cause'."


"Asylum-seekers are entitled to benefit from the protection afforded by various International and Regional Human Rights instruments which set out the basic standards and norms of treatment."

  1. Consistent with this Article, detention should only be resorted to in cases of necessity. The detention of asylum-seekers who come "directly" in an irregular manner should, therefore, not be automatic, or unduly prolonged. This provision applies not only to recognised refugees but also to asylum-seekers pending determination of their status, as recognition of refugee status does not make an individual a refugee but declares him to be one.

    Conclusion No. 44 (XXXVII) of the Executive Committee on the Detention of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers examines more concretely what is meant by the term "necessary". This Conclusion also provides guidelines to States on the use of detention and recommendations as to certain procedural guarantees to which detainees should be entitled.

  2. The expression "coming directly" in Article 31(1), covers the situation of a person who enters the country in which asylum is sought directly from the country of origin, or from another country where his protection, safety and security could not be assured. It is understood that this term also covers a person who transits an intermediate country for a short period of time without having applied for, or received, asylum there. No strict time limit can be applied to the concept "coming directly" and each case must be judged on its merits.

    Similarly, given the special situation of asylum-seekers, in particular the effects of trauma, language problems, lack of information, previous experiences which often result in a suspicion of those in authority, feelings of insecurity, and the fact that these and other circumstances may vary enormously from one asylum seeker to another, there is no time limit which can be mechanically applied or associated with the expression "without delay".

    The expression "good cause", requires a consideration of the circumstances under which the asylum-seeker fled. The term "asylum-seeker" in these guidelines applies to those whose claims are being considered under an admissibility or pre-screening procedure as well as those who are being considered under refugee status determination procedures. It also includes those exercising their right to seek judicial and/or administrative review of their asylum request.

Six hundred lawyers

Philip Ruddock's Welcome to boatpeople

More than six hundred members of Australia's legal fraternity placed an advertisement in The Weekend Australian of 2-3 February 2002 (p.7) and called for an immediate end to detention of asylum seekers who come by boat to Australia. Here is the text of the add:

We are members of the legal profession, legal academics and law students of all political persuasions.

We strongly protest about circumstances in which asylum seekers who come by boat to Australia, are automatically subjected to mandatory detention in isolated conditions pending finalisation of their applications for refugee protection. The circumstances of their detention, particularly in the desert at Woomera, are alienating, inhumane and contrary to the international to the general international standards of treatment available in other countries.

We call upon the Federal Government and all political parties to support:

  • Immediate release of all detainees, particularly women and children, pending finalisation of their application for visas, so as to allow them to take up accommodation available to them in the Australian community.

  • the grant to detainees of basic income support and access to health services as well as education for children, within the community.

    We call upon the Federal Government to change its unyielding stance in the face of extraordinary stress and human misery which the policies of detention have inevitably caused. Human dignity for asylum seekers is not negotiable and must be upheld. Their dehumanising treatment diminishes us all as a civilised society.

The persons below pledged their support over a period of 44 hours.

Seven other persons who also contributed to this advertisement choose to remain anonymous. A number of people's pledges could not be processed due to time constraints and will subsequently be published.

See the advert here. (warning: slow loading!)

Survival Stories

Refugees who have fled their homeland only to find themselves on a leaky boat on the most terrifying journey of their lives have told their stories in an extraordinary new social documentary project - "Survival Stories" just released by the Ecumenical Migration Centre at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

A group of 23 Iraqi and Afghan refugees, released from detention centres after having their asylum claims recognised by the Australian government, took part in the project.

Credits: The cartoons on this page are posted with permission by Peter Nicholson, the artist who does cartoons for The Australian. They are free for use by non-profit organisations. Please visit his webite.

Project SafeCom