Monday January 12 2004 08:30am WST
For Immediate Release
Hunger strikers and refugees stuck on the Indonesian Island of Lombok have emailed their story to refugee advocates in Australia, and from the story it becomes clear that they are all refugees "pushed back" from Ashmore Reef by the Royal Australian NAVY in October 2001, the lead-up to the last Federal Election.
They have told advocates about their agony about the treatment by Australian forces, which includes their memories of a member of what they called the "Commandos" crying about their circumstances and the state of their vessels. They confirmed that they asked for asylum when they met RAN vessels at Ashmore Reef, "surely in Australian water".
NOTE: Some quotes from their story have been re-printed below, the full text has been posted on the Project SafeCom website at http://www.safecom.org/lombok-hazaras.htm
"Recently, regional UNHCR representative Michel Gabaudan reminded the Howard government that pushing back the Kurdish asylum seekers from Melville Island to Indonesia after they had sought asylum in Australia, does not absolve Australia from its international obligations under the UN Refugee Convention."
On New Year's Day Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone told Australians about the good record of taking 12,000 refugees in 2003 "from the queue", mainly from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Now the Minister can turn Australia's attention to the queue Australia has not taken a single Convention refugee from for years, the queue in Indonesia, right nextdoor to us."
"With the new country information applicable in Afghanistan, all those in Indonesia should now qualify for refugee status and find shelter: in addition, nearly all of them are from the persecuted Hazara minority. Australia should learn a lesson from New Zealand's generosity, and follow its example."
"Again it becomes clear that Howard's "deter and deny" policies have wreaked havoc and destruction, not just on Nauru as the hunger strike has shown, but also amongst those who were simply pushed back to Indonesia. Australia has a responsibility to those asylum seekers, and should welcome them to Australia now."
"Australian navy forces kept us there beside Ashmore Reef for seven days under hot sunshine..."
QUESTION: "Did you ask them for asylum into Australian waters?"
ANSWER: "Yes of course when we were stopped beside Ashmore Reef which is the land of Australia and water of Australia that they kept us for seven days, brought us the blankets and gave some emergency medical care. That was surely Australian water that we asked them for asylum."
"There are dosens of countries that they accept refugees but not those who are like us. Australia does not accept us as refugee because they want to give us examplary punishment till the whole world refugees must not rush to Australia. On the other hand UNHCR also does not accept a proper number of us as refugees because as it is analysed by some journalists that Australia was trying to convince UNHCR not to accept many refugees till the claims of Australia must come true that these boat people are not refugee."
"During this time we had traveled three to five times to Australia. Unfortunately we could not get there because the boats were crowded, inefficient and mostly were facing the break down which was nearly to cause death toll for passengers but accidentally we were rescued from death danger and remained alive. The passengers were returning back by psychological disappointment and physical illness."
"In next time our boat lost the way into Christmas Island and we were perplexed for eighteen days on the ocean having no water and food...."
"In another trip our boat got hole and the boat's engine was broken down in the ocean near to Jawa Island...."
"....tears were coming from the eyes of all passengers because all of us believed that we could finally reached to Australia alive at 2 O'clock of night on 12th October 2001 and the navy forces stopped us at nine O'clock...."
"Finally after six days the commandos came in our boat and said that we are taking you to the camp (In fact they just deceived us) so they separated the families from singles first they checked all of them from head to the foot thoroughly and transferred them to their own navy ship."
"Because no one was ready to come out of the navy ship they were throwing the children like an object in our boat and beating the men, women and children so badly. By observing this scene some of commandos were weeping but their commander was taking them to the captain's room even one of the commandos hit his head to the wall of the boat. They broke down the engine of boat and have taken the oil and generator with themselves They did so till we cannot go back to Australia again and these commandos escaped by speed boat to the navy ship which had brought the families and run away."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
[phone number posted]