Saturday October 24, 2009 5:00pm WST
For Immediate Release
"Breaking news that asylum seekers have started a hungerstrike (see below) on board the Oceanic Viking, the wandering ship that's being sent from pillar to post as a result of Australia's political refugee games and the subsequent cumbersome and conflicting directions by Indonesia, tops off a week of disasters for the Rudd government in a situation where the Prime Minister has become a slave of the political football games of John Howard's hardline troupe in the Coalition," WA human Rights group Project SafeCom said this afternoon.
"The hungerstrike aboard the Australian vessel is the second one within a single week as a result of Kevin Rudd's intervention and his attempts to have Indonesia do the bidding on behalf of Australia - the first hungerstrike started less than a week ago amongst the 255 Sri Lankans detained in their vessel in the harbour of Merak," spokesman Jack H Smit said.
"The news of the hungerstrike comes on top of news reports in the last 24 hours, informing Australians that detained refugees in Indonesia are subject to 'cruel and degrading treatment': they are being beaten in the Tanjung Pinang Immigration Detention Centre that's being funded with Australian taxpayers' dollars. It should be clear to the Prime Minister that Indonesia has no refugee protection mandate: Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, nor has it ratified other essential UN human rights Conventions."
"Political brinkmanship has won out from mercy, compassion and decency this week in the life of Kevin Rudd. The Prime Minister has not blinked an eyelid about the fate of refugees he bars from arriving in Australia: he has been happy to condemn them to a decade of living in the slums of dirty prisons, cruel treatment, fear of rape, diseases from unhygienic conditions, in an environment where they're likely to be victims of Indonesia's own political power struggles between politicians, the police, and lower-ranked public officials."
"The Parliament has seen a massive stoush this week between the "Howard Purists" who keep reviving old policies in a desperate wanton to return to John Howard's cruel refugee treatment, and the "Howard Lite" troupe of Kevin Rudd's government, performing 'Yes Minister' summersaults under the directions of the Prime Minister."
"Australian politicians of the major parties have learnt nothing about the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees from the decade of disaster management and subsequent cover-ups from 1999 onwards, and those who "dare" to arrive with the help of people smugglers are still receiving unacceptable punishment for their desparation," Mr Smit concluded.
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Asylum seekers protest on customs ship
The West Australian
October 24, 2009, 3:28 pm
The men among the 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board an Australian customs vessel are staging a hunger strike.
The Oceanic Viking is making its way to the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pinang where the asylum seekers will be given temporary accommodation while their cases are processed.
A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the men were refusing food but were drinking water.
The women and children on board are continuing to eat and are not involved in the hunger strike.
"A doctor is on board and will continue to regularly check the passengers' health," the spokesman said.
The Oceanic Viking, which rescued the asylum seekers from their stricken boat inside Indonesia's search and rescue zone on Sunday, is taking the group to an Australia-funded detention centre on the Indonesian island of Bintan.
The latest development came as Greens leader Bob Brown called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to set humanitarian ground rules for boat people.
Senator Brown says if Australia is giving millions of dollars to Indonesia to house the refugees it must ensure they are given all human rights.
"The prime minister has to remember the parable about the good samaritan and that Australia is a fair go society," he told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
"We want to see that people who are seeking refuge from cruelty and fear are treated with respect to international law but also Australia's own compassionate regard for asylum seekers."
Mr Rudd flew to Thailand on Saturday, ahead of Sunday's East Asia Summit, which will bring together leaders from 10 ASEAN nations plus Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea and India.
He has several meetings on the sidelines, including talks with Indonesian leader Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The pair are likely to discuss a new strategy under which asylum seekers headed for Australia are processed on Indonesian soil.
Senator Brown said if the government secures a deal to build more holding centres in Indonesia it must ensure the refugees are treated properly.
"Otherwise the appearance that we take from the Rudd government is that they are putting the problem into offshore detention centres which Australians would not accept as a means of deterrence," Senator Brown said.
"That leads to a lot of unnecessary cruelty to people that don't deserve it."
The Australian Human Rights Commission has criticised the federal government over its use of mandatory detention and processing of asylum seekers on Christmas Island.
On Friday authorities intercepted the 36th boat this year of asylum seekers heading for Australia.
Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said at the top of Mr Rudd's to-do list is to get Indonesia to sign the UN Refugee Convention.
"Kevin Rudd must seek assurances that children and families will not be imprisoned and that the refugee claims are processed in a fair and timely manner," Senator Hanson-Young said.
"We need to set down some ground rules to ensure that whatever arrangement are made with Indonesia, it's not just about the logistics of pushing boats back but it's actually about the human rights and protection of people who are suffering."
The spokesman for Mr O'Connor said no major medical problems had been identified among the asylum seekers on board the Oceanic Viking, although several minor ailments were being treated.
"The ACV Oceanic Viking will continue to transport the passengers to a safe location at Tanjung Pinang Port and the people rescued at sea will be given temporary accommodation until the relevant international officials can handle the case," the spokesman said in a statement on Saturday.
The developments came after more than 250 ethnic Tamils staged a two-day hunger strike last week and refused to leave their boat now docked in Merak in Indonesia.