Joint Media Release
Friday September 3, 2010 11:00am WST
For Immediate Release
"Human rights advocates around Australia are concerned that there has been political interference in the refugee claims assessment of the Afghan men at the Darwin detention centre who were involved in a protest earlier this week," advocacy groups Project SafeCom and Refugee Action Coalition said this morning, having consulted with other agents and organisations around Australia.
"When the Darwin detention centre was first opened again during March and April this year, Immigration Minister Chris Evans was vocal and adamant that Australians did not need to be concerned that asylum seekers whose claims were not fully processed, were going to be flown to the mainland centre from Christmas Island, because, in his words, they were "on a positive pathway" to "permanent residency". Minister Evans said this during a press conference on 28 March 2010:
"...if we need to bring people to the mainland, to Darwin, who are in the final stages of processing, those on a positive pathway, because we need the room, we will do but they will be offshore entry persons because they've been processed on Christmas Island. They'll have gone through all their initial checks there, and if you like, we'll bring them to the mainland as part of the process of bringing them to permanent residency..."
"Minister Evans repeated the claims a month later, while announcing the "suspension" of visa processing for the Afghan asylum seekers who were flown to Darwin. On April 18, he stated in a Media Release:
"Charter flights will begin to move single men, all of whom are currently in the final stages of a positive pathway, to the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin."
"While the 'processing freeze' itself can already be called a 'political interference', the records show that since 2000 Hazarah Afghans were highly successful asylum claimants with more than 90% approvals. Soon after the processing suspension announcements, Chris Evans claimed in media comments that we should expect an increasing number of claim rejections, and his claims flew in the face of UN reports about the situation in Afghanistan.
Leaving the processing freeze aside, the claims by Minister Evans, trying to convince Australians, and very likely also the men he planned to fly to Darwin, that they were all on a 'positive pathway' contrasts starkly against the claims made by DIAC's Media spokesman Sandi Logan from Darwin during the protests, that the men "were on a removal pathway".
"We feel that the Minister or other agents in the former Rudd government have some serious questions to answer about the developments which led to the men's protest on the Sturt Highway this Wednesday morning. Many of the men were weeping in the prospect of being deported to the country they just fled from.
"Were any Ministerial directives issued to assessment officers in the Immigration department that in effect were directives interfering with the frank and fearless assessment of bureaucrats of asylum claims in accordance with our obligations to protect from persecution?
"In the face of political 'wedging' of the Rudd government by the coalition opposition about boat arrivals, faced with flagging opinion polls in the last 6 months of the Rudd government, did the Immigration Minister interfere with a process which should at all times be independent from political agendas?
"Did Immigration officers themselves receive secret directives from their superiors in higher echelon to introduce "rejection quotas" - as has happened on previous occasions in their organisation?
"To put it bluntly," Project SafeCom spokesman Jack H Smit said, "blind Freddie can see that the Taliban is doing great in Afghanistan, which means that Hazaras will be right to fear unlawful killings and beheadings if we deport them back to this rotten war zone. Do we have such a callous and corrupt Immigration Minister and Immigration Department that once again they're up to their old and vile collusion and corrupted tricks of simply rejecting cases because the Liberals and Tony Abbott yell and carry on like drunken toddlers about the government having lost control of Australia's borders?"
"What has happened to Chris Evans, who in March told the country the men were on a "pathway to protection" and settlement as refugees, but who now gets the Media honcho of the Immigration Department to tell us they're on a "removal pathway"? Who exactly is lying here?
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Refugee Action Coalition
phone 0417 275 713