500th asylum vessel in 34 years arrives: time to reset the debate

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500th asylum vessel in 34 years arrives: time to reset the debate

Media Release
Friday September 3, 2010 2:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"The arrival of his morning's asylum boat with 59 passengers off Christmas Island is by all accounts the 500th vessel arriving on our shores for the purpose of seeking protection under the terms of the UN Refugee Convention since April 1976," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.

"The vessel, intercepted north of Christmas Island, brings the total number of passengers who arrived by boat since 1976 to 24,927 - just a little short of 25 thousand people, or a quarter of the Australians who will attend the Footy Finals in a few weeks."

The complete record of all boat arrivals since 1976 is here:

"This morning's arrival is a most opportune time for Australian citizens, Liberal politicians and certain sections of the Fourth Estate, media editors, shock jocks and journalists who prefer spin, lies and sensation over facts, to reset the debate to Ground Zero level, and accept that boat refugees are a piddly little number of drops in the world's Refugee Ocean, and that Australia as a nation has legal and formal obligations to all passengers under the UN Refugee Convention promises we have made."

"Over the last 34 years, these 500 boats brought on average 50 passengers per boat, and on average just 730 passengers per year knocked on our door to seek protection in accordance with their international legal right to arrive in our country for this purpose," spokesman Jack H Smit said.

"The brazen lies and misinformation peddled by politicians is a ghastly blight on our democracy, and it's time to abandon these lies and start being honest about the entirely legal status of these boats, the true piddly little number of arrivals and the fact that the passengers, on the whole, are refugees under the terms of the UN Refugee Convention."

The Liberal party platform during the last election campaign has been gross, blatant, and shameful beyond belief and this platform was based on four lies. These are:

1. Lie Number One: Australia is being "flooded by boats": since 2001 we have set an annual intake target of between 12,000 and 13,750 humanitarian entrants. Never in these ten years have we exceeded this small intake quota as a result of any boat arrivals. During this year, with the largest number of boats arriving, they constitute less than 50% of the annual intake. The claim, greedily peddled by Tony Abbott's Liberals, is ridiculous to the extreme, but a nasty ploy because many Australians are misinformed and believe Tony Abbott's lie.

2. Lie Number Two: "Border Protection is Out of Control": the 500 boats brought 730 passengers per year, and on average these boats came at the annual rate of less than 15 boats per year. The point above again is valid: Never in the last ten years have we exceeded the small annual refugee intake because of boat arrivals.

3. Lie Number Three: The passengers are "queue jumpers": Recently Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre concluded that, even if we accept the rather fictitious notion of the 'refugee queue' and add up all people in the world awaiting asylum and place them in a queue, this fictional queue would be 134 years long.

4. Lie Number Four: The boats are doing something "illegal" Under the terms of the UN Refugee Convention and under international law, entry into a country, presenting oneself without delay to the authorities and declaring the intent of entry to be to seek asylum, voids any illusory notions of illegality.

"It's time for everyone in Australia to stop lying about the status of maritime refugees and to stop misrepresenting asylum seekers, and it's time for those politicians who seek to maintain these lies, to bugger off from national politics and start a cult or a hatred-of-foreigners movement," Mr Smit concluded.

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

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