Wednesday May 6, 2009 8:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"Chris Evans should stop being a whimp and make good on the promises he has made at a lecture last year at ANU where he declared and end to asylum seeker jailing after initial health and security checks, and he should institute a new bridging visa where asylum seekers after this first phase can fly off Christmas Island, find a home and become part of the Australian community," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.
"If anybody in the Immigration Department complains that the Christmas Island facilities are becoming overstretched (reported below), then it's a problem of their own making and an entrenched attitude in DIAC's organisational culture - one that seeks ongoing detention - and Chris Evans is not helping by his failure to come good on his promises made at Australian National University last year," spokesman Jack H Smit said.
"Instead of releasing asylum seekers after these initial health and security checks, they are 'let loose on Australia's Prison Island', and the Department and the Minister are fooling themselves that this constitutes a release from detention."
Chris Evans needs to start being honest to himself, he needs to start saving millions of dollars by implementing the promises made at ANU, combined with Labor's promise, given unconditionally since 2004, to 'process 90% of asylum cases within 90 days' and free up Christmas Island."
"Not only that, he could reduce the gross expenditure of jailing asylum seekers on Christmas Island by 70% by processing asylum seekers on the mainland instead," Mr Smit said.
"It is gross that our government keeps squandering millions of dollars each year just by keeping asylum seekers jailed remotely, just because it has decided that this keeps the asylum seeker issue out of sight and out of mind, thinking that this policy actually helps them politically."
By starting a fuller compliance with Australia's International Law and International Convention obligations and processing people on the mainland we can massively slash our out-of-proportion asylum processing budget and become a little more humane."
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Boat people strain facilities
Tom Arup, Canberra
May 6, 2009
THE 188 asylum seekers who are about to land on Christmas Island for immigration processing are causing concerns that the recent influx of boat people is lengthening the stay in immigration detention.
Customs ship HMAS Tobruk, which was carrying 138 people from recent boat arrivals, yesterday took on board another 50 people after a fishing vessel was intercepted 595 kilometres north-west of Broome and is heading to Christmas Island.
It is believed the 188 arrivals will be the largest group to disembark at Christmas Island since it became an immigration processing hub, stretching the island's capacity.
Defence Department sources said yesterday's arrival was part of a people-smuggling operation from Indonesia and those on board appeared to be from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Tobruk had been diverted to meet another Customs boat, HMAS Maryborough, and take off the 50 asylum seekers, who had been moved voluntarily onto the Maryborough because their vessel was taking on water and was low on fuel.
It is the 11th asylum-seeker boat to arrive in Australian waters since the start of the year.
The 188 aboard the Tobruk are expected gradually to disembark at Christmas Island over the next two days.
Due to operational factors, some of the asylum seekers may have to stay on the Customs vessel for a few days while it is at anchor in Christmas Island harbour.
The delay is mainly because the 188 can only be transferred from the Tobruk on a small barge 20 to 30 at a time.
When they are ashore the asylum seekers will have health, quarantine and baggage checks before being sent either to the detention centre or a community camp.
A source in the Immigration Department said because of the 188 people arriving on the island, staff would struggle to process people within a 90-day processing time frame, which was outlined by Immigration Minister Chris Evans last year.
The department source said the rise in boat arrivals had stretched the staff on the island and more staff were being flown in on commercial flights to handle the extra work.
The Federal Government has not legislated the 90-day rule, which was instead set out as a "value" by Senator Evans in changes aimed at "humanising" Australia's immigration regime.
Mr Evans said yesterday that as Christmas Island was part of the excised immigration zone, there was no statutory requirement to process asylum claims within any time frame.
"Once health, identity and security checks are completed, people who are owed Australia's protection will be entitled to a protection visa. Those that are not will be removed," Senator Evans said.
"Under the Howard government many people were left to languish in detention for years on end - even after they were found to be refugees.
"Labor believes in treating asylum seekers humanely and is committed to meeting Australia's international obligations under the UN Refugee Convention."
At present there are 264 people in various forms of detention or in community camps on Christmas Island.
Reacting to the news of the arrival of more asylum seekers yesterday, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull again called for an independent inquiry into the "softening" of Australia's immigration regime in the past year.
"Now we know that the people smugglers have received the message that our policies or Mr Rudd's policies are soft and that we've become a soft target," Mr Turnbull said.