Friday March 30, 2007 8:30am CST
For Immediate Release
"The Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who has amongst one of his primary statutory duties the uncompromised upholding of the UN Refugee Convention, is an abject failure, a disgraceful yes-minister who does John Howard's bidding in the new Indonesian Push-back solution, and his actions will no doubt result in massive suffering, grief to thousands of "lost asylum seekers" and many deaths when Indonesia will simply return those seeking asylum back to the countries they came from," WA Rights Group Project SafeCom said this morning, in the lead-up to a national Conference in Canberra about asylum seekers and refugees policy and praxis.
"The report in The Australian this morning (copied below), where Kevin Andrews intends to create a "collusion" - an agreement with Indonesia under an MOU that Indonesia will be the bully country on the behest of Australia, taking back asylum seekers - presumably to send them back to where they came from, is a disgrace and a direct abrogation of Australia's duties under the Convention," spokesman Jack H Smit said.
"Kevin Andrews has already shown that he doesn't have a clue about his portfolio, when he made some major errors in statements in recent weeks, claiming that asylum claims on Nauru would be assessed be IOM or by UNHCR. It seems again that under a Howard government, the duty to refugees is one of "how can we get rid of them and make it impossible for them" instead of implementing Australia's statutory obligation to provide "privileged entrance" also for those arriving unannounced in boats."
"It looks like Kevin Andrews should attend this weekend's Conference "A Fair Go For Refugees" in Canberra's Manning Clark House - and we invite the Minister to take up this opportunity to mingle with a 500-strong delegation of "The Immigration Department's Volunteer Assistants", and he can learn, if he should attend, a miriad of things about his own portfolio."
Amongst the issues posed by organisations such as Project SafeCom during the Weekend of Ideas at Manning Clark House are the following foundation propositions, also quoted from UNHCR's recent clarifications of the UN Refugee Convention, and Kevin Andrews would do well to take these to heart:
■ A refugee is NEVER home until he or she has reached a UN Convention Member State, and has been assessed and confirmed by a Member State as a refugee
-- From the 1999 United Nations UNHCR's Executive Committee (ExCom) bulletins issued to Member States:
■ Member States shall NOT penalise asylum seekers for "not coming directly" or asylum seekers who remain for a time in so-called "third countries".... (ie, for arriving in a UN Convention country via another country or via other countries)
-- And, in the context of the relentless drive by the Howard government to taint the credibility of asylum seekers and paint them as "illegals", again from ExCom statements:
■ Refugee Status exists independently, and may exist independently, of the successful or otherwise determination by Member States of a person's claims.
"The Howard government is doing whatever it can to shirk its responsibilities under the UN Refugee Convention. It would be cheaper, better and more honest if Kevin Andrews would propose that Australia ceases to be a signatory to the UN Convention. If that would become part of the 2001 election campaign, we would also see how honest Labor would be in its vehement opposition to such a scandalous proposal, however realistic it would be to do such a thing for the rabble front bench clique of John Howard," Mr Smit concluded.
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Indonesia may join Pacific Solution: Andrews
March 30, 2007
INDONESIA would become part of Australia's offshore immigration processing regime under a proposal from Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews that critics claim will expand the Government's controversial Pacific Solution.
Mr Andrews, who will shortly travel to Jakarta to raise the plan, has also pledged to rationalise the nation's complex visa system as part of an overhaul of the Immigration Department if the Coalition is re-elected for a fifth term.
In an interview with The Australian yesterday, Mr Andrews said Australia hoped to enlist Indonesia, which is regarded as a regional hub for people-smugglers, for the processing of future unauthorised boat arrivals.
The move, which would make Indonesia an adjunct to Australia's offshore processing regime, was dubbed by critics last night as the "Indian Ocean solution".
Mr Andrews, who assumed the tough Immigration portfolio in January, said the partnership would go ahead only if Indonesia agreed to process future unauthorised boat arrivals in accordance with UN regulations.
"It will depend on whether Indonesia is able or prepared to do it according to the conditions that we basically subscribe to, which is basically not sending people back to a country where they will be in danger of being persecuted and, secondly, operating according to the UN protocols," Mr Andrews said.
Under the Pacific Solution, Australia pays for unauthorised asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia to be held and processed on Nauru.
It is not clear how the arrangement with Indonesia would work. But it is understood Jakarta is interested in helping Australia process illegal arrivals to enhance its own border security by sending a blunt message to people-smugglers and their clients that, even after leaving for Australia, they face being returned to Indonesia for processing.
The election-year move will toughen the Australian Government's already uncompromising stance on people-smuggling by boosting deterrents for would-be arrivals.
The Coalition's staunch anti-people-smuggling platform has been credited with boosting its electoral appeal in times of global uncertainty and delivering it government at the 2004 election.
Labor, mindful of the risk of being politically wedged on immigration, has been cautious this year and avoided embracing a liberal view on the issue.
Under Mr Andrews's plan, Indonesia would process unauthorised boat arrivals who were intercepted on the high seas around Australia.
This would be different from Australia's arrangement with Nauru, where Australia is responsible for the processing.
Mr Andrews denied the plan would be a legislative expansion of the Pacific Solution but said it reflected the co-operative relationship between Australia and Indonesia on immigration matters.
Negotiations on the issue were sparked by the arrival of 83 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers off the northwest coast of Australia last month.
The Australian Government tried to convince Indonesia to process the group's claims.
But negotiations failed after Jakarta insisted it would send the men straight back to Sri Lanka - a move that would have put Australia in breach of its international obligations.
The men are now being processed on Nauru.
Mr Andrews said the Government had continued negotiations with Indonesia despite the collapse of the original plan.
"There's been ongoing discussions and co-operation," he said. "This was a specific topic of discussion because of this particular boat and, yes, there will be ongoing discussions about the issue.
"I haven't yet met with my Indonesian counterpart. I'm hoping to get there soon and, if that does occur, it will be one of the things that I will talk to him about and that will give us a clearer view of what their views on this are."
Indonesia is regarded by the Australian Government as a key port for people-smugglers, with many unauthorised boat arrivals travelling to the archipelago before making the journey to Australia.
Mr Andrews said he did not know why the Government had not pursued the Indonesian option in the past.
"I don't know whether nobody had thought of it before or what, but it just seemed to me that it was a possibility and we ought to explore it," he said.
"It may also reflect that our co-operation with Indonesia has been growing and I think there's a good relationship with Indonesia and the Indonesian Government that they are no more in favour of people-smuggling than we are.
"They see themselves as a bit of a destination and a transit country as well and they're not in favour of it, so if we can co-operate in a way that will deter that sort of activity, that's good."
The strengthening of the relationship follows a diplomatic stoush last year after the arrival of a boatload of 43 asylum-seekers from the Indonesian province of Papua. Jakarta recalled its ambassador from Canberra when Australia granted the asylum-seekers temporary protection visas - a move seen by Indonesia as supportive of Papuan separatists.
Mr Andrews also pledged to take Australia's immigration system into a new phase if the Coalition was re-elected at this year's federal poll.
"We've had an immigration program that started at the end of the Second World War: it's been built over that time but it's been ad hoc decisions that have been made," he said.
"I think it would be a time to sit down and say: what are Australia's needs for the next 50 years, and how do we need to reshape the program?"
Mr Andrews said he would consider practical measures such as reducing the number of visa categories as well as how to meet the challenges of Australia's ageing population.
Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke questioned the potential deal between Australia and Indonesia about processing future unauthorised boat arrivals.
"The Indian Ocean solution doesn't sound any better than the Pacific Solution," Mr Burke said.
"Why spend $400 million on a detention centre at Christmas Island if there's no intention of using it?"
Mr Burke said the money spent on redeveloping the Christmas Island facility "may as well have been thrown in the ocean" if the plan went ahead.
John Gibson, president of the Refugee Council of Australia, said he was concerned because Indonesia had not signed the UN's refugee convention.
"My major concern is that we are again eschewing our responsibilities - if people arrive on our doorstep we have an obligation to process them," he said.