Saturday, February 24, 2007

Secret deals with Indonesia/Australia over Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers

February 24, 2007 - Saturday, 24 February 2007: A secret deal is being struck between the Australian and Indonesian government to return 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to Indonesia and then to Sri Lanka - without processing their Inernationally recognised human rights to claim asylum. Refugee advocacy groups had called on the Government to bring the asylum seekers to mainland Australia or provide access to lawyers for advice on their rights...
Greens Leader Bob Brown said the Howard government is completely irresponsible.

"To send asylum seekers back without assessing their refugee status is a bald-faced breach of Australia's international responsibilities to the Geneva Convention," Senator Brown said. "The deal John Howard has engineered with the Indonesians breaches Australia's responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions and tramples on the human rights of the 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers."

The Federal government is in secret talks with Indonesia for an even more radical version of John Howard's Pacific Solution. Howard's new plan is to deport 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers home via Indonesia in an outright breach of international refugee conventions.

The asylum seekers were intercepted by the Australian navy near Christmas Island on Wednesday. The group are set to be taken to Indonesia and back to Sri Lanka after secret talks between the three countries in Jakarta yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The 85, all men reportedly from Sri Lanka although some may be Indonesian, were taken aboard the supply ship HMAS Success late Wednesday when their boat was deemed to be unseaworthy.

Its is suspected that the recent escalations in "extra-judicial" killing and abductions by Sri Lankan armed forces has made those 83 boat arrivals in Christmas Island to flee the country, an analyst said. "It has been reported by local and international human rights organisations that a person is abducted every five hours. Kidnapping, abductions, killings have now become common incidents. No matter who does it, as a government we are responsible for it," said Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Port and Aviation Minister on 23 January 2007.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia would be free of any responsibility towards them, and the asylum seekers would almost certainly be their human right to lodge an asylum claim under international law.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to Indonesia, Janaka Perera, confirmed last night that Australian and Indonesian officials had told him the 83 men would be returned to Jakarta, then sent home. He expected the men to arrive in Sri Lanka within days.

"Sri Lanka's position is that they have travelled illegally to another country and they should be returned to Sri Lanka." Both Australia and Indonesia had said they would assist with the repatriation, he said.

Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett urged the Government not to send the men back to Sri Lanka, where civil war rages between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels based in the country's north. Senator Bartlett said the group of men could include Tamil people whose lives could be in danger if they were returned to Sri Lanka. "Tamil people (are) at great risk of harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention, torture, abduction and killing," he said. "The fact that the Government could even contemplate sending asylum seekers back without proper assessment is a complete and utter disgrace."

It is understood that Australian and Indonesian law enforcement and immigration officials discussed the radical plan in Jakarta yesterday. The SM Herald understands the meeting "was told Australia feared it would face a flood of asylum seekers if tough action was not taken against the new arrivals..."

The boat carried the largest single load of asylum seekers to approach Australia since 2001, the year of the Tampa crisis that spawned the Pacific Solution, under which asylum seekers were refused access to the Australian mainland.

Yesterday's meeting discussed directly shipping the asylum seekers back to Java, or flying them to Jakarta. Returning them on their boat was rejected for safety reasons. Indonesia could justify returning them to Sri Lanka as they had arrived in Indonesia illegally.

Project SafeCom, a West Australian refugee advocacy group, today said the deal would see Prime Minister John Howard ride roughshod over Australia's international obligations.

"Australia's secret deal with Indonesia, reportedly sealed yesterday, under which the 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers are forcibly returned to Indonesia with the intent to send them home to Sri Lanka, could well make John Howard into The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' Most Wanted Criminal, if breaches against the United Nations Refugee Convention had criminal charges attached to them," said Project Safecom's Jack Smit.

"John Howard seems to be clearly desperate to relive in his olden days, his past glory with his wanting to win another TAMPA election, and we will help him, if we must. We will make Mr Howard into Australia's Least Wanted Man by the time he announces the 2007 Federal election," said Mr Smit.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees senior officer responsible for asylum seekers in Indonesia, Shinji Kubo, said his organisation had not been informed of the moves. "We are very keen to know what will happen to them," he said.

Other international officials, speaking anonymously, said it would be legally dubious for Australia not to deal with the refugees itself or to return them to Indonesia, and could create an international test case.

The Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, denied reports that the navy had tried to turn the vessel back to sea when HMAS Success intercepted it. But he said the Government wanted to ensure the asylum seekers did not reach the mainland. "I think it is quite irresponsible to be sending a boatload of people on a small vessel, which is proven one way or the other to be unseaworthy."

Senator Bartlett says: "the trouble with this government is their record clearly shows that anything is possible. Normally you'd think, as it used to be, if people were found at sea, asylum seekers or even people just in distress at sea, then they'd be brought to land and to safety as soon as possible and given health checks and a good meal."

"[We] have the same old pattern of just this information blackout while the Government skulks around trying to figure out what it wants to do, and perhaps figuring out what might be to its political advantage, rather than just dealing with the immediate human situation of these people," Senator Bartlett told the ABC.

Deal to send boat people packing - SMH
The Age
Outcry over secret refugee deal - Sunday Times
Tamil Sydney News
Govt may send asylum seekers to Indonesia - ABC

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