Thursday, March 15, 2007

Australia "deports" Sri Lankans to Nauru limbo

Thursday March 15, 2007 - Sri Lankan Nauru "deportation" does not export Howard's election problem

Eighty-two asylum seekers are currently being housed on Christmas Island and will be flown to the tiny island nation by charter plane. The Federal Government has announced it will move the Sri Lankan asylum seekers from Christmas Island for processing in Nauru. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says the decision will "send a message" to asylum seekers.

The group of mainly Tamils was intercepted in international waters last month and taken to Christmas Island - where the Howard Government is building a $300 million, 800-bed detention centre.

One of the men is being treated in a Perth hospital, while two Indonesian crew members have been charged with offences under the Migration Act.

WA Rights group Project SafeCom says Mr Andrews' announcement that the Sri Lankan asylum seekers will be "carted off, exported, people-smuggled to Nauru is cruel, heartless, astoundingly expensive and inhumane."

"Like a stubborn old man, basking in his past glorious victories, Howard yet again deports defenceless people to Nauru, to keep this issue out of the news, and "just because he can", but the Prime Minister is wrong," Safecom spokesman Jack H Smit said.

"Australians, through David Hicks, have woken up on the issue of human rights and decency of international conventions and John Howard's role in undermining these conventions." Mr Smit described the move as an "expulsion away from the scrutiny of Australian law and Australia's obligations to the UN Convention."

"This is another appalling disregard for the asylum seekers and their international right and some form of decency owed to them because of the situation they fled from - a rapidly deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka..." said Mr Smit.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says the decision will send a strong message to those considering any attempt to enter Australia illegally.

"Australia has to continue to be vigilant in terms of maintaining a very strong border protection and we'll take whatever measures we can to ensure that Australia's borders are protected," said Mr Andrews. "These people smugglers presumably sold the passage, which has been reputed to have been between $,5000 and $10,000 US, per head, on the basis that they would get to Australia and our message of deterence is that we will process them in a way which doesn't involve the entry into mainland Australia"

One of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers has appealed to the Immigration Minister to grant him protection in Australia. The 31-year-old Tamil says he faces serious human rights abuses if sent back. The man, who had shrapnel embedded in his brain from a bomb and has mental health problems, is the only Sri Lankan able to get legal assistance after he was flown to Perth last week for urgent medical treatment.

Refugee centre co-ordinator David Manne said the man had a compelling case for refugee status because he was a Tamil who had experienced severe trauma, including being the victim of a bomb attack. "Past persecution is a powerful indicator to future risk," Mr Manne said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said the Government is still negotiating with Indonesia over the asylum seekers. There are concerns that the group will not be resettled in Australia - even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

The Howard Government recently told a group of Burmese asylum seekers they would not be issued with visas even if found to be genuine refugees. "On Nauru they are fundamentally out of sight, out of mind, out of rights," David Manne said - expressing concern that the "fundamental unfairness" of processing claims on Nauru could result in the forced deportation back to Malaysia.

The eight Burmese men currently held on Nauru have spent months in limbo since their boat arrived to Ashmore Reef last August. The Australian Government have focused on enticing them back to Malaysia where the men were previously trying to survive in difficult, insecure and often frightening circumstances.

Susan Metcalfe writes: "Australia's practice of deterring asylum seekers, by pushing them back or diverting them to other countries, is about avoiding engagement with some of the most vulnerable and most powerless people in the world. It is about blurring the lines of Australia's responsibilities while avoiding the humanity of those who arrive, as well as our own."

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle says transferring and detaining the 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Nauru will cost at least $60 million of taxpayer dollars and is completely unnecessary.

Departmental figures show the cost of keeping asylum seekers on Nauru was $30 million per year in 2003-04. The average length of stay on Nauru has been over two years. If the Sri Lankans are there for two years it will have cost taxpayers at least $60 million. Indeed, the aeroplane used to transfer just eight Burmese asylum seekers from Christmas Island to Nauru cost $225,000.

"It is a long way from Christmas Island to Nauru and 83 people plus new staff and resources will need multiple jet flights. The cost may approach a million dollars. Christmas Island detention centre is also irresponsibly expensive at $1830 per detainee per day. That means keeping the Sri Lankans on Christmas Island is costing over $1 million a week," said Senator Nettle.


Asylum seekers to be sent to Nauru - ABC
Sri Lankans moved to Nauru - Sunday Times
Tamil appeals to minister for asylum
Off loading our problems off shore - Susan Metcalfe
Asylum seekers fear return to Malaysia - The Age
Transferring Sri Lankans to Nauru could cost $60 million - Senator NettleChristmas Island centre in limbo - The Australian
Australia's million-dollar-a-month Nauru detention centre for two refugees - Wikinews

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