Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nauru deadline 'impossible' – bring fleeing Tamils to Australia

19th Mar 07 - Six month Nauru deadline an impossible task – bring them to Australia...

Nauru's acting Foreign Minister, Frederick Pitcher, has set a deadline of six months for 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to be processed. Mr Pitcher says a welcoming ceremony was held for the 82 asylum seekers, mostly Tamils, who arrived on Nauru on Sunday. He says while his Government is happy to take the men, he wants their claims processed as quickly as possible.

"Six months would be the time frame that our Cabinet has agreed to," he said. He says the Government of Nauru does not want to see a repeat of a situation where two Iraqi men were forced to remain on the island for five years. "Our message to ... the Australian Government - is that they be processed as soon as possible and be taken of the island."

He said Australia is the best place to settle any genuine refugees. "That's a matter for the refugees and the Australian Government, but I would assume if they're granted status that allows them to reside in a country other than Nauru, preferably Australia if possible," he said. "I think that's what the refugees and asylum seekers want, but it's entirely Australia's decision whether or not they take them."

David Manne, who heads the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said he spoke with two of the Sri Lankans late on Friday. "They were extremely fearful of their fate and desperately wanted to stay in Australia and be assessed and protected in Australia under Australian law," Mr Manne said. "They were very frightened about going to Nauru, they were uncertain about what would happen to them there. They were highly anxious, confused and desperate."

The Opposition attacked Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday, questioning his competence and knowledge of the immigration portfolio after comments he said the group could have lodged refugee claims in their home country. "They could have claimed that (refugee status) in Sri Lanka," Mr Andrews said. However the UN's definition of a refugee says they must be outside their country of nationality. Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said, "You'd think as a starting point, the Minister for Immigration would have at least worked out what a refugee is," Mr Burke said.

Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said that it will prove "impossible" to process and find third countries for the 83 Sri Lankans within the six month deadlines set by the Nauru government and that they should be brought to Australia now rather than delay the inevitable.

"Given the current processing system and that the UNHCR will not take part in it, the government will find it virtually impossible to assess and find third countries to take these 83 people," said Senator Nettle.

"The Nauru government has shown more morality than the Australian government by setting this deadline rather than leave refugees in limbo for years. Kevin Andrews will have to transfer a lot of departmental staff and assist the lawyers if he expects to meet the deadline. It would be far more humane, simpler and much less expensive to bring them to Australia for processing."

"The defeat of the Designated Unauthorised Arrivals (DUA) bill last year should have been a signal to the government that offshore processing was no longer acceptable to the public or parliament. The six month deadline will expire just before the federal election. John Howard must realise that this attempt to shirk our international responsibilities will come back to hurt him politically at a vulnerable time."

The Greens said about the defeated 'DUA bill' last year, that the idea "Australia should try and shirk its responsibilities under international law by sophistry and deception is morally repugnant..."

"Offshore processing and official discrimination toward asylum seekers based on their mode and place of arrival was originally implemented for political reasons. It involved shipping asylum seekers to a small island nation that is essentially bankrupt and dependent on Australia for survival. Nauru was essentially bribed by our government to participate in a scheme designed to reap political gain for the Howard government by exploiting xenophobia, presenting asylum seekers as a threat and repelling this threat, while pretending to abide by the Refugee Convention," said the Greens in a report to Senate.

Nauru sets deadline for asylum seeker processing - ABC

Six month Nauru deadline an impossible task - Senator Nettle

Minority Report by Australian Greens - DUA

Tamil refugees dispute Andrews claim - The Australian

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