Monday, June 18, 2007

Stop offshore asylum processing - tear down the fences

Thursday, June 14, 2007: A petition of 10,000 signatures has been presented to Federal Parliament opposing the offshore processing of asylum seekers. The petition calls for the processing centres on Christmas Island and Nauru to be shut down will be tabled in parliament next week...

Labor backbencher Carmen Lawrence says asylum seekers do not have proper access to the medical and legal help they need when they are processed away from the Australian mainland.

"I'd like to add my voice very strongly to the petitioners who have spoken on behalf of a great many more Australians, who I'm sure would have signed it had they known of its existence," she said. "I've been impressed by just how strong community attitude remains in opposition to these obscenities we call offshore processing."

The signatures, collected over the past three months by refugee advocate groups A Just Australia, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the National Council of Churches, were handed to MPs on Thursday.

The establishment of the high security detention centre on Christmas Island, which is near completion, has so far cost taxpayers $400 million. Petition coordinator Kate Gauthier said the cost demonstrated the economic irrationalism of offshore processing.

"It's an incredible mismanagement of funds when you also allow into the fact that they've spent around $100 million on Nauru and processing ... we've had about slightly under 2,000 people go through that process (so) it equals about $400,000 per person," she said. "Human rights advocates are not asking the government to spend more money on asylum seekers - ironically in this case we are pleading with them to spend less."

Labor MP Dr Carmen Lawrence, who accepted the petition, said the cost was an obscene waste of taxpayers money. "The $400 million that has been spent on Christmas Island in fact remains an obstacle for future governments: what do you do with this facility now that it has been constructed?" she said. "Obscene amounts of taxpayers' money has been spent ... on damaging people, that's the frustrating thing."

Australian Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett compared the cost to the amount of money suggested to be the cost to reduce the life expectancy gap of indigenous Australians that currently remains 17 years below that of other Australians.

"The Australian Medical Association has been campaigning for years saying the amount that's needed for address the gap of indigenous health in Australia is around about $400 million," he said. "That's a good contrast of where this government's priorities lie, $400 million for a centre when we don't have any people to put in it to purely send a message to somebody, or reducing the 17 year life expectancy gap."

A Senate committee report - the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal on mandatory detention - will be tabled in parliament soon.

Senator Bartlett, who recently returned from a visit to the asylum seekers’ camp on Nauru warning that there must be a much quicker resolution to all claims to avoid the major harm and costs that have occurred in the past.

Senator Bartlett said the conditions the refugees are being kept in are an improvement on past years, but the key dangers remain the same – the potential for long delays and a lack of legal protections in determining claims, along with difficulties with isolation and adequate access to legal assistance.

“We know beyond doubt that prolonged uncertainty and insecurity about the future, along with the underlying fear of being sent back to unsafe situation, causes immense harm to many asylum seekers,” Senator Bartlett said.

“The group of Burmese refugees have already been on Nauru for seven months and are yet to have an initial assessment interview. This is simply unacceptable.

“Whilst there has been opportunity for asylum seekers to receive some legal assistance, the difficulties with accessibility mean that full and proper help has not been provided. This not only impairs fairness, it almost inevitably means a more drawn out process, risking greater harm for asylum seekers and greater cost to the Australian public,” Senator Bartlett concluded.

There are 90 asylum seekers currently on Nauru – 82 Tamils who have been there for about a month, and 8 Rohingya from Burma who arrived in Australian in August and were transferred to Nauru in September.

Senator Bartlett met with many of the ninety asylum seekers currently being kept on Nauru and inspected the facility where they are staying.

Senator Bartlett
The Age
A Just Australia
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
National Council of Churches in Australia

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