[ETAN-key] Groups Urge Australia to Adopt Humane Refugee Policies
John M Miller
fbp at igc.org
Thu May 11 19:51:51 PDT 2006
Groups Urge Australia to Adopt Humane Refugee Policies Toward Papuans
Oppose Proposed Changes to Migration Law
For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller (718) 596-7668; (917) 690-4391 (cell)
May 11 - In a letter to Prime Minister John Howard, 47 organizations
based in eight countries today urged the Australian government "to
uphold its obligations under the Refugee Convention, to recognize the
plight of Papuans suffering brutalization on your doorstep, and to
adopt humane refugee policies in keeping with the widely recognized
principles of the Australian people." The organizations include human
rights and refugee advocates, as well as religious and peace groups.
The wide range of international organizations are protesting the
Australian government's plan to amend its law to exclude refugees
arriving by boat without visas from a fair consideration of their
claim. The refugees would be held in conditions described by
observers as "inhumane."
The proposed change comes in response to the granting of protection
visas to 42 West Papuans who landed by boat on the Australian
mainland last January. The move angered Indonesia, which reacted by
recalling its ambassador and demanding the return of the Papuans. The
Australian parliament is expected to debate the changes soon.
Among the signers are Human Rights Watch; Institute on Religion and
Public Policy; International Immigrants Foundation; Robert F. Kennedy
Memorial Center for Human Rights; TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights
Campaign; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition
International; Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition; Leadership
Conference of Women Religious; Great Lakes Rural Australians for
Refugees; and Pax Christi USA.
"The Australian government seems more interested in appeasing
Indonesia, than living up to its obligations under international
law," said John M. Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action
Network (ETAN), which coordinated the letter, a copy of which is
below. A list of signers can be found at www.etan.org/news/2006/05austr.htm.
Prime Minister John Howard
c/o Embassy of Australia
1601 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036-2273
Via facsimile: 202-797-3168
Dear Prime Minister Howard,
We, the undersigned organizations, protest in the strongest terms
possible your government's announced plan to seek national
legislation extending the "Pacific Solution" to anyone intercepted
attempting to enter Australia by boat without a visa. In 2001, the
Pacific Solution excised outlying islands from Australia's migration
zone, thus denying refugees arriving on those islands access to just
proceedings under Australian law. Your government's proposal would
extend the Pacific Solution to mainland Australia, thus excluding all
refugees arriving by boat without visas from fair consideration under
Australian migration law. This discriminatory proposal is especially
aimed at denying refuge to those fleeing persecution in West Papua
and seeking asylum in Australia.
As described by officials of your government, many of the plan's
components we believe are in violation of the 1951 Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party.
Taken as a whole, the plan constitutes an affront to the principles
enshrined in that document. As described by your government, the
first tier of 'defense' against fleeing refugees would be military
patrols by Australian forces acting in collaboration with the very
source of their persecution -- the Indonesian military.
Refugees who successfully navigate the perilous seas and joint
military patrols to land on Australian soil will be removed to
off-shore detention centers on Nauru, Manus Island, or Australia's
Christmas Island. Conditions of detention at these facilities have
been described by observers as "inhumane" and even life-threatening,
yet under the proposed plan, even children and the infirm would not
be spared detention under these bleak conditions. Instead, anyone
seeking asylum would remain in detention, with limited access to
legal representation, for the duration of his or her asylum
proceedings. Without the protection of Australian migration law,
which does not apply in off-shore locations, asylum seekers would
have no opportunity to appeal asylum decisions, and even those found
to be legitimate refugees would have to remain off-shore until
resettlement to a third country could be arranged.
The Refugee Convention calls on parties not to penalize refugees
directly fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. UNHCR officials have
publicly expressed concern that the "Pacific Solution" would
constitute such a penalty.
The recent decision of Australian immigration officials to grant
asylum to 42 Papuan refugees after a harrowing five-day open sea
voyage demonstrates that persecution is a reality in West Papua.
Threats against Papuans by Indonesian military and other security
officials are not hypothetical.
We call upon your government to uphold its obligations under the
Refugee Convention, to recognize the plight of Papuans suffering
brutalization on your doorstep, and to adopt humane refugee policies
in keeping with the widely recognized principles of the Australian people.
ETAN welcomes your financial support. For more info:
John M. Miller Internet: fbp at igc.org
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network:
48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097
Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Web site: http://www.etan.org
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