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Issue #1532      25 January 2012

Gov’t rejects UNHCR refugees

A group of Tamil refugees in Indonesia, recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, but rejected by the Australian government now say they have little choice but to get on a boat to get to safety in Australia.

The Tamil refugees are part of the group of 254 taken to the port of Merak by the Indonesian navy at the request of then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in October 2009. More than two years later, having spent a year in detention and being found to be genuine refugees, the Australian government has turned its back on 40 Merak Tamils despite being referred to Australia by the UNHCR.

Most of the refugees are now living in Medan, but out of 134 Merak Tamil refugees still in Indonesia, only three families have been accepted.

The rejection has angered the Tamil refugees. They are already boycotting English and computer classes in protest.

“The refugees have been shamefully treated by the Australian government. Their plight makes a mockery of the Australian government’s supposed concern for the safety of refugees at sea,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “It is rank hypocrisy. Their policies are pushing people onto boats. There is no other way to get to safety in Australia. The Australian government should not feign surprise if more Merak Tamils get a boat to Australia.”

Around 50 Merak Tamils took a boat to Christmas Island in 2010, and around 25 of them already have Australian protection visas.

“In 2009, then Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor and other Ministers said that Australia would help resettle the Merak Tamils. Successive governments have reneged on that promise. They simply don’t care about the lives of refugees – neither those that are left in limbo in Indonesia nor those that lose their lives trying to get to Australia,” said Rintoul.

Two other Merak Tamils drowned attempting to get a boat to Australia in June 2010.

“There is no justice. We have been very patient for over two years, but we are losing patience. We were processed by the UNHCR,” Nimal, one of the Tamil refugees in Medan told the Refugee Action Coalition, “There is a big risk for us to get a boat to Australia. But are left with no choice. Is the Australian government is trying to kill us?

“The UNHCR and the Australian government has let us down. We were promised that we would be resettled within a year. There is no future for us in Indonesia,” said Nimal.

The Australian government’s rejection of the Tamil refugees is also a slap in the face of the Indonesian government which has repeatedly requested Australia’s assistance to resettle the Merak Tamils. The head of Indonesia’s Diplomatic Security, Dr Sujatmiko, told the media in April 2010, “We need Australian people, the Australian government to help them.”

No deportations to danger

Meanwhile, the Australian government is currently attempting to deport Afghan Hazara asylum seeker, Ismail Mirza Jan, to Afghanistan. Never before has an Afghan national been forcibly removed from Australia to Afghanistan.

This would be a new low in Australia’s refugee policy, with the Labor government sinking even further than the Howard government in pursuing deportations to danger. Even high-ranking ministers in the Western-backed Afghan government have questioned Australia’s right to forcibly repatriate Afghan asylum seekers from Australia. If Ismail is deported, this will open the way for the deportation of scores of Afghan, and potentially other, asylum seekers – back to war torn countries, impending danger, or even a death sentence. Two Tamil asylum seekers, Emil and Vithuran, too were only saved from deportation by last minute legal action in December.

Recently Ismail received a temporary reprieve when the Federal Magistrates Court questioned whether he received “procedural fairness” by the Australian government in their attempts to deport him. Ismail’s deportation case will come back to the High Court on February 8. The refugee rights movement, and all those who oppose this move to forced deportations, have a short window of opportunity to build a broad campaign against the forced deportation of Ismail, and the terrible precedent it would provide for further deportations.  

Next article – Australian Draft Bill on cluster bombs

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