Refugees: Don't lock them up
Regressive immigration legislation introduced by the Federal Government, and passed last week with the support of the ALP, imposes temporary three year visas on refugees applying for residency on humanitarian grounds. This law — the Border Protection Bill — dovetails into the Government's policy of locking illegal refugees in detention centres for the duration of the slow processing of their applications to stay in the country. Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has beat up the boat people issue with statements that give the impression Australia is being swamped by illegal refugees. He has dishonestly connected the introduction of temporary visas — which now apply to all genuine refugees — to the need to end refugee smuggling. This is precisely the racist line One Nation touted during the federal election last year, including the introduction of temporary visas. In his beat up Ruddock says, "Since July 1, 1,671 illegals have arrived on 35 boats, including the largest ever of 352 on November 1." July 1 is a significant date in that it marks the implementation of changes to immigration regulations that were put in the pipeline last year. These include a new points test based on work experience, occupations "in demand", skills of the applicant's spouse and fluency in other languages in addition to English. This favours applicants with professions or trades such as in computers or accountancy, and who are aged between 35 and 44 years. Those with at least $100,000 to invest receive bonus points. As of last March there were over 20,000 parent applicants waiting to join their families under the family reunion category. To receive an Aged Parent visa they must pay $16,000 per parent. The Government has placed a cap on Aged Parent visas of 3,000 per year. Such is the background to a statement by Ruddock on November 17 when his rhetoric bordered on hysterics: "The two boatloads of illegal arrivals which arrived today are further proof that thousands more are headed for Australia." His description of the refugees is telling. He said of a boat with 62 people which landed on Christmas Island: "First accounts indicate they are of Chinese origin." Then another boat at Ashmore Reef which "appear[s] to comprise 1 Iranian, 17 Afghans, 15 Iraqis ... "We are facing the biggest assault to our borders by unauthorised arrivals ever", he said. An estimated arrival of 4,000 people by the middle of next year, is a refugee trickle compared to other developed countries. In addition, Australia is the only country which automatically locks up illegal arrivals. "We don't need holding pens in Australia", said the Ethnic Communities' Council. "We don't need to be creating prisons in the outback." Roland Jabbour, Chairman of the Australian Arabic Council, said that while the Council supports measures to eliminate illegal immigration, "There is no evidence to support this theory of an invasion from the Middle East." The Ethnic Communities' Council of NSW said the new law will hurt genuine refugees. "Creating more obstacles in the refugee process will only handicap genuine refugees. Not only is it inhumane to give legitimate refugees temporary visas, but it could also be in breach of our international obligations. "These people have risked their lives at sea escaping repressive regimes to seek asylum in Australia and their cases need to be examined on their merits." Asked by The Guardian to comment, Peter Symon, CPA General Secretary said that Australia has an obligation to assist genuine refugees and should not lock them up on arrival. "According to reports", he said, "a number of refugees are coming from Iraq yet Australia, by supporting the American war against Iraq and the savage trade sanctions, helped to create the refugee flow. It is damnable that Australia now proposes to lock such refugees up, extend only a three year temporary visa and create other hurdles to their acceptance into Australia as permanent residents. This is the same government that talks a lot about humanitarianism when it comes to some other countries."