The Guardian December 1, 1999


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."

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