The Guardian November 14, 2001


Racist immigration policy claims more victims

by Marcus Browning

Add to the long list of human rights abuses by the Howard Government two 
more lives  two women asylum seekers who drowned in Australian waters off 
Ashmore Reef when the boat they were in caught fire and sank. Prime 
Minister Howard and Immigration Minister Ruddock leaped with glee at the 
opportunity to whip up some fear and hatred about refugees just one day 
before the federal election.

Howard read a report from the Navy on radio to try and lend credence to his 
and Ruddock's claim that the refugees themselves started the fire. Ruddock 
was soon after backing down from his accusations: "Certainly the Defence 
people have a view it might have been deliberately lit, but presumably it 
could have been from trying to cut the fuel line on a hot engine."

Naming the Australian Navy as its source, on October 7 the Government 
accused asylum seekers of throwing their children overboard from a ship 
that was taking water. 

It has now been revealed that the Navy did not tell them the children were 
thrown overboard. A Navy video of the incident, that the Government 
reluctantly made public  their alleged ironclad proof  also did not 
show children being thrown over the side.

There is no question that there were people in the water, abandoning a 
sinking vessel after a navy gunship had fired across its path. The 
Government also used the incident to keep the ball rolling on their smear 
campaign to link the refugees to terrorism. 

So, when Howard was asked if the people coming to Australia under such 
dangerous conditions were in fact fleeing oppressive regimes, he worked the 
angles: "Some of them would undoubtedly fall into that category. Others may 
not and that is our very point." He said there was "no guarantee" that 
there weren't terrorists on board the boats.

Greens Senator Bob Brown said that the Government must apologise to the 
nation for its misleading statements. "The public have been deceived, 
asylum seekers vilified, and the navy misrepresented by the actions of the 
nation's most senior representatives", he said.

Senator Brown called for independent observers on naval vessels 
intercepting asylum seeker boats.

The children overboard beat-up was followed by the drowning of 353 mainly 
Iraqi refugees bound for Australia. All are the victims of the Government's 
racist refugee policies.

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