Refugees still behind razor wire
by Andrew Jackson Almost two years to the day since the Howard Government's high-seas act of piracy against the Tampa, the first planeload of refugees have finally set foot on Australian soil. The arrival of 14 of the refugees from Nauru — amongst a group of 21 in total — cannot be used to justify or soften one's attitude to Howard's illegal and immoral refugee policy. Drowned out by the media fanfare are the cries of the over 200 Tampa refugees remaining on Nauru, and more hundreds languishing behind razor- wire fences in camps scattered across the continent and on Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. Escalating the terror In the coming spring sitting of Parliament the Howard Government will press forward with new changes to the Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) in a bid to further strip refugees of their human rights. Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock proudly announced that "These balanced changes will ensure Australia's onshore protection arrangements are consistent and fair, and will assist in upholding the integrity of our humanitarian resettlement program". Under existing legislation people who apply for asylum who are already in Australia — having arrived on tourist, business and education visas — are able to access Permanent Protection Visas. The Government now seeks to remove this right, offering them only the same Temporary Protection status as the so-called "unlawful arrivals". Even more heinously, Mr Ruddock intends to repeal the guaranteed three-year tenure of the TPVs, allowing him to expel genuine refugees at any time. And why is he making this change? To protect the unity of families! "This change would provide the ability for the grant of TPVs and Temporary Humanitarian Visas for shorter periods than those currently stated in the regulations", explains Mr Ruddock. "This removes the problem of visas expiring at different times for family members who had arrived separately, and will help them to be considered for further protection as a group. No excuses Mr Ruddock says the raft of changes "will align Australia's protection arrangements with international protection objectives which emphasise that for most refugees the appropriate response is to provide interim protection until they can return home in safety". This statement is a most twisted interpretation of the United Nations Convention on refugees, and a deliberate misrepresentation of Government policy. The Convention does not say a Government need only provide temporary protection, and is most strongly worded against the forced removal of refugees who have been at any time recognised as genuine. However, Mr Ruddock never mentions "forced repatriation", he sugar-coats the Government's policy thus: "Where TPV holders are no longer in need of Australia's protection, their places are reassigned to the Humanitarian Program to resettle refugees and others of concern who are in the greatest need". Our obligations The Howard Government's continuing campaign of terror against refugees must be brought to an end. Australia must fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Convention on Refugees, which must be strictly adhered to in both letter and spirit. The internment camps must be closed b" both those in the Australian outback and the ones on far-flung islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The remaining refugee processing centres in urban areas must be brought under government control with full transparency of processes. On arrival refugees must be held only for the minimum time necessary to allow for security and health checks. They must have full access to social services, legal assistance and their local communities. There must be no forced removal. Once accepted as genuine refugees they must be given Permanent Protection Visas, the current policy of Temporary Visas must be scrapped. Refugees must then be accorded all the applicable rights b" the right to public education, health care and social security benefits, and the right to full-time permanent employment. Specifically, it must be recognised that the family members of refugees may also face harassment, torture and death in their home countries and should also be allowed to migrate to Australia as refugees or on family reunion visas.