The Guardian September 10, 2003


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.

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