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Australia in Crisis Group firing line

  • 01 June 2010

Why do we find the Government's and the Opposition's immigration policies despicable? Let us count the ways.

The Government's decision in April to suspend the processing of claims for asylum in Australia made by people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka is a reaffirmation of the resoundingly condemned policy of mandatory detention. The decision to reopen the Curtin 'hell hole' (pictured) and to resurrect disused miners' accommodation in Leonora, a dusty 832 km drive east of Perth, is a cynical response to political, not logistical requirements.

Meanwhile, spinners for the right suggest boatloads of 'huddled masses' are arriving in unmanageable numbers. But the numbers don't add up. Australia is a minor contributor to refugee protection. The UNHCR's most up-to-date figures indicate that Australia is host to just 0.6 per cent of all asylum seekers with cases pending. And Australia's resettlement program meets the protection needs of just 0.07 per cent of the world's refugees.

The Government policy perpetuates a deliberately constructed illusion that Australia is 'full' when our most remote detention centres are overcrowded. The perpetuation of this myth shows that the Government's failure to repeal the excision of parts of Australia from our so-called migration zone is cynical, not just cowardly.

But the most despicable aspect of the policies is the suggestion that conditions in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have somehow changed for the better. This is crass dishonesty. The Edmund Rice Centre has documented human rights violations perpetrated against rejected asylum seekers who have been returned to both countries from Australia, most recently in respect of returnees to Sri Lanka. This should shock us all, for this represents the most fundamental breach of Australia's international protection obligations.

Credible independent reports suggest that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated over the last year. In Sri Lanka, the fate of Tamils (and anyone who dissents) in 'post-war' Sri Lanka is clear. A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) documents how events in that country have been marked by widespread unlawful detentions, disappearances, attacks on journalists, threats to politicians, extrajudicial executions including of those who were trying to surrender, attacks on NGOs and intimidation of the UN.

The ICG has called on countries, including Australia, who turned a blind eye to the violations when they were happening during the height of the conflict, to take positive steps to