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More asylum seeker blood on Australia's hands


Indonesia intercepting asylum seeker boatThe Australian Government and the Coalition must accept some responsibility for the death of a 28-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, identified in news reports as Taqi Nekoyee, inside an Indonesian detention centre last month.

The details are still unfolding but so far we have been told that on 26 February six men escaped from the immigration detention centre in Pontianak (Kalimantan). The men were quickly recaptured and returned to the centre. One man is now dead and UNHCR reports that three others have been hospitalised, two with serious injuries — one is only 17 years old.

The examining doctor found evidence that Naroye had been beaten to death with a blunt object. Reports also note the discovery of wounds resembling cigarette burns and marks on the man's wrists where he had been bound.

Indonesian Detective Puji claimed Nekoyee and two others 'had their mouths sealed with thick tape, were beaten with a piece of wood, whipped with an electrical cord and given electric shocks'. The head of the detention centre, Ageng Pribadi, says the guards 'abused the victim until he died'.

Puji has also noted the involvement of Indonesian immigration department training officers and their cadets in the beatings.

Other incidents have been reported over many years in these centres and Amnesty International has urged Indonesia to enact a new Criminal Code that 'complies with international human rights law and standards and includes provisions explicitly prohibiting and punishing acts of torture'.

Although the attacks happened outside Australia, we are not innocent bystanders. Australian money is involved in funding Indonesian detention centres and both Labor and Coalition governments have supported the incarceration of asylum seekers there to prevent their travel by boat to Australia.

Back in 2001, in the month before the arrival of the Tampa refugees, then-Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock crowed about a stabilisation in the number of boats arriving to Australia.

The actual number of people arriving had reduced by only 34 that year (from 4175 down to 4141) but Ruddock claimed this as proof that his government's deterrence policies 'both in Australia and overseas' were working — including Indonesia's capture and detention of more than a thousand Australia bound asylum seekers. More than 10 years later, little has changed.

Labor governments have continued to prioritise deterrence measures over the development of better support and protection for asylum seekers and refugees in the region. And if the Coalition returns to power, Tony Abbott claims he will bring back the policy of forcing asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

The Coalition should look carefully to Europe before heading down that path. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg concluded recently that in 2009 Italy violated the European Convention of Human Rights by returning a group of Somalis and Eritreans to Libya. It found that the applicants were exposed to the risk of ill-treatment in Libya and of being repatriated to Somalia and Eritrea.

The potential risk of injury or death for any asylum seeker forcibly returned to Indonesia — both during the push back process and inside an Indonesian detention centre — is now well documented.

It is also worth remembering the Howard Government's failed attempt to return a boat carrying 83 Sri Lankan Tamils to Indonesia in 2007. Indonesian officials claimed that the men would quickly be sent back to Sri Lanka, the place of claimed persecution. The reason for Australia not proceeding with the push back was given in cables between Australia's foreign affairs and immigration departments:

The practicalities of Australia's domestic legal set-up, including the implementation of our refugee obligations under the 1951 Refugees Convention, create high thresholds for access to refugee determination processes that the Australian government must meet.

As Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugees Convention or its 1967 Protocol, we recognise that the procedural thresholds for Indonesia may be different. In the light of this, Australia has decided to send the Sri Lankans to Nauru ...

Abbott has never explained how he would ensure that those high thresholds would now be met in the same non-signatory country. In fact he can't. But it hardly matters to a man who is rarely held to account for the empty rhetoric he offers in place of policy.

Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Primo Alui Joelianto, claims that the Coalition's Julie Bishop has promised Indonesia a say on boat tow backs if the policy was ever enacted. But Indonesia has already made clear its opposition to the policy. The Coalition has so far been unwilling to listen.

Better conditions, processing and resettlement options are vital across the region and Indonesia must be assisted to provide more humane support for every asylum seeker arriving within its borders. NGOS and human rights groups must also be supported to better monitor conditions and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and work with Indonesia to improve its practices.

Human beings should never be used as a means to a political end. The politically motivated support and encouragement from both of our major parties for the incarceration of innocent people in poorly monitored Indonesian detention centres must be condemned.

Susan MetcalfeSusan Metcalfe is a freelance writer and author of The Pacific Solution.

Topic tags: Susan Metcalfe, Taqi Nekoyee, Indonesia



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Existing comments

This article seems to be a "hit the coaltion" piece where the author places a very nebulous blame for the murdered man on Tony Abbott who is in no position to affect the Labor Party policies that the Australian Government is now pursuing. It is a very tenuous link that she is trying to make a case against Australia.

Trent | 13 March 2012  

Yes, we have people responsible for the death of people wishing to enter Australia. These people work for the lucrative people smuggling industry, which is feeding millions of dollars to lawyers, churches and “charities”. Hundreds of people have already died at sea because they were told by the merchants of death how to enter Australia by sea. The Governments of Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia work hard to cut the highly profitable trade in human cargo. Many of these traders are no better than slave traders during colonial times, but manage in getting Millions from various Governments and charities.

Beat Odermatt | 13 March 2012  

I agree with all you say Susan. This is NOT GOING AWAY,and only going to get worse. We have to make a much stronger stand.We are a lucky country and are ignorant and selfish.We rely on those in developing countries for peace and trade.We are a global community so intimately connected, as the European debt crisis shows.

For too long western culture has 'lorded 'over others,pillaging and consuming with greed at discount price. We have grown rich on the back of wars and others' plight. We will be the ones seeking refuge if we don't offer assistance.

Our own indigenous people are refugees in their own country and we have no humane solution, because it is not a priority.

Catherine | 13 March 2012  

Last year we spent $31.6 million on refugee prisons in Indonesia, we pay the IOM to jail innocent people for us, we pay the UNHCR to go slow on their cases, we pay Indonesia to forcibly deport people without due process as they did with 13 Iranians last month and we pay for dozens of Australian and Indonesian cops to hunt down refugees like dogs.

And as Andrew Metcalfe told estimates - it's not about people smuggling, it's all about we don't want to deal with the refugees.

When will this country get it into their skulls that Indonesia is not our country and we do not get to pay them to do our work for us.

This blood was directly on our hands, we pay for and train the immigration people and have for over a decade.

It is illegal to prevent even one person from making a refugee claim, yet we think we can act alone in the world to do so.

Just heard Senator Lundy and Senator Cash still ranting hate for refugees at each other.

Marilyn Shepherd | 13 March 2012  

Beat, there are no people smugglers.

Marilyn Shepherd | 13 March 2012  

Marilyn, according to you there are no people smugglers. That is wonderful news! I am sure the Government can give the $60 Million spent on their lawyers to hospitals or schools or aged care!

Beat Odermatt | 13 March 2012  

Beat, you confuse refugee applicants with the people who give them a ride. Refugees are not smugglers, they are not even smuggled humans but if they were smuggled humans they are victims.

Marilyn Shepherd | 13 March 2012  

Marilyn, I have to admire your conceptualisation of non existing people smuggling. I am sure they all are “given a ride” as you put it and I am sure all the lawyers are “giving” legal advice. I must have been under the impression that boat owners and lawyers would have charged for their services. Now I know that these services were “given”, which means the Government can safe a lot of money. I am sure a few hospitals and schools will be happy to take a share of the money saved. You may also help to ensure that dictionary definitions of “smuggling” will be changed, as the current definitions may wrongly imply that you could be wrong.

Beat Odermatt | 13 March 2012  

A good report, Susan! It is shameful how our politicians and some ignorant people over the past ten years have treated refugees and asylum seekers. It is inhumane, uncharitable and anti-Christian. It is wrong to keep these people in 'prisons' in places such as Baxter in South Australia, Christmas Is., Malaysia, Nauru or Indonesia. I believe these refugees and asylum seekers should be provided with housing in our capital and regional cities, medical assistance, centrelink income, freedom to move in our community and residence status until their claims are proven to be bona fide. Our political leaders should also encourage support and tolerance from all Australian citizens. I am sure this humane action would also be cheaper for the Australia government. People should also understand that most of these asylum seekers have proven to be excellent Australian citizens in various parts of the country.

Mark Doyle | 14 March 2012  

Beat it is not people smuggling to give refugees a ride. There are no less than 6 treaties and laws that we have ratified that say so and even the chief justice of the WA courts said it's ridiculous to call it smuggling because it is no illegal nor covert. Refugees cannot say "beam me up Scotty" and be in another place.

Marilyn Shepherd | 14 March 2012  

Marilyn, you are a very good supporters of the non existing people smuggling industry. I am sure a few lawyers will be so grateful to you for your moral support. Without the support of people like you, more refugees would have to go through the process of UNHR assessment. Without the support of people like you, refugees from poorer background and without the ability to pay “for a ride” would enter Australia a lot earlier. This would cause a lot of financial hardships for some lawyers.

Beat Odermatt | 14 March 2012  

Beat for anyone at all to be granted refugee status they have to be outside their own countries and the UNHCR does not do the assessments or protection because they have no country. And they all have to use transport to get to every other country.

Marilyn Shepherd | 15 March 2012  

the author seems to forget that it is labour, not the coalition in power... labour not the coalition who has idly let these problems escalate since attaining power

Wise one | 15 March 2012  

Marilyn, guess what? All people transported by boats are already in another country, which may be Indonesia or Malaysia. The UNHR can assess these people, but many know they would have to wait as long as poorer asylum seekers. Whatever we call it, people smuggling or “giving asylum seekers a lift”, the business is the most cruel and deadly since slavery. During slavery, the traders were paid when they delivered the people to the final designations. It was in their interest to keep slaves alive. During colonial times colonial times convicts were treated sometimes worse than slaves. Poor fare paying passengers were also treated extremely badly, as the shipping companies already had their money and there was no incentive to deliver passengers alive or in good health. The British Government made some laws to provide some basic protection for passengers. If it comes to the boats filled with asylum seekers, boat owners are already paid to “give asylum seekers a lift”. There are no laws or incentives make boat owners to deliver people alive or in good health to Australia.

Beat Odermatt | 19 March 2012  

I do not agree even one word from Merilyn Shepherd, she is very naive on this issue. These illegal entrants are clearly abusing our system, most of them have friends or relatives here and are doing as what they are told to do, destroying all identifications before landing in Australia, which they carry until they reach Australia, demanding benefits, demanding free legal system. Above all, the system abundantly rewards people smugglers who are reaping millions of dollars. This also reduces the intake of genuine refugees. The whole process is so sickening.

Stanley D'Cruz | 19 March 2012  

Stanley, there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant in Australia. There is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker and we have zero responsibility for any refugee in any other country.

Marilyn Shepherd | 19 March 2012  

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