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Refugee refusual echoes 'Tampa election' rhetoric

  • 19 February 2008
The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans (pictured) has refused a protection visa to an Iraqi because of his convictions for people smuggling, even though the Iraqi in question, 'Mr A', was assessed as a refugee by Immigration.

Mr A helped with people smuggling as a way of getting his family away form Saddam Hussein. He arranged for his mother, three sisters and three brothers to come to Australia.Mr A was extradited to Australia in 2003, convicted of people smuggling.

He applied for a protection visa in July 2006. The Migration Act requires decisions in protection visa cases be madewithin 90 days when possible, however in this case they delayed because of Mr A's conviction. It took an order from the Federal Court for the Minister to comply with the requirement. Minister Evans finally refused Mr A's application on 8 February 2008. Mr A was in detention the whole time.

The Minister had the option of exercising his discretion in favour of Mr A because Mr A met the refugee criteria but he declined to do so. Instead he reverted to the language of the 'Tampa election' of 2001:

'The Rudd Government deplores people smuggling. It is a heinous crime that puts lives at risk, undermines Australia's border security and weakens our immigration system ... [Mr A's] conduct in repeatedly bringing boatloads of illegal immigrants into Australia, the expectations of the Australian community that a person who commits crimes of this nature not be rewarded with a visa, and the general deterrence factor in discouraging others from engaging in similar conduct weigh heavily against Mr A.'

The Minister's language and tone are all typical of the hostility found under the former government towards asylum seekers. The Minister did not mention that these people who were 'smuggled' in were asylum seekers, who were probably found to be refugees from Saddam or the Taliban — regimes so bad our military were sent against them. Sadly the ALP supported the 2001 Tampa amendments and are yet to repeal the harsher aspects.

So what about the fact the Department accepted that Mr A was a refugee and that his conduct, while serious, should not prevent him from getting protection? It is not as if we can send him anywhere. UNHCR recommended against returning Iraqis as recently as December 2007. The 'surge' has reduced the violence in Baghdad, but Iraq is now just