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Immigration amendments rejection a win for human rights

  • 21 August 2006

The decision by the Government to withdraw its amendments to the Immigration Act marks an important stage in the rehabilitation of Australia’s record, and international reputation, on human rights. This has been a remarkable battle that has crossed the partisan lines of politics. Members of both major parties have lobbied from within, working with a significant people’s movement that has mobilised to change broader public opinion. Given the political climate in the 2001 federal election, the turnaround is truly remarkable.

However, it is important to realise that this latest victory simply maintains the status quo. Asylum seekers remain on Nauru, indeed eight more people have been sent to the island nation for processing in the past week. The withdrawal of the latest Bill ensures the gains won by dissident backbenchers last year remain in place. The Pacific Solution (or Pacific Strategy as the Government calls it), the system of processing asylum seekers who do not reach the mainland on other countries, remains in place.

This system is not sustainable, nor defensible. Findings released last week by the Edmund Rice Centre demonstrate the very grave problems associated with the Pacific Solution, and the need for Australia to take a more proactive role in monitoring the fate of those asylum seekers we turn away.

The Centre’s research has identified nine asylum seekers and three children of asylum seekers who have been killed on their return to Afghanistan. While visiting Afghanistan we were able to speak directly to two of the families of asylum seekers who have since been killed, and to two other asylum seekers whose children had been killed in attacks on their homes.

One afternoon in Kabul we met with the fathers who had been returned from Nauru whose children were killed. Abdul spent 16 months on Nauru and was the son of a Minister in the Najibullah Government. He was initially accepted as a refugee on Christmas Island only to have that offer rescinded after the arrival of the Tampa. He told authorities on Nauru that he was regarded as a communist in Afghanistan and that he had made a love marriage across religious lines. He said if he went back he and his family would be targeted. He was nevertheless returned and three months later a bomb was placed under his house. His nine year old daughter Yolanda was killed and his mother permanently brain damaged. Six weeks