Thursday, 19 August 2010

Amnesty International calls on Australian government to treat asylum seekers fairly

Amnesty International renews demands for fair treatment of asylum seekers ahead of Australian election.

AT SEA NETWORK TEN - Human rights group Amnesty International has renewed its push for fair treatment of asylum seekers just days before a federal election, in Australia.
Amnesty International's national refugee coordinator Doctor Graham Thom said Australia held one of the worst records among the developed nations in the way it treated asylum seekers, or so called 'boat people'.

Graham said Australia breached its international obligations by penalizing people on the basis of their way of arrival.

"Amnesty International expects any incoming government to treat all asylum seekers equally whether they arrive by air or by boat. We should not be penalizing a particular group which only makes up very small fraction of the number of people coming to this country each year, any differently. They shouldn't be taken to remote detention centers, we shouldn't be locking up children, we should be treating all refugees and asylum seekers in line with our international obligations and we should be providing protection to those who prove they are genuine refugees," Thom said.

When asylum seekers arrive in Australia illegally by boat, they are kept in detention centers until their claims are being processed.

Najeeba Wazefadost, 22, is from Afghanistan and has just graduated with a degree in medical science and is hoping to become a doctor one day.

She and her family arrived by boat in 2000. When Australian Navy patrols spotted them and ordered the captain to turn back, their boat was already leaking.

"Even though they did make us turn the boat, we said it is OK we are going to turn it in front of them. We will say we are going to go back, but there is no way we were going to go back because we had nothing back there. We were going to go inside the war again? So for us it wouldn't make a difference, we are going to get drowned in the sea or go back home and get killed in our country, so it was not a choice. At least we were looking at the point of going towards Australia-- we could see a light towards our lives, that we could see there is a way, maybe, there is a one percent chance we can get out of the situation that we were in. Where as the other part, it was all dark," Wazefadot said.

Wazefadost and her family were put in a detention center until their claim was processed. Finally their claim was found genuine and they were granted refugee status.

"Those people, those refugees that are risking their lives to come through that big Pacific ocean is not just for fun or just not to come and see these buildings. I am sure their lives are at risk. I am sure that their lives have been at risk, that they have to go through that big major risk of coming through that big ocean and risking their lives. Otherwise they wouldn't have done that," she said.

Currently, there are over 4,200 unauthorized arrivals being held in detention in Australia, but while the numbers are small, border protection is a "hot button" issue with voters, which helped conservative parties win a stunning election victory in 2001.

The coalition's leader Tony Abbott wants to reopen a detention center in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru.

In June, the asylum seeker issue saw the ruling Labor party lose a key state by-election in western Sydney.

In July, Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled a new policy aimed at calming voter fears about rising numbers of asylum seekers that includes a possible East Timor processing center.

Penelope Mathew is a senior lecturer in Australian National University about refugee issues.

She thinks it is a law and order issue politicians love to whip up ahead of elections.

"It is I think a distraction because it makes it look as though politicians doing something good for Australian citizens, you know, we are keeping you safe, we are controlling borders," Mathew told Reuters.

Gillard rejected charges her regional processing center policy was aimed at "rednecks in marginal seats" and Tony Abbott remained adamant that dealing with "the boat people" was a matter of dignity for a country to control its borders, with marginal seats in suburbs likely to determine the election on Saturday.