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Australia: Asylum Seekers test tough but humane approach

Categories: East Asia, Oceania, Australia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Refugees

It appears that the Australia’s three-way stand-off with Sri Lankan asylum seekers onboard the Oceanic Viking and Indonesia may be over. It began:

on October 16 when a boatload of 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, all ethnic Tamils, were rescued from their sinking boat by the Australian ship, but in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone.

Initially Indonesia refused to allow the boat to dock at an Indonesian port, but after negotiations … Indonesia took the boat “on humanitarian grounds” because there was a sick child on board.

But the asylum seekers refused to leave the Australian ship, demanding they be taken to Christmas Island for processing by Australian authorities.

Oceanic Viking breakthrough: asylum seekers to come ashore [1]

There has been a spike in asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat following the increasing violence in Afghanistan and the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Kevin Rudd’s government has been heavily criticised for both its handling of the Oceanic Viking incident and refugee policy in general. His stance is supposed to be tough on people smugglers and border security but humane towards refugees. Critics see it as either too hard or too soft. It’s either encouraging so-called boatpeople or abusing the rights of asylum seekers.

Veteran News Limited journalist Piers Ackerman prides himself on his right wing zeal. Never a friend of Labor governments, he rarely misses a chance to go for the throat:

The Rudd Government has only succeeded in making Australia a more enticing destination for wannabe migrants who don’t meet the nation’s needs, it has helped people jump the queue of refugees seeking resettlement and it has boosted the bank balances of international people smugglers.

Rudd’s red carpet to asylum seekers [2]

Jeremy Sears of An Onymous Lefty is a regular critic of Ackerman. He addressed his remarks to those whom he sees as driven by xenophobia:

One of the most obvious questions I’d like to ask the “THEY’D BETTER NOT LAND HERE” crowd is – where would you like to send them?

You realise that what the people on the boats are doing is precisely what you would do in the same circumstances.
And yet you want them STOPPED. You want them LOCKED UP. You want them SENT HOME.
And the party that promises to treat these people the worst [3], that party will get your vote?

I’m not scared of the “boat people”. I’m scared of YOU. [4]

Mark Thompson blogs at Seeking Asylum Down Under. His detailed responses to the current situation have looked for the positives in a sea of negativity:

Rudd is between a rock and hard place, politically speaking, as the Coalition [Liberal and National parties opposition] and its conga line of fear mongers in the media whip up the refugee issue yet again. Many people are very prone to xenophobic responses on ‘boat people’, choosing to believe the fear drum beaten relentlessly by Turnbull, Stone, Andrews and Ruddock et al. There appears to be something in a large slice of the collective psyche that responds negatively to people arriving on boats.

His hope is for multi-lateral approaches to asylum seekers:

Australia must model best practice in this area, ensuring the provisions of international legal instruments and human rights conventions are followed to the letter. This can be a win/win for asylum seekers, the respective processing authorities, and the countries in the firing line. Opening a regional dialogue and developing a well-resourced multilateral approach, empowering all parties with a stake in a solution to this growing human crisis, would be a good start.

Labor all at sea on asylum seekers – but an opportunity presents itself. [5]

Although this issue has generated a lot of heat and was a crucial part of the 2001 Australian Federal election, very few bloggers have posted about it lately. Perhaps it’s just too complex or a case of Tampa [6] déjà vu.