Monthly Archives: June 2012

Two more asylum seeker boats – record arrivals for June

Katelyn Catanzariti
June 30, 2012 

A further two boats carrying 108 people have been intercepted in Australian waters since Friday night, bringing the total number of illegal boat arrivals for June to 1781 people.

That is a record number of arrivals in a single month, says coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.

One boat carrying 41 people was picked up northeast of Ashmore Islands in the Timor Sea on Friday evening, and a second carrying 67 passengers was intercepted at Cocos (Keeling) Islands later that night.

Passengers from both boats will be processed on Christmas Island.

Parliament failed to agree on a compromise bill on asylum policy earlier this week, despite about 100 people dying in twin boat disasters in the past 10 days.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday announced the creation of an independent expert group to examine asylum policy and deliver a report on a way forward by the time parliament resumes on August 14.

On Saturday, she criticised Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for declining to pledge support for the panel, despite calling them Australians of ‘‘great distinction’’.

‘‘Mr Abbott can’t on the one hand say he respects these people and then say their views are of no worth,’’ she told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Morrison repeated the opposition’s calls for Nauru to be reopened on Saturday, saying the government’s inaction was encouraging the illegal boats.

Former solicitor-general of Nauru Kerry Smith-Douglas agreed, saying at the time of the Howard government’s Pacific solution the detainees ‘‘were all happy … they had the freedom of the island’’.

Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer described himself as the father of the Pacific solution and said the Rudd/Gillard government should be condemned for opening Australia back up to people smugglers.

Mr Downer said Indonesia should not be allowed to get away with leaving the problem to Australia.

‘‘You can make Indonesia part of the solution, not let Indonesia get away with saying this is an Australian problem and we’re having nothing to do with it,’’ he said at the Liberal Party federal council in Melbourne.

Mining tycoon Clive Palmer weighed in, saying a cheaper and safer solution would be to allow asylum seekers to buy their own plane tickets at one tenth the cost of boat travel.

Australian officials could process the legitimate asylum seekers at the airport and send the illegitimate arrivals back on the next flight, he said.

‘‘We can eliminate the people smugglers. We can eliminate the problem. We can eliminate the drownings. We can treat people as human beings,’’ he told journalists at the Liberal Party conference.

The story was originally published here:–record-arrivals-for-june-20120630-219cn.html


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Boat carrying 100 people intercepted

Another 100 asylum seekers have arrived on the latest boat to reach Australian waters.

HMAS Leeuwin intercepted the vessel north of Christmas Island on Friday morning.

The vessel was initially spotted by a Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft.

“Initial indications suggest there are 100 people on board,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said in a statement.

They will be transferred to Christmas Island for security, health and identity checks.

The news was originally published here:

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Australia Asylum Seeker Bill Defeated

June 29, 2012

The Australian Senate on Thursday rejected a bill to send boat-people offshore for processing, leaving the divisive issue of asylum seekers at a stalemate following a spate of deadly incidents.

The Australian Senate on Thursday rejected a bill to send boat-people offshore for processing, leaving the divisive issue of asylum seekers at a stalemate following a spate of deadly incidents.

The bill had passed the lower House of Representatives on Wednesday after an emotional debate sparked by another crowded asylum seeker boat sinking off the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island, near Indonesia.

Some 130 people were rescued, one body was recovered and three people went down with the vessel. Wednesday’s incident came just days after another boat capsized, with 110 people saved but an estimated 90 killed.

But the bill was always doomed to fail in the upper house, with the conservative opposition and the Australian Greens vowing to block it. It was defeated 39 votes to 29.

The opposition supports offshore processing in principle but refuses to back any option the government puts forward, seizing it as a potential opportunity to derail Labor’s fragile coalition, which holds a one-seat voting majority.

The left-leaning Greens, on whom the government relies for its rule, are opposed to any offshore processing.

“I very much regret that after 24 hours of impassioned, sincere and at times very moving debate, the parliament has come to this deeply unsatisfactory impasse,” said opposition leader Tony Abbott.

“We have not a solution, but a stalemate.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that with the bill’s failure, there would be no effective message of deterrence to people-smugglers.

“What it will mean is people will [still] get on boats,” she said.

With few options left, Gillard announced that she had commissioned an urgent expert review of asylum seeker policy led by former defense force chief Angus Houston.

“[He will] provide a report to me and to the nation about the best way forward for our nation in dealing with asylum seeker issues,” she said, adding that she expected the report by the time parliament sits again in six weeks.

The Australian media have been scathing of the politicians’ inability to find a compromise, with the Sydney Morning Herald blaring “Paralysis in Parliament” on its front-page.

“The Australian parliament is failing us. It is putting politicking ahead of human life,” it said.

Gillard’s Labor coalition government supported the private member’s bill from independent MP Rob Oakeshott, which attempted to revive a deal clinched last year to send 800 boat-people to Malaysia.

In exchange, Canberra would take 4,000 registered refugees from Malaysia.

The government was unable to pass the required legislation through parliament without the support of the opposition, which expressed concern that Malaysia was not a signatory to UN refugee conventions.

The Oakeshott bill, seen as a compromise, would have allowed the immigration minister to designate any nation as an “offshore assessment country” if it was party to the Bali Process — a framework for dealing with asylum seekers involving more than 40 nations.

As a sweetener, Gillard offered to re-open a detention center on the Pacific island of Nauru if the opposition agreed to vote for the bill, which would allow processing in Malaysia.

But Abbott, who supports processing on Nauru and turning boats back where possible, said he would never back the Malaysia option.

The Greens said Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake should instead be increased while working more closely with Indonesia, where many of the rickety boats originate.

“These are the lives of the people we are playing with,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the Senate.

“When people arrive on your doorstep, you have an obligation to help them.”

Agence France-Presse


The story was originally published here:

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Orphaned by Taliban murderers, Hussain finds better life

Asylum seeker Hussain

Asylum seeker Hussain who’s story reduced greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young from to tears in parliament today. Source: The Daily Telegraph

HE is 17, learning English and dreams of becoming an electrician – and yesterday Hussain’s struggle brought a federal politician to tears.

During the debate on the asylum seeker bill in the senate, the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Youngbroke down as she spoke about the teenager’s plight.

Ms Hanson-Young revealed that when Hussain was just five years old, the Taliban raided his village in Afghanistan – killing his parents, sister and brother.

Hussain survived, as did an older sister and younger brother.

Hussain hid with his brother and an uncle in Pakistan. But it wasn’t safe, so his sister worked on a plan to help in any way she could.

She got married and moved to Iran – “her gateway to safety”, Ms Hanson-Young said, before crying as she revealed the sister sold everything she had, including her jewellery, so she could pay for Hussain to find a better life.

Hussain flew to China, then Thailand and then Malaysia, but none of those countries would accept him as a refugee.

And so in Malaysia he boarded a small and crowded fishing boat and came to Australia. “He was one of the 500 people that we detained for up to three months last year while we debated the ‘Malaysia Solution’,” Ms Hanson-Young said.

“He was terrified as a 15-year-old on his own — without his family, his parents had been killed, he was an orphan — locked up for three months on Christmas Island with the threat that he would be sent back to Malaysia.”

After the Malaysia people-swap deal was scuttled by the High Court, Hussain was settled on the mainland, and is now living in Brisbane, where he works as a fruit picker and studies at TAFE. He now has a protection visa, and is working to bring his younger brother to Australia.

The teenager said he was emotional while watching the speech on TV.

He said he wanted to stay in Australia and one day start his own family here.

“She was very kind,” he said of Ms Hanson-Young. “I like the people of Australia — they are very kind, they have been very good to me.”

Reflecting on Hussain’s boat journey, Ms Hanson-Young said: “This situation where people have to risk their lives on a boat to seek protection should not be the only option that they have.”

The story was originally published here:

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Indonesia’s Asylum Seekers Take to Boats Out of Frustration

June 27, 2012

Liaqat Ali Yousufi, a UNHCR-recognized refugee from Afghanistan in Puncak, Indonesia. There are more than 4,000 registered asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia today, UNHCR reports. (IRIN Photo/David Swanson)

Liaqat Ali Yousufi, a UNHCR-recognized refugee from Afghanistan in Puncak, Indonesia. There are more than 4,000 registered asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia today, UNHCR reports. (IRIN Photo/David Swanson)

Pucak. Refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia, many of whom fled persecution and conflict in their home countries, say they are being driven to get on boats for Australia out of frustration with the resettlement process.
“It’s been two years that I have been here. How long am I supposed to wait?” asked Liaqat Ali Yousufi, 32, an ethnic Hazara from Afghanistan’s eastern Ghazni Province, who was registered as a refugee in November 2011 and had hoped to be resettled to Australia by now. “The process doesn’t work. There are people waiting three or four years.”
“It just doesn’t make sense anymore. Sometimes I think it would just be easier to get on a boat,” Riad Kamil, 50, an Iraqi asylum seeker from Baghdad, whose case is on appeal after he was refused refugee status in 2011. Both men live in community housing in the town of Pucak, a hub for asylum seekers and their families — and the people smugglers ready to assist them — about 80km outside of Jakarta.
Almost all of the residents have been granted refugee status by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and some are families seeking asylum.
“You can’t blame them. It [refugee determination] is an open-ended process, and that’s the frustration — there are no dates for anything,” said an aid worker who asked not to be named.
According to Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship, some 29,000 people have made their way to Australia by boat since 1976. Many asylum seekers feel they have no other choice.
Barred from working, the men and their families are dependent on a handful of agencies and non-governmental organizations working to assist them while their cases are pending.
But they could also be considered lucky — more than 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly single males, now languish in 12 government detention centers across Indonesia while their claims for refugee status are being determined.
According to UNHCR, there are close to 6,000 asylum seekers and recognized refugees in Indonesia (4,552 asylum seekers and 1,180 registered refugees), mainly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Many of their cases have been pending for two to three years, or even longer, activists groups say.
“We are aware of this and are, of course, doing our best to address the problems that a long procedure poses to the situation of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Manuel Jordao, the UNHCR country representative in Indonesia
Since 2009 there has been a spike in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country, from 385 in 2008 to 3,230 in 2009, and 3,905 in 2010, UNHCR reported.
This in turn has led to an increase in the number of people in detention that are of concern to the agency, which does not enough resources to cope with the influx.
At the end of May 2012 there were 1,159 cases were waiting to be interviewed, 41 percent of them in detention.
But for many asylum seekers and recognized refugees, the delays in the processing their cases is doing little more than pushing them onto boats — a move UNHCR strongly advises against.
Smugglers charge an average of $6,000 per person — less for children — for the dangerous journey in often overcrowded and poorly maintained boats, depending on the time of year.
In 2011 the Indonesian authorities intercepted more than 100 groups of people in various parts of the country, or in boats mostly off the coast of Sumatra.
“We understand that it is not easy to stay because of what are often long waiting periods. However, when we look at the number of boat tragedies recently, we hope that refugees will be more patient and wait for a safe solution to their lives,” Jordao said.
On June 22, rescuers were searching for dozens of people in the sea after a boat carrying up to 200 asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia sank near Christmas Island, an Australian possession.
A second boat capsized on June 27 carrying some 133 Australia-bound asylum seekers,  Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday.  Rescue crews pulled 123 people from the sea.
The island outpost is closer to Indonesia than Australia and has long been targeted by asylum-seekers hoping to reach mainland Australia.
“If the Australian government was willing to process asylum seekers in Indonesia and guarantee that recognized refugees would be resettled, far fewer people would need to get on a boat to get protection,” said Ian Rintoul, a spokesman from the Australian Refugee Action Coalition.
UNHCR said 522 of the 911 refugee cases submitted to Australia from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2011 were accepted.
In May 2012, 24 refugees departed for resettlement in Australia, and there are 529 refugee cases now pending.


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Rescue emergency as asylum boat sinks

June 27, 2012

Up to 125 people have been rescued from a vessel carrying asylum seekers that sank between Indonesia and Christmas Island this morning, sparking a major rescue operation involving merchant and navy vessels and the Royal Australian Air Force.

One person is known to have died.

The rescue emergency, the second in a week involving asylum seekers attempting to reach Christmas Island, was the catalyst for a series of dramatic events including:

– Rescue vessels racing to the wrong area amid reports the boat in distress was just two nautical miles north of Christmas Island.

– A claim from Indonesian authorities that the vessel was sabotaged by those on board.

– Opposition Leader Tony Abbott attempting to introduce his private member’s bill to ensure offshore processing of asylum seekers, but not in Malaysia.

– The Government foiling that attempt in favour of independent MP Rob Oakeshott’s private member’s bill that would allow offshore processing in Malaysia and a detention centre at Nauru.

– Coalition amendments to the Oakeshott bill voted down.

– Emotional debate over the Oakeshott bill which saw MPs in tears.

– The Opposition filibustering the debate while it tried to secure numbers for a compromise position that would ensure no members crossed the floor.

– Opposition Leader Tony Abbott offering a compromise including an increase in Australia’s refugee intake from about 14,000 to 20,000.

As the rescue effort continued and Parliament was involved in a prolonged debate on asylum seeker policy, a senior official with Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said the boat was sabotaged.

The head of operational control with Basarnas, the Indonesian search and rescue authority, said it was believed that the boat had been sabotaged by those on board.

“As they’re getting closer to Christmas Island, they made their boat look like they’re about to sink,” Agolo, who has only one name, said today.

Rescue authorities had been told by those aboard the vessel that its generator had stopped working and that the boat had started taking on water.

“They probably feared that if the boat is still in good condition, they would be rejected and must sail back,” Agolo said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Parliament earlier today that 123 people had been rescued but the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said this afternoon that 136 people had now been rescued. Customs has since revised down the number of people rescued to 125 people.

The boat is thought to have been carrying about 150 people although Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier said there were between 123 and 133 on board. However, she stressed the figures were “imprecise”.


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Boat capsizes off Christmas Island, 133 on board including women and children

June 27, 2012

The overloaded boat before it capsized, pictured by  the merchant vessel MV Bison Express mid-morning.

The overloaded boat before it capsized. Photo: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
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An asylum-seeker boat carrying an estimated 133 people capsized today  en route to Australia’s Christmas Island, the Australian Maritime Safety  Authority said.

Authorities are scrambling to avert a second disaster at sea after a boat  believed to be carrying up to 133 Afghan asylum seekers capsized 107 nautical  miles north of Christmas Island.

The Australian Maritime  Safety Authority (AMSA) say there are two vessels already on the scene. It is understood  that one ship was at the scene about four hours after the distress call.

This afternoon, Prime Minister Julia Gillard told parliament that between 123  and 133 people were on board the boat.

She said that her “best advice” is that 123 people have been rescued.

Ms Gillard said that the lack of precision on the numbers makes it difficult  to tell if anyone is unaccounted for.

“I simply don’t know,” she said.

According to a crew member on the MV Bison Express, a Philippines-owned  livestock carrier that AMSA said was the first boat on the scene, the asylum  seeker vessel had already sunk when they got there.

Ms Gillard said that the distress call that the AFP received at 6.17 am AEST  today was for a vessel 2 nautical miles north of Christmas Island

“Border protection command vessels rushed to the scene but found nothing,”  she said.

Ms Gillard said that a second distress call was received at 7.30 am.

“This has prompted a major search and rescue effort,” she said.

Ms Gillard said that two merchant vessels had been on the scene since 10.30am  and that the HMAS Mailtand arrived around 1 pm.

A man who identified himself as the captain of the MV Bison Express said the  ship’s crew had pulled nine Afghan men from the water between the ages of 17 and  40.

He said at least another 80 people had been rescued by Australian  vessels.

”We have rescued nine people and an Australian war ship is here and they are  conducting another operation,” he said.

”We received a message this morning and arrived here at around 7.05am.”

”The rescue operation is still going.”

AMSA said the conditions at the scene were “fair, not ideal” and that the  boat was definitely in Indonesian waters. It could confirm  that people were in the water but could not say if the boat had sunk.

Ms Gillard has suspended question time today and move that the debate on the  migration bill introduced by  Independent MP Rob Oakeshott would be voted on to  “it finality”.

Mr Oakeshott introduced a private member’s bill in February to try and  break the  deadlock between the government and the Coalition.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has offered  the government a compromise on the asylum seeker debate – but not on the  Malaysia Solution.

Early this morning Rob Byrne from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta sent an  SMS to Sunarbowo Sandi, the operations director of the Indonesian search and  rescue agency, Basarnas, alerting him to the potential tragedy.

“Vessel in distress located 105nm north of Christmas Island,” the message  read. The SMS described the vessel’s position and said it had 150 people on  board. “Vessel described as white or brown. Vessel reported generator broken and  is taking on water.”

The SMS included a phone number for a contact on board and added: “Grateful  any assistance that can be provided.”

Mr Sandi yesterday told this website that his agency  had been “blinded by the … lack of information” from Australia in the search  for the sunk asylum seeker vessel last week.

Basarnas broadcast the news to other agencies, but it has no capacity itself  to search that far into the ocean.

An estimated 90 people died when  their  boat capsized near Christmas Island last Thursday.

The latest boat incident comes as about 40 MPs from across politics met in  Canberra this  morning to call for a solution to the asylum-seeker  stand-off.

Independent MP Tony Windsor told the  National Times that his worst  fears had been confirmed.

He  said the standoff between Labor and the Coalition must end  immediately.

”It became  quickly clear this week that [the asylum seeker debate] would  cycle  through the Parliament and the press for a few days and there would be no  outcome.”

”Well, the cycle is  broken,” he said. ”We have another tragedy on our  hands. There was always a  huge risk that another boat [would capsize].”

Mr Windsor – who has led this week  a breakaway band of MPs who have held  meetings to come up with their own  solution to break the political stalemate  -called on both sides of Parliament to  show courage and not use the latest  tragedy to shy away from the asylum-seeker  debate in a repeat of last Thursday,  when politicians of all stripes said it was  not the time to talk about the  politics of the debate while the tragedy was  unfolding.

”It is absolutely the time,” he said. ”All parties need to sit  down and  work this out. They should sit down and not get up until a solution is   reached.”

Mr Windsor has called on Parliament to extend sitting through  the winter  break if an agreement between the Coalition and the government is not   reached.

Labor  backbencher Graham Perrett – who has been critical of the  Parliamentary  deadlock over asylum seekers – has tweeted his frustration:

“150 people in the  water, RIGHT NOW. That’s one for every single elected  free-thinking Member of  the House of Representatives. #stopthedeaths” he  said.

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