Australia may relent on asylum seekers
Mark Forbes, Jakarta
The Age (Melbourne)
December 2, 2006
Australia is under pressure to help up to 200 Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers left “in limbo” in Indonesia for more than five years.
The forgotten victims of Australia's tough border protection stance, the Iraqis and Afghans have been without rights since being intercepted en route to Australia.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says they cannot safely return to their war-torn homelands. Canberra is considering at least accepting those with relatives in Australia.
Under a deal brokered with Jakarta, Australia pays nearly $3 million a year to accommodate the Iraqis and Afghans in ramshackle camps and boarding houses. The UN has granted them temporary protection visas but, until now, Canberra has insisted they return home.
UNHCR regional representative Robert Ashe said the asylum seekers had “understandably” refused to go home.
“They can't continue to live in limbo,” Mr Ashe said. “There are limits both from the Indonesian perspective but also limits from the mental and emotional situation these people are subjected to. They can't work, access education; that has a psychological impact that gets worse and worse.”
The UNHCR has approached Australia and other countries where the asylum seekers have family ties. About 100 had family in Australia, Mr Ashe said.
An Immigration Department spokesman said a request to resettle some of the asylum seekers was being considered.
The co-ordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Pamela Curr, said Australia had a moral responsibility towards the asylum seekers.