Christmas Island Fury Over Asylum Seekers

Christmas Island fury over asylum seekers

February 27, 2007 – 3:19PM
The Age (Melbourne)

Christmas Island's shire president has angrily complained about the treatment of 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers being held in the territory, as the federal government considers sending the group back to Indonesia.

Gordon Thomson today questioned the government's motives in wanting to send the men to Nauru or Indonesia – their last port of call before they were intercepted by the Australian navy in international waters last week.

Mr Thomson said the men's asylum applications should be dealt with on Christmas Island or the Australian mainland, and it was likely their claims were valid.

“You've got to be pretty … determined to make it across the ocean. There's a civil war going on (in Sri Lanka),” he told AAP.

The government excised Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone in 2001, preventing boat people claiming refugee status unless they reach the mainland.

Mr Thomson said it made little sense to send the Sri Lankans offshore, as the excision meant they would have to claim asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), regardless of whether they were processed on Christmas Island, Nauru or Indonesia.

The government appeared to lack faith in the legality of cutting the island from the migration zone, and simply wanted to get the men off Australian territory as soon as possible, he said.

“Why is the government trying to secure the removal of these people to Indonesia or Nauru when they've already created a legal framework which they are too ashamed to use?

“Christmas Island is excised from the migration zone, so anybody who arrives here can be f***ed off anywhere else.”

The government has been criticised for suggestions it wants to use Indonesia merely as a transit point to return the men to Sri Lanka, where Tamil Tiger rebels are locked in a bloody conflict with government forces.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said today Australia would not return the men to Indonesia without assurances they would be processed under the guidelines of the UNHCR and resettled according to those guidelines.