US deal is 'confusing' asylum seekers
April 26, 2007 – 4:54PM
Australia's asylum seeker exchange deal with the United States is causing added confusion for refugees on Nauru, Australian Democrats deputy leader Andrew Bartlett says.
Senator Bartlett, who this week visited the South Pacific island, said conditions had improved since his last visit in 2005 with refugees now able to roam the island freely.
But he said the 90 refugees on the island were feeling increasingly stressed and confused about the impact of the government's asylum seeker exchange deal with the United States.
Under the deal announced just over a week ago, Cuban refugees held at Guantanamo Bay could be resettled in Australia, while asylum seekers intercepted en route to Australia and sent to Nauru could be resettled in the US.
Up to 200 asylum seekers could be exchanged from each country per year under the scheme.
The 82 Sri Lankans and eight Burmese currently having their asylum claims processed on Nauru are likely to be the first considered for exchange.
Senator Bartlett said the details of the deal were unclear, describing it as an “informal gentleman's agreement”.
“It just adds to that air of uncertainty about what peoples' future may hold, and I don't think that helps in trying to minimise the health risks to asylum seekers,” Senator Bartlett told reporters in Brisbane.
The dominant issue among the refugees was not whether they wanted to be transferred to the US, but how and if that may happen, Senator Bartlett said.
“To me, it isn't so much about do they or do they not want to go to the US, it's 'What does this all mean, will it apply to me or not?'” he said.
“I guess all you could say is maybe it will, maybe it won't.
“It's just another uncertainty in the mix.”
After seven months on Nauru, the Burmese refugees were yet to be interviewed by officials, Senator Bartlett said.
“Whatever the reasons are for that it's simply unacceptable, and it's an indication of how these sorts of things can easily drag out over long periods of time,” he said.
The Queensland senator called on the government to quickly process the 82 Sri Lankans who arrived on the island last month.
“We know the harm that occurs because of the prolonged uncertainty and insecurity and the fear of being sent back to unsafe situations,” he said.
Senator Bartlett also called on the Labor Party to rethink its immigration policy when it meets for its national conference on Friday.
He says Labor's policy to scrap the so-called Pacific Solution but maintain the Christmas Island detention facility could cause more harm for refugees.
“That ironically may create the situation where instead of people being sent to Nauru where they at least have the opportunity of free movement around the place, they'll be sent to Christmas Island, which is about to have a maximum security jail opened up and presumably that's where all those detentioned (sic) asylum seekers will be sent,” he said.