Long wait for asylum in no-man's land
The Age (Melbourne)
August 25, 2007
SIX years after the Tampa affair sparked a radical crackdown on illegal boat arrivals, 82 Sri Lankan and seven Burmese asylum seekers face an uncertain future on the tiny island of Nauru they describe as “no-man's land”.
Unlike detainees on the mainland, whose claims must be assessed within 90 days, those processed on Nauru can be left languishing for years.
For one Sri Lankan asylum seeker, who has been on Nauru since his boat was intercepted by the Australian navy in international waters in February, the waiting is the hardest part.
The 34-year-old man told The Age he had been interviewed by immigration officers in April but was told they did not know when his case would be decided.
“People are worried they are thinking they will lose their future,” he said. “Time is wasting here. We want to make a big future in our life.”
The man, who was a seafood exporter in Colombo, said he fled Sri Lanka after his business partner was shot and he had been beaten by unknown assailants. He said wealthy businessmen were often kidnapped and he feared for his life.
The UN refugee agency said in its December 2006 report that Tamils in Colombo were vulnerable to abductions.
Refugee advocate Susan Metcalfe, who has spent the past month on Nauru, said everyone was missing their home and family. “How can it be fair to leave these people here without telling them what will happen?” she said.
One group of more than 50 asylum seekers spent more than 3 years on Nauru. Half were resettled in 2005 after a mental health team warned that several were suicidal.
“Today the same question, 'How long will I be here?', is asked every day by current asylum seekers and sadly, again there is no answer,” Ms Metcalfe said.