Downer’s Refugee Call Sparks Ire Over Nauru

Downer's refugee call sparks ire over Nauru

Brendan Nicholson
The Age
October 24, 2007

THE Foreign Minister has suggested that Australia should provide sanctuary for people fleeing violence in Burma prompting calls from refugee advocates for him to start with the seven Burmese who have languished on Nauru for the past year.

Alexander Downer said there were 25 million refugees around the world and that they obviously could not all come to Australia.

“I think inevitably, at the moment, there should in Australia be a real focus on taking people from Burma. It's in our neighbourhood, terrible things have happened in Burma in recent times, so there should be a focus on that,” he said.

Refugee advocate David Mann said that if Mr Downer wanted to help Burmese who had suffered at the hands of their regime, he should look no further than Australia's detention centre on Nauru.

“The reports coming out of Burma are chilling and horrific,” Mr Mann said. “It's the same brutality which our clients faced, it's why they can't go back and it's why they have such compelling cases to be brought to Australia now.”

Mr Mann said the Burmese lodged applications for refugee visas with the Department of Immigration from Nauru a year ago. “It took action by our clients in the Australian High Court to get the processing of their cases started more than eight months after they lodged them,” he said.

“After all this time, those applications have still not been decided, and the department refuses to give any indication as to when they will be. On any view, this is unfair and unacceptable.”