Rudd Sends Home 16 Asylum Seekers

Rudd sends home 16 asylum seekers

Brendan Nicholson
The Age
December 8, 2007

THE Rudd Government is about to send home its first asylum seekers the 16 Indonesians rescued from their sinking boat in the Timor Sea during the election campaign.

The decision by Immigration Minister Chris Evans has raised concerns that the Indonesians may not have had the opportunity to confidently put their case before their claim for asylum was rejected.

The three men, three women and 10 children from three families were rescued by Australian navy ships 650 kilometres west of Darwin on November 20. They came from the Indonesian island of Roti.

They said they had lost their incomes because of Australia's crackdown on illegal fishing and had no choice but to flee their homeland.

Senator Chris Evans said yesterday the Indonesians had no right to stay in Australia just because they would be economically better off here.

But David Manne, co-ordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said he was concerned that the group might not have had an opportunity to seek independent legal advice about their situation.

“People should have access to that sort of assistance as a fundamental right,” Mr Manne said.

“It is not clear that the circumstances they were placed in allowed them to do that and that remains a serious concern.”

Mr Manne said that if the Indonesians came for purely economic reasons, they were unlikely to meet refugee criteria.

“But if, for example, they were fleeing in fear of being persecuted by criminal gangs involved in illegal fishing who they owed debts to, and if they could demonstrate that the Indonesian authorities were unwilling or unable to protect them from those threats, then they may well have had a case to put.”

Opposition spokesman on border security Christopher Pyne supported border controls.

“If unauthorised arrivals are found to be here for economic reasons and not political reasons, then the Opposition supports the Government's action in repatriating them to Indonesia,” he said.

Senator Evans said his department had carefully discussed with the Indonesians their reasons for travelling to Australia.

“On the information provided, my department is satisfied that they have not raised issues which might engage Australia's protection obligations,” he said.

“This represents a firm but fair approach to the orderly migration of people to Australia.”

The handling of the group demonstrated the Government's commitment to dealing with unauthorised boat arrivals in a timely and effective manner, Senator Evans said.

He said Australia was one of the world's top three refugee settlement countries.