Australia Accepts Stranded Afghans

Australia accepts stranded Afghans

Andra Jackson
The Age
February 2, 2008

A FAMILY of nine asylum seekers, stranded in Lombok, Indonesia, for seven years, is to be taken in by Australia.

The family is the first of several Afghan asylum seekers in Lombok who are to be given offshore humanitarian visas under the new Labor Government's seeming change of policy.

They are the last of up to 400 Afghanis and Iraqis who made it as far as Indonesia while trying to reach Australia. Some were duped by people smugglers; others failed in attempts to sail on to Australia in unseaworthy boats.

The previous Australian government paid nearly $3 million a year for the International Organisation for Migration to keep them in Indonesia.

They have languished in a no-man's-land: Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, so they had no rights, no benefits and no opportunities for work or study.

The peak numbers of 400 dwindled as some were sent back to the countries they fled. Others were granted refugees status and accepted by other countries.

The remaining ones stayed on in hope of one day getting into Australia. About 40 are believed to be coming, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre co-ordinator Pamela Curr said. They include 10 men held in Macassar prison, 11 women and children on Lombok and Sri Lankans and other asylum seekers held in places such as Cisura.

Australian immigration authorities in Islamabad are urgently processing the offshore humanitarian visa application for the family of nine at Canberra's request, Ms Curr said.

The move follows a visit by Immigration Minister Chris Evans to Indonesia last week.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said the Afghans on Lombok were understood to have had access to refugee status determination through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.