Christmas Island Arrivals Prompt Asylum Warning

Christmas Island Arrivals Prompt Asylum Warning

Paige Taylor
The Australian
October 02, 2008

THE Rudd Government is being warned to take a tough stand against the 14 boatpeople – thought to be from the Middle East – intercepted off Australia's northwest coast, amid fears they could be the first of a fresh wave of asylum-seekers.

Opposition immigration spokesman Sharman Stone said the two Indonesian crew and their 12 passengers could be the first of many asylum-seekers, given Labor's decision to slash the border protection budget and introduce a policy of granting permanent visas to asylum-seekers regardless of their mode of arrival.

The Australian has learned that some in the group, which was believed to include a child, were seasick and dehydrated when intercepted by the navy.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship will try to confirm the nationalities of the group's members in interviews in coming days, though The Australian understands that preliminary information from onboard HMAS Dubbo has indicated the group includes some Iraqis and Iranians.

A chartered government plane carrying Arabic interpreters was due to land on Christmas Island at 10pm local time (1am today, AEST).

Customs is expected to receive the group on the jetty at Flying Fish Cove this morning.

“Let's hope this is a one-off and in testing the waters, literally, the message goes back to Indonesia and, indeed, goes back internationally that while this Government has weakened some elements of border protection, they are serious about it,” Dr Stone said.

“It's very important that our humanitarian program is orderly and fair rather than going back to what was occurring before 2002 when there was an extraordinary rush to our borders via the open sea.”

In contrast to under the Howard government's policy, members of the group will be provided with lawyers before they lodge any asylum claim.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has made symbolic gestures in recent months, including accompanying a small group of refugee advocates and lawyers to the island in August.

And two tiers of high wire fencing have come down around most of the perimeter of the island's temporary detention centre built after the arrival of the Tampa in August 2001.

A small area that remains enclosed is where most of the group will stay until health, identity and character checks are completed, a process that can take up to a week. If a child is in the group, the parents or guardian will stay with the child in a government-owned house outside the detention centre.

Senator Evans has confirmed none of the group will stay at the 700-bed detention centre built by the Howard government in national park on the other side of the island.

The centre, which cost $396 million not including supporting infrastructure, provided a boost to the local economy during construction but is not popular with the network of residents who have turned human rights advocates in recent years. Its isolation and high-security features have prompted local shire president Gordon Thomson to repeatedly refer to it as “the prison”.

Under the previous government, asylum seekers who made unsuccessful claims on Christmas Island would have had no recourse to Australian authorities as the island was excised by the Howard government from the migration zone.

Now asylum seekers can appeal any unsuccessful claims in Australian courts.

The group en route to Christmas Island is the first intercepted since the election of the Rudd government.

On the eve of last November's federal election, the navy rescued three Indonesian families in the Timor Sea and delivered them to Christmas Island the morning after Mr Rudd was elected Prime Minister.

The families later returned to Roti.