Cuban Refugees From U.S. Arriving In Exchange For Tamils

Cuban refugees from US arriving here in exchange for Tamils

Paul Maley and Paige Taylor
From: The Australian
April 06, 2010

THREE Cuban refugees accepted by Australia as part of a deal with the US, which in turn agreed to take 28 of the Tamil refugees on the Oceanic Viking, will arrive in Australia this week.

The Immigration Department foreshadowed the men's arrival as two charter flights transported 65 detainees from Christmas Island to centres across the Australian mainland.

In what looks increasingly like a slow-motion spill from the overcrowded facility on Christmas Island, 34 rejected asylum-seekers were flown to Villawood detention centre in Sydney last night, along with 20 “vulnerable” asylum-seekers whose claims have not yet been approved.

And in a move the opposition has condemned as a waste of taxpayers' money, a jet that can seat up to 90 people was chartered to fly 11 Indonesian crew members and eight support staff to a detention facility in Darwin.

The department announced yesterday that the three Cubans would arrive this week.

The men were being held at the refugee detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, although the department insists they are not associated with enemy combatants also being detained at Guantanamo.

This is the third time Australia has taken Cuban refugees, according to the department.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans denied the men's arrival was part of a swap to help farm out to other countries the 78 Tamil refugees rescued by the Customs vessel Oceanic Viking in October. A spokesman said US requests on refugees were considered on a case-by-case basis.

The US has agreed to take 28 Tamils from the Oceanic Viking, while the remaining Tamil refugees went to New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Norway.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said yesterday the arrival of the three Cubans was yet more evidence of the special deal afforded the Oceanic Viking refugees.

Mr Morrison dismissed the government's decision to fly 19 people in a 90-seater charter jet as a hurried bid to relieve pressure on Christmas Island, which last night held 1997 detainees.

“The outrageous expense that is being entered into to maintain Kevin Rudd's facade on border protection is unconscionable,” Mr Morrison said.

The Australian has been told the distance from Christmas Island to the mainland, as well as the availability of charter flights, can limit the options in selecting aircraft, sometimes forcing the use of larger planes.

One rejected Tamil asylum-seeker, “Leela”, said yesterday he was happy to be going to the Villawood centre.

The 21-year-old journalist still hopes an independent review of his case will turn his fortunes around. He said he was bashed by police in Colombo in Sri Lanka during one of two interrogations.

Leela said after almost six months in detention on Christmas Island, he became so lonely and desperate he was moved to Phosphate Hill, a smaller compound on the other side of the island.

There, other detainees began to suspect he was gay and bullied him. The department grew concerned when one night Leela used his allotted phone time to call a gay help line, where he left 11 distress messages.

Now he will get regular visits from Sydney's Tamil community, and is likely to get his own room at the Villawood centre.


Related Coverage :

Capacity exceeded on Christmas Island Perth Now, 3 days ago
Detainees flee as PM's 100th boat looms Courier Mail, 7 days ago
Christmas Island exodus grows The Australian, 8 days ago
Refugees give guards the slip Daily Telegraph, 8 days ago
Asylum seekers end hunger strike Adelaide Now, 30 Jan 2010