Friday, August 17, 2007

Days 34 – 36: Broome

Broome…a chance to catch up on operational matters (fix broken equipment, replace tyres, have the car serviced, prepare for the Kimberley roads) as well as a few media engagements and meeting with a few local residents including Paul Lane of the Lingarri Foundation who travelled to Afghanistan in 2006 with the Edmund Rice Centre to investigate and expose the return of Afghans from Australia to serious danger. Tragically some of those returned where killed. It is outrageous to think that these people, already very vulnerable, risked everything to come to Australia to seek protection, to seek a life of safety and freedom, instead they were caught in a highly politicised and inhumane system and eventually forced back to Afghanistan, to their death. I find it hard to stomach…that we are partly responsible for such horrendous outcomes.

The Kimberley is the closest part of the Australian mainland to Ashmore Reef (610km north of Broome) where in August 2006 a small boatload of Burmese was intercepted on their way to Australia in search of protection. The eight men, members of the Rohingya minority group, were taken to Christmas Island before being forcibly transferred to Nauru.

Before attempting to come to Australia, the men had been living in Malaysia – with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ papers, but without the right to settle. In mid-December the immigration department offered the Burmese a deal: They could return to Malaysia on two year temporary residence visas with work rights attached, gain a cash allowance to cover their expenses, and receive an assurance that the UNCHR would be notified if the Malaysians attempted to deport them. Australian officials would process their refugee claims in Malaysia and if accepted as refugees, the men would be eligible for resettlement with their families in Australia under the offshore humanitarian program. The group rejected the offer, citing a lack of faith in the Australian government and fears of returning to Malaysia. The Australian government reiterated that should they chose to remain on Nauru where their protection claims were being processed, they would not be allowed to resettle in Australia even if they were found to be refugees.

In May 2007, the Burmese lodged an application in the High Court on the basis that the process by which their protection visas have been determined is unlawful. The case would be ground-breaking and is a direct challenge to one of the fundamental purposes of excision and offshore processing, namely to prevent asylum seekers from judicial oversight of their cases. The Immigration Department agreed to hear their claims and the processing of these cases still continues.

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