Five refugees died early last month as the Government ignored a distress signal from a boat inside Australia’s maritime search and rescue zone. The tragedy comes amid further fighting between the ALP and the Coalition over which party is harsher on refugees.
The five men set themselves adrift from the boat in inflatable tires three days after the initial distress signal. They were desperately attempting to find any passing vessels that could rescue them, because they had run out of food, fuel and water.
Their 59 other companions were rescued by a Russian merchant ship four days later. The five missing men are presumed to have drowned or been eaten by the many sharks in the area.
While the home affairs minister Brendan O’Connor shed crocodile tears, he essentially blamed the refugees for the loss of life. It took a total of nine days for the refugees to be rescued after the initial distress signal. Despite this O’Connor has refused to initiate an inquiry into why the rescue took so long.
While the Government has been attempting to argue that conditions in Sri Lanka are improving, this is far from the truth. The International Crisis Group released a report on May 17 that shows up to 80,000 civilians are still interned in military run prison camps.
Another report from the Edmund Rice Centre shows that some refugees deported back to Sri Lanka have been immediately taken into custody by the police. Others have been assaulted or charged with ‘terrorism’ offences. This is on top of the Sri Lankan regime’s history of enforced disappearances and executions.
It is clear that those people fleeing Sri Lanka are genuine refugees. The Australian Government’s refusal to process these people, and to send many of them back to Sri Lanka, is putting them at serious risk. Both of these measures are also direct contraventions of international law and the 1951 UN Refugee convention, of which Australia is a signatory.
Meanwhile federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott has announced if elected he will reintroduce the Howard era ‘Pacific Solution’ where refugees are detained and processed in offshore countries. This is also illegal and is a measure designed to circumvent certain processes and deny refugees many of their legal rights.
Abbott’s announcement has caused some community outrage. Even some members of the Liberal Party have said that these measures are too harsh. The reality is though that the ALP’s so called ‘Indonesian Solution’ operates in nearly the exact same way as Abbott’s policy.
The ALP and the Coalition both want to process refugees outside of Australia’s migration zone because it means that refugees can’t apply for protection without the Immigration Minister’s permission. It also means that refugees have no right to appeal their detention or denial of a protection visa to the Australian courts.
Both the ALP and the Coalition are punishing refugees for fleeing war and persecution. On top of this, the current government is contributing to the so-called ‘push factors’. The Australian government still supports the US-led war in Afghanistan and has also been a supporter and financier of the Sri Lankan government and their war on the Tamil people.
Ordinary working class Australians need to oppose the inhumane treatment of refugees who are fleeing war and persecution. Rudd and Abbott are attempting to distract people from the real issues, like budget cuts, by whipping up racism. Rather than blaming the victims we should be blaming the system that creates refugees and attacks all of our living standards.
By SP reporters