The issue of refugees is central to the Australian election campaign. Usually most politicians are finding ways to demonise asylum seekers. It’s not a pretty sight.
Today, new revelations that deserve wide coverage:
Asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking stand-off claim a “deal” to resettle all the people on board has been broken.
Twenty-five asylum seekers remain in limbo in detention centres on Christmas Island, the Philippines and in Romania with no prospect of re-settlement in another country.
The Oceanic Viking, an Australian Customs vessel, picked up the 78 Tamil asylum seekers in October last year in international waters and brought them to the port of Bintan in Indonesia where they refused to alight.
Radio National’s 360 Documentary program, which is broadcast this Saturday, reports that after the month-long stand-off, the asylum seekers departed the vessel when they received a letter from the Australian Government guaranteeing they would be resettled in Australia or another country if they were found to be refugees within 12 weeks of disembarking.
Of the asylum seekers who remain in detention, all have been declared by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be genuine refugees. Four of the detained asylum seekers are children.
Of the refugees in Romania, five have been rejected by the United States and 11 have been rejected by Canada. Both nations cite security reasons for their rejection. But no other evidence has been provided as to what these security reasons are.
Six refugees on Christmas Island have been given an adverse security assessment by ASIO, which means they could not be granted a visa. One of the six had previously worked for a number of years as a translator for the UNHCR in Indonesia.
There is no route of appeal for an adverse security assessment, and the refugees cannot be sent back to Sri Lanka, which leaves them indefinitely in detention.
The 360 documentary report says the letter from the Australian Government makes no mention of security assessments or that resettlement is dependent on clearing these checks.
Refugees from the stand-off also claim that they were underfed to the point of starvation on board the Australian Customs vessel.
“In the beginning we coped with the food, for the first two, three days. Later we simply could not tolerate,” said another letter holder, known as Gobi, who has now been resettled in the US.
“So we would eat and then we would not stand and walk as this food was not enough. Therefore we would lie down and sleep as the food was not enough.”
He says that Customs officers told him: “Only if you get off the ship and go to Indonesia will we give you good food. You [must] get off the ship first.”
Another man, known as Ravi, who has now been resettled in Australia, says the reason he left the boat was not the deal offered by the Government, but because he was starving.
“We would pick rice and other food particles from the floor because we were starving,” he said.
The program has other revelations which I’ll get to in days to come.