Australia will meet legal obligations to asylum-seekers: Gillard

October 20, 2009




JULIA Gillard has told Parliament Australia will follow the letter of the law on where 78 asylum-seekers intercepted in Indonesian waters will be sent.

Asked in question time why the asylum-seekers remain in limbo after being picked up by the Australian Navy in Indonesian waters, the acting Prime Minister said consultations were continuing.

Ms Gillard, who earlier pledged the government would get the balance right beween a hardline border control policy and showing compassion to refugees, confirmed one female passenger was suffering from fever and was being monitored.

“We will act in a way entirely consistent with out legal obligations,” she said.

“We will follow the letter of the law.”

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull questioned her claims that a rise in asylum-seekers was sparked by push factors not a softening of policy.

“Why is the government trying to trick the Australian people with spin,” he asked.

Mr Turnbull said the government had rolled out the red carpet to people-smugglers.

The government is also under pressure today to explain whether a warning the government’s policies would lead to a rise in people-smuggling was “excised” from a report prepared by Australian Federal Police.

The AFP refused to be drawn on the issue yesterday in Senate estimates on the grounds it was classified.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor also refused to comment, but accused the opposition of verballing the AFP on the issue today in question time.

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The Australian


Australia ‘must do something’ to stop flow of asylum seekers

October 18, 2009



Sunday 18th October 2009

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd needs to stem the flow of asylum seekers instead of relying on Indonesia to do the heavy lifting, the federal opposition says.

“The flow (of asylum seekers) is back on full strength and it is a deadly business,” opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone told ABC Television today.

“And that is why we are saying: ‘Look, Prime Minister Rudd, look you do something right now other than just calling in Indonesia to do your heavy lifting’.”

Dr Stone said the number of asylum seekers had increased from about three boats in 2002/03 to 41 boats since the Labor government “softened” its policy last year.

If the opposition had been in power, the problem wouldn’t exist, she said.

“We wouldn’t have the problem in the first position, because we had zero boat problems, effectively, when we were in government,” she said.

“If Prime Minister Rudd refused to deal with the problem he has created, and we got to our change of government with us in power, you would stand by and see us with a strategic package bringing all of this to a crunch very, very quickly.”

The debate was heightened yesterday after two boats, possibly loaded with asylum seekers believed to be heading to Australia, issued distress signals in Malaysian and Indonesian waters.

The Australian navy is on standby to help in the rescue operation led by search and rescue authorities from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong today said that HMAS Armidale had made contact with one of the boats and everyone on board was believed to be safe.

She defended the government’s “tough but humane and fair” approach, saying the situation was a difficult one.

“We have allocated substantial resources in the last budget to border protection,” she told Network Ten.

“Obviously, the situation around the world has meant many push factors are increasing the number of people seeking to go elsewhere and this is the situation the government is seeking to manage.”

The situation unfolds as a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Indonesia ended a hunger strike.

Their boat, carrying more than 250 ethnic Tamils, was intercepted last weekend by the Indonesian navy en route to Australia and taken to the Javanese city of Merak.

The passengers had refused to leave the boat during the past week, while making emotional pleas for Australia to take them in.


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Brisbane Times 2009


Navy intercepts boat with 65 asylum seekers

September 13, 2009

Another boat carrying asylum seekers has been intercepted off the north-west Australian coast.

The boat, carrying 65 people and three crew, was located three nautical miles north-west of Ashmore Island at 7pm (local time) yesterday by navy boat HMAS Maitland.

It is the third boat intercepted in the past week.

A boat carrying 83 passengers and four crew was found 150 kilometres south of Ashmore Island on Friday night.

On Monday, a boat carrying seven people was intercepted.

All have been taken to Christmas Island.


Asylum-seeker says Australian Federal Police "left us adrift"

July 18, 2009

AN Afghan asylum-seeker arrested after several days lost at sea claims Australian Federal Police told him a helicopter and boats would be sent to rescue him and up to 85 others.



Ali Yewar, 28, a passenger on an asylum-seeker vessel that was bound for Australia and feared lost in Indonesian waters, told The Australian yesterday he called the AFP and gave readings from an onboard GPS device to pinpoint the location of the group’s boat as it foundered off the eastern Indonesian island of Flores.

Mr Yewar, also known as Juma Khan, said no help had arrived.

“For four nights we drifted but no one came to help us as they promised,” he said. “I spoke to Australians, to Indonesians, but no one came. Our boat was being pushed around in the heavy wind, our engine was seized and the boat was full of water.”

Mr Yewar was aboard an asylum-seeker vessel that has perplexed and confused Australian and Indonesian authorities since it was first reported missing.

It was initially thought lost at sea last Tuesday, then prematurely reported as found by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith late on Wednesday. Over the weekend, some of the boat’s Afghan passengers were arrested by Indonesian authorities on Sumbawa island and an empty boat was found near the island town of Bima.

Mr Smith said yesterday the passengers were safe but not all accounted for. “Our most recent advice from Indonesian officials is that the vessel has been located and the passengers dispersed,” he said.

“Embassy officials, AFP officers in our office in Jakarta, have spoken to two of the passengers who were on board and the telephone advice from the passengers to the AFP officers is that all of the passengers on board are safe – that’s the most recent advice I have.

“They’ve dispersed, so not all passengers are accounted for, but the advice that we have from two passengers is that all the passengers were safe prior to their dispersal.”

However, Mr Yewar said he feared his cousin was among a group of asylum-seekers from the boat who may have drowned.

Mr Smith’s announcement came as another suspected asylum-seeker vessel arrived at Christmas Island. The wooden boat, with its cargo of 73 passengers and crew, was the 17th vessel to arrive this year. More than 900 undocumented migrants and 35 crew have been intercepted in Australian waters this year.

The ship was intercepted 80 nautical miles off Christmas Island by the Royal Australian Navy patrol boat Armidale.

The passengers were yesterday being processed for identity, health and security checks before joining hundreds of others on the island’s immigration detention centre, which is close to capacity.

Authorities have not said where the suspected asylum-seekers had travelled from.

Mr Yewar, who was yesterday being held on Sumbawa, said that after the boat he was travelling in started drifting, he raised the alarm. This included, he said, calling Jakarta-based AFP officers, who alerted their Indonesian counterparts to the group’s plight.

Mr Yewar had also sent an SOS text message to contacts in Pakistan, who relayed it to Australian refugee advocate Ian Rintoul. Mr Rintoul called Australian authorities to ensure they knew of the group’s predicament.

“The Australian police asked me if the boat had a GPS,” Mr Yewar said. “I didn’t know what a GPS was, but I asked the captain and he said, ‘it’s this’. I told the police the reading on it.”

The Indonesian authorities were given those co-ordinates by the AFP in an SMS that was subsequently distributed widely through various agencies, but they were unable to locate the boat.

An AFP spokesman refused to confirm whether it had received a call from anyone on the boat. Nor would it confirm or deny whether any of its officers spoke to people on the boat. The spokesman also refused to detail whether information was passed on to the Indonesian police.

Mr Yewar said the crew eventually dropped the asylum-seekers on an unknown island and left.

He admitted the group’s intention had been to sail to Australia where members would seek asylum, “because of course I like Australia and I want to be in Australia, and I promise that, whether it is illegally or legally, I will keep trying to do that”.

Mr Yewar, who is from Kabul, refused to say where the boat’s voyage had begun or to give any details of the people-smuggling agents he had used to make the journey.

At least 29 of the original members of that group are now in detention on Sumbawa, an island to the east of Bali and a common staging point for boat journeys to Australia.

Mr Yewar said he was worried that up to 30 more of the group had gone missing.

He said he had no idea whether that was because they had gone overboard while the boat was battling heavy seas off Flores where it first ran into trouble, or whether it was because they had disappeared after being dropped on the unnamed island.

Indonesian police said local fishermen had transported the asylum-seekers to the town of Bima, on Sumbawa, where they were eventually arrested.

Some were seized at a bus terminal, apparently preparing to head west back to Jakarta through a series of island-hopping connections. Others, including Mr Yewar, were found in a local village.

Mr Yewar said he had applied in Jakarta three months ago for refugee status through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – an increasingly common way for people fleeing war and persecution in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and elsewhere to speed up their formal resettlement in countries such as Australia.

Many refugees use the resultant informal Indonesian visa to arrange the dangerous journey by sea to Australia, where they hope their resettlement attempts will be dealt with even faster.

Responding to the arrival of the lastest asylum-seeker vessel at Christmas Island, the Rudd government said the upsurge in asylum-seeker arrivals was part of a global phenomenon linked to instability and war in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Sri Lanka.

“The boat was detected before it reached the contigious zone and our migration zone and was kept under constant surveillance,” Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement on the weekend.

“This demonstrates that our system of border protection is strong and effective.

“The group will be transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo security, identity and health checks to establish their identity and reasons for travel.”

The latest boatload of arrivals brings the total number of people detained on Christmas Island to 725.

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Afghan asylum-seekers ‘rescued’ off Indonesia after AFP tip-off

July 9, 2009

WAST: Thursday 09/07/2009 @ 13:50

UP to 74 Afghan asylum-seekers have been found safe after fears their fishing boat had sunk in dangerous Indonesian waters, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said last night.

A search had been launched for the boat following a tip-off from Australian Federal Police.

The boat, which was reported to be foundering off Komodo island in the country’s east, had been under surveillance by Australian police based in Jakarta.

Local authorities at Labuhanbajo, on Flores island, were alerted to the boat’s plight late on Tuesday by a text message from Australian police.

The boat’s Indonesian crew and the asylum-seekers, who included women and children, were near land but the vessel was sinking fast and none of them could swim, the message said.

The text message, a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian, said the boat was “within sight of land but sinking no lifejackets” and that “local police have been notified appro 72-74 on board including woman and children please notify your counterparts urgently”. The head of Labuhanbajo port, Pariman, said an all-day search was launched before first light yesterday as a result of the tip-off but no sign of the boat was found.

Mr Smith said last night the boat had been found.

“Indonesian officials have advised Australian officials in Indonesia that the boat has been located. It hasn’t sunk,” he told ABC TV’s Lateline program.

“All on board … are, on our advice, are safe.”

However, there was confusion over the fate of the boat late last night, with Indonesian military officials on Flores saying:”We’ve found nothing. We are the navy here and we’ve found nothing.”

Australia and Indonesia have recently increased co-operation in fighting people-smuggling, amid a fresh wave of asylum-seeker vessels.

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14th Asylum seekers boat intercepted

June 24, 2009

Caption:

The 14th Boat since Kevin Rudd to Office.

CANBERRA – AN AUSTRALIAN official says border patrols have intercepted a boat carrying 49 apparent asylum seekers off the country’s northern coast.

The small boat, with four crew members, was the 14th such vessel to be detained in Australian waters this year.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says the passengers will be taken to Christmas Island, an Indian Ocean territory where the government detains and processes refugee applicants.

O’Connor said in a statement Tuesday that the passengers will undergo health, security, identity and other checks.

Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Most of the recent asylum seekers have come from Afghanistan, Iran or Sri Lanka. — AP


Police ‘cautiously’ release names of asylum-seekers

June 17, 2009







THE names of five Afghan asylum-seekers who died in a boat explosion off the coast of Australia have been released by Northern Territory police.

Acting Commander Peter Bravos said the “unusual step” had been taken because there had been problems establishing their identities and police still had questions about the accuracy of the names.

“It has been decided to take the unusual step of releasing the names of those believed to be the deceased in the hope that others may have information which will further assist us with this process,” Comm Bravos said.

Awaz Nader, 50, Baquer Husani, 26, Mohammed Amen Zamen, 38, Mohammed Hasan Ayobi, 45, Muzafar Ali Safarali, 45, are among the names NT police have “cautiously” made public.

Three bodies were found at the blast scene while two bodies went missing in the surrounding water.

It is not known which names correspond to the recovered bodies.

Comm Bravos said the formal identification of the five men was continuing.

“A number of difficulties are delaying the process,” he said.

“We believe all five of the deceased are Afghan nationals and the current war status in Afghanistan is further hindering our efforts.”

It’s still unclear what caused the blast, which also injured more than 40 people near Ashmore Reef on April 16.

The vessel, carrying 47 Afghan asylum-seekers and two crew, had been intercepted the previous day and was waiting to be escorted to Christmas Island when the incident occurred.

NT police – conducting an investigation into the incident for the NT coroner – is yet to reveal whether the blast was an accident or the result of sabotage.

But Comm Bravos said more than 130 statements had now been taken, including 44 interviews.

A second round of interviews started last week.

A separate investigation is being carried out by the Australian Federal Police into people-smuggling.

NT police can be contacted by anyone with information on (08) 8922 1505.


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