The emerging practice of the Australian Government in seeking close cooperation with Indonesia and other neighbouring states to deal with asylum seekers must focus primarily on the protection of those who are in fact fleeing for their lives.
Phil Glendenning, the Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to take advantage of the closer collaboration with Indonesia to ensure that asylum seekers are properly processed to ascertain if they have the right to asylum.
“Australian and international law are clear on this - a person is permitted to enter Australia for the purpose of seeking asylum, whether by boat or by air. A refugee’s claim for asylum has nothing to do with how they arrive in a country, but everything to do with the persecution that they are escaping. These claims must be properly assessed otherwise tragic mistakes will be made,” Mr Glendenning said.
"ERC has found clear cases in the past where people came to Australia asking for asylum and were not granted it, but were deported back to the very situations of danger that they fled.", he said.
“In some cases – including both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan – asylum seekers were killed after being returned to danger. We have visited these countries, we have met with returnees and we have visited the graves of people killed after returning from Australia”.
“Australia must do whatever it can to ensure that this never, ever, ever happens again.”
Mr Glendenning fears that there is a real danger of repeating this sad chapter in Australia's history. "Asylum seekers are vulnerable to many things including threats from officials to return before their claims for asylum have been properly processed," said Mr Glendenning.
"In fact, we are very concerned about reports emerging from Indonesia of improper treatment of asylum seekers that aims to get them to go back before their claims are properly processed."
"It would be complicit of Australia to ask for cooperation from Indonesia in such a way as to increase the possibility that valid refugees are not recognised but sent back to face torture or death," he concluded.
For interview/comment contact Phil Glendenning on (02) 8762 4200 or 0419 013 758