Former Aussie FM disputes ‘refugee’ claims by boat people
Disputing that the 255 boat-load of people from Sri Lanka could be
genuine refugees, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
last week said the scrapping of immigration and border protection
policies of the previous Howard government had put the people smugglers
back in business. Downer has blamed the current Australian regime for
the surge of asylum seekers heading their way.
He told a local radio station that these people could not be fleeing
Sri Lanka because of the conflict since the war had now come to an end
and peace has been restored.
Currently two boat-loads of Sri Lankans totalling some 300 people are
held in Indonesia, awaiting the UNHCR to assess their asylum status.
Of them 70 odd people forcibly occupied the Australian Customs vessel
Oceanic Viking until a few days ago when an agreement was reached with
the Australian authorities.
According to reports they have been promised asylum within four to
six weeks if the UNHCR finds them to be genuine refugees. Another 29
illegal immigrants, survivors of a capsized boat are detained in
Christmas Island in Australia.
According to reports some of the people detained in Christmas Island
have raised suspicion because they have injuries consistent with warfare
such as shrapnel wounds. The former foreign minister now the UN envoy in
Cyprus said the abolishing of tough laws, for which the Howard
government was criticised a lot, had sent wrong signals to the human
However, defending their decision to abolish the Pacific Solution
that allowed sending boat people to Papua New Guinea and Nauru until
their asylum claims are assessed, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said
that Australia had a hardline but humane policy.
A Sri Lankan engineer employed in Australia told the Sunday Observer
that Sri Lankans in Australia understand that these boat people were
mainly economic refugees despite their claims of fleeing oppression.
He said he had been inundated with questions from his Australian
colleagues of the situation back home which forces people to flee in
such a manner and this was quite an embarrassing situation for them all.
Asked what the general feeling of the average Australian, he said,
“They are not happy, they think these people are exploiting the new
policies and this problem is government’s own making.”
Despite the claims by these people of “worsening conditions” in Sri
Lanka, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John
Holmes who spent a day in Jaffna during his latest visit late last week
expressed satisfaction over the rapid progress the Government has made
within the past three months in resettling the IDPs. The numbers have
nearly halved from the initial 280,000 to 136,000 today.
He said the commitment of the Government’s action “impressed” him.
This had been his fourth visit to Sri Lanka. Holmes comments made on
Thursday at a joint press briefing with Foreign Minister Rohitha
Bogollagama crushed the argument that oppression and violence in Sri
Lanka had been a push factor contributing to the current surge of boat
people heading towards Australia.