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Issue #1682      April 29, 2015

Protest against Cambodian offshore processing

Around 200 refugees staged a protest at Ijuw camp on Nauru on Friday 24 April. The refugees called for “Justice,” and “Freedom,” and “Cambodia – never, ever.”

The protest came at the end of a week of frenzied efforts by the Australian immigration department to find refugees and asylum seekers who will agree to go to Cambodia.

“The chartered plane that was meant to take refugees from Nauru to Cambodia seems to have been indefinitely postponed due to lack of interest,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Despite massive bribes of up to $15,000 for those who agree to be resettled in Cambodia, the Refugee Action Coalition can only confirm one Iranian asylum seeker and one Rohingyan refugee who have so far agreed to go to Cambodia.

The lack of interest is a massive embarrassment for Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton and the Australian government. Refugees on the island have been getting random phone calls from officials trying to sell the deal – so far, to no avail.

Despite the Cambodian agreement supposedly only being available for refugees, the Immigration Department has also approached asylum seekers in the detention centre in an effort to get some interest in being transferred to Cambodia.

“Not only is the government circulating false information about conditions on Cambodia, there is a clear implication that the Australian government is offering refugee status to asylum seekers who have been waiting 18 months for a refugee determination – as long as they will go to Cambodia. It is exploitation of extremely vulnerable people for their own corrupt political ends,” said Rintoul.

Conditions in the main refugee family camp have deteriorated to crisis point. The camp, which has three pregnant women and 13 children, has been without power and water for five days, creating unhygienic and unsanitary conditions.

Meanwhile, Australia’s turn back policy may be directly contributing to deaths at sea in Europe,” said Ian Rintoul. “The Coalition’s ‘stop the boats’ slogan was just an ultimatum to asylum seekers to ‘die somewhere else’ backed up by the military – and ‘dying somewhere else’ may be exactly what’s happening.”

Up to 900 are feared drowned in the latest asylum seeker boat disaster in Europe.

There are many asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa languishing in Australian detention centres and on Nauru and Manus Island.

“The Coalition has not stopped the boats; the boats have only been intercepted or displaced. At least 17 boats have attempted to get to Australia since Operation Sovereign Borders began. The navy ship that is returning Vietnamese asylum seekers could just as easily have brought them safely to Australia.”

By denying safe passage for people to come to Indonesia and then to Australia, African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers may have no alternative but to try to get to Europe to find safety.

“Abbott thinks he can grandstand and lecture Europe about ‘stopping the boats’. But, the Australian government’s policy is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Talk of implementing an Australian turn back policy in Europe is folly and would only increase the dangers for asylum seekers.

“Nor is retired Major-General Molan in any position to be lecturing European leaders about saving lives. The tragedy in the Mediterranean is not a people-smuggling disaster; it is a humanitarian disaster.”

The increase in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean is directly attributable to European governments ending the funding for Italy’s “Mare Nostrum” rescue operation, last year. Until it was wound back, Mare Nostrum had rescued around 130,000 people in 2014 alone.

“Europe needs to urgently re-instate funding for rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and allow safe passage for asylum seekers,” said Rintoul. “If the Australian government was seriously interested in saving lives, it would end Operation Sovereign Borders, fund an effective search and rescue program, and guarantee that refugees in Indonesia would be quickly resettled in Australia.”

Next article – Free West Papua Campaign

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