Changed policy for refugees is a disgrace

This morning, my husband took one look at the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and said, ‘What a shameful headline’. He was referring to the words, ‘Labor slams door on refugees’ and Federal Labor’s changed policy for some refugees coming to Australia.

All boat people (as refugees arriving by leaky boats are referred to) from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka will now be held in immigration limbo even though many have legitimate claims for refugee status.

Perhaps in an attempt to silence the outrage about ‘boat people’ arrivals from the opposition benches, the Federal Government has announced that new applications from Sri Lankan refugees will be suspended for three months, while those from Afghanistan will be suspended for six months. The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans justified the policy change by claiming that conditions had changed in these two countries making it safe for people to stay put. It would be interesting to find out how they justify such conclusions.

Despite a non-committal response by the UNCHR’s representative, Richard Towle, who said that mandatory detention is to be avoided but that he couldn’t yet comment on the Federal Government’s change in policy, Amnesty asks whether the asylum suspension meets Australia’s international obligations. Does the new policy ignore Australia’s obligations to properly assess refugee claims at the time they are made, that is, on arrival? Some refugee lawyers have asked this question. If we are in breach, let’s find out and find out fast! And what about our moral and ethical obligations as human beings?

It’s too much to ask the Labor government rescind this appalling change that heralds a revival of mandatory detention that the Howard Government so gleefully supported – but I am appalled.

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