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Australia Must Honour Human Rights

Australian Refugee Action

The Australian government and people must take responsibility for their human rights commitments under international law, claims a coalition of groups and people in Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand).

The Coalition for Human Rights in Australia (CHRA) protested today at 1pm outside the Australian Consulate in Auckland to raise awareness of the plight of the people recently on the MV Tampa off the shores of Australia's territory, Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The coalition protest is designed to highlight the fact that refugee status is not always permanent immigration, and that it is to avoid persecution in the home country.

``Refusing to allow people from a distressed ship into the nearest country for immigration processing to determine their status is a barbaric twist on the old White Australia immigration policy'' said CHRA member Brian van Dam.

Mr van Dam further stated that ``Under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Australia is a signatory to, these people recently on the MV Tampa have the right to land and be processed in Australia. We are confident the court action taken by Victoria Council of Civil Liberties will be successful in proving the Howard governments action illegal under Australian and international law.''

The coalition are pointing out through speeches and a letter of protest presented to the Consul, that it was unjust persecution in colonial times that led to much of Australia's settlement, and that the very least Australia can do is to process the people - now on the HMAS Manoora - on shore in proper facilities in West Australia.

"These people are in limbo - unable to even claim refugee status. The fact is that the Australian government is already deeply embarrassed over their long-term incarceration of refugee applicants in concentration camps, and Howard is counting on fallout from the Tampa incident blowing over relatively quickly.'' said fellow CHRA member Jim Gladwin.

The role of Helen Clark in allowing the Howard government to escape its responsibility also attracted attention, with CHRA supporting the criticism made by the UNHCR that Clark's action will encourage other nations to shirk their human rights obligations.

``While Helen Clark is to be commended for acting on humanitarian principles, her claim that nations and the UN should ``give the [Afghan] situation more urgency'' was not supported by a commitment to shoulder any of the financial responsibility for solving the causes of the Afghan refugee crisis'', said Mr van Dam. ``No solution was offered, nor any additional aid to help solve the causes of people fleeing their lands.''

``The focus of attention must shift from the deplorable attacks that John Howard and some NZ political parties have made upon those who flee persecution, to protecting nations from the exploitative greed of others that leads to refugees - whether the exploiters are people traffickers or companies that profit from conflict in the refugees homeland'', he said. ``This must be supported by all countries - including Australia - accepting any people who arrive there for processing, and supporting those found to be refugees.''

ENDS


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