April 21, 2009
“The Rudd government has completely blown its chance to show that its refugee policy is more humane than the Coalition’s”, Socialist Alliance spokesperson on refugee and asylum-seeker rights Jay Fletcher said today.
Fletcher was commenting on the anti-refugee hysteria manufactured by the Coalition after an explosion on board a small fishing boat packed with 47 Afghan asylum seekers and two crew killed five people and injured many more, some critically. The incident occurred on April 16 as the Australian navy was taking the vessel to the Christmas Island detention centre.
“Home affairs minister Bob Debus admits that the recent rise in the number of asylum seekers making the dangerous journey from Indonesia is due to people fleeing war-ravaged countries”, Fletcher said. “So why doesn’t the Rudd government increase the number of places available to these desperate people? Ninety percent of refugees coming to Australia have lost family members, and they genuinely need protection.”
“The racist Liberal Party immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone has got Rudd and company spooked. That’s why the prime minister sounds like a rerun of John Howard when he calls people-smugglers ‘the scum of the earth’. By blasting their lucrative trade he hopes to neutralise the Coalition and stop Australians from asking why the trade exists in the first place.”
“Yet with 16 million refugees and 51 million displaced persons in the world and a country like Australia offering a miserable 13,500 places in 2008-09, some of those fleeing death and persecution have no choice but to place themselves in the hands of people smugglers.
“Even more, many of these refugees are fleeing from wars that Australia supports—in Afghanistan the presence of Australian troops is helping create more refugees every day, so Canberra has a humanitarian responsibility to help them.
“If the Rudd government had any sense of justice or spine on this issue it would immediately announce a big increase in refugee intake and confront the racists and xenophobes and their parliamentary wing in the Coalition head-on.”
“For example, why doesn’t Bob Debus go beyond pointing out that a microscopic 379 asylum seekers have reached Australian shores over the last year and tell the nation that each year Australia admits less than one refugee for every 1000 inhabitants, whereas a comparable country like Sweden allows in 17.7 per 1000?”
Fletcher concluded: “A ‘Swedish policy’ here would see an Australian refugee and asylum-seeker intake of around 250,000 a year—the beginnings of a humane and decent approach to their suffering that this country sorely needs.”
For further comment: Jay Fletcher 0438 819 131