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Australia playing “political football” with refugees: Amnesty International

[TamilNet, Sunday, 9 May 2010 08:02 No Comment]

Amnesty International in Australia have slammed the Federal Government’s decision to freeze asylum claims from Tamil and Afghan refugees, accusing both Ruling and opposition parties of “using some of the world’s most vulnerable people as political footballs”, and urging the nation to adhere to its “legal and moral obligation” to provide protection to refugees who have “suffered torture, violence, fear and persecution that we could never imagine”.

An estimated 350 people from the wider community gathered at Sydney’s landmark Bondi Beach on Saturday to form a lifesaver human ring, symbolising traditions of non-discrimination, compassion and helping those in need that are synonymous with volunteer beach workers in Australia, in a clear message to the Australian political establishment for the need to adopt a more humane approach in dealing with refugees.

Amnesty International in Australia have slammed the Federal Government’s decision to freeze asylum claims from Tamil and Afghan refugees, accusing both Ruling and opposition parties of “using some of the world’s most vulnerable people as political footballs”, and urging the nation to adhere to its “legal and moral obligation” to provide protection to refugees who have “suffered torture, violence, fear and persecution that we could never imagine”.

“Australia is a better place when we show leadership and when we show humanity, but our politicians are turning their backs on people feeling torture, persecution and discrimination” said Claire Mallinson, National Director of Amnesty International Australia.

The event, held simultaneously in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, highlighted a message of solidarity expressed by Australians across the country, the majority of whom have been vocal in their disgust over the Government’s harsh stance on asylum seekers.

“Today we say to all politicians, stop using spin, stop using people as political footballs and start to show some leadership” said Mallison, reiterating popular belief that the latest policy changes are a political move designed to win votes in the upcoming federal election.

Citing the nations acceptance of European refugees in the aftermath of World War 2, and the high number of Vietnamese boat people who sought asylum following the Vietnam War in the 1970’s, Mallison urged the Government to once again offer a helping hand to those in need.

“The refugees seeking our help have suffered torture, violence, fear and persecution that we could never imagine, and we have a legal and moral obligation to provide them with protection”.

Australia announced its decision to suspend processing claims of asylum for all Tamil and Afghan refugees as a result of the "evolving circumstances" in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in a joint media release by Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith and Brendan O’Connor from Home Affairs on April 9. Any suggestions that either nation was safe were vigorously refuted by Amnesty.

aus_refu1 “In Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, despite what the government is saying, human rights violations are still occurring. In Afghanistan civilian deaths continue to rise as the conflict goes on, and women there are facing serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence and trafficking, In Sri Lanka, Amnesty’s research shows that people are still being targeted suffer abductions, disappearances and killings” Mallison argued.

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Highlighting successful campaigns undertaken by the organisation, including successfully closing some of the nation’s detention centres and ending temporary protection visas, she called upon the people of Australia to raise their voices once again.

“It’s time to remind our politicians of the Australian values they should be upholding, the values of humanity and compassion”.

Tamil activist Sam Thampapilla urged the crowd to be vigilant and mindful of the humanitarian crisis unfolding across the North and North East of Sri Lanka, despite the lack of coverage in the Australian mainstream media.

“Simply because the guns are silent and that it no longer makes the news, it doesn’t that things are okay, it doesn’t mean the suffering is over”.

“This is what the Australian Government wants to play on, that if something is not in news things are ok, that the absence of war is equivalent to normalcy” he warned.

Australia was recently singled out by influential magazine “Foreign Policy” as having some of the worst immigration laws in the world, on par with Italy and the U.A.E.

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