Australia refuses to settle post-July refugees from Indonesia

Refugee advocates have criticised the federal government's decision to stop accepting refugees registered with the UN in Indonesia.


Sri Lankan asylum seekers' tents at the Indonesian port town of Merak.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The federal government says Australia will no longer accept refugees who have applied for resettlement through the UN in Indonesia.

But, as Santilla Chingaipe reports, the decision has been condemned by refugee advocates.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says refugees who applied for resettlement after July the 1st this year through the UNHCR in Indonesia will no longer be accepted in Australia.

He's told the ABC the move is aimed at deterring people smugglers.

"We're taking the sugar off the table, that's what we're doing. We're trying to stop people thinking that it's okay to come into Indonesia and use that as a waiting ground to to get to Australia, I mean Indonesia is not a refugee generating country. It's a transit country and it's used by smugglers and we've had great success in preventing people coming to Australia by boat. And for most of that time, over the past year, that has seen a significant reduction number of people moving into Indonesia. Now in recent months, we've seen a change to that, because people think they can transit and sit in Indonesia and use that as a place to get access to Australia."

Mr Morrison says some of those who registered before the cut-off date will be accepted - but there will be fewer places available.

"What it does is it says that if you arrived in Indonesia before July 1, then if you've been processed in Indonesia, then we're still taking 450 people a year. It was 600, so it's a reduction of 150 places and they're the cases we will take."

Scott Morrison has also rejected reports that the ban extends to UNHCR applicants in other countries, such as Malaysia.

Mr Morrison says the move will instead encourage them to stay in the first port of asylum and lodge an application from there.

And he says its not intended to absolve Australia from its international obligations.

"We resettle around 2,700 people who are Afghans largely out of countries out of first asylum, whether that's in Pakistan or Iran or other places. We've got 4,400 places that will go to people who are affected by the Syria and Iraq conflict."

But rights groups have dismissed those assertions.

Daniel Webb is the director of legal advocacy at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre.

Mr Webb has described the announcement as 'utterly destructive'.

"The Australian government has spent billions of dollars making sure that no asylum seekers come to Australia. Now they're also trying to make sure that none go to Indonesia and other transit countries and at the same time, we've cut our humanitarian intake by 6,250 places. Now every one of those policy measures serves only to give desperate people who lack options even fewer options. It's fundamentally unhelpful and definitely goes against the grain of the refugee convention."

Refugee lawyer David Manne agrees.

And he says focusing on people smugglers simply punishes asylum seekers.

"Really the fundamental question that we must ask, that Australia must confront is, 'How do we respond to the plight of so many asylum seekers and refugees in our region and around the world?' and that is the question that is not being properly addressed here by focusing on the question of people smugglers."





4 min read
Published 19 November 2014 at 1:56pm
By Santilla Chingaipe
Source: World News Australia