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Ashmore reef blast: Not a reason to reconsider Howard Government policies

Ashmore reef blast: Not a reason to reconsider Howard Government policies
by Ntsiuoa Sekete

As far as we know at 6:15am on April 16, near a tranquil reef off the coast of Australia, a small overcrowded fishing boat carrying Afghan asylum seekers burst into flames and exploded, killing five and injuring 31.

This spectacular and tragic incident has again re-surfaced Australian society’s lingering concern over refugees arriving by boat. This was witnessed through hostile letters to the editor, and participatory media outlets.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Opposition Leader, has predictably claimed that the Rudd government’s ‘soft’ border policy is the direct cause of more refugees trying to make it to Australia illegally. But the explosion off Ashmore Reef must not be used to re-heighten fear of the arrival of refugees by boat to Australia. Nor should it provoke a return to the harsh and inhumane refugee policies of the Howard government.

The Howard government’s Pacific Solution, and introduction of Temporary Protection Visas undoubtedly ignored Australia’s responsibilities as a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. We are supposed to welcome and protect asylum seekers and to process applications from refugees who arrive on this shore, regardless of the means by which they arrive.

Changes in the asylum seeker policy made after 2007 by the Rudd government were a welcome acknowledgment of these responsibilities, and marked a shift back towards Australia’s previous humane treatment of people displaced by conflict.

Dr Wendy Lambourne, human rights expert and lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, says “Asylum seekers do not pose a threat to our security; by contrast, Australian policy has in the past posed a threat to the security of asylum seekers”. Harsh border policies, such as those under the Howard government, are not only a breach of our international legal obligations, but do not effectively deter people from undertaking dangerous journey to Australia by boat.

Dr Eileen Pittaway at the University of New South Wale’s Centre for Refugee Research, points out that statistically, boat people are genuine refugees, not terrorists or security risks. As such they are fleeing genuine conflict: Australian refugee law hardly figures into their decision to seek asylum. “We should remember these people are not running for fun, they flee assault, hunger, violence, watching their spouses being raped and worse,” she said.

It should also be remembered that the majority of these refugees flee conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which this country played a part in creating. Logically, if the situation is so desperate in those countries to require the aid of Australian troops, it is hypocritical to turn away or fear refugees fleeing those war zones.

The explosion off Ashmore Reef was either an accident or an act of desperation by dispossessed and disenfranchised individuals who have lost everything.
It is illogical, not to mention inhumane, to use this incident to incite fear of refugees or return to the policies of the Howard government.

Although Australia’s borders need to be secure and protected, efforts to deal with people smugglers who prey on refugees trying to make it to Australia must be intensified. Genuine asylum seekers should be wholeheartedly welcomed to Australia regardless of how they arrive, in accordance with this country’s United Nations obligations.


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More time to learn, less time to fear!

Ntsiuoa, I totally agree with you that genuine aylum seekers should be welcomed in Australia. Forefront in everyone's mind should be the situations the asylum seekers fled as opposed to thinking they are merely a security risk.

The negative perception of asylum seekers is sparked off by lack of knowledge. Most Australians have the notion that all asylum seekers are illegal immigrants due to reports made by media, bearing in mind the agenda-setting role of media in society. 

The media focus on making reports of asylum seekers being spotted along Australian coasts with no information as to whether they are genuine or not. It should instead focus its attention on educating the public about the asylum seeker policy and delivering accurate information.

There is also a lot of self-interest politics going on. The opposition should centre on the greater good of Australians and genuine asylum seekers as opposed to seeming 'macho' and 'blameless'.

 Why should Australians fear something they have no knowledge about? Seek information and base your judgement on that information.

Couldn't agree more

Hey Ntsiuoa, your argument is a really important one because so many Australians seem to be misinformed about asylum seekers, especially when they come by boat. The strange thing is that international law, which you rightly mentioned, is very clear on the issue.

I've gotta admit that I'm actually really sceptical about the chance of anything changing for the good. I know you mentioned the changes by the Rudd Government being a good move, but I'm very pessimistic about any real changes being made.They may have scrappd the Pacific Solution, but they still use the excised territories to circumvent their obligation of allowing anyone to claim asylum.

Also, I think Mr Rudd is doing nothing to diffuse the situation. He said some really strong things about people smugglers in order to look tough on the issue, but did nothing to dispell the myths about 'boat people'. If Rudd was truly going to help the situation, he would figure out a way of educating the public.

I'm just so annoyed at both major parties, they're both playing politics with the issue.

I think you made a strong and clear point that asylum seekers aren't people to be feared, and that Australians should really think about the perspective of the asylum seekers before labelling them as a security threat.

Refugees could become ambassadors for democracy

Ntsiuoa, it is a sad reflection on Australia that we are willing to go into third world countries and use sophisticated weaponry to bomb and kill. When hundreds of thousands of refugees are forced from their homes as a result of these actions we refuse to open our doors to these extremely desperate people.

If we were serious about the welfare of these people we would welcome them with open arms. We would educate them and help them return to their home countries as ambassadors for democracy.

Unfortunately it is easier to destroy than to build.

Who said our borders had to be secure?

We don't have anything to secure. The rest of the notion of border security for us seems to ignore the rights and security of others.

We complain about a few refugees on boats while ignoring 38,000 or so other people who arrive every day. We whine about those boats being a threat to us so we want to spent $500 million or so sending people to have refugees turned back in every country from here to Afghanistan - which amounts to a massive breach of our law, their laws and the rule of law.

Lunatics run the asylum because Rudd did not sack Andrew Metcalfe and his paranoid staff.

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