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February 20, 2014

Wikinews Shorts: February 20, 2014

Wikinews Shorts: February 20, 2014 – Wikinews, the free news source

Wikinews Shorts: February 20, 2014

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A compilation of brief news reports for Thursday, February 20, 2014.

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Ukrainian truce established

Kiev’s Independence Square before violence erupted.
Image: Noobuster007.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych declared a truce after a violent evening in Kiev’s Independence Square. There was brief peace just five days ago when protesters agreed to unblock downtown streets. That was soon broken as violence occurred when interior ministry troops, special “Berkut” security forces, and police officers confronted protesters.

So far 26 people, including protesters and ten police officers, have been killed in Independence Square clashes. This is the most violence the country has seen since it gained independence 20 years ago.

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Facebook plans to purchase messaging service for US$16 billion

WhatsApp logo
Image: WhatsApp Inc..

Facebook yesterday announced a plan to purchase WhatsApp for US$16 billion. Facebook’s plan says it will pay US$12 billion in stocks and US$4 billion in cash. All parties are still waiting regulatory approval. The deal could potentially be worth US$19 billion with US$3 billion more being offered to employees. Employees who remained at Facebook for four years would be offered restricted stock.

WhatsApp is a messaging service where users can send text, picture, and video messages using their data plans, instead of their messaging plan. The company has over 450 million world-wide active users, with about 70 percent of those users being active daily. WhatsApp adds about one million new users per day. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the app will not change for users.

Sources



Australia releases confidential information of thousands of refugees

The records of around 10,000 asylum-seekers in Australia were made available by the Australian government until The Guardian made authorities aware yesterday the data was freely accessible. Confidential refugee files were accessed, featuring the names, nationalities, locations, and arrival information. Paul Power, chief executive of the advocacy group Refugee Council of Australia, said the situation risked those in refugee centers in Australia, as well as their families.

In a speech delivered last November, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said that the Australian government was responsible for protecting the identities of refugees. Now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is being called to account for its role under Australia’s privacy laws, including negligence.

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January 11, 2014

Nauru raises media visa application fee from AU$200 to $8,000

Nauru raises media visa application fee from AU$200 to $8,000

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Nauru
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Location of Nauru

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To write, edit, start or view other articles on Nauru, see the Nauru Portal
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Nauru offshore processing facility in 2012.
Image: Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

Nauru offshore processing facility in 2012.
Image: DIAC.

The cabinet of the island nation of Nauru endorsed rise of the cost of an application for single-entry three-month media visa from AU$200 to $8,000 last Thursday.

The rise followed a scandal last weekend involving 60 Lebanese asylum seekers voluntarily deciding to return home from the Nauru offshore processing facility, an Australian immigration detention facility, after facing harsh physical conditions and disorientation.

Nauru’s Government Information Office Director Joanna Olsson appeared to be unaware that the new visa fee had yet to take effect, writing an email to a visa applicant about the new fee last Tuesday: “Sorry for the late response but yes we are granting media visas. The fee is $8000 per visa, single entry valid for 3 months. The visa fee is not refundable if the application is not successful.” She also claimed the new fee had been implemented “a couple [of] months ago”, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

On the contrary, on Thursday during a meeting, Nauru’s Principal Immigration Officer Ernest Stephen said the price change was “not official” and the price rise had not yet passed into law through the Parliament. Stephen said only three or four Nauru media visas were granted last year.

A member of Nauru Opposition Group, Mathew Batsiua, claimed the move was an oppression of journalistic freedom. “They [the Nauru authorities] certainly bully our local media in terms of what they can show, who they can interview, and this is another illustration of that kind of behaviour in terms of bullying media and avoiding accountability. … This hiking up of fees for journalists coming in to Nauru is a step in that direction, and we think that it’s the wrong move and we’re certainly opposing it.”

The rise of the visa fee followed a recent scandal involving the majority of 60 Lebanese asylum seekers, targeted by people smugglers, deciding to return home from the Nauru and neighbouring Manus Island detention centres after a discussion with Australian government adviser Jamal Rifi on the weekend of January 4.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reviewed the detention centre in December 2012, reporting poor physical conditions:

The conditions at the closed and congested detention centre [are] harsh, with little natural shelter from the heat during the day. These conditions are aggravated by noise and dust from the construction of the permanent facility.

– UNHCR, 2012

The UNHCR has also cited delays processing the refugee applications, lack of legal counseling, health issues including trauma and mental health cases, and responsibility of both Australia and Nauru for the treatment. In another review in November last year, UHCR reported improved physical conditions while criticizing progress on reception conditions and refugee applications processing.

Yesterday Australian officials told a Pakistani refugee living in Australia that a refugee application could take up to ten years to process, while he was applying for refuge for his brothers following death of his parents and wife in Pakistan.



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February 5, 2013

UN adds to criticism of Australian offshore centers

UN adds to criticism of Australian offshore centers

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

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The UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1981.
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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) echoed criticism from other human rights groups yesterday as its new report called on Australia to cease the practice of holding asylum seekers in an uncertain status in its offshore facilities.

The UNHCR spent three days in January at an Australian facility located on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Following Australian mandatory policy, the more than two hundred detainees held there were detained upon requesting asylum. More than 30 children are being held at this Australian facility. The UNHCR report raised the crowded conditions at the camp as a cause for concern, as well as the impact isolation could have on the children. Australia has another facility for asylum seekers on the island of Nauru. The UNHCR report made clear Australia does not have a process for clearing the asylum seekers, which means their detention in the camps is indefinite and a violation of international human rights.

Caught in the middle of the debate is the new immigration minister Brendan O’Connor. O’Connor was named immigration minister this weekend. The following night, a boat load of 60 refugees who were approached near Christmas Island sought asylum. Monday, the UNHCR issued its report. Union leaders, amongst them Brendan’s brother Michael O’Connor who is national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, are calling for and end to current migration deals.

A report from Monash University found immigrants have taken 200,000 jobs created during the last two years, depressing employment of young, lower skilled Australians. Polls show a 70 percent majority of Australians stand opposed to the growth in population that will result from immigration.

Amnesty International points out that those migrants held in offshore processing facilities are not typical immigrants but rather asylum seekers. It says the latter category accounts for only three percent of Australia’s influx from immigration. Moreover, Amnesty International says the practice of offshore facilities for asylum seekers runs afoul of Australia’s own international agreements, such as the UN Refugee Convention, and laws, Australian Migration Act 1958.

In August, Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicated in talks with Nauru and Papua New Guinea that Australia was interested in quickly processing the asylum seekers.



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January 27, 2011

Indonesians charged with people-smuggling following Christmas Island wreck

Indonesians charged with people-smuggling following Christmas Island wreck

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Crime and law
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Three Indonesians have been charged with people-smuggling by Australian authorities after a shipwreck off Christmas Island last month. Over 50 people were killed when the vessel, carrying mainly Iraqi, Iranian & Kurdish asylum seekers, smashed against rocks on December 15 after its engine failed.

The trio, ages 22, 32 and 60, appeared in a Perth court charged with, “facilitating the bringing to Australia of a group of five or more persons,” according to police. The case, which is now adjourned for three weeks, could result in a 20 year prison sentence. The three Indonesians will reappear in court on 15 Febuary via video link. Their attourney, David McKenzie, stated that the men are “unhappy” and that the wreck was “a total tragedy and they’re very upset.”

A day earlier, an Australian Customs internal report cleared both the Customs authorities and the Navy of any blame, stating that all personnel acted appropriately and exercised good judgment. Eight recommendations have been made to prevent a similar incident, including the establishment of a land-based radar system to monitor northern maritime approaches to the island. The recommendations will be implemented by June 30, 2011.



Related News

  • “Many unaccounted for in Christmas Island boat incident” — Wikinews, December 15, 2010

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December 15, 2010

Many unaccounted for in Christmas Island boat incident

Many unaccounted for in Christmas Island boat incident

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Island (coloured yellow-top LH corner)
Image: Hoshie.

A boat travelling in rough seas capsized off the coast of Christmas Island early this morning. Inside the boat were approximately 70 asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq, many now of which are feared dead. Reports from Government sources indicate that 41 of the 75 asylum seekers were rescued. So far only 27 bodies have been recovered from the water, but authorities believe the death toll could rise to 50. The remainder of people were not accounted for. The incident is believed to have occurred at about 6:00am.

Residents of Christmas Island first attended the scene to assist in the rescue attempt. The residents rushed to the boat after hearing screams very early in the morning. They then went out and attempted to assist. Customs are believed to be attending the scene currently. Life jackets have been provided, but not every person on the boat has received one. Rough seas hampered rescue attempts. The boat, according to witnesses was upturned and surrounded by large quantities of debris after being smashed against rocks. It is located in the vicinity of Flying Fish Cove.

Gordon Thomson, president of the Christmas Island Shire stated that the incident was a “very bad situation”. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) expressed concern and sadness over the incident.

“We believe that far too many people are tragically losing their lives as they take desperate measures to escape conflict, persecution and poverty,” said the UNHCR in a statement on its website.

Christmas Island hosts an immigration center which is currently housing over 3,000 individuals seeking asylum.



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April 13, 2007

Wikinews Shorts: April 13, 2007

Wikinews Shorts: April 13, 2007 – Wikinews, the free news source

Wikinews Shorts: April 13, 2007

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A compilation of brief news reports for Friday, April 13, 2007.

XP expunged from 2008

Microsoft sign closeup.jpg

Microsoft has confirmed plans to discontinue sales of Windows XP from Jan 31st 2008, it has been revealed. This is despite limited customer uptake of the new Windows Vista operating system.

A spokesperson for Microsoft, Robert Epstien however reassured customers that support for XP is not ending yet though, BBC news quotes him as saying, “This is purely about availability of brand new licenses for brand new machines, We’ll continue to support XP for some considerable time.”

Sources


“No” to HIV migrants says Australian PM

John Howard May 2006.jpg

HIV positive migrants or refugees should be blocked from entering Australia according to statements made by Australian Prime Minister Howard.

In a radio interview in Melbourne, Mr. Howard was apparently quoted as stating, “My initial reaction is no,” he said. “There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases, but, prime facie – no,” Howard said in relation to the issue.

An angry reaction has come from charities involved with AIDS. Dr. Chris Lemoh, a specialist in infectious disease was quoted as as saying, “a hysterical overreaction, it mixes racism with a phobia about infectious disease”

Sources


Action needed to revive Science in UK

A report prepared for the UK Council of Industry and Higher Education, has stated that action is needed to halt the declining number of students opting for maths and science subjects.

Amongst the reports many recommendations, it has been suggested that A-Level students could be paid for passing exams in Maths and Science subjects.

Sources


‘Gagged’ MEPs speak out against Singapore

A group of European Parliament members (MEPs) has criticised Singapore from preventing them speaking at a forum on democracy.

Graham Watson a member of the group denied permission is quoted as saying: “I fear that, in this sense at least, it puts Singapore in a league with North Korea, Myanmar and the People’s Republic of China.”

Ignasi Guardans, another member of the group, added, “What has happened today proves that Singapore is an authoritarian state.”

Sources


Visa transactions experience ‘technical’ issue

Owing to technical issues, some European Visa customers may have had transactions declined due to a technical problem

Visa spokesperson Simon Kleine was quoted (BBC News) as saying: “We are currently experiencing some technical problems in our card transaction processing. In some cases this is resulting in card transactions being declined.”

However, Kleine was quick to reassure customers that “immediate action is being taken to overcome this problem and we hope to have a full service resumed as soon as possible.”

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August 21, 2006

Australia to detain Burmese boatpeople on Nauru

Australia to detain Burmese boatpeople on Nauru

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Location of remote island of Nauru, where Australia is sending 8 Burmese refugees

Eight Burmese boat people, who arrived off Western Australia’s Ashmore Reef last week, say they wish to claim refugee status. The group of 8 men, aged between 24 and 40, are being held in detention on Christmas Island by the Australian Federal Government. They will be sent to Nauru after identity interviews and medical checks are completed.

According to The Age newspaper, the men are from a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border, and may be from the Karen tribe, who are battling Burma’s brutal military Government. Karen rebels have been at war with the central Government for 57 years.

An Immigration department spokesman confirmed that the eight men claimed to be from Burma. Two of the men have contacted immigration lawyers, seeking assistance with asylum claims. David Manne, from Melbourne-based Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said the other six were likely to do the same. “There’s a very strong likelihood that they are genuine refugees,” he said.

The men were first spotted by the Australian Customs Service at Ashmore Reef, 610km north of Broome, WA on August 13. They were sent by Navy vessel to Christmas Island – 2,400 km northwest of Perth, WA. The men have been held since Friday as part of the Howard Government’s Pacific Solution to keep asylum seekers out of the country.

In 2005, the Department of Immigration began construction of an Immigration Reception and Processing Centre on Christmas Island, due for completion late in 2006. The facility is estimated to cost $210 million, and will contain 800 beds.

No Legal Recourse for Burmese

The news of the boat people’s arrival became public last week as Prime Minister John Howard scrapped controversial new migration laws. The proposed laws would have excised the Australian mainland for immigration purposes.

Burma

Ashmore Reef, already excised from Australia’s migration zone, means the men have no legal entitlement to be brought to Australia for processing. They have no access to the Australian court system to argue their claims or contest the rulings of the Immigration Department.

Mr Manne said he was concerned that the circumstances of the men’s confinement could hamper their attempts to communicate with lawyers. He said the Burmese men should be afforded the same rights as the West Papuans or Vietnamese asylum-seekers who recently made it to Australian shores. “It’s absolutely crucial these people be given a fair go, so that they can actually speak with us properly about the issues,” he said. Mr Manne says he has made several requests of the Department of Immigration in Canberra.

“They’re asylum seekers… they believe that they’d be persecuted if sent to Burma, and we have agreed to act on their behalf.” He was unable to say whether the group was dropped off by people smugglers, as Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone claims.

“What we do know is they’re seeking refugee status, that is, protection from brutal human rights abuse,” he said. The Burmese regime has recently waged an aggressive attack on Karen insurgents – forcing thousands of villagers to hide in the jungle or seek refuge in Thailand. There are 140,000 refugees in seven camps along the Thai-Burma border.

Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle says the government must allow the Burmese group to be brought to Australia to process the asylum-seeker’s claims. “The government needs to ensure that all asylum seekers are offered legal support,” she said. “The best way to ensure the Burmese asylum seekers have full access to their lawyer is to bring them to Australia while their asylum claims are assessed.”

Nauru

File:Nauru-airphoto.jpg
Nauru

Meanwhile the near-bankrupt Nauru Government has urged Australia to “speed up asylum seeker processing” in their country. Nauru says Australia is taking far too long to process asylum seekers. Currently two refugees remain on Nauru – both Iraqi men. The men have been held in detention on the remote tiny island for five years.

According to The Age, the Nauru Government has approved a plan to impose financial penalties on Australia if asylum seekers are forced to languish on the near-bankrupt island. The report says if they have not been processed and either returned or resettled within three months, their visas will have to be renewed each month, with the cost increasing by $500 for each renewal.

Nauru’s Foreign Minister David Adeang raised serious concerns about the mental state of the detainees. He says Muhammad Faisal’s condition worsened sharply after he was re-interviewed by ASIO. Mr Adeang has asked for the Government to evacuate the Mr Faisal immediately, he says he is also concerned about the mental health of the other Iraqi man left on Nauru. The Australian Government claims advice from ASIO that the man may be a “security threat.”

Nauru is the world’s smallest island nation, covering just 21 km². Since 2001 it has accepted aid from the Australian government. In exchange for this aid, Nauru houses an ‘offshore’ detention centre for Australia.

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February 27, 2006

Australian Prime Minister blames asylum seekers for \”Children Overboard\” scandal

Australian Prime Minister blames asylum seekers for “Children Overboard” scandal

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Monday, February 27, 2006

The “Children Overboard” controversy of 2001.
Image: Government of Australia, Defence Department Media Centre.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the refugees he falsely accused of throwing their children into the ocean deserve no apology because they did the next worst thing – “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water”.

The “children overboard” affair became a controversial focus in the 2001 federal election campaign, when the Prime Minister was roundly accused of cynically exploiting Australia’s fears of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum-seekers. Mr Howard and senior ministers falsely claimed on the eve of the election that children had been thrown in the water to guarantee their rescue by the Australian navy.

The boat sank, and the crew of HMAS Adelaide saved 219 asylum-seekers. The then Defence Minister, Peter Reith, released dubious photos of the rescue as evidence that children had been thrown in the water. The Australian government only corrected the record after the election.

Mr Howard says: “They irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water. I’m sorry, if I had have been told definitively, if I had been told that that story was completely wrong, I would have said so, but I wasn’t,” he says in the book ‘The Howard Factor’.

“And my last act before the election was to put that video in the public domain so that I wasn’t accused of concealing it, because it was ambiguous. Watching that video, you couldn’t tell whether people were being thrown in the water or not, it was just impossible. But after all, they did sink the boat.” Mr Howard said the refugees “don’t carry any visible signs of being demonised”.

Figures from the Department of Immigration (DIMIA) about the 219 mainly Iraqi asylum-seekers, shows the group wound up with the highest success rate for all refugee claims made under the so-called Pacific solution. DIMIA 96.5 per cent of the Iraqis who were awarded humanitarian protection, though most have since been settled in New Zealand, not Australia.

Refugee rights advocate, Jack Smit, from the West Australian-based group Project SafeCom says: “Refugees don’t sink damned boats, Mr Howard!” He said in a media statement: “The Prime Minister remains one of the very few politicians in Australia who maintains the slandering descriptive word ‘illegals’ to denote boatpeople.”

“Refugees rarely sink their boats,” said Mr Smit, “Usually it is the people smugglers who do the sinking, sometimes the sinking is due to physical sabotage by sting operators working from countries such as Indonesia, and sometimes these sting operators are contracted by countries such as Australia.”

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February 3, 2006

Indonesia warns Australia over West Papuan asylum seekers

Indonesia warns Australia over West Papuan asylum seekers

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Friday, February 3, 2006

West Papuan Independence Flag

Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia has warned that relations between the two neighbors could be “strained” if the Howard Government grants political asylum to a group of refugees from the troubled Indonesian province of West Papua.

The 43 West Papuans, pro-independence activists and their families, arrived on Cape York, Australia on January 18 after a five-day voyage in an outrigger canoe. They were later taken to an immigration detention facility on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

A spokesman for the group says they fear they will be killed if returned to Indonesian-controlled Papua, where a pro-independence movement has been operating since the 1960s.

Jakarta’s ambassador warned of strained relations if they are granted asylum. Indonesia’s ambassador, Teuku Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb, said the group had nothing to fear from Indonesian authorities. Asked if granting asylum to the group would strain Australia/Indonesia relations, Thayeb said: “I would hope it will not, but it certainly would have an effect. That’s why we have to manage this together and find a solution.” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also guaranteed the group’s safety should they return.

Queensland National Senator Barnaby Joyce, who met with the 43 refugees on Christmas Island, said they appear to have a genuine asylum claim and had been persecuted because of their Christian beliefs. “There are documented cases of members within their families being shot,” he said. “There’s certainly on the record experiences of them being jailed and tortured so I think they would be under risk if they went back,” he said.

The group, which includes seven children, arrived carrying a banner accusing Indonesia of terrorism and genocide in the province. Indonesian troops have been repeatedly accused of rights abuses in Papua province, which was taken over by Jakarta in 1963. Over 100,000 Papuans, one-sixth of the population, have died in military operations.

Major landmasses of Indonesia

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said, “if they ask for protection we will consider the claim appropriately and if it is appropriate to offer it, we will offer it.”

The leader of the asylum seekers, Herman Wainggai, says the Indonesian military treat indigenous Papuans “like animals”. Mr Thayeb disagreed: “We have changed fundamentally within ourselves,” he said.

Indonesia offered Papua special autonomy in 2001 in an effort to quell unrest from the Melanesian population in the resource-rich area. Mr Wainggai described the Papuan autonomy as a “sham”, and said there have been many reports of the Indonesian military “murdering and raping people, and destroying villages since autonomy came into force.”

Papua controversially became an Indonesia province after a vote in 1969 overseen by the United Nations called the “Act of Free Choice”. The Act of Free Choice was drafted by the UN and gave every adult the right to vote on the issue of independence. However, only 1022 people hand-picked by the Indonesian authorities were allowed to vote. Reinforcing the dubious nature of the poll, the voters gave 100 per cent approval to become part of Indonesia.

Indonesia’s ambassador said there was no reason for the West Papuans to seek asylum as they were not criminals.

The Australian Greens said the Indonesian ambassador’s assurances that West Papuan asylum seekers would be safe if they returned home should not be believed.

“The new Indonesian Ambassador’s assurances about the safety of West Papuan refugees if they are returned to Indonesia are not credible,” Senator Nettle said. “The escalating repression of the independence movement and generalised suppression of the people of West Papua is well documented.”

“The Australian government should not give in to Indonesian pressure,” Senator Nettle said.

Senator Joyce said the group of native West Papuans were Christian, which meant they are ethnically, religiously and politically isolated after an influx of Indonesians to the province.


Related news

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: 43 West Papuans seek asylum
  • “West Papuan refugees may face death if deported” — Wikinews, January 31, 2006
  • “West Papuans refugees forced to fly 4000ks despite tuberculosis fears” — Wikinews, January 27, 2006
  • “West Papua refugees sent to Australia’s Christmas Island Detention Centre” — Wikinews, January 19, 2006
  • “40 Asylum seekers missing off Torres Strait” — Wikinews, January 18, 2006
  • Missing asylum seekers found off Cape York” — Wikinews, January 18, 2006

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January 31, 2006

West Papuan refugees may face death if deported

West Papuan refugees may face death if deported

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: 43 West Papuans seek asylum

Refugee rights advocates and Australian Parliamentarians on Christmas Island have expressed alarm at the Indonesian Government’s direct request to Prime Minister John Howard for the return of 43 Papuan asylum seekers, who arrived on Cape York by boat on January 18th. Rob Wesley-Smith from Australians for a Free West Papua said the asylum seekers escaped because their lives were threatened, and would certainly face death if forced to return.

The Australian Government’s Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has assured Mr Howard that the group will not be prosecuted if they are returned.

The West Papuan asylum seekers are currently being detained in an Australian Immigration Detention Centre on the remote Christmas Island, 2,600 kilometres off Perth, Western Australia. The group claims genocide at the hands of the Indonesian Government.

The Federal government flew the 36 adults and seven children to Christmas Island, where the families were put into immigration department housing and the single men in the detention centre.

Rob Wesley-Smith says the asylum seekers should be dealt with according to Australian law.

“The people have escaped… because their lives are at risk,” he said. “Their fathers have been killed, one of them was in jail for a number of years himself, and this is the reality of the situation in West Papua – so no way should they go back – they’d be killed.”

Supporters of the “West Papuan 43” say that the West Papuans “are entitled to the support of community groups and their fellow country people. They should also have easy access to translators, medical care and independent legal assistance.”

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee has called on the Government to plea for the immediate release of the asylum seekers into the Australian community, and for their claims to be processed fairly and as expeditiously as possible.

Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone said it was not always possible to keep women and children out of detention.

The New Zealand Green Party has called for some of the asylum seekers to be processed in New Zealand.

Case for asylum

Mr Wesley-Smith says they have legitimate claims for refugee status. “There’s evidence that some have been mistreated and tortured and they’re a cohesive group and strongly politically motivated, and that there is no way that they would be seen as a group to be sent back – that that’s just a preliminary assessment,” he said.

The 43 asylum seekers told of graphic, disturbing accounts of beatings and torture by Indonesian military, during interviews with Immigration officers over the past week.

According to The Melbourne Age newspaper, an Immigration source said the refugees had a “very strong case” for refugee status. “Some of what has come out of the interviews has been absolutely heart-wrenching,” the source said. The group described accounts of vicious bashings while in prison and attacks on villages and livestock in retaliation for the Papuans agitating for independence.

Despite human rights organisations and academic reports, detailing thousands of deaths and even “genocide”, Indonesia says “abuses no longer occur in West Papua.”

Under the control of the Indonesian military an estimated 100,000 West Papuans have lost their lives over the last four decades. Two days after the West Papuan refugees arrived in Australia, Indonesian troops opened fire in the Paniai district, killing a 13-year-old and wounding two others.

West Papuan leaders and academics say that the indigenous people may be wiped out because of new threats such as an HIV/Aids epidemic and the unchecked environmental devastation caused the exploitation of forestry and mineral resources.

Australian government responses

The Australian government have yet to make a decision on the asylum seekers, the general affairs counsellor of the Australian Embassy said in Jakarta.

“There is no decision yet, not at all,” Elizabeth O’Neill said. She said verification and interviews by Australian authorities were “standard procedure” and valid for anybody arriving in the country without official documents. The process, she said, was in line with United Nations Conventions and Australian laws.

She said the two governments have had good relations since the Bali bombing in October 2002 and the tsunami in December 2004. Reports in Jakarta media say John Howard has given assurance to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that the handling of the West Papuan group, who’s territory is under Indonesian authority, would not disturb the relation between the two countries.

“Prime Minister Howard has even reiterated his support that Papua is part of the Indonesian sovereignty, and promised to have close communication both at the high level, ministerial and official levels to handle the case without disturbing our relation,” said a spokesman.

A Department of Immigration spokesman said lawyers were currently interviewing the West Papuans on Christmas Island about their asylum claims.

Background: Australia’s Pacific Solution

The Papuans’ boat was only the third boat of asylum seekers to arrive on the mainland since 2001. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are sent to remote detention centres for processing, in what the Howard Government calls the Pacific Solution.

Australia’s borders are protected by mandatory detention legislation. The Australian government detains all persons entering the country by boat without a valid visa, including children. Since the late 1990’s unathorised arrivals have been transferred to one of the Australian immigration detention facilities on the Australian mainland, or to Manus Island, Nauru or Christmas Island as part of the Pacific Solution. Mandatory detention remains a very controversial aspect of Australian immigration policy.

A High Court decision in 2005 means that detention can also be indefinite – the Court ruled that the government had the right to keep a Palestinian asylum seeker in detention, even without any prospect of release.

Greens senator Kerry Nettle visited Christmas Island at the weekend and talked with some of the Papuans. She called on the Government to move the group to the Australian mainland, where there is an established West Papuan community.

Sources

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