rc-am on Wed, 1 Mar 2000 18:39:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> A fortnight in Fortress Australia

"No more refugees, slave labour and population control - A fortnight in
Fortress Australia"

Thursday, 2 March 2000.

Coming just weeks after new laws mean that even successful applicants for
asylum in Australia who have arrived here without a visa will only ever be
granted a three-year stay and, unlike other residents of Australia, will
not be entitled to access Medicare and welfare, last week the Minister for
Immigration instructed Department staff that to freeze offshore
humanitarian and refugee visas, as well as some family reunion visas for an
indefinite period.

The Government has claimed this is a response to increasing numbers of boat
arrivals, which is little more than an attempt to further inflame the
racist hysteria about 'boat people' and 'illegal immigrants' who are
predominantly from Asia and the Middle East.  The presumption that the
reasons for why people flee countries can be accommodated within an
abstract quota system makes a mockery of the very notion of asylum.  Since
1998, the Department of Immigration has linked onshore and offshore
applications in such a way that increases in the former category mean
decreases in the latter.  Moreover, the rate at which asylum-seekers are
deported has increased dramatically over the last decade, as has the
proportion of those who are refused asylum.

The group of refugees from Kosov@ have all been deported to Kosov@, hurried
along their way ostensibly to make way for refugees from East Timor. The
group of East Timorese refugees reluctantly evacuated by the Australian
Government from the UN compound in Dili were forcibly deported last week as
Interfet troops returned to a ticker-tape parade.  These two groups of
refugees were only granted a short stay in Australia on condition that they
would be unable to apply for asylum and would be held in detention camps.
In the same week, the Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock boasted that
of the 1,452 asylum-seekers from China, 1,447 had been deported.

Since 1992, successive governments have put through legislation which
restricts eligibility, appeal, and legal representation and access to the

Cheap rural workers.

Federal Cabinet has also been considering proposals to use asylum-seekers
held in detention camps as fruitpickers and rural labourers, where payment
will be used to defray the costs of their imprisonment.  Whilst the
Government has refused to rule out the use of imprisoned asylum-seekers,
the Minister has cited the difficulties of organising security,
transportation and the like as possible obstacles.

Nonetheless, there seems to have been a de facto decision to do the same
without having to provide even the barest accommodation and food that was
available in the detention camps.  According to reports, around 1,000
people recently held in the Curtin detention camp will be moved to the
rural Victorian town of Shepparton. According to the Shepparton Mayor,
there are currently around 3,000 refugees from Iraq living in Shepparton
already, many of whom rely on credit and charity due to up to 3 month
delays in the processing of the Community Refugee Support Scheme grant,
which is nonetheless only available to those who were granted offshore
applications.  The estimated 1,000 released from detention will not be able
to access welfare payments under new laws.  The Mayor of Shepparton, Chris
Hazelman, said, "A lot of refugees are coming here without resources and,
whether they arrived (in Australia) illegally or otherwise, they are here
in our community and they are living in Third World conditions."

Strong relationship with Chinese Government's population control policies.

The Department of Immigration this week celebrated the deportation of a
further 40 people to China. "The removal of another 40 boat people this
weekend demonstrates the Government's commitment to removing people who
have no right to remain in Australia," Ruddock said in a statement. "In the
past four years, 1,452 boat people have arrived illegally from China and
1,447 of those have been returned home."

Ruddock went on to say, "These returns underscore the strong relationship
and co-operation hat exists between the Australian and Chinese governments
and shows the futility of undertaking such a perilous journey."  The
message is quite clear: the Australian Government does not accept that
there is a basis for asylum claims from China.  Recently, the Australian
Government ruled out granting asylum on the grounds of opposition to the
Chinese Government's population control policies. At least one pregnant
woman is already known to have been deported to China, with later reports
indicating that she was forced to undergo an abortion.


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