Australia takes hard-line refugee stance

2011-08-06 10:29

Sydney - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Saturday that reports of a hunger strike among Malaysia-bound asylum seekers would not deter her from the controversial refugee swap plan.

Immigration officials played down claims from refugee activists of the protest among the first group preparing to set off for Malaysia under Gillard's deal with the Southeast Asian nation.

"There is no one on hunger strike of which we are aware," an immigration spokesperson said.

"Just because someone misses a meal or two does not mean they are on voluntary starvation."

Refugee activist Ian Rintoul said a man from the group had made brief contact via mobile phone to plead for help and announce that some people had begun a hunger strike to protest against their expulsion to Malaysia.

Gillard said she was "aware" of the reports but they would not sway her determination to see the newly-finalised policy through.

"As we've made clear all along, the returns to Malaysia aren't a question of volunteering, this will be done," she told reporters.

"Our aim is to smash the people smugglers' business model, our aim is to not see people put themselves in boats and be at risk of losing their lives," she added.

Under the plan, signed off in Malaysia last month, Australia will send 800 boatpeople to the Asian nation in exchange for 4 000 of its registered refugees in a move intended to send a deterrent message to people smugglers.

The United Nations children's agency slammed the scheme as "inhumane" on Friday after it emerged that 18 of the 55 people in the first contingent were minors, 13 of whom were believed to be travelling without a parent or guardian.

Gillard said Canberra had "worked through" the issue with the UN and there were "protections" set out in the agreement with Malaysia, noting also that there would be children among the 4 000 refugees resettled in Australia.

The immigration department said a departure date had not yet been set for the group but they would be transferred "as soon as practicable."

Refugees are a thorny political issue in Australia although relatively small numbers of boatpeople make for its shores by world standards.
The government has a mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers who arrive by boat through a popular people-smuggling corridor from Indonesia.

A record influx of almost 7 000 arrivals last year has put the system under pressure, with detainees rioting at a number of centres and processing times blowing out to 18 months or longer.

  • Hedda-Louise - 2011-08-06 10:47

    Congralutations Australia! It shows you have guts,unlike our government who open the doors for every criminal.Less than 10% of refugees today are really refugee cases.Why not tackle the systems in the countries of origin instead of taking in more and more till the whole system collapses?! SA should get a wake-up call too

      Met - 2011-08-06 15:51

      I hope that they will be more lenient to white SAs

      Real Deal - 2011-08-07 02:50

      typical oz rasists. If they were white it would be a different story. But because they a harded skinned - they put them on a boat and make them to the next continent.

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-08-06 10:55

    Go Australia!! Well said! It is time that Africa stop being dependand on the colonials they seem to hate and accuse so often. Somehow, SA Gov has no idea hot to deal with similar situations!

      tootsie - 2011-08-06 12:27

      WTF did you even read the article? Last time I checked Malaysia was nowhere near Africa. This country has really produced loads of woodwork failures.

      Real Deal - 2011-08-07 01:06

      Please send this guy a map

  • knalpot - 2011-08-06 11:02

    You go Aussie, I wish South Africa would adopt the same policy

      Dmitri - 2011-08-06 12:13

      Actually, it has taken OZ quite a few years to wake up. They have followed NZ with regards to this when NZ refused a boatload of Sri Lankans. Well done eventually OZ. I agree with these posters here. SA government - do your job !!!

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-08-06 12:18

    Well done again! Packing my bags...

      jowza - 2011-08-06 12:24


      Real Deal - 2011-08-07 01:04

      bye bye. Good riddens and you wont be missed by anyone

  • aubreym - 2011-08-06 12:28

    People must learn to stay in their countries. We have faced hardships but did not run to other countries. This is a wake up call for RSA to tighten its immigration laws. There were no problems before 1994 now we have become a charity state at the expense of own citizens.

  • Heks - 2011-08-06 18:51

    Yea, wish I could leave this country and become a refugee in Oz!

      Real Deal - 2011-08-07 01:05

      a sheep suit is a sure way in

  • Soy - 2011-08-13 05:13

    Please do not send these children back to the desperate situations they escaped from! Are you willing to sacrifice these children just to send a message to the human traffickers? I understand these countries must regain control of the violence and care for their own people, but, truthfully, I do not see it happening. It is a scary thought and I do not have a solution. But I can offer the refugees hope:

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