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Vol. 76/No. 33      September 10, 2012

Australian gov’t reopens
offshore detention camps
SYDNEY—In mid-August the federal parliament adopted a Labor government plan to reinstate offshore detention camps for refugees coming to Australia by boat. Most of the asylum seekers are from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

They will be held for indefinite periods on the Pacific island of Nauru, as well as Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. The minority government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard secured backing from the conservative opposition for the about-face.

The Australian-built immigration detention centers on Nauru and Manus islands were closed under the previous Labor government led by Kevin Rudd. Rudd had won the 2007 elections pledging to end the use of these off-shore camps, which had been introduced as part of the “Pacific Solution” in 2001 by the conservative government under John Howard.

Gillard’s government has faced growing pressure as the capitalist media has headlined increasing numbers of asylum-seeker boats heading to remote Indian Ocean Australian territories, and opposition Liberal politicians have complained of the weakening of Australia’s “border protection.”

Gillard first attempted to reintroduce offshore processing in neighboring Timor Leste and then Malaysia. The Malaysian government agreed, but the Australian High Court ruled in August 2011 that the deal breached United Nations provisions.

The Gillard government set up an “expert panel,” headed by former armed forces chief Angus Houston, that proposed Aug. 13 reopening the Nauru and Manus detention centers, and continuing to explore the Malaysia option as well.

Tens of thousands apply for refugee status or attempt to get into the country every year. Houston’s panel recommended that the annual quota for accepting refugees be boosted to 27,000 within five years, double the current quota of 13,750.

Asylum-seekers sent to Nauru will be stuck in tents until the derelict camp there, which closed down in 2007, is repaired. Nauru has a population of 9,000, with shortages of land and water.

In the past decade, almost 1,000 people have died at sea on overcrowded fishing boats in attempts to reach Australian territory. Some 20,000 succeeded in the perilous sea voyages, largely from neighboring Indonesia in the past 10 years. Boats now also embark from Sri Lanka across the Indian Ocean.

Nick Riemer, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, which has organized regular protests for refugee rights around the country, released a statement Aug. 13 denouncing “outsourcing Australia’s responsibilities to poorer, less-equipped neighbours. People desperate enough to sacrifice everything to get on a boat … should be welcomed into the community.”
Related articles:
‘Undocumented and unafraid,’ immigrant youth line up across US
Communist League candidate in Australia defends asylum-seekers
UndocuBus tours South for ‘Jobs, justice, dignity’
Legalize undocumented workers!  
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