Refugees' rights all that matter

OFFSHORE or onshore, the change in asylum seeker policy makes no difference, a local refugee sponsor said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled a new strategy to tackle the influx of asylum seekers to Australia last week, announcing the possibility of establishing an offshore refugee processing centre in East Timor, Indonesia or New Zealand.

The plan, which has been compared with the former right-wing government’s Pacific Solution, aims to process asylum seekers for potential refugee status offshore and deter people smugglers from leaving their ‘port of origin in the first place’.

Sanctuary Northern Rivers is a refugee support group which sponsors people living in African refugee camps to migrate to Australia.

Sanctuary president Michael Douglas believes the proposed processing strategy is much of the same.

“In relation to the benefits of having offshore processing, it doesn’t matter where they are processed to be honest,” he said.

“Whether they are processed onshore or offshore, I’m not involved in the politics, just as long as the (refugees’) rights are upheld.

“We are aware things have tightened up. People we have sponsored have been refused visas and we are suspicious this is because of the issue to process people in detention.”

There are currently 2508 (including crew members) asylum seekers in the detention centre on Christmas Island after some people were relocated this week to ease overcrowding.

Federal Member for Page,Janelle Saffin, has defended the new approach to asylum seekers saying the Opposition’s proposal to turn the boats around is ‘unworkable and irresponsible.’

For the 2009-2010 period Australia allocated 13,750 places for refugees coming to Australia, including 7750 places allocated to those classified under the Special Humanitarian Program and onshore processed refugees.

SHP visas are granted to those living outside of their home country at risk of persecution, and who are sponsored by an Australia citizen or business – like Sanctuary Northern Rivers – to migrate to Australia.

Mr Douglas believes, despite Prime Minister Gillard’s aim to stem the flow of asylum seeker boats coming to Australia, the policy should include more allowances for people to claim SHP visas.

“The point about Australia is we have a legal obligation if someone arrives and seeks asylum, then we are obliged to consider their legitimacy,” he said. “Rather then take these refugees out of the 13,750 places we should take it out of the total 150,000 immigrants that come to Australia.”

Australia is a member of the UN Refugee Convention, under which it has accepted a legal responsibility to provide protection to people fleeing their home country because of persecution.

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