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Safer alternatives to boats - we can save lives

Media Release
Christine Milne 2 Aug 2012

Leader of the Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne, Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Pamela Curr, campaign coordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre held a press conference today to launch a new video featuring Afghan refugee and human rights spokesperson Najeeba Wazefadost.

They commented on the Greens' and the refugee sector's push for safer pathways for refugees ahead of the Expert Panel handing down their recommendations next week, and call on the government to compromise on their obsession with deterrents and punishment.

Please see abridged the transcript of the press conference below. The link to the full audio, including Q&A, as well as a link to the new video, and a link to the Greens' submission to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers are included below the text.

 

Christine Milne:  

The Australian Greens have long taken the view that we need to recognise that a lot of people around the world in desperate situations are going to flee appalling regimes and seek asylum in our country.

Deterrence has never worked and is not working now.

The Australian Greens approach this issue by saying that we need to make sure that desperate people are not punished any more than they are already suffering and that instead we create safe pathways so that they can resume a normal life and engage in society in a really productive and fruitful way.

We want to make sure that people seeking asylum are supported and helped and offered the kind of response that any compassionate person would give in a country which prides itself as being the country of the fair go, of decency.

We've always prioritised making people as safe as they possibly can be and that's why we've prioritised issues like trying to increase our intake in Australia so that people aren't forced into the desperate situation of having to make choices about getting onto rickety boats. We've also said that we need to codify safety of lives at sea obligations so that we rescue people as soon as we are aware that they are in trouble. The Australian Greens have worked hard, my colleague Sarah Hanson-Young has worked with refugee advocates like Pamela Curr for a very long time to try to make sure that we offer the most humanitarian and decent policies when it comes to desperate people seeking asylum in our country

To that end we have cooperated with the government. In fact we advocated a multi-party committee with experts to try to find a way that provides safer pathways for people seeking asylum so that they don't find themselves in ever more desperate situations. And to that end we have been working to produce materials so that people get a better understanding of the issues facing desperate people as they wait in Indonesia and Malaysia

Sarah Hanson-Young: 

The video that we're launching today tells the story of Najeeba - a young Afghan woman who arrived on the Tampa as a child and was detained in Nauru. She tells a very powerful story about how, for her and her family, it was between life and death that decision to board a boat to come to Australia.

There was no other safe option available to her and that is precisely the story I was told when I went to Indonesia only several weeks ago. It is precisely the story that refugees who are currently in Australian detention centres tell advocates like Pam and others over and over again that they don't want to have to take that dangerous boat journey. They don't want to have to engage people smugglers but while there is no other safe option, that is the only avenue that is available to them.

It is time for the Government to start compromising on delivering a humanitarian solution. Julia Gillard has taken the route of following Tony Abbott down the dark tunnel to the bottom of the barrel on asylum seekers. The only options that the Government and Opposition are putting on the table are political solutions for political parties. They are not solutions for people and they are not solutions to save refugees' lives. It is about pushing people anywhere but here -out of sight, out of mind; away from Australia as soon as possible. That is not the essence of the Refugee Convention and it is not showing leadership and the courage to do the right thing when people like Najeeba and many others come to Australia because they are fleeing some of the worse, oppressive, nasty, brutal regimes in the world.

Najeeba said to me when I first met her 'Sarah, if Australia wants to stop asylum seekers from coming to Australia then you'd have to be nastier than the Taliban.'

The expert panel is handing down their findings next week. The Greens have put forward our submission, outlining our third option, a third way for providing a new regional action plan and real options for saving the lives of refugees. Many many refugee advocates around the country have also put in their submissions.

Pamela Curr:                 

I am here today speaking for the human rights sector. We support the Greens' position because we want to see lives saved. We are talking to the people who are in Indonesia and we know the refugees who have made it here, their experiences, we don't want to see those continue. That is why the human rights sector put in submissions and we called for life saving measures and they were indeed to increase the humanitarian intake but to increase it particularly from our region because we know that there are a couple of thousand people in Indonesia who are waiting. There's 1200 people waiting who have been found to be refugees by UNHCR. If they do not get a settlement place they will be on boats risking their lives. It's for that reason that the human rights sector is supporting the Greens' position which is about saving lives.

I attended two of the sessions in Melbourne with the expert panel, both with the sector and also with independent people and I can tell you that there was no enthusiasm for either Nauru or Malaysia. Both require that asylum seekers get into dangerous boats, put their lives at risk before those sorts of solutions can be enacted and they're not solutions. We know from last time people sat on Nauru until they went mad.

Malaysia- who would want to go to Malaysia with their human rights record? We've got to find another way.

 

 

 

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