Four Tampa refugees let in after second journey
Jewel Topsfield, smh
March 28, 2009
FOUR asylum seekers who were rescued by the Tampa in 2001 but sent back to Afghanistan during one of the most controversial chapters in Australia's political history have been found to be genuine refugees.
One of the men, Asmatullah Mohammady, said he was so desperate to escape the Taliban he risked his life in a second boat journey with people smugglers, despite fearing he would again be rejected by Australia.
He said 11 other Tampa survivors - who had failed to win refugee status after months on Nauru - were killed by the Taliban when they returned to Afghanistan.
The assertions have prompted calls for an inquiry into the Howard government's so-called Pacific solution, introduced after the Tampa's arrival, under which asylum seekers intercepted before they reached Australia were processed on Nauru, or Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
The immigration lawyer David Manne called for an inquiry into the harm caused by the Howard government's policy, which excluded asylum seekers who arrived illegally from access to Australian law, rights and protection. "People were placed under enormous pressure that amounted to constructive coercion to return to situations that were extremely unsafe," he said.
The four Afghans are the first asylum seekers on board the Tampa who were told by the previous government they were not owed protection. They were reassessed after a second attempt to reach Australia.
They were among 73 Middle Eastern boat people resettled in Australia this month.
Mr Mohammady, who was a member of a communist party, fled Afghanistan because he was threatened by the extremist Muslim mujahideen. In August 2001 he was caught in a political storm when the distressed wooden fishing vessel carrying 433 asylum seekers was rescued by the Tampa shortly before a federal election.
The Howard government refused the Norwegian ship permission to enter Australia.
Mr Mohammady said that after 17 months on Nauru he was sent back to Afghanistan with about $1000.
He worked as a builder for a foreign company in Lashkar Gah, in southern Afghanistan, but fled after two colleagues were killed by the Taliban for working for "foreign criminals".
"When I left Lashkar Gah, I heard from friends they had destroyed my home and I knew my life was in danger," he said.
He wanted to work as a builder and hoped his wife and six children could join him.