Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Oil rig Afghans cannot apply for refugee status

April 22, 2009, SMH

TWENTY-NINE of the asylum seekers on the boat that exploded last week will not be allowed to immediately apply for refugee status because they were taken to an oil rig in territory which is excised from Australia.

But 13 of the less seriously injured group who were transferred directly by sea to Darwin will be treated more favourably and can apply for refugee status and appeal if their application is rejected.

The development came as it emerged last night that the navy was on high alert for another interception.

Government sources said another boatload of asylum seekers was expected to enter Australian waters as early as today.

The boat, which the Herald reported on Saturday had been tracked by authorities since the middle of last week, is believed to have about 110 people on board.

Its arrival will re-energise the political fight over border protection that began last week with the explosion of the boat, SIEV 36, and the loss of five lives.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said the oil rig Front Puffin, to which 29 of the mostly Afghan men from the SIEV 36 were taken before being flown to Australia, was an excised offshore place.

He said the 13 others "will be treated as mainland arrivals as they did not enter Australia at an excised offshore place".

The ruling came after the Government sought legal advice on the status of the men.

It could mean that relatives among the men will be treated differently.

The oil rig is one of the territories excised from the mainland by the Howard government in 2001 to make it harder for asylum seekers to resettle in Australia. A person arriving on an excised territory does not have the right to apply for refugee status, which if approved means they can resettle in Australia.

The Government can block any application for refugee status by people who arrive on excised territories including Christmas Island, where the men would have been taken if the boat had not exploded.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said Indonesia's decision to extradite the notorious people smuggler Hadi Ahmadi to Australia was an example of how to tackle the growing flow of asylum seekers.

As the Opposition differed internally over whether to return to one of the more severe polices of the Howard government, Mr Rudd announced that Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had approved on Monday night the extradition of the dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen.

Mr Ahmadi, arrested in Indonesia last June at the Rudd Government's request, stands accused of bringing more than 900 people to Australia in four separate boat trips between April and August 2001.

"Prosecuting people smugglers is the most effective way of dealing with the problem of illegal movements of persons around South-East Asia and more broadly," Mr Rudd said.

Facing internal dissent, the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, qualified his previous call that "the reintroduction of temporary protection visas should be high on the agenda".

Mr Turnbull maintained that there should be a different category of visas for asylum seekers arriving by boat but not necessarily the same as temporary protection visas.

His qualification came after moderate Liberals complained.

The Victorian MP Russell Broadbent rang Mr Turnbull while the former Liberal MP Bruce Baird said "we have moved on as a country" and, if there were a return to the past, many MPs "would find it totally unacceptable".

Mr Broadbent told the Herald temporary protection visas did not work as a deterrent but he agreed other options should be explored.

The former immigration minister Kevin Andrews, who is in charge of the Coalition's policy development, said temporary protection visas, as part of a combination of measures, did work.

He advocated the party either retain them as policy or develop something similar.

"It should be one of the matters that we consider as part of a suite of measures to discourage people smuggling," he said.

Mr Rudd said the Coalition policy was one of "chaos, confusion and opportunism".