28 Jun 2013

Australian minister decried for refugee claims

4:55 pm on 28 June 2013

The spokesperson for an Australian agency helping asylum seekers is appalled by comments from the Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, calling for tougher laws to stop people qualifying for refugee status.

Mr Carr claimed that the thousands of people arriving in Australian waters by boat are not genuine refugees but are from majority religions or ethnic groups and are really economic migrants.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's Pamela Curr told Don Wiseman the claims are baseless.

PAMELA CURR: If we look at the evidence as to who is coming to Australia by boat, we see the largest numbers are Hazaras from Afghanistan, followed by Tamils from Sri Lanka, increasing numbers of Iraqis - Kurdish people out of Iraq, Iran - and there are Iranians. These are the main countries from which our asylum seekers are coming. Then there's smaller groups - the Rohingyas from Burma. If we look at each of those groups, it's not economic consequences driving them out. We look at countries where there is conflict based on political allegiance and religious affiliation, and for that reason people are fleeing. And if we look at the refugee convention we see that the five refugee grounds embrace people fleeing persecution based on their membership of certain groups, their political affiliation or their religious grouping. So Senator Carr, really, is trying to spin something that just won't wash.

DON WISEMAN: The suggestion that the refugee determination process is somehow soft and needs to be tightened up, this would be seen as remarkable by a lot of Australians, i'd imagine.

PC: I work in an agency where we have five paid lawyers and hundreds of volunteer lawyers. And I can tell you that it is very, very difficult to get refugee visas. It is the hardest visa to get. It is nonsensical to say that somehow we're giving them away to people who do not warrant them. And the inescapable fact is that still over 90% of the people who arrive by boat are found to be refugees. After going through an exhaustive snakes and ladders game, the government cannot deny them visas, as much as they would like, because these people have proven, valid evidence for their claims.

DW: Australia, of course, is going into election mode and he's playing to an electorate, i guess.

PC: Very much so. There are a huge number of seats important to any government in an election in Western Sydney. And it is unfortunate that we've not had the sort of principled political leadership that encourages the Australian people to recognise that refugees and asylum seekers are a fact of life. They are a fact of flawed politics and war, and Australia cannot think that we have a right to create a Great Wall of China around our country and lock out people who wish to seek asylum. We have a process, we've signed international agreements, we are part of the global good citizenry of the world, and it's time we grew up and acted like it.