Written by Bella Dalima
05 Jul, 2014 | 5:53 pm
With Australia facing international condemnation over the government’s handling of two reported boats carrying at least 200 purported Sri Lankan asylum seekers, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has maintained that Australia is abiding by it’s international obligations.
In an interview with Australia’s Public Broadcaster, ABC, Bishop however, did not confirm the existence of the two boats, maintaining her government’s policy of ‘not commenting on, on-water operations’.
Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop : We don’t discuss operational matters, we don’t discuss on water operational matters, and we certainly don’t flag our intentions to the people smuggling trade, This is a criminal trade and we’re determined to stamp it out.
Question: Ok, barbecue the United Nations for one, certainly thinks that international law could have been broken in this case, they think that it has happened, they’ve recently in the last few minutes, put out a statement condemning that action. Are you in breach of international law, if a transfer like that takes place?
Julie Bishop: Australia abides by its international obligations and will continue to do so. But we will also restore our border protection laws to ensure that people do not die at sea. There’s nothing humanitarian about encouraging the people smuggling trade, to put people on unseaworthy boats, and encourage them to take a dangerous sea journey to Australia. Men, women and children have drowned at sea and we’re determined to put an end to it.
Question: And in putting an end to it, is it ok to break international law, if that is required to put an end to the people smuggling trade?
Julie Bishop: The Australian government will abide by its international obligations.
Question: Ok, well the UN says that under international law, you must screen asylum seekers that come to Australia, for refuge, for instance, that no individual can be turned away involuntarily. Can you guarantee that that has not happened under this government?
Julie Bishop : Australia is aware of its international obligations and will abide by them.
Question: But you still wont say whether these transfers have taken place at sea, so how will people know that you actually are abiding by them?
Answer: It’s the government’s policy not to comment on operational matters and I don’t intend to start. We are not going to give the people smuggling trade the opportunity, to take advantage of people and take money from them and put them on untrustworthy boats, so we’re not going to discuss operational matters that would assist and aid and abet a criminal activity.
Meanwhile, Australian Opposition Immigration Spokesperson, Richard Marles expressed these views;
[quote]Now what danger people face in returning to Sri Lanka, is going to depend on their circumstances, on their individual stories. And of course that is why, people need to be individually assessed, to see what obligations and the strength in which they invoke Australia’s obligations. That’s why there needs to be a process of individual assessment. But actually the issue here is that the Australian people, have a right to know. It’s not a matter of mere curiosity, on the part of the Australian public on the fate of hundreds of people, or about the actions of their own government. The Australian people have a right to know. Ultimately the government are responsible to the Australian people.[/quote]
The ABC quoting the Tamil Refugee Council reports that at least 11 people who Australia has reportedly handed over to the Sri Lankan navy have been previously tortured by Sri Lanka’s intelligence services.
The ABC reports that the asylum seekers reportedly are, or have been, aboard an Australian Customs ship and, despite having claims for protection, will reportedly be, or have been, handed over to the Sri Lankan navy.
The Ministry of Defence categorically rejected these allegations.
Meanwhile, the ABC reports that Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is to introduce a national interest test to screen asylum seekers with the intention of preventing the granting of permanent protection visas to illegal arrivals.
The ABC reports that Morrison’s move, comes after Australia’s High Court rejected a cap on permanent protection visas, recently.
Australian Opposition Immigration Spokesperson, Richard Marles shared these thoughts;
[quote]As a result of the High Court decision a couple of weeks ago, we now see this Minister seek to place himself above the High Court as well. This is a Minister who placed himself above the parliament, placed himself above the High Court, he certainly places himself above the Australian people, in not giving people information. And for him Australia’s institutions, our legal system, our parliamentary democracy, is a mere afterthought.[/quote]
Eight days have passed since the last known contact with the asylum seekers.
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