Ruddock lays down the law to survivors
By Andrew Clennell and Michelle Grattan
25 October 2001

Australia would accept survivors from the boat that capsized south-west of Java last Friday, but only if they were found by the United Nations to be refugees and had family in Australia, the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said yesterday.

But he accused people on the boat - of whom more than 350 drowned - of seeking family reunion rather than refugee status, and said they had been "safe and secure" in Indonesia and should have stayed there.

"The great bulk of those on the vessel - 90 per cent - were people who'd not put to the UNHCR in Indonesia claims for refugee protection and were, I suspect, people ... looking for family reunion outcomes," he said.

On taking the survivors, Mr Ruddock said the Government would be prepared to take those who had family linkages and who were judged refugees.

"The rest are in the same situation as anyone else [applying in Indonesia]," he said.

Mr Ruddock said Australia agreed in May to accept 40 people who had gone through the UNHCR process in Indonesia, and health, character and security checks were being done on those people. In response to UNHCR statements that Australia could do more, he said if there were others found to be genuine refugees who had "substantial family linkages" in Australia "it would be difficult to refuse them".

But he would not put a number on refugees Australia would take from Indonesia. Mr Ruddock said Australia was not prepared to take all 500 judged by the UNHCR to be refugees who are waiting in Indonesia for resettlement.

This could encourage the use of people smugglers to get to Indonesia, if there was an expectation of then going to Australia.

Those the Government accepted would get 4-year temporary protection visas.

Responding to allegations that Indonesian soldiers forced people at gunpoint onto the boat that sank, Mr Ruddock said those people should report it "to the relevant authorities, in this case the Indonesian authorities".

"I would be very surprised if people in authority were involved in and complicit in direct boarding of people onto a vessel," he said.

The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader yesterday renewed their bitter exchanges over blame for the mass drownings. John Howard said the campaign had become "ugly" when Kim Beazley "sought to link an immense human tragedy with an alleged failure of government policy".

"If he hadn't have done that I would merely have said that I felt saddened for that terrible human tragedy," Mr Howard said. "That boat sank in Indonesian waters ... it had nothing to do with the actions of the Australian Government and he sought quite contemptibly to link that with the policy of the Government ... I'm not going to have the good name of this Government besmirched."

The Government had accused the Labor leader of trying to retreat from his original criticism, but Mr Beazley said: "I will not resile from a thing I have said yesterday.

"If we want to get to a position where Australians feel secure, Australians feel that their borders are not being penetrated willy-nilly by illegal immigrants, we have got to get an arrangement with Indonesia," he said. "John Howard chooses to twist that position ... basically he does so because he wants to avoid debate."

Indonesia said yesterday it wanted to host a regional meeting on people smuggling, which the Howard Government welcomed as a "positive and constructive development".


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