Refugee families warned against visiting surviving relatives

ABC News
27 October 2001

Refugee families who want to visit relatives who survived when their ship sank off Indonesia last week have been warned they might not be allowed to return to Australia.

The Refugee Action Coalition says there are at least three families in Australia with Temporary Protection Visas who want to visit their relatives.

The conditions of their visas prevent them returning to Australia if they leave.

The Coalition Assisting Refugees After Detention says Australia should bend the rules to allow relatives of those killed to return overseas temporarily.

Spokeswoman Eira Clapton says Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock does not seem to understand the effect the tragedy has had on surviving family members.

"They're absolutely heartbroken, they're really devastated and they are very angry at Mr Ruddock and the way he acts in such an inhuman way towards them in general, but especially over this tragedy," he said.

Mr Ruddock has maintained that the Government will not break its rules on Temporary Protection Visas and says their cases are not unusual.

"There are many people who've asked over a period of time for permission to leave, I can't give permission to leave under the law, there's no capacity, unless the law is changed there is no capacity to reissue Temporary Visas," he said.

Options considered

The Federal Government says it is looking at a range of options, on what to do with the latest boatloads of asylum seekers.

Two vessels carrying about 450 asylum seekers are waiting at Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef, and another 1,200 are believed to be on their way to Australia.

The Government has been unable to confirm reports that a fishing vessel was recently hijacked by more than 170 asylum seekers, off the resort island of Lombok near Bali.

Mr Ruddock denies suggestions the Government has exhausted its options on where to send the asylum seekers for processing.

"There are two vessels, one off Christmas Island and the other off Ashmore Reef and as I've indicated over the past few days, there are a range of options we could take, and those options are being pursued and when I've got something to say about it I'll let you know," he said.

Human trafficking

Earlier, Mr Ruddock strongly denied claims aid deals offered to Pacific island nations to accept asylum seekers amounts to human trafficking.

Mr Ruddock says there is no justification for the criticism, made by a group of religious organisations.

"The trafficking was by the smugglers," Mr Ruddock said.

"What we're seeking to do is to ensure that people are safe and secure and that their processing can occur in places where they will be safe and secure and where any claims can be properly addressed."

The Pacific Conference of Churches, the World Council of Churches and other regional organisations have criticised the multi-million dollar deals.

Canberra has negotiated the deals with nations including Nauru, Kiribati and Fiji.

"We are also concerned that accepting the Australian aid deals will make Pacific Island governments part of the process that solicits profits out of trade in human trafficking," a statement from the group said.

Mr Ruddock says the agreements are to prevent asylum seekers landing on Australian territory and immediately qualifying to use a liberal legal system to process their claims.

"In relation to offshore processing, it is in our interests to have people not reach Australia, and under rules that are not as relaxed as ours became while the courts were supervising judicially the decision making," he said.

"It will in the end save us money because it lowers expectations about what people can obtain if they put themselves in the hands of smugglers."


The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has warned there is increasing evidence that people smuggling activities are being organised in Australia.

The AFP annual report reveals there has been 172 arrests in connection with people smuggling offences both in Australia and abroad during the 2000-2001 financial year.

The report goes on to say there is increasing intelligence linking Australians to illegal immigration activities.

How many people are involved, where they are located and how much money they are receiving is not revealed.

But AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty says it is becoming a lucrative trade.

"Some people who have been smuggled themselves, in fact, become part of the crime syndicate," he said.

The report also suggests there is evidence people smugglers are often involved in other criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and credit card fraud.


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