Australia Acted Legally in Rejecting Refugees; Court Ruling Condones Government's Refusal of Asylum Seekers

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), September 18, 2001 | Go to article overview

Australia Acted Legally in Rejecting Refugees; Court Ruling Condones Government's Refusal of Asylum Seekers


The Australian government acted legally when it refused entry to 433 asylum seekers saved from a sinking Indonesian ferry by a Norwegian cargo ship, a court ruled yesterday.

A full bench hearing of the Federal Court in Canberra overturned by two-to-one an earlier ruling by a single judge that Australian authorities illegally detained the asylum seekers aboard a Norwegian freighter, the Tampa.

The Tampa had rescued the refugees, most of them Afghans, on August 26, near the remote Australian outpost of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The decision clears the way for the asylum seekers at the centre of the crisis to disembark from an Australian naval troop ship waiting off the coast of Nauru, a tiny Pacific island state of only 12,000 people halfway between Australia and Hawaii.

''The HMAS Manoora will proceed as planned and the rescuees will be processed in Nauru and New Zealand consistent with the government's agreement with those countries,'' Attorney-General Daryl Williams said.

The asylum seekers were transferred to the Manoora from the Tampa on September 7.

A further 237 asylum seekers, who were picked up in Australian waters six days ago, are also on the Manoora.

Nauru and New Zealand promised to take the refugees so that their applications for asylum can be processed. Australia is paying for all costs.

But the stand-off continued 20 miles off Nauru yesterday when hundreds of refugees refused to leave the Manoora and demanded to be taken to Australia.

In a situation described as tense, the International Office of Migration visited 230 Iraqi and Palestinian asylum seekers on the troop ship.

Officials said they were shouted down by men who are angry they have been brought to Nauru to have their applications for refugee status processed after selling their homes and paying up to pounds 5,600 each to smugglers to be shipped to Australia.

IOM official Mark Getchell said the most vocal members of the group were also intimidating others who want to get off the Manoora at Nauru. …

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