Boat people are refugees from Sri Lanka - UNHCR

[TamilNet, Thursday, 17 December 2009, 01:35 GMT]
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has determined that all 78 people involved in the stand-off on board a ship fleeing Sri Lanka are refugees, Australian press reports said. The Australian Government says it will now be up to the UN agency to determine where the refugees should be settled. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said on Wednesday that Australia's offshore immigration detention centre on Christmas Island is in breach of human rights and must be closed.

The 78 asylum seekers aboard the ‘Oceanic Viking’ were rescued at sea by the Australian Customs ship before being taken to Indonesia's Bintan Island, where they refused to disembark for a month, ABC reported.

Amnesty International’s refugee coordinator Graham Thom has finished a week-long tour of the immigration detention centre on Australia's remote Indian Ocean Territory of Christmas Island and described the conditions there as overcrowded and unacceptable.

"It is not sustainable. You can clearly see the impact it is having on the mental health of those who have been there a long time," Thom told Reuters.

His comments intensified pressure on the Australian government over attempts to curb an influx of refugee boats, prompting accusations from its conservative opponents that it is too soft on asylum seekers.

"Australia does its fair share in terms of taking refugees who've been determined as such by the UNHCR in Indonesia but there is no rule that says we always take every last one of them," Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

"But what I suspect will happen here is that the special deal that the Prime Minister did with the Oceanic Viking will follow through and they will have got their quick run to Australia.

"That sends a very obvious message to people smugglers operating in the area," he protested.

But the Greens' Sarah Hanson-Young has welcomed the UN's decision to declare the asylum seekers refugees.

"It's very sad however they had to go through such a traumatic experience to prove it," she said.

 

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