Australia accords refugee status, but not entry

[TamilNet, Friday, 14 September 2007, 11:29 GMT]
Australia has recognized as refugees under the UN Convention 72 Sri Lankans who were intercepted at sea in February this year. However the refugees will not be allowed into Australia but will have to remain in their holding centre in Nauru until other countries accept them, the government said. Refugee advocates fear the refugees will continue to languish in Nauru as other countries are likely to see them as Australia’s responsibility.

An Australian government statement this week said the asylum seekers recognized as refugees were part of a group of 83 who were intercepted by an Australian warship in the early hours of 20 February, en route to Christmas Island.

They have been kept in Nauru since then, pending their assessment.

“Each case has been decided on its own merits using the tests set out in the UN Refugees Convention,” the government statement said.

“Australia is now exploring resettlement options in other countries for the Sri Lankans that have been assessed as being refugees. They will remain in Nauru while arrangements are made to resettle them elsewhere.”

One person was denied refugee states, but will be able to appeal while another two were found to be refugees by the UNHCR in Indonesia before they traveled to Australia, the statement said.

“Assessments for seven other Sri Lankans in Nauru are still under consideration. These cases will be finalised when outstanding issues have been resolved,” it said, without elaborating.

Susan Metcalfe, a refugee advocate who has spent time on Nauru with the refugees, told the Sydney Morning Herald that they could end up stuck there.

“It is highly unlikely that any third country would want to be involved in taking people who are widely seen to be Australia's responsibility,” she said.

"The refugees will need reassurance in the coming weeks that they will be resettled in Australia. Otherwise they could still be stuck indefinitely in Nauru.”

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, who is doing an annual review of immigration detention centres, was recently refused access to the Nauru centre by the Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Mr. Andrews says the site is outside Mr. Innes’ jurisdiction, but the Commissioner rejects this, saying he has oversight of all Commonwealth-controlled activities under the Australia’s Human Rights Act.

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