Asylum Seekers Imprisoned in Australia

by Lauren Markham, May 30, 2010 10:14 AM (PT)
On April 9th, in an oh-so-sympathetic response to an influx of “boat people” arriving on its shores, Australia put a moratorium on all new asylum claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The Australian government has even arranged for special accommodations for these people fleeing horrific violence in their home country: in isolated detention centers on Christmas Island and at former air force bases where they receive scant, if any, of the services (medical, psychological) that they need.

Basically, these asylum-seekers are in prison.

Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are both countries plagued by civil wars and, if you look at the map, not exactly neighbors to Australia. The perilous journey across rough waters in a small vessel doesn’t sound like a trip one would take by choice — it sounds like a last ditch effort to find the protection guaranteed by international law.

But apparently the Australian government doesn’t give a flip about international refugee law. As it now stands, asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan can no longer even plead their case before an asylum officer until the government lifts its April 9th suspension. Australia just doesn’t want them. This selective denial of asylum protection is inhumane, bigoted, and down-right criminal.

Australia says that this new policy is an attempt to deter what has become a rising number of asylum-seekers coming to Australia. They’ve used other lovely deterrent tactics, too. As Clara Long reports on’s Human Rights blog, Australia has even dragged boatloads of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka to dump them off at detention centers in Indonesia. Really, Australia? People are not trash to be offloaded on distant shores or loaded into landfills on Christmas Island.

In its 2010 State of The World’s Human Rights, released this week, Amnesty International chastised Australia for its alarming human rights policies, and rightfully so. If it’s Australia’s duty to protect the victims of abuse in their own countries, it is the duty of every one of us to put the pressure on Australia to get with the program.

Petition: Tell Australia to End Suspension of Sri Lankan and Afghan Asylum Claims