In Melbourne 5,000 demonstrated July 27 while other protests took place in Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth. The following day up to 3,000 joined a rally in Sydney.
“Any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as a refugee,” Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced July 19. The governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea signed an agreement July 19 to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island for processing in the island’s immigration detention facilities, which are being expanded to hold as many as 3,000 people. “Genuine refugees,” Rudd said, “will be resettled in Papua New Guinea.”
The increasing number of refugees arriving by boat — most crossing from neighboring Indonesia to the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean — has become a major issue for the Labor government as it heads towards federal elections later this year.
Last year the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard — who was replaced June 26 by Rudd as the leader of the Labor Party — reopened detention centers on Manus Island and the Pacific island of Nauru. There have been escalating protests by refugees on Nauru against their indefinite detention. On July 19 much of the immigration jail on Nauru was burned to the ground.
While there is bipartisan support for the government’s policy to prevent refugees arriving by boat from being processed in Australia, the opposition Liberal Party-led coalition is pressing for harsher measures.
Last week the government ran full-page advertisements in daily papers and announcements on radio and TV saying, “This is the Australian Government’s message for anyone associated with people smuggling: If you come here by boat without a visa you won’t be settled in Australia.” The ad was run in nine languages, including Farsi, Arabic and Tamil. The majority of asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka.
Since Rudd’s July 19 announcement, 1,267 people have arrived on 16 boats, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare announced July 27.
In the last four years more than 800 people have drowned trying to make their way across the Indian Ocean to Christmas Island, an Australian territory nearly 1,000 miles from the mainland and some 200 miles from Indonesia. Refugee advocates say the figure is much higher, as some boats have disappeared without a trace and have not been counted.
“Attacks on refugees and immigrants are part of the wider assault on the working class,” said Ron Poulsen, Communist League candidate for senate in New South Wales, in a press release. “The Australian rulers are tightening border controls while seeking to deepen divisions among workers. It is in the interests of all workers to join the calls to close the detention centers and open Australia’s borders to refugees.”
More demonstrations defending asylum-seekers have been called in the lead up to the federal election.
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