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Justice Centre worried at prospect of Vietnamese boatpeople 'scare tactics'

The Uniya Jesuit Social Centre has criticised the use of the SARS virus "red herring" to avoid responsibilities towards two boatloads of Vietnamese asylum seekers understood to be heading towards Australia.

Indonesian authorities in Kalimantan turned away the first vessel carrying 42 boatpeople at the weekend, apparently on the grounds that the passengers could be infected with the deadly SARS virus. There are now reports that a second boat has been turned away from Indonesia.

Uniya director Sr Patty Fawkner expressed concern that scare tactics could once again be employed in response to people seeking asylum on our shores.

Officials were concerned that passengers on the first vehicle may be carrying severe acute respiratory syndrome and had them checked before the boat put to sea.

"There is no evidence that the men, women and children on board have the SARS virus," said Sr Fawkner. "We should be mobilising our considerable resources to see what can be done to help this vessel if and when it reaches international or Australian waters."

She said Australia's response should be motivated by a desire to "honour our international humanitarian obligations", and not by "the unfounded fear of terrorists and misinformation about asylum seekers".

"It is hoped the SARS virus will not become the new red herring for the Government."

Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre

New tide of boat people (Sydney Morning Herald)

23 Apr 2003