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Federal Opposition calls for Ruddock to stand down

The Federal Opposition has ramped up its attack on outgoing Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock in the wake of revelations of corruption prompted by research conducted by the Edmund Rice Centre and the Australian Catholic University.

The research suggests that Federal Government officials have been helping failed asylum-seekers leave the country on forged travel documents. Researchers had travelled to Syria and interviewed former deportees about the experiences they'd had in detention in Australia.

The Opposition Labor Party says that Mr Ruddock must stand down from his ministerial duties until an investigation has been conducted.

Mr Ruddock is in Geneva for and unavailable for comment, but his department has issued a statement refuting some of the allegations. It characterised the allegations as "so vague that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what they refer to", and insisted that it is not the Australian Government's practice to encourage, condone or require the use of false passports.

According to researcher Anthony Morris, the problem is likely to be much larger than the few cases exposed in the report. Morris was speaking in Geneva where he was attending a meeting of the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) executive committee with Edmund Rice Centre Director Phil Glendenning.

Morris said some asylum seekers claimed they had received help from Australia to evade immigration services in other countries.

"Australian officials have been giving instructions to returnees to provide false information to immigration and customs services, which we consider is clearly akin to people smuggling," said Morris, a teacher at the Australian Catholic University.

After three months of research, involving some 25 interviews with asylum seekers in New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Norway and Syria, the project also found evidence indicating that some people had been persecuted or lived in threat of persecution in the countries they had been sent to.

"It seems the allegations reported to ourselves have uncovered that the Australian system is itself inconsistent with the legal process, in fact it is involved itself in illegal means," claimed Morris.

Following news reports in Australia about the accusations, a spokesman for the immigration department in Sydney said the ministry had received no allegations of failed asylum-seekers using falsified travel documents to leave the country.

Morris and his research team asked the UNHCR to ensure the safety of people returned to countries by the Australian government.

"We are calling on the Australian government to appoint a public and judicial inquiry," he told reporters.

ABC Radio PM
The Age

False passport allegations dog Ruddock (ABC Radio AM)
Edmund Rice Centre | Background Briefing Material on False Passport Allegations
What the Australian Did Not Tell You - Allegations of Corruption (Department of Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs media release)
Allegations reflect deliberate policy secrecy (PolMin)
Catholic 'false passport' claims spark inquiry calls (1/10/03)
Immigration using smuggling tactics to evict asylum seekers (ABC TV Lateline 29/9/03)

2 Oct 2003