Refugee fears mount over Indonesia treaty and high court decision

The Brisbane Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has voiced concern about the implications for West Papuans of a pact between Australia and Indonesia while Edmund Rice Centre says that a recent High Court decision will put refugee lives in danger.

Dr Greg Poulgrain from the Commission believes that "Jakarta and Canberra had come to some arrangement to stop some groups in Australia from voicing their opinions", the The Catholic Leader reports.

The treaty signed on Monday by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart on the Indonesian island of Lombok, will cover defence, terrorism, drugs and people smuggling and emergency relief, but will also cover agreements on nuclear programs.

It also commits Australia and Indonesia to support each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

However, the treaty still had to be presented to the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which then will call for public submissions and expressions of interest before the treaty can be ratified, Dr Poulgrain added.

Meanwhile, Edmund Rice Centre director, Phil Glendenning, has warned that a High Court decision will make it easier for the Federal Government to deport refugees and put their lives at risk.

"The very significant thing is that the High Court has ruled that asylum seekers are now responsible for proving that a return to their homelands would be too dangerous," Mr Glendenning told the ABC World Today program.

"So the onus of proof has shifted. Rather than from us being able to assess whether it is dangerous or not, the onus of proof now shifts upon the individual.

"And we've had many examples where individuals have been sent back to dangerous situations because they simply weren't believed by the Australian authorities," he added.

Under international law Australia is obliged not to refoule people - and "that means not to return them to places where their lives are going to be in danger", Mr Glendenning says.

Mr Glendenning said that he had recently returned from Afghanistan "where we believe nine people were killed, three of their children were also killed as a repercussion of them being sent back to Afghanistan".

However, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone contested the Edmund Rice Centre allegations.

"The cases that they refer to are cases, as I'm advised, where people have taken voluntary repatriation packages and of course, being a refugee isn't a synonym for saying, well, my country's unsafe," Ms Vanstone said.

The High Court decision confirms the government understanding of the law, Ms Vanstone said.

Concerns over signing of treaty (Catholic Leader, 19/11/06)
Onus of proof now on refugees, not Government (ABC World Today, 16/11/06)
Vanstone says High Court decision will have little change in practice (ABC World Today, 16/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Brisbane
Edmund Rice Centre confirms 39 more deportations to danger (CathNews, 4/10/06)
Killed asylum seeker details sent to DIMA (CathNews, 14/8/06)
Off-shore processing failed dead asylum seekers: Edmund Rice (CathNews, 10/8/06)
Nine rejected asylum seekers killed: Edmund Rice Centre (CathNews, 8/8/06)
Detention stuff-ups no surprise to Edmund Rice researchers (CathNews, 3/5/05)
Jesuit Refugee Service says Pacific Solution breaches Convention (CathNews, 18/4/06)
Nun identifies key to understanding West Papua tension (CathNews, 13/4/06)
Franciscans say Jakarta ignoring root cause of West Papua tension (CathNews, 12/4/06)
Edmund Rice Centre claims at least 35 refugees sent back to danger (CathNews, 29/9/04)
Bishops welcome release of detention centre children (CathNews, 26/8/03)

17 Nov 2006