Australians form 'human lifesaving rings' for refugees

Over the weekend Australian refugee supporters attended 'Human Lifesaving ring' events in cities around Australia to send a clear message to politicians: asylum seekers should not be used as political pawns. The events were organised by Amnesty International, Get Up, Refugee and asylum seeker support groups, union and church groups.

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“Recent policy changes by the government, including the processing suspension on applications from Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, the reopening of Curtin detention centre and the opposition’s proposed policies of turning back boats and reintroducing temporary protection visas all undermine the human rights of people seeking protection from violence and persecution,” said Claire Mallinson National Director of Amnesty International Australia.

In Sydney 300 people wearing red and yellow lifesaver outfits made a 'human lifesaver' ring at Bondi beach. Another human lifesaver ring was made by about 100 people at St Kilda Beach in Melbourne. Sixty people attended a Refugee Rights Action Network overnight vigil outside the Perth Immigration Detention Centre. Protests also occurred in Adelaide and Brisbane.

“Politicians have a responsibility to stop the fear-mongering in the asylum seeker debate and show us real leadership on this issue – leadership that incorporates the Australian values of courage, fairness and compassion,” said Claire Mallinson.

Twenty Trade Unions and affiliated organisation leaders have today endorsed a letter to the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (PDF) and all Members of Parliament expressing their concerns at the growing stance of indifference towards asylum seekers by both sides of politics, calls for Australia to follow its obligations under international law and detailing the real security threats in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

The letter says that Australia is failing it's responsibilities under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention "In using refugees as pawns in an election game, Australia is failing in its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1976 Protocol to not discriminate in the treatment of refugees on the basis of race, religion or country of origin (Article 3)."

According to the statement "Sri Lankans and Afghans are being singled out purely based on race. Asylum seekers should be assessed case by case and this blanket decision to suspend asylum claims ignores real security threats existing in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan."

Pamela Curr from the Asylum seeker resource Centre said in a statement "Over the next few weeks hundreds of Afghan Hazaras in Darwin, Christmas Island and Villawood detention centres, are going to be refused visas on the grounds that Afghanistan is "evolving" and that it is safe to return. The evidence of persecution and the stories of fear of return have not changed in the past month. The Hazaras were being granted refugee visas at the rate of 100% until now. What has changed are politics in Australia and the looming election."