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News: White vans, asylum seekers & more

October 28, 2009

The Age: Holding on to hope for Sri Lanka’s missing

Matt Wade, 28 October 2009

SAMSUN Nihara’s pain shows in her dark eyes. Her husband and son disappeared more than a year ago.

Her nightmare began last September, when her 24-year-old son, John Reid, vanished. He and his fiancee were returning from a trip to a beach north of Colombo, when the van he was driving was blocked by four armed men on two motorcycles.

They hijacked the van, dropped the woman at a busy Colombo intersection and sped away. Mr Reid has not been seen since.

The family’s crisis deepened a month later, when Ms Nihara’s husband, K. A. Anthony, became the target. Four men burst into the tiny two-room home in central Colombo at 4am and took him away.

”I saw them all,” says Ms Nihara. ”They said they were from the military – one was in uniform.” More

SMH: White vans spread misery

Matt Wade, 28 October 2009

The Age: Morality and Politics don’t mix

Shaun Carney, 28 October 2009

The current political argument over asylum seekers is one occasion when, superficially at least, our parliamentary system works: all sides get an airing, reflecting the breadth of views across the community. We should let them all in, we should keep them all out, some will be terrorists, some will be diseased, most of them are legitimate, most are frauds, we should take full responsibility for any boat headed for Australia, we should share responsibility with Indonesia.

You don’t have to move around our society too much before coming across those views, whether you like some of them or not. Few issues divide Australia more thoroughly or prompt such a degree of contempt between the opposing sides. More

SMH: Rudd’s policy belies the brutal honesty of Christmas Island’s names

David Marr, 28 October 2009

Christmas Island is a place of brutally honest names. Above The Settlement on a mountain of petrified bird shit called Phosphate Hill is a cluster of tin huts that once housed construction workers. Though now fenced, guarded and filled with asylum seekers it’s still called the Construction Camp.

Anyone visiting this place – as Human Rights commissioners Catherine Branson, QC, and Graeme Innes did a few months ago – can tell this is a secure detention centre holding lots and lots of children. They found 53 there and counted 36 without families, children who had made their way to the island on their own.

There were children everywhere when I visited the Construction Camp a few weeks later. After being signed in and giving up my mobile phone, I was led under escort to a big tin hut where women and children were gathered for a session with the nurse. The place was clean and grim. Underfoot was a wild bunch of Tamil children. More

Brisbane Times: Indonesia governor rebels on refugees

Tom Allard, 27 October 2009

AN INDONESIAN governor has lambasted Kevin Rudd’s policy of warehousing asylum seekers in his province, declining to allow the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking to berth and railing against the notion Riau Islands should become a ”dumping ground” for irregular immigrants.

The outburst came as the Australian judge who decided the Tampa case, Tony North, criticised the United Nations’ processing of refugees and called for an international tribunal to ensure asylum seekers were not subject to a ”lottery”. The raw hostility of the Indonesian governor and other senior politicians in Riau Islands to the arrival of 78 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka on board Oceanic Viking casts serious doubts over the agreement between the Australian Prime Minister and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Indonesia to take more potential refugees seeking to come to Australia. More

The Australian: ‘We’d rather die than go ashore here’: Sri Lankan asylum-seekers

Simon Kearney, 28 October 2009

THE 78 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking have threatened to kill themselves rather than walk off the ship and be interned in Indonesia.

The Australian visited the ship, anchored in the South China Sea 10km southeast of the island of Bintan, yesterday morning to find the Sri Lankans in an open area below the top deck at the stern.

They told their story by throwing messages in plastic bags tied to empty plastic water bottles into the water. Three messages were written in Indonesian and a fourth, containing this chilling threat, was written in English.

“If your country don’t want find us a good solution better we will close our life in here,” the unsigned letter said. More

Reuters Alertnet: Sri Lanka behind closed doors

HPN, 27 October 2009

In July 2009, a Times journalist reported that 1,400 people had died in Manik Farm camp following fierce fighting between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE). This article looks at the truth behind these claims and the difficulties faced by humanitarian aid agencies in assessing the conditions faced by the displaced in the camps. More

Crikey: Question Time fun: See Kevin run. See Kevin hide.

Bernard Keane, 28 October 2009

Can the Prime Minister run and hide? With this Opposition, probably. Still, the pursuit of the Prime Minister over the Oceanic Viking made, inter alia, for a rather more interesting Question Time yesterday than we’ve had in some months.

The Government’s line on the Oceanic Viking — expertly put by a cool and impressive Stephen Smith on ABC Radio this morning — is essentially sound. Australia assisted Indonesia to aid a stricken vessel in its waters. Those on board don’t get to pick and choose where they go having been rescued.

Nevertheless, various parties on the Left and the Right are hellbent on whipping this into a Tampa-esque crisis. And the Government is constrained by its own rhetoric from stating the obvious: this is essentially an Indonesian matter.

It’s a bit like all those questions about schools spending that Julia Gillard fielded earlier in the year, in which she had to answer for the bodies actually implementing the schools component of the stimulus package- state education authorities. But because this Government is all about “ending the blame game”, any reference to State bureaucrats stuffing up could never pass Gillard’s lips.

In the same way, you won’t hear Rudd declare that the people rescued by the Oceanic Viking are Indonesia’s responsibility, even when they are. Not when he is heavily dependent on “regional cooperation” to help keep the boats away.

This made for elaborate ducking and weaving in Question Time yesterday. Five times the Prime Minister was asked about what he knew about arrangements relating to the vessel. Five times he avoided the question, giving brief answers full of fudge like “the normal agency of the Australian government” and “I cannot recall each step in that sequence of events” and “there are diplomatic negotiations which occur between governments”.

“Tough but humane” eventually appeared, although a much-anticipated and — as always -– unprompted refusal to make any apology didn’t.

He tried to throw his pursuers off — first with a reference to the “dirt-digging” email , for which a question had been reserved for a Anthony Albanese comedy routine later. That didn’t work, despite Rudd blatantly defying the Speaker and continuing to discuss it after he was told to stay relevant. But, asked a fourth time, he succeeded, baiting the Opposition and particularly Philip Ruddock and Kevin Andrews into an angry exchange over the detention of children and children overboard.

Both Ruddock and Andrews rose to complain — quite how it is possible to reflect in any way adversely on Ruddock’s integrity in a way he failed to achieve during his time in office is one of the sublime mysteries of Australian public life, but that didn’t stop him remonstrating — as did a number of other Opposition figures.

It was in the ensuing uproar that Speaker Jenkins appeared to come close to doing his block, with a particularly extended version of his schoolteacher trick of staying silent until everyone notices and shuts up. The silence went on so long Christopher Pyne eventually and hesitantly ventured “are you going to speak?”

Things settled down after that. The Opposition switched to infrastructure and other matters. Albo got to do his comedy routine about the Opposition email on digging dirt, reprising his e-security routine from the Godwin Grech incident. The question had been scheduled for earlier but the outbreak of animosity occasioned by the asylum seeker questions prompted them to delay it. Christopher Pyne then asked Julia Gillard about education, prompting her to approach the Dispatch Box carrying only her pen, always a sign she’s about to bite. She didn’t disappoint, giving a brief but vintage performance full of swipes at The Australian, the lack of Coalition policy and Pyne’s “bellows and yaps”.

Jenny Macklin later rose and spoke, quite movingly, about the apology to the Forgotten Generation, supported by an emotional Steve Irons. The momentary imposition of genuine feeling briefly imposed a sense of civilized behaviour on the House, although it didn’t last too long.

What about Wilson, I hear you ask. Wilson had a quiet day by his standards, until the end. Irons asked Justine Elliot about the numbers of aged care places in Perth. She was three sentences into her answer when Wilson rose to declare “this is a question about supplying assistance and facilities to aged people with dementia. It is wrong for the minister to raise issues either of the past or, more particularly, to read a diatribe of expenditure that is not materialised. Give the old people a go!”

Needs no comment, really.

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Reuters Alertnet: India offers $100 mln to help Sri Lanka refugees

S. Murari, 18 October 2009

India offered Sri Lanka on Sunday $100 million to help war refugees return home and rebuild the country’s ravaged north, as New Delhi seeks to engage in the island nation’s post-war reconstruction and retain influence.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said India was willing to provide the aid package to Sri Lanka if it submitted a “plan of action” on rehabilitation of Tamil civilians.

“Our concern is that the displaced Tamils should be resettled in their homes as early as possible,” the minister told reporters in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. More

Tamil National: Unlock the camp: Rally in London against Sri Lanka

18 October 2009

Several thounsand Tamils marched through Central London Saturday, 17 October to protest against the continued detention of civilians in Sri Lankan camps and calling to end 150 days arbitrary detention in camps and for an international independent probe into war crimes.

Over 280,000 Tamil civilians including at least 50,000 children in miserable and squalid conditions are illegally kept in camps run by the Sri Lankan military.

British Tamil Forum and Tamil Youth Organization (UK) jointly organized the protest rally urging to unlock the camps and end 150 days of forced detention of civilians, international independent probe into war crimes and Ban Ki-Moon charged with inaction. More

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