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West Papuan refugees – human rights must be paramount

President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton,

In response to pressure from Indonesia, the Australian Government has stated that Cabinet will review asylum seeker guidelines.

Human rights may become less important than international diplomacy.

In January of 2006, 43 asylum seekers from West Papua landed in Cape York, claiming persecution from Indonesian authorities.

Of these, 42 have had their claims of human rights abuse substantiated according to Australia’s international obligations, and have been granted visas.

The incident created a storm of controversy as Indonesia condemned Australia’s actions and withdrew its ambassador from Canberra.

Responding to this pressure, the Prime Minister has announced that guidelines for processing asylum claims will be reviewed, and that the Department of Immigration may now be required to take foreign policy concerns into account.

Media reports have stated that Cabinet is meeting this week to discuss these measures, which would breach our international human rights obligations and endanger the welfare of individual asylum seekers.

Such changes would be discriminatory and would place transient political concerns ahead of our obligations to protect vulnerable people from persecution.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, has written to Prime Minister John Howard stating his opposition to this change of policy.

He wrote: While we agree… that Australia’s role should be to encourage and support the emergence of democracy in Indonesia, the Uniting Church will never support a policy that seeks to override human rights under the banner of ‘national interest’…It is unacceptable that the fate of innocents would be determined, not by their need, but by the dictates of foreign policy.

Read more HERE.

Photo : President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton,