Compared to most other wealthy countries the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat is small, and absolutely minuscule in comparison to the number of refugees hosted by many developing nations.
But even a small number of boats will inevitably create a major political issue. So it is that despite the economic downturn and the vital climate change summit soon to occur in Copenhagen, much of the debate in Australia's Parliament over the last two weeks has been about a couple of refugee boats seeking to get to Australia.
Until recently, most Australians had been unaware that their government was funding international agencies in Indonesia to house asylum seekers and assess their claims. This has been going on under both the previous and current government, but until now little attention had been paid to what conditions the refugees and asylum seekers were kept in or what happened to them.
Awareness is likely to be further increased with a new report just released by Australian lawyer Jessie Taylor. The report is titled Behind Australian Doors: Examining the Conditions of Detention of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia.
Ms Taylor, accompanied by a film maker and an Afghan refugee who is now an Australian citizen, spent July 2009 visiting asylum seekers in 11 different places of detention throughout Indonesia, as well as meeting with people who were not detained, many of whom had applied to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Indonesia and been recognised as refugees but had still been unable to be resettled. Overall, they spoke to around 250 people, including around 120 children and unaccompanied minors.
The report's findings indicate that:
... living conditions for the asylum seekers range from acceptable to appalling. They are administered either by Indonesian immigration authorities and police, or by IOM [International Organisation for Migration]. Living conditions are (generally) unsanitary, unsafe, isolated and utterly inappropriate for children. Detainees are often denied schooling, appropriate food, medical care and clean water.
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