September 22nd 2001

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Articles from this issue:

STOP PRESS: Who has declared war on the United States?

COVER STORY: Canberra to blame for Ansett's demise

CANBERRA: Asylum seekers bring ill tidings for Beazley and the ALP

COMMENT: Boat people reaction - echoes of the 1970s

NEW ZEALAND: Army caught in political imbroglio

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Send in the counsellors / Good morning, Vietnam

MEDIA: Out of touch with majority sentiment

LETTERS: Tristar: another view

Letter: Poor reception

Letter: Let them stay

REGIONAL AFFAIRS: Why East Timor chose Portuguese

TRADE: Lamb exports: where to now?

BUSINESS: Selling wholesome food to Australia's homes

FAMILY: Well-being of families and nation intertwined

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Letter: Let them stay

by William Craig

News Weekly, September 22, 2001


I refer to Peter Westmore's "Lessons of the influx of boat people" (Editorial, NW, September 8).

The 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees fails to address the problems of today. It gives refugee status to persons who have well-founded fear of persecution (for political, religious or personal reasons) if they return to their homeland. A person not clearly a refugee under the Convention has an uncertain uphill battle to avoid classification as an economic migrant. This distinction does not address today's problem of what to do with the millions of people forced to leave their homelands because a cruel, arbitrary, corrupt or lawless government has made life in that country not worth living.

The UN is incapable of agreeing on a correction of this bankrupt dichotomy because no one in the international community believes his country has the political will or the funds to deal with the underlying problem.

The Christmas Island boat people bring this into sharp focus. They are only a tiny tip of the over two million Afghans now living in hopeless squalor in border camps in Pakistan.

Greg Sheridan, in the latest Weekend Australian, provided a timely reminder of the genesis and present status of the Afghan problem. In order to eject the USSR from Afghanistan, the West, using Pakistan's help, subsidised the Mujaheddin. The Soviets were eventually driven out, and the Mujaheddin (parents of the Taliban) obtained control of most of the country. Resistance persists amongst the Tajiks in the North, but other ethnic and religious minorities have been ground to pulp and where possible have fled Afghanistan.

It appears that US aid funnelled through Pakistan to the Taliban to help end the fighting in Afghanistan is now likely to be terminated as counter-productive. Pakistan has an interest in keeping the Taliban in power, and the plight of more than two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan camps could become far worse in the near future.

Afghanistan is one of numerous misgoverned homelands from which the world's refugees are fleeing. The UN will not and cannot act militarily to put down gross misgovernment in its member states. From time to time the US has acted (not always successfully) to help one side or the other in various countries, but is now very wary of doing this.

Through no fault of their own, the Afghans live in a country controlled by fundamentalist madmen with AK-47s. Their Government cannot feed them, clothe them or provide them with medical service, but it demands obedience on pain of death.

Why would any parent who could escape to a better place abroad not try to do so? The Tampa had over 400 such people aboard. They almost certainly had been fleeced of whatever they left home with. Indonesia is a poor crowded country and could never be induced to take them in.

Afghans have a long association with this country. Afghan camel drivers were instrumental in opening up the arid areas of Australia. They were assimilated and their descendants are found everywhere. We have a famous train from Adelaide to Alice Springs called "The Ghan". The Tampa's refugees from Governmental madness have been dealt with, but instead of squandering resources trying to pay some other country to keep others of that ilk away from our shores, we should take the bull by the horns.

Mr Allan Myers QC of Melbourne, and his wife, recently bought 600,000 hectares in the Kimberley. Why cannot this country set aside a resettlement area in the north-west to be governed as a territory from Canberra, providing financial and schooling aid but no right to move into the rest of Australia.

Boat people in the pipeline who manage to get this far (and stand the test of scrutiny over time) are by definition both brave and reasonably capable. It would be much less expensive and troublesome to settle them where they could contribute to their own support and welfare (as well as allowing an extended time to observe them) than it now is to operate Detainment Camps.

At the end of (say) two years, any resettled person who had (1) a trade or profession, (2) had been of good reputation and conduct in the resettlement zone, (3) had acquired a good standard of written and oral English, (4) had been offered employment elsewhere in Australia at a wage sufficient to support himself and his dependents, and (5) whose dependents also complied wlth (2) and (3) above, would be eligible for permanent residency in this country. Those who do not satisfy these requirements would remain in the resettlement zone until they do.

The Good Samaritan would have done no less.

We are proud of having taken the labouring oar in East Timor. Can Australia not set another example to the world?

William Craig,
Hobart, Tas

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