Official figures on refugee claims have confirmed what a shocking arbitrary punishment mandatory detention is.

Last year just over 90 per cent of all asylum seekers were found to be refugees. For 2010, the final figure for Afghan asylum seekers was 99.7 per cent.

Even more shocking are figures that show the discrimination at the heart of the refugee determination process. Only 55.3 per cent of refugee claims were initially accepted by the department. But fully 80 per cent of rejections are overturned on appeal. The figures show the deep flaws in the refugee determination process and the scale of the political interference that results in the high level of initial rejections.

How much more evidence of the futility of mandatory detention is needed?

Yet shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison proposes removing asylum seekers’ appeal rights and towing asylum boats back to Indonesia. Boats on which, according to the latest figures, 90 per cent will be refugees.

It also highlights the human rights abuse that lies behind the continued efforts of Labor to resurrect the Malaysia Agreement as the best way to “stop the boats”.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was quick to back Independent MP Rob Oakeshott’s private members bill to allow the Minister to declare any country that was part of the Bali Process (a regional grouping of mostly Asia-Pacific countries set up after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre) to be an “offshore assessment” destination.

Stopping asylum boats and expelling refugees can never be part of a humanitarian policy. But we do need to stop the refugee-bashing of both Labor and Liberal Parties. And 20 years after its introduction, we need to end mandatory detention. The refugee movement’s Easter Convergence (6-9 April) will highlight the horror of that policy and renew the call to “Free the Refugees”.

Ian Rintoul

For more information about the Convergence see refugee-rights.net/Darwin-2012

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