Burmese group escapes asylum-seeker application freeze

April 12, 2010
source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/burmese-group-escapes-asylum-seeker-application-freeze/story-e6frgczf-1225852474032

THE fastest-growing ethnic group inside Christmas Island’s Immigration Detention Centre — the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group of western Burma — is not affected by the Rudd government’s asylum freeze.

While Afghans and Sri Lankans have effectively no chance of a new life in Australia in the short term, the Rohingyas are not on the Rudd government’s banned list and as a result many more of the group are expected to risk their lives to make it to Australia in the coming months. “People say there are five or seven boats (of Rohingya) in Indonesia wanting to come,” one Rohingya detainee told The Australian.

“Maybe they got arrested or exploited by an agent, or they’re preparing for better weather.”
But there was concern at the freeze because none of the Rohingya who have arrived at Christmas Island since last September has been granted visas.

“Rohingya can’t get visas, so we don’t know what will happen to us next,” one of the detainees told The Australian.

There were just six Rohingya in detention on Christmas Island last September, but the number has since climbed to 64.

A Muslim minority group of western Burma, almost 250,000 Rohingya fled into neighbouring Bangladesh in the 1990s to escape persecution.
Eight Rohingya who spent 14 months on Nauru in 2006 and 2007 are thought to be the last to receive visas from the Australian government.

Their lawyer, Refugee Immigration and Legal Centre co-ordinator David Manne, said it was clear the Rohingya were among the most persecuted people in the world. “As a group, they have been subject to the most brutal, vicious and pervasive cruelty or human rights harm imaginable,” he said. “The Burmese government has refused to recognise their citizenship. They have effectively been condemned to statelessness in their own country and they have been subjected to systematic and sustained cruelty for many decades, including slavery, forced porterage, rape, torture and land confiscation.”

According to the UNHCR, the many Rohingya living in exile in Malaysia are targeted by immigration authorities and RELA, a volunteer corps charged with arresting illegal migrants.

There had been a sharp increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of refugees in recent years, including UNHCR registration card holders.

Getting on to an asylum boat to Australia was very difficult for Rohingya until recent years, according to one of the Rohingya who made it out of Malaysia then Indonesia in a boat late last year, and is now being processed on Christmas Island.

“I was trying since two years ago but only recently could I get on a boat,” he said. The man said Rohingya were worried that their claims for asylum were taking so long to process. He said he had been told by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that the delay was caused by a holdup with his security check.

He predicted this would continue to be a problem for Rohingya who had lived in Malaysia.
Last year, the Australian government granted 1131 visas to people who arrived by boat. Of those, 854 were Afghans, 112 were Sri Lankans and 84 were Iraqis.

This year, 820 visas have been granted, mostly to Afghans, Sri Lankans and Iraqis.

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