The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has called on the Australian Government to urgently release details regarding the welfare of people on board the asylum seeker boat identified off the Western Australian coast.
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said the Australian people deserved to be told what is happening to the people on board the boat and the relatives of those aboard would be desperate to know the situation of their loved ones.
“The Immigration Minister needs to release information about how many people are on the boat and where they have come from, including the numbers of children, babies and pregnant women. Families in the countries of origin need assurance all people on the boat are safe and well,” Mr Power said.
“Shrouding the matter in secrecy by claiming this is an ‘on water matter’ is unacceptable. We don’t know how long these people have been at sea, how many people are aboard nor where they have departed from. Their welfare needs to be the first consideration.
“Yesterday, a Senate committee inquiry heard yet again of the harmful impacts of the Government’s culture of secrecy and its dehumanisation of asylum seekers with more information coming to light about the abuse of children and other forms of sexual abuse in the Australian-funded detention centre on Nauru.
“Many Australians are not buying the Government’s argument that its heavy-handed and secret military operations are appropriate responses to people who, in accordance with international law, are trying to seek asylum.
“The desperate search for effective protection from persecution is a humanitarian issue, not a threat to Australia’s national security. Australia needs to ensure that people seeking refugee protection have an opportunity to put their case, have it fairly assessed and be treated humanely throughout the process.
“It’s time to end the secrecy and assure the Australian people that those on board this boat are safe and being treated fairly and that no one will be forced back to their country of origin without a full assessment of their need for protection from persecution,” Mr Power said.