AUSTRALIA: Fear of forcible repatriation – Refugees stranded off Australian coast

Dear Friends,

Regarding our earlier urgent appeal (28-08-2001) on the refugee crisis in Australia, we are forwarding the following appeal by Amnesty International in Australia for your urgent action. The Norwegian freighter, Tampa with 438 asylum-seekers on board still remains about four nautical miles off of Christmas Island despite the Australian government’s request for it to move out of Australian waters. The latest news reaching us is that the Australian and Indonesian governments will meet to look for a solution later today.

Please take the action suggested by Amnesty.

Thank you for your solidarity.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission



Fear of forcible repatriation
Refugees stranded off Australian coast

The Australian authorities are refusing to accept a ship carrying 438 refugees, including children and pregnant women, and have sent troops on board to prevent it from docking. The Indonesian government has also refused the ship permission to land, and Amnesty International is concerned that those on board may be forcibly returned to countries where they would risk being tortured or killed.

Under Article 33 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention), Australia is obliged not to forcibly return any refugees to any country where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

The Norwegian freighter Tampa rescued the refugees from a crippled Indonesian vessel on 26 August. Most are reportedly from Afghanistan, but some are from Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Many refugees have fled these countries to escape brutal regimes and serious human rights violations. In the last few years the Australian authorities have recognised that many of those who flee Afghanistan are in genuine need of international protection, and have granted over 80% of Afghan asylum-seekers refugee status.

Although the ship was in international waters at the time, when it picked up the refugees it was closer to Australia, and the captain sailed towards Christmas Island, some 930 miles off the Australian mainland. The Australian authorities refused him permission to land, and ordered him to stay in international waters. Australian troops boarded the ship today after he sailed closer to Christmas Island into Australian territorial waters, asking the Australian authorities to resolve the crisis.

The male refugees have been on hunger strike since yesterday and reportedly threatened to jump overboard if Australia sent them back to Indonesia. Many of the refugees are suffering from dysentery, scabies and diarrhoea. The Australian authorities have sent medical help and food.

The Norwegian authorities complain that the ship is not equipped to make the journey to Indonesia or anywhere else because they do not have enough lifeboats or food.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English or your own language:

?expressing concern for the safety of the 438 refugees aboard the Tampa;

?reminding the authorities that under Article 33 of the Refugee Convention they are obliged not to forcibly return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of human rights violations;

?urging them to allow the refugees to disembark in Australia and allow them access to a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure, in accordance with the Australian government’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention;

?expressing concern that legislation is currently going through parliament which would allow the Australian government to ignore its responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention and forcibly return refugees to countries where they would be at risk of serious violations.


Hon. Philip Ruddock
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
Suite MF 40
Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600
Fax: + 61 2 6273 4144
Salutation: Dear Minister

Hon. John Howard
Prime Minister
Suite MG8
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Fax: + 61 2 6273 4100
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister


Mr Francois Fouinat
Director, Bureau for Asia and the Pacific
United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees – Headquarters
94 Rue de Montbrillant
1202 Geneva
Fax: +41 22 739 7373

Document Type : Forwarded Urgent Appeal
Document ID : FA-10-2001
Countries : Australia,
Issues : Refugees, IDPs & Asylum seekers,