We are calling on Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, to resettle a handful of refugees currently in West Timor where they remain after being intercepted by the Australian Navy before they could arrive in New Zealand. In doing so Jacinda Ardern could distance New Zealand from Australia’s cruel policies and demonstrate it’s commitment to upholding the right to asylum.
In 2015, 65 mainly Tamil refugees, knowing the cruelty and criminality of the Australia’s refugee policy, sought asylum instead in New Zealand. The passengers and crew were confident of the Andika’s seaworthiness and ability to reach New Zealand. However before they had a chance to arrive, the boat was boarded by Australian forces in international waters off the coast of Indonesia in the Arafura sea.
Endangering their lives, the Australian’s forced the passengers off the Andika on to two smaller boats, the crew given money and pushed back to Indonesia. Out of sight, one ran out of fuel and a dangerous on-sea transfer ensued. Without adequate equipment, the remaining overloaded boat ran-aground off Rote Island, Indonesia. Only for the generosity and courage of a local fishing village were they saved.
This incident was documented in Amnesty International excellent report By Hook or by Crook – Australia’s Abuse of Asylum-Seekers at Sea (pp. 14-24). It was also the subject of a documentary film ‘Stop the Boats – The lie of saving lives at sea’ by journalists Nicolai Jung and Phil Miller (watch the trailer below).
More than three years on, facing harassment and few rights, with the UNHCR telling people that resettlement may take a decade or more, most of the 65 have moved elsewhere, some taking further risks to seek asylum in other countries.
However five persons from the Andika remain in Kupang Immigration Detention Centre, West Timor (Indonesia), where they were originally taken after being shipwrecked. These three adults and two children remain determined to see their right to asylum respected, and remain hopeful that they will reach their intended destination of New Zealand.
Will New Zealand stand up against Australia’s policy?
Australia, with its ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, has been pursuing a ‘push back’ policy on boats carrying refugees. While denying the right of refugees to use international waters to flee war and persecution, it supports the US Navy to use international waters to confront China with massive military force in the South China Sea by invoking the ‘freedom of navigation.’
In pursuit of projecting military power in its ‘pivot to Asia’ policy, the U.S. during the last decade took a series of measures to torpedo the Sri Lankan peace process – to remove a blockage to their control of the Indo-Pacific (the LTTE), which Australia followed. These actions triggered a brutal war directed against the Tamil people in the North and East of the island (which the the People’s Permanent Tribunal found amounted to the crime of genocide)
In the wake of this horrific massacre in 2009, thousands of Tamils fled the island by sea. Including to Australia which began imprisoning them in both onshore and offshore detention centres, where some remain today. In 2013 they started turning the boats away by force. Over the same time period the Australian government granted permanent status to some 700,000 migrants and brought over hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to bolster the profits of one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
In contrast, New Zealand took an alternative approach to the Sri Lankan peace-process to its Five Eyes country counterparts. If NZ’s intent to promote peace in Sri Lanka in concert with many European countries had not been thwarted by the war mongering policy of the US, UK, and Australia – the peace talks in Sri Lanka would have continued, the war not started. The Tamils who remain in Kupang could have returned.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, has been lauded internationally for her statements of progressive values. She spoke about these at the UN General Assembly last year: “[k]indness in the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism” and “promoting and defending an open, inclusive, and rules-based international order based on universal values”. Helen Clark, NZ’s former PM praised “her values-based approach to foreign policy as well—most dramatically by offering New Zealand as a home for 150 of the refugees currently stranded in camps run by Australia in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.” – but the Australian Government has refused.
Helen Clark, herself was praised for her handling of the MV Tampa crisis in 2001 – in contrast to the Australian PM, John Howard. Howard ordered Australian special forces to board the MV Tampa, a Norwegian vessel which had rescued approximately 400 mainly Hazara asylum seekers, to prevent them reaching Australia. Within a few days, Australia passed new legislation and introduced the “Pacific Solution”, to move asylum seekers to Nauru where they would languish in detention or on temporary visas. New Zealand’s approach was seen as the humanitarian alternative, taking some 150 of the refugees directly to New Zealand.
Of the three parties of new government – Labour, NZ First and the Greens, numerous Green MPs had already supported resettling the Andika refugees in New Zealand before the election in 2017.
While these points might suggest hope for the remaining Andika refugees, on the other hand New Zealand’s proclaimed adherence to an “independent foreign policy” and a “rule based order” (such as the Refugee Conventions) has been called into question.
A former NZ MP said the new “Strategic Defence Policy Statement, released [in July 2018], puts New Zealand firmly in the American camp… The Policy Statement asserts that the NZ Defence Force “must be able to operate effectively with New Zealand’s key security partners, including with our ally Australia, and our other Five Eyes Partners.”
The right to asylum is also under attack. While the New Zealand’s government has focused on increasing the refugee quota intake from offshore centres (a regime that is ripe for discrimination, see article: New Zealand’s Refugee Policy is Closer to Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Than You Might Think), the large decline in asylum seekers reaching New Zealand remains unaddressed.
With regards to the Andika, the possibility that New Zealand’s spy agency was directly involved in preventing the boat reaching NZ was raised in 2015 by the Green Party which had demanded the government to confirm or deny if the SIS and GCSB had been tracking the boat stating that “If [Prime Minister] John Key has used our spy agencies to track asylum seekers, then they are complicit in violating international law, the Refugee Convention and ignoring the UN’s criticism of Australia.” Given the sequence of documented events, and the NZ government’s refusal of to release any information about the incident, it can not be ruled out that certain NZ officials gave their blessing to the Australian Navy to illegally intercept the refugee boat in international waters.
For the moment the remaining passengers of the Andika in Kupang remain a tragic symbol of the discrepancy between NZ’s proclaimed intent for humanitarianism, peace and international justice and its inability to act independently of Australia’s quite different policy imperatives.
We call on politicians, organisations and individuals to make a public appeal to Jacinda Ardern to allow the Andika refugees in Kupang to be resettled in NZ.
We call on progressives and humanitarians in Australia to encourage NZ to accept these refugees and thereby distance itself from Australia’s inhumane actions.
We call on people in Europe who support peace through negotiations and oppose the drive towards war to call on NZ to support these victims of war.
We call on people in Europe and elsewhere to support this case as resistance to Australia’s refugee push back policy in international waters being adopted in your part of the world.
Please send copies of all your statements to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – so that we can publicise them.
Contact Jacinda Ardern: email@example.com