Aboriginal people seek refugee status

Phoebe Stewart | abc.net.au | August 26, 2009

Click for larger image and descriptionA group of Aboriginal people has asked the United Nations to register them as refugees, saying the Northern Territory intervention has made them outcasts in their own country

Richard Downs, a spokesperson for the Alyawarra Nation, which represents about 4000 people in central Australia, says the request was handed to the United Nations special rapporteur, who was visiting the Northern Territory last week.

The request urged the UN to register their people under the international refugee convention as internally displaced persons.

Mr Downs says people of the Alyawarra Nation have been left with no choice because the federal intervention in the Northern Territory has taken away their rights.

"We've got no say at all," he said.

"We feel like an outcast in our community, refugees in our own country."

He says the Federal Government should be concentrating on protecting human rights on at home rather than abroad.

"One one hand you've got the Australian Government pushing for human rights in China ... look at your own back yard, listen to your own people.

"I mean Australia should be setting an example for the rest of the countries to follow.

"We've had the oppportunities over the last 200 years to come together to look at the future direction for both black and white and recognise we do have differences but we can do it together."

The request comes a month after more than 100 people walked off the community of Ampilatwatja, about 300 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs.

The community was protesting about their living conditions, including broken septic tanks in their government-owned houses, and about intervention policies.

Mr Downs says the community will live in makeshift camps for another year if they have to.

Australia Aborigines ask UN for refugee status

Rob Taylor | Reuters | 25th August, 2009

Click for larger image and descriptionA group of Australian Aborigines asked the United Nations on Wednesday for refugee status, claiming special emergency laws to curb alcohol and sexual abuse in the remote outback have turned them into outcasts at home.

Richard Downs, a spokesperson for the 4,000-strong Alyawarra people in central Australia, said the request was given to James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, during a fact-finding tour to Australia.

"We've got no say at all. We feel like an outcast in our community, refugees in our own country," Downs told state radio.

A letter given to Anaya, in Australia at the invitation of the centre-left government to examine a so-called "intervention" by police and soldiers in the Northern Territory two years ago, asked the UN to list the Alyawarra as internally displaced.

The intervention, launched by the former conservative government in June 2007 to stamp out widespread child sex abuse, fuelled by chronic alcoholism from "rivers of grog" in indigenous communities, had taken away indigenous rights, Downs said.

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and have a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made indigenous affairs a priority of his government, winning praise for apologising in parliament for historic injustices against Aborigines.

Aboriginal refugee claim 'unlikely to succeed'

abc.net.au | 27th Aug 2009

"We feel like an outcast in our community" ... Alyawarra Nation spokesman Richard Downs. (Alice Brennan)

An expert in refugee and human rights law says a group of Aboriginal people who have asked the United Nations to register them as refugees within Australia are unlikely to be successful.

The 4,000-strong Alyawarra Nation put their request in writing to the UN's special rapporteur on Indigenous Human Rights, James Anaya, who is on a fact-finding tour to central Australia.

The group says the federal intervention has forced them from their land in the Northern Territory and they have been made to feel "helpless, hopeless and worthless" and want the UN to declare them officially "internally displaced".

Professor Mary Crock from the University of Sydney believes the attempt is a political gesture and the UN is unlikely to do anything.

Professor Crock says there is a marked difference in international law between refugees and internally-displaced people.

"For starters, the concept of refugee is very closely defined under international law and it relates to people who've crossed international borders. So you can't be a refugee within your own territory," she said.

"This was a term that was bandied about for example after Hurricane Katrina in America, and international lawyers get very upset when people use the word refugee like that because it has a very specific legal meaning. Internally-displaced persons and refugees are very different kettles of fish."

Professor Crock says internally displaced persons do have a right to complain to the UN, but as a matter of hard law, refugees have got certain rights.

"There's a special body that's been created to look after refugees who've moved across borders - the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees," she said.

"In some circumstances the mandate of the UNHCR has been extended to include some internally-displaced persons, but that's generally in countries that are wracked with civil war and you've got enormous problems - mass movements of people - where the local government just can't cope."

She says as Australia is not in that position, she believes the move is an attempt to embarrass the Federal Government politically.

"I think Australia's treatment of its Indigenous people in particular with the intervention is very much in the spotlight from the human rights perspective at the moment - how successful they are going to be remains to be seen, but clearly the rapporteur is going to take note of the situation that these people say that they find themselves in."

Mr Anaya is due to report back to the Federal Government on his fact finding tour today and will make a public statement later this afternoon.

Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, says the Government still has much work to do to improve conditions for Indigenous people.

"I think what's important is that we recognise that we have a huge task in front of us to close the life expectancy gap, the employment gap, the gap in education," she said.

Tags: community-and-society, indigenous, government-and-politics, law-crime-and-justice, rights, human-rights, refugees, indigenous-policy, nt-intervention, australia, nt, alice-springs-0870, darwin-0800


I understand why Aboriginal

anomymous user comment

I understand why Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory want refugee status. As a Victorian Aboriginal woman I want the same thing. The people up north can only face a futrue that is as bleak as that of Southern Aboriginal people. Unwanted and despised by the mainstream society; discriminated and abused in a society that reckons everyone has a fair go, where our identity is questioned and the renments of land is taken away.

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