Africans detained in Papua cause concern in Torres Strait | Pacific Beat

Africans detained in Papua cause concern in Torres Strait

Africans detained in Papua cause concern in Torres Strait

Updated 23 August 2013, 17:27 AEST

The detention of nine African asylum seekers in the Indonesian Province of Papau has led communities in the Torres Strait Islands of Australia to once again call on their politicians to stop pretending their region is not the naw backdoor in the country.

The nine men were detained while waiting to board a speedboat to be taken to Australia, and it's not the first time this route has been used, with a group of Somali men captured in the islands after they arrived.

But the Mayor of the regional council their says despite these two cases, and other earlier ones Australia's political parties seem happier blaming each other, than doing anything about it.

Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney reports.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Mayor of the Torres Strait Islands Regional Council Fred Gela

COONEY: Early this week, the Jakarta Post reported that 9 asylum seekers, from Sudan, Chad and Syria had been retained at Merauke in the Indonesian Province of Papua as they prepared to board a speed boat to take them to Australia.
GELA: Basically Merauke shares a border with the New Guinea coastline, so Western Province is only a stone throw away from there. straight into Western Province and then straight across, a ten minute boat ride from there to Sabah and then you're basically over the border, you're in Australian territory.
COONEY: So they would only be on that speed boat if they were taking that path for what an hour, two hours?
GELA: Yeah, at the max, yeah. Torres Strait would have been the doorway. They would have had to come through Torres Strait no doubt in relation to getting to where they were attempting to go. I mean it's been happening for quite some time. The media and certainly government has picked up on it. It will keep on happening.
COONEY: Fred Gela, is the Mayor of the Torres Strait Islands Regional Council, which represents the communities on the islands scattered between northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
A fortnight ago, a group of Somali men were detained in the Torres Strait, after arriving by speed boat from PNG's Western Province. At that time, the arrival sparked significant commentary and reporting in the Australian media, which was then, and still is watching a Federal election campaign where the asylum seeker issue and Australia's response to it is something all political parties are campaigning on.
At the time, the Labor government of Kevin Rudd said the arrival in no way indicated the Torres Strait would become the new backdoor into Australia, while the Coalition Opposition of Tony Abbott argued the opposite.
But in the weeks since then, Mr Gela says neither party has spoken to those who live there.
GELA: We haven't received any calls or anything formal, let alone in terms of organising or trying to facilitate a meeting so we can actually sit down and discuss the issue at hand and apart from that, in terms of looking at whether or not there's going to be an escalate or increase of flexing the muscle around border security. Nothing has changed, and everything's all same all same all, so I think it's all talk, but little action.
COONEY: Both political parties have indicated that in one form or another detaining asylum seekers overseas and refusing them the right to move to Australia no matter what the outcome of their appeal for refugee status, will be part of their respective policies.
Mr. Gela says that proposal sets for failure.
GELA: It will never work, it'll be a total failure. It's been poorly managed and I don't believe it will work.
COONEY: While a fortnight ago, the arrival of the Somalis sparked massive media interest. The detention of this latest group of 9 and the ongoing search for another 14, believed missing at sea in Indonesian territory has hardly made a headline in Australia.
Fred Gela has his own theory why.
GELA: It's been all hush, hush and I think there's a very  strong attempt in terms of sweeping this issue under the carpet, in terms of turning a blind eye to it and in the hope that people won't pick up on. It's a real issue, it's been an issue for quite sometime. In terms of looking, doing a deal with PNG. In relation to actually implementing a detention centre there, then that's a start of a very new beginning. In terms, we might as well say there's a road map into Australia, everybody welcome.

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