Comment on the situation aboard the Norwegian tank ship, the Tampa - Refugee Council
August 30, 2001

Comment on the situation aboard the Norwegian tank ship, the Tampa

Nick Hardwick, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“This is a serious humanitarian situation which urgently needs to be prevented from deteriorating any further. As the ship is now less than five miles away from their own land, the Australian Government should immediately grant the refugees from the Tampa ship at least temporary admission to Christmas Island.

These are highly vulnerable people fleeing Afghanistan, a country whose chilling record of human rights abuses nobody can dispute. Their cases for asylum need to be considered as soon as possible.

“Desperate people take desperate risks. As border clampdowns across the developed world increase, there is practically no legal way for people to enter a country in order to exercise their legal right to claim asylum and have their case considered, even though human rights abuses across the world continue to soar.

“Looking at the broader context, most refugees continue to do what they’ve always done. They walk on foot, from one very poor country to another. Over three million refugees from Afghanistan remain in its neighbouring countries.

“We must never see a repeat of the SS St Louis ship tragedy. Most of the 1,128 German Jewish people aboard fleeing Hitler in 1939 across the Atlantic to Cuba failed to survive. Only 22 were accepted by Cuba and when the US, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina all refused to help, the captain was forced to take the ship all the way back to Europe.

While the UK admitted 288 of the refugees, nobody else survived. In 1951, the international communities united to sign up to the Geneva Convention for Refugees to ensure that tragedies like this could never happen again. As signatories themselves, we urge the Australian Government to follow the spirit of the Geneva Convention for Refugees and immediately allow the people aboard the Tampa to disembark and have their claims considered.”