The New Wave of Vietnamese ‘Boatpeople’ Seeking Asylum in Australia


Policy & Politics | 23/04/2015 11:46:00 AM

Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce

PRESS RELEASE 23.4.15: The New Wave of Vietnamese ‘Boatpeople’

The latest figures available from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (March 31, 2015) show that 120 Vietnamese are in Australian detention centres (6 per cent of the detention population). This time last year, there were 674 (15 per cent), second in number only to Iranians. Many of those released from detention still languish in visa limbo, awaiting their turn to be processed, without any access to legal representation or support: kids in community detention houses and adults who may or may not be able to work depending on their date of arrival.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce was appalled that 46 people seeking protection have  just been turned back to Vietnam by the Australian Navy. No doubt Vietnamese authorities are interrogating them now to find out why they fled. Executive Officer of the Taskforce, Misha Coleman, who worked at the Australian Embassy in Vietnam for 3 years, said that  “the ‘tick and flick’ on-water screening process undertaken by the Australian Government on these boat turn-backs, to assess whether someone is a refugee or not, is shameful and (under international law) unlawful. I call on the Australian Ambassador in Vietnam to ensure the welfare of these people we’ve sent back there”.

The Australian Government has not only locked many Vietnamese asylum seekers for more than a year, but they’ve also granted the “A18” Vietnam Immigration Department officials access to these asylum seekers, to interview those seeking asylum, on Australian soil. Vietnamese community leaders say that many of the asylum seekers interviewed by A18 in recent years were told to return ‘voluntarily’ by Vietnamese officials.

Additionally, some of the interpreters used by DIBP may in fact have formerly been police or government officials in Vietnam. The asylum seekers have expressed fear that if they don’t return to Vietnam ‘voluntarily’, their family members back in Vietnam might face harsh retribution – either through their ‘disappearance’ or by being sent to labour camps for ‘re-education’.

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2014 says the human rights situation in Vietnam deteriorated significantly in 2013, worsening a trend evident for several years. The year was marked by a severe and intensifying crackdown on critics, including long prison terms for many peaceful activists whose “crime” was calling for political change.

The January 2013 conviction and imprisonment of 14, mostly Catholic, activists by the People’s Court of Nghe An province predicated the year’s upsurge of government attacks on critics. Parishioners exercising fundamental human rights, such as participating in volunteer church activities and peaceful political protests, are considered to be threatening to overthrow the government. The Vietnamese government is also claiming back land used by the church since French colonial times and this is causing huge friction.

In this celebration of 40 years of successful Vietnamese immigration, surely the Australian Government can look past the mode of arrival and grant the basic human right that people should have, which is to have their claims for asylum processed, properly.

Misha Coleman worked at the Australian Embassy in Vietnam between 2003-2007, and is the Executive Officer of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.

First published on Medianet, 23/04/2015

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I am a writer and editor, passionate about helping refugees and about exploring the challenges life throws at us through my writing. A former journalist, I previously worked in publishing and taught French to university students. I am a member of Supporting Asylum Seekers Sydney (SASS) and have also served on the board of my children’s school for the past 13 years, including three terms as vice-president. My work has appeared in online and print publications including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, Independent Australia, New Matilda, Eureka Street, Jewish Literary Journal, The Forward and Online Opinion. I can be contacted at Tôi là nhà văn/nhà báo, và cũng là chủ bút. Với nhiệt tâm muốn giúp đỡ cho người tị nạn và tìm hiểu sâu xa hơn về những khó khăn trong cuộc sống mà chúng ta phải đương đầu qua những bài viết của tôi. Là một cựu phóng viên, trước đây tôi từng cho phát hành các ấn phẩm và đã từng dạy môn Pháp ngữ cho sinh viên đại học. Tôi là thành viên của Tổ chức Giúp đỡ Người Tầm Trú Sydney (Supporting Asylum Seekers Sydney, SASS); và trong 13 năm qua, tôi cũng là thành viên trong ban đại diện hội phụ huynh học sinh của trường các con tôi học, với ba nhiệm kỳ làm phó chủ tịch. Những bài viết của tôi được đăng trên báo và trên trang mạng của những tờ báo như The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, Independent Australia, New Matilda, Eureka Street, Jewish Literary Journal, The Forward and Online Opinion. Để liên lạc với tôi, xin gởi email đến địa chỉ