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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 68

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In recent weeks our newspapers have given us an account of the appalling problem confronting Palestinian refugees in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut. The camp has apparently been under siege for some months. No food or supplies have entered that camp and it is now claimed that many Palestinian refugees are starving. Can the Minister say what steps the Government has taken to protest this gross inhumanity and to raise it in United Nation forums? Will the Government continue to protest about these sorts of atrocities wherever they occur? Is the Government considering providing, or has it already contributed, aid for the relief of such refugees?

Senator GARETH EVANS —As must have become vividly apparent to concerned citizens all over the world in recent times, conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are grave indeed following months of siege. The Government is very greatly concerned about the situation and has in the past responded generously to help alleviate the situation. The principal problem has been for relief workers to gain access to the camps with the supplies held by relief agencies. However, the Government believes that there are now some encouraging developments in this respect. Reports indicate that food and medicine have been allowed into the Bourj al-Barajneh camp and that residents of the Rashidiyeh camp, south of Tyre, are now able to leave the camp between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily to buy food and other essential supplies. No new appeals have been received from United Nations and other international agencies, such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or the International Committee of the Red Cross, as they appear to be holding adequate relief supplies in Lebanon. Of course, the Australian Government will continue to give due consideration to requests for assistance when they are received.

Australia is not a party principal to efforts to promote a solution to the problems in Lebanon, including the position of the Palestinian refugees. We have, though, urged all parties involved to exercise maximum restraint and to enter into negotiations aimed at national reconciliation and a peaceful settlement of these problems. We will continue to actively support efforts in the United Nations to achieve that objective.