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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15548

Dr THEOPHANOUS —I want to raise today the plight of the Kosovo refugees who at this very moment are seeking to establish a right to stay in Australia. Mr Speaker, you may be aware that of the 4,000 refugees nearly all have been pressured to return to Kosovo, even though the majority of them were very unhappy to return at this point. The circumstances in Kosovo are quite difficult and there are insufficient guarantees of protection or basic food and shelter. The government has now declared the 135 refugees who remain to be illegal and has cancelled a number of provisions which had been made for them. It now seeks to hold them in detention while their claims for protection are considered. But the Kosovars should not be held in detention while the Refugee Review Tribunal deals with this issue; they should be released to the care of the Albanian community and other organisations.

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs insists that he cannot show such compassion in this matter because he is bound by the current mandatory detention policy. However, this event should give us cause to reconsider the unfair and all encompassing nature of the policy itself. Mandatory detention of refugee claimants has been condemned by Amnesty International, the Refugee Council of Australia and many other organisations as contrary to our international human rights agreements. There are alternatives to this inhumane policy and the government should be considering them. We should act in this parliament to change to an alternative policy that is not contrary to human rights. The Refugee Council of Australia has developed such an alternative that all political parties should consider. (Time expired)