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Kosovo refugee - press conference

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The Hon Philip Ruddock MP Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Reconciliation

Kosovo Refugee - Press Conference

5 May 1999

Minister: ... at the conclusion of this launch to brief you on the arrangements tomorrow the Qantas flight will be leaving for Kosovo at 3.00pm this afternoon. It will in fact be taking people from Rome, there are several charters that will bring people from Skopje to Rome where they will join the Qantas flight and we anticipate that they will be received in Sydney on Friday afternoon and we will give you some

more details precisely as to the time and whereabouts in relation to those arrangements. As we have indicated before the arrangements will be that a small group of people will be available to be talked to but we want to preserve the privacy of most of the group and the way in which we will do that will be advised to you more formerly by the Department that are managing the arrangements for the arrival. I will

be holding tomorrow at East Hills an opportunity to, for those who are interested to be able to see the facility and to walk through with me while we have a look at it and in relation to the arrangements that have been made the arrivals will go from Sydney airport to the East Hill’s facility where they will undertake both health checking and

familiarisation and distribution of clothing and other personal affects, that may assist them while they are here. After that period of familiarisation they will be moved on to Brighton in Tasmania. I think the premise there are about to be renamed as the safe haven facility but I have seen that before, but I will go and visit the arrivals early next week to see how matters are progressing. There has been an enormous amount of

interest, a great deal of public support which we are very grateful for. The _ arrangements are for my departmental officials were such that they were in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia ready to resume processing within the 48 hour period that I indicated after we had received from Madam Ogata a request for Australia’s involvement and of course the arrival at the end of this week was ■ something I foreshadow to you at the weekend.

Are there any questions?

Journalist: Mr Ruddock how many flights will there need to be to get the 4000 here?

Minister: Well the advice I have is that there will be flights about one every five days initially, then one every three days. I think it is fairly easy to work out that, you are looking at something like 15 to 20 flights.

Journalist: What sort of condition are these people in, the people who ....inaudible....?

Minister: Well let me just say that Madam Ogata made it very clear in her advice that people are to be received as a group not individually. They are to be received as part of an evacuation not for permanent resettlement and so the screening has been on the basis of establishing priorities on the basis of need and women at risk, that is women who are alone with children have been very much the focus of our screening and then we have been looking at intact family groups that we are able to accommodate and

they are those from situations in which the provision of accommodation and services has been the most difficult for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Journalist: So how many children will be on this first flight?

Minister: I don’t know precisely the number of children. But I would imagine there would be a significant number.

Journalist: Mr Ruddock what is your reaction to the allegations raised by Senator Harradine at the Estimates meeting last night in regards to the forcible abortion-of a woman taken back to China...?

Minister: Well I am not able to react to these specific claims that have been made. They are claims that we are now investigating. I think Senator Harradine last night when he raised this matter for the first time with officials and certainly so far as my

recollection is concerned indirectly the first time with me, he made it, made it very clear that there are difficulties in being able to manage in relation to people who are returned a full monitoring of their circumstances, but that is something that he seeks. Now the point that was made by my officials when they were questioned on this matter are these. Firstly if a person has refugee claims that are, that are such, that our protection obligations are engaged they are not removed from Australia. So the people that we are talking about are people who are either people who have been here unlawfully and made no claims or people who have made claims that have been found not to warrant a protection claim. Now certainly the inquiries that have been made by

my staff at this point in time indicate that no request was made for me to look at this matter for my personal intervention and in no circumstances one would assume.that the return was one that you would have normally anticipated in relation to a person who is here unlawfully and without claim. Now we are certainly going to investigate to the extent that we can, I mean there are limitations on the extent to which you can investigate circumstances which may have occurred several years ago in another country, but we will endeavour to satisfy ourselves and my Department’s launched a

full investigation and seeking the cooperation of Senator Harradine in relation to the sort of information that we may need to assist with those inquiries.

Journalist: Just as a matter of principle would you condone your officials sending back a woman who is heavily pregnant.. .inaudible...?

Minister: Well the point that was made last night was that it is not normal to return a person who is in their late pregnancy because of the difficulties in relation to aircraft requirements so these are matters that we need to look at in further detail. You are asking me as a matter of principle we would not normally return a person who is late

in a pregnancy where it is deemed to be inappropriate that they should be carried on an international aircraft.

Journalist: But that’s only, that’s only the aircraft that concerns you what about, what happens to them in China? Does that concern you?

Minister: In relation to the issue of the claims that are made we observe the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees standards in relation to what constitutes a protection claim. And all people who have protection claims are entitled to put them before us and have them considered. They are considered by appropriate bodies. My Department first, then tribunals, they have the opportunity as you know, too well, to access our courts if they wish and some do and they have the opportunity to put claims to me. Now in terms of the way in which you manage these issues, you have to do so in terms of our obligations under the refugee convention. If what you are saying to me is that we have an obligation in Australia to take every pregnant woman from China, I think that would raise a number of very, very significant policy issues which not only would involve the Government, but the whole of the people of Australia I suspect.

Journalist: What sort of assurances have you had, or the Australian Government had at any stage from the Chinese Government ..inaudible.... people who are returned in this condition would not be forced to undergo abortions? Has any assurances ever

been received from the Chinese Government.. .inaudible...?

Minister: Well I think that it would be more appropriate for me to wait for the full investigation in relation to the matters to know whether or not.....

Journalist: But just in general.....?

Minister: No well not in general terms. I mean we return people to China who are unlawfully in Australia and who do not engage our protection obligations. And it is a matter of ensuring the integrity of our border arrangements that we do seek to return people. Now if people have a belief that they are going to suffer that they are going to suffer persecution in terms of the international convention their obligation is to put their claims to us, our obligation is to assess those claims and we do so with integrity. Now in terms of what happens to people in China we generally monitor the human rights issues in relation to China and make representations in relation to those matters.

Journalist: How is it that we don’t have any............inaudible..... ?

' Minister: Well you say to me why don’t we have a policy on pregnant woman? It is not normal in relation to immigration or humanitarian selection criteria to focus on an issue of that type in its generality. The question that is looked, is the question of whether or not, a person when they are in Australia, would have a well founded claim of persecution and that is dealt with in the context of our international obligations and

frame work of law that operates around that international convention.

Journalist: Mr Ruddock I may have missed something, but you are speaking of 15 to 20 flights that sounds like 4000?

Minister: We are speaking about 4000 people - yes.

Journalist: Mr Ruddock is forced abortion a well founded claim for persecution?

Minister: Look these matters are looked at in context of, of Chinese law and I am not going to get in to the details of these matters. They are looked at on a case by case basis. But I think it is important to focus on what is in fact the nature of the policy within China and just to give you some examples. It is certainly clear in relation to

Sino-Vietnamese with whom we have an arrangement that if they come to Australia they can be returned, that they will not be subjected to any forced, forced abortion. And as I understand it there are also differences in the way in which the policy is

applied within China. And I am not going to get into the general discourse about what China’s policy is in relation to these matters. The way in which these issues are looked at are that if people have claims when they are in Australia in relation to matters that they believe constitute persecution they make those claims and they are dealt with within an established procedure that provides for proper recognition of those matters to be accorded if that is the application of the refugee convention. ~ -

Journalist: Does the High Commissioner for Refugees consider forced abortioji is persecution?

Minister: Well I think that is a matter you better put to their representative who is here today.

Journalist: But surely the criteria is well known to you and your Department?

Minister: The criteria is very broad in context of the nature of claims that are made and it is a highly specialised task in which it has become increasingly specialised because of the advent of judicial review. And if you would like to spend a few years looking at the case law in this area you would appreciate what I am saying. It is not an area in which people speak with precision about individual cases where the circumstances in each individual case have to be applied in the context of a

.....inaudible.... that is highly developed and very sophisticated.

Journalist: It is a very simple issue, a very simple.....

Minister: No. Im sorry no.

Journalist: .. .issue for Australia Minister, whether we return woman to China who will then face forced abortions. Is it the Australian Government’s policy to do that?

Minister: The question we look at is whether or not a person has a well founded fear of persecution now that is in relation to all of the circumstances. Now the assumption you have made is that the way in which the one child policy in China is applied, means that every woman and child who has, who falls pregnant, is going to be

subjected to a forced abortion. Now as I understand it that is not, that is not the application of the policy in China. As I understand it. Now the point I am making is if it is not the case but it does happen in some circumstances, what you have to do is to look at whaCit is in the particular circumstances that might give rise to that

contingency occurring and that is why clients have to be considered within a frame work in which the claims a re .......inaudible.... comprehensive and detailed way and will never be able to done by a Minister at a Press Conference.

Journalist: So you are saying that ...inaudible.... very heavily pregnant woman, women could be sent back to China from Australia and they would not be .....inaudible?

Minister: I am saying that it is highly unlikely that a heavily pregnant woman who is unsafe to be put on an aircraft would be removed from Australia. It may be the case in a particular circumstance that somebody who has been judged not to, have engaged our protection obligations will be removed. That may well have happened. And that is

a determination that is made in which people have had first the opportunity to make their claims, have them considered by the Department, considered by the Refugee Review Tribunal, the opportunity to access our courts which they do frequently 900 cases a year, and then they have an opportunity if they wish to put a claim under section 417 to me. Now in relation to the particular matter, no such claim I am advised came to me for consideration. Now we are carrying out a full investigation in relation to the other matters and if I have got something to say on it I will.

Journalist: Do we have an agreement with Sino-Vietnamese about not bringing .. .inaudible.....?

Minister: No We don’t have an agreement. It is a matter of policy in China that Sino-Vietnamese because of their immigrant or refugee characteristics would not be subjected to China’s one child policy. It is not a question you ....inaudible... to the issue of abortion. There are many issues related to one child policy including issues of contraception, sterilisation and so on but as I understand it between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where they have put in place a program to ensure their successful resettlement in relation to China, there is an understanding in relation to those matters....o.k. thank you.