Vietnamese seek asylum in Aust due to oppression: lawyer

An increasing number of Vietnamese refugees are seeking asylum in Australia by boat.

Australia's immigration department says it's trying to work out the reason behind the trend, with some 460 Vietnamese arriving by boat since January.

Meanwhile, the Department has confirmed four Vietnamese asylum seekers being held at Darwin's Airport Lodge escaped on Monday night - about 160 of the 700 detainees at the so-called "alternative place of detention" are Vietnamese.

So what's behind the growth in numbers?

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy

Speaker: Hoi Trinh, lawyer, VOICE

TRINH: One the reasons why I think refugees have left Vietnam recently is because of the increased oppression. Over the past few years, the Vietnamese regime, the government has increased oppressions against bloggers, dissidents, activists and so on and I think that's one of the reasons. Another reason could also be the fact that they are refugees and they have always been refugees fleeing from Vietnam from 1975, when Saigon fell, but over the past few years, despite the fact that VOICE and other NGOs asking the Australian government to take these refugees from Cambodia, from Thailand and we do this by asking the government to take these refugees on humanitarian grounds. The Australian government hasn't really responded. Right now, I know for a fact that there are 600 Vietnamese refugees in Thailand and they've been here for years. Some of them have been for 23 years. But Australia has said no, and I think that in the end, some refugees feel that they haven't been heard, even though they've been queuing for this long and they've been seeking asylum elsewhere. So I don't think that refugees going to Australia is a unique problem. If there is oppression in one place, then they will have to flee the country and first they will flee to neighbouring countries, like in the case of Vietnam, they flee to Cambodia, to the Philippines, to Thailand, but eventually if their cases are not adjudicated and they're voices are not heard, they will flee elsewhere and in this case obviously, to Australia, even though it's a bit far.
MCCARTHY: Does this raise a central policy problem in the refugee debate which is that Australia is unable to take large numbers of refugees or asylum seekers waiting in refugee camps precisely because the refugee quota is being taken up by people who are arriving by boat?
TRINH: I really don't think that is the argument. We can always resettle people from overseas and we are always saying that there are people arriving by boat and they take up the numbers. But if you really look at the numbers, that's not right. I think we take around 20,000 refugees per year and so when you see an increase of what 400 Vietnamese boat people in Australia this year, how would the 400 people take up the 20,000 places? I really don't believe that that is true. 
But it is one of the very good arguments to tell the public, that's so that the public therefore will be confused.
Another thing I want to raise is that under the Refugee Convention that Australia's a signatory to, you can't place a quota on the number of refugees that you will process. Refugees, they flee and they don't look at oh, look the numbers, do they have a quota to do that? So by and large, we are under international obligation to process all refugee case loads and the truth of the matter is it's actually not that many. I mean you're looking at Thailand who have tens-of-thousands of refugees they have to host per year. Right now, I know for a fact that Cambodia has been hosting refugees from Vietnam for years and years and when you look at the oppression in Vietnam lately, and how they put people in prison for ten years, 15 years, 16 years, just for speaking their mind, then it is quite natural to see why people flee Vietnam again after all these years.
MCCARTHY: And just briefly Hoi Trinh, could you expand on the level of persecution that people are facing in Vietnam, and particularly, why the government seems to have become more repressive in recent years?
TRINH: The example I can give is what happened last Sunday. So last Sunday, bloggers and activists and civil society groups wanted to organise a human rights picnic day, where they can go to picnic and they talk about human rights. And some bloggers only distributed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it's like an A4 paper kind of thing and because of that, they got arrested and brought to police stations where they were beaten up. 
I talked to a young blogger actually she's only 28 years-old. She was badly beaten up, her belongings were confiscated and then, when the police refused to return her belongings, her mum came up to insist that it must be returned and her mum got beaten up too. Her sister got beaten up when they were involved and in fact, yes, she was knocked out and three of her teeth got knocked out. So that's a prime example of what just happened in Vietnam last Sunday and last Monday. For two days, these bloggers were arrested and assaulted and beaten up. Now why does Vietnam do that? A, because they feel like they can do it and no-one will have the say over what these I mean basically it's a Communist country, so I mean the Communist Government feels that they can get away with it. And B, it's because Australia, to a certain extent, hasn't done its part in raising these issues on the international arena. I think that Australia as a good trading partner should raise these voices of the bloggers and the activists and the dissidents. I mean hundreds of people in prison right now just simply for asking the government to respect their voice and I really hope that the Australian government in doing business with Vietnam and in having these annual  dialogues on human rights would be more assertive and would call a spade a spade.

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