Friday, July 12, 2013

Malta forced to cancel two flights repatriating more than 400 Somalian and Eritrean migrants after human rights court order

Malta cancelled two flights to return migrants to Libya after the European Court of Human Rights issued an interim measure banning repatriation.

The court's written decision was handed to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Tuesday evening as he addressed parliament about his concern over a growing migration crisis.

He said more than 400 migrants, many from Somalia and Eritrea, had arrived on the island of 400,000 people in less than a week, with many having started their journey across the Mediterranean in Libya.

Another three boats were being monitored, he said.

The summer months usually see a steady stream of often rickety migrant boats arriving on the shores of Malta and the island of Lampedusa, off Sicily, seen as a gateway to Europe for migrants fleeing war and poverty at home.

The European court's order was issued on Tuesday after an emergency request by non-governmental organisations citing media reports that the government was planning to send the migrants back to Libya.

The groups said this amounted to so-called 'push back' - a practice declared illegal by the court last year after it was used by Italy in 2009 under then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Muscat said Malta would respect the decisions of the court and international treaties but would consider all options to safeguard its interests.

He confirmed his government had been in contact with the Libyan authorities about sending the migrants back to Libya, but denied it amounted to 'push back'. 'This is not push back, it is a message that we are not push-overs,' he told the Times of Malta website.

Muscat accused the European Union was not showing solidarity with Malta over issue and had earlier warned that Malta was prepared to use its veto on unrelated issues in EU matters to bring about a change.

The EU commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, said that, according to EU and international obligations, all people arriving in EU territory were entitled to file an asylum request and to have a proper assessment of their situation.

She said the EU stood ready to increase support to Malta if it should face growing pressure from the influx.


Plenty of words but still no plan to protect Australia's borders

OF all the policy failures, disappointments and mistakes under the federal Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, the inability to adequately protect Australia's maritime borders from boats commanded by people smugglers has been the greatest source of disappointment and anger with the public.

After inheriting a policy from John Howard which was having maximum impact by deterring almost all people smugglers and adventurous asylum seekers, the first Rudd administration set about winding back both the harsher elements of the Coalition's approach and dismantling the core of the national response.

Mr Howard had already started taking the uncompromising elements out of his plan, scaling back some of the inhospitable detention centres and placing many children and families into community accommodation.

Mr Rudd, with strong public backing, went further and set about getting all young people out of detention and closed down off shore processing. He also took away the prohibitive temporary protection visas, giving those granted asylum full access to work and family reunion.

Mr Howard's tow-back policy, implemented after a spike in arrivals in 2002/03, was used sparingly but to great effect. By turning around a handful of vessels, the lottery was weighted against the people smugglers and their clients. The armed forces might not have liked it - and neither did the Indonesians - but as some retired officers have said in recent days, it can be done with a degree of difficulty.

Mr Rudd's new response is to dismiss Tony Abbott's plans to revive what Mr Howard did as unworkable in changed circumstances, to admit mistakes in not adjusting to what he says were evolving international conditions in 2009 and arrange a regional summit through the good offices of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The Australian public, alarmed and frustrated at the thousands of asylum seekers arriving on boats being intercepted at the rate of more than one a day, wants more than just talk. Mr Rudd must in the days and weeks left before the election spell out a comprehensive plan.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke has given the government's current position some clarity, including an admission of failure on the ill-thought out Malaysian plan. The next step has to clarity around the way ahead. The public knows where we've been on this.

At the same time Mr Abbott needs to give more detail and explanation of his approach to solving these problems. He might have found comfort in his three line mantra while he was facing Ms Gillard but the arrival of Mr Rudd back on the scene has changed the game.

Yesterday's Newspoll take the major parties back to where they were at the 2010 election and makes what was a very lops-sided contest a real and unpredictable competition. Mr Rudd is within striking distance, having won himself back into the hearts of many voters - some of whom seem foolishly ready to either forget or forgive what were grievous policy failures and mistakes between 2007 and 2010.

Mr Abbott cannot - and should not - get away with the wishful claim that because Mr Howard did it, he could do it again. If that was his guiding principle, he would be embracing genuine and urgently necessary workplace reform and not squibbing it for three more years. Mr Abbott and his immigrations spokesman Scott Morrison protest their position is well known but the backstop to any hard questions is that because it worked under the last Coalition Government, it will work again. We do need greater certainty about what Mr Abbott will do and how these plans meet the changes that have occurred in our region since 2007.

If Mr Abbott doesn't flesh out his plans and priorities across the board - not just in relation to asylum seekers - he could see the gap between his standing and that of Mr Rudd grow even greater and allow the Labor Party to sneak back into office with a cheap coat of paint and some tricked up rhetoric. Mr Abbott has often said this election is vital to the nation's future. He has to demonstrate he takes that sentiment seriously and bring the electorate into his confidence. The voters are ready for some plain speaking.


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