News in Brief: Australia signs refugee deal with Iran - will Europe follow?


The government of Iran has signed a deal with Australia agreeing, for the first time, to accept
back rejected asylum seekers. The deal could set a precedent for Europe where there are
about 10,000 Iranian asylum seekers, whose claims have been rejected.

ON 12 March 2003, Phillip Ruddock announced that the Australian government had signed a
memorandum of understanding with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In it, the Iranians said that they would accept asylum seekers forcibly deported back to Iran, in exchange for a cultural programme allowing affluent young Iranians to go and experience the Australian lifestyle.

The deal was described by Ruddock as 'historic' because, until then, the Iranian government had refused to accept forcibly-deported asylum seekers. Iran has an unemployment rate of 30 per cent, so it is reluctant to accept back the tens of thousands of asylum seekers that Europe is desperate to deport.

The significance of this agreement with Australia is that it will leave the Iranian government open to pressure from European countries seeking its replication. The 128 Iranians in Australia is a tiny number compared to the tens of thousands of asylum seekers that could follow from Europe. Australia's offer of visas for a few hundred Iranian youths is no recompense for this type of financial and political burden.

Deal kept secret

So why did Iran sign the agreement? It's difficult to know, because no one has seen it. 'They aren't releasing the details of it to anyone, including Parliament', says Mary Black, a refugee advocate.

A representative of the Iranian embassy, Eshagh
Al-Habib, who visited the Baxter detention centre
on the 15 May 2003, was also unwilling to produce
a copy of the agreement. Asylum seekers
requesting to see it report being told, 'I am here in
the flesh. This is better proof than any piece of
paper. You should trust me.'

During the discussion, Al-Habib mentioned
personal details about the detainees that they had
not told him. 'He told them that the department of
immigration had passed on details about them to
the Iranian Government', said Mary Black. 'Many of
these Iranians are political dissidents. If any
information was released they'd face severe
consequences once deported.'

In the Australian Financial Review, of 28 May
2003, a spokesperson for Ruddock denied handing
over any more than 'passport information, village
of origin and their health check information'.
However, asylum seekers from the Baxter
detention centre have said that Al-Habib was in
possession of more information than this.

It's not in the Australian government's interests
to pass on details to the Iranian regime, because
it has served only to make asylum seekers more
resistant to deportation. So why would they do it?
The only reason refugee advocates can offer is
that it forms part of the deal signed with the
Iranians. 'This', postulates Mary Black, 'may be the
reason that no-one has seen the secret
agreement.'

Trade links

The other possibility is that the Iranians may have
signed the agreement because they are desperate
to increase trade with Western countries - in
particular, those countries closely allied to the
United States.

 

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