Kevin Rudd has brushed off suggestions Iraqis waiting in Indonesia for their refugee claims to be processed plan to head to Australia due to his government\’s policies.
The prime minister\’s comments come as two Indonesian men, aged 32 and 40, faced Perth Magistrates Court on Friday charged with people-smuggling offences.
They were remanded in custody until May 15.
An Iraqi man, who has been living in Indonesia for nine years and is a confirmed refugee awaiting resettlement by the UNHCR, says he was aboard a boat from Lombok to Australia in 2001 that was intercepted by the Australian navy and turned back to Indonesia.
But he has since heard from family in Australia that things have changed under the Rudd government. “Kevin Rudd, he change everything about the future,” he told ABC Radio. “If I go to Australia now, different, different. Maybe accepted.
But when John Howard (was the prime minister of) … Australia he said come back to Indonesia.”
A second Iraqi, who has been waiting in Indonesia for almost three years to have his refugee status determined, said the main reason asylum seekers risked their lives in rickety boats was that the UNHCR process took so long.
He said no matter what the UNHCR decided, he would take the first opportunity to join a boat to Australia. “I will do, I will do, if I have any (chance) I will do.
I don\’t have to wait,” he said. He said others felt the same way. ” … When they have any opportunity to go to Australia, they use it. They don\’t care, they don\’t care if they die.”
Mr Rudd dismissed the men\’s comments, arguing there would always be rumours about immigration policies.
“I ran into a bloke the other day who hopped on a boat in 2001 in the midst of Mr Howard\’s prime ministership,” he told Fairfax Radio Network on Friday.
“I was informed that once he got to Australia, under Mr Howard, there\’d be two free houses and three free tractors. There you go – I mean, look, it\’s a rumour mill out there.”
The prime minister said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently described Australia\’s policies as “tough” and “hardline”.
The seventh boat of asylum seekers to arrive in Australian waters this year was intercepted off Western Australia on Wednesday, less than a week after another refugee boat exploded killing five and wounding dozens more.
Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said Australia should aim for a “no boats” border protection policy. Australia was now much softer and more receptive to people smuggling, he said.
“It is easier to get into Australia under Mr Rudd\’s government,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Darwin on Friday.
“The object of Australia\’s border protection policies should be no boats.” Last year, the Rudd government changed Australia\’s immigration policy to abolish temporary protection visas and ensure children weren\’t locked up in detention centres.
The men due to front the Perth Magistrates Court on Friday face a maximum penalty of 20 years\’ imprisonment or a $200,000 fine.
Indonesian diplomat Murul Soeparan said many Indonesian fishermen recruited to captain boats bringing asylum seekers to Australia were unaware of Australian laws.
Most fishermen lured into people smuggling lived in poverty, Ms Soeparan said. “Usually, they are very poor, because it\’s maybe about 200 or 300 Australian dollars they are willing to do it (for),” she said.
“It\’s quite a lot for them because they are willing to risk their life.” It is alleged that one of the men, 32, crewed a vessel intercepted near Ashmore Island, as part of an attempt to smuggle 59 passengers to Australia on April 1.
The other man, 40, allegedly crewed a vessel as part of an attempt to smuggle 38 passengers into Australia on April 6.