Helping asylum seekers may soon be completely illlegal down under

Once again, like in decades past, Australia is becoming a country many of us simply don’t want to recognise:

A modern-day Oskar Schindler would be jailed for up 10 years under the Rudd government’s proposed crackdown on people smuggling, lawyers say.

In largely unscrutinised changes, backed by the opposition, the government is introducing new criminal charges for supporting people smugglers, even unwittingly.

”It’s mind-blowing legislation. I’ve never seen anything like it,” the University of Sydney professor of public law, Mary Crock, said.

”These laws capture innocent people who may be operating under perfectly good humanitarian reasons.”

Currently, the law defines people smugglers as those who are acting for profit when bringing five or more people to Australia. Proposed laws make criminals of anyone sending money to asylum seekers overseas, who later use it to pay a people smuggler.

They also capture Australians who organise for asylum seekers to escape danger for no financial gain, jeopardising some of the work of charitable organisations.

The president of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Ben Saul, said the changes had evaded the attention of refugee communities they would affect. ”Unfortunately, most of the focus was on recent changes to asylum policy,” he said. ”This one’s snuck under the radar.”

Non-government organisations have increased criticism the government’s freeze on processing asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and the reopening of Curtin detention centre.

The anti-people smuggling and other measures bill also criminalises ship captains who rescue people on the high seas and bring them to Australia and pilots who unknowingly fly foreigners into Australia on false documents.

The Tampa captain, Arne Rinnan, who rescued more than 400 asylum seekers from a sinking boat, would have been jailed if the laws had existed in 2001, Professor Saul said.

”You could capture anyone, from a mariner at sea who saves people whose lives are at risk on the high seas – like captain Arne Rinnan who was the captain of the Tampa – through to people who saved Jews from extermination in the Second World War, like Oskar Schindler who didn’t do it for a profit,” he said.

The changes planned for Australia go beyond comparable laws in the US, Canada, Britain and New Zealand, he said.

The government proposed the changes in February.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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