Citing concerns over growing populations of asylum seekers, Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, continues to refuse to allow 434 refugees, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, to dock at an Australian port on Christmas Island. The refugees were rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry Monday by a Norwegian freight ship. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has condemned the Australian government’s conduct explaining, “The convention (on refugees) provides that they should be accepted at the nearest portÉand they should be treated in an appropriate human rights way.” As each day passes, this international impasse, becomes increasingly reminiscent of the SS St. Louis, which held a group of Jews seeking asylum from Nazi Germany in 1939. The ship was denied entry into several countries, including the United States, before being sent back to Europe, sending many of the Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust.
As groups of refugees are being detained and turned away Down Under, U.N. officials have begun to interview tens of thousands of Afghan families currently living in Pakistan to determine which will be allowed to stay and which will be deported. Two refugee camps are scheduled for closure, wide-scale deportations have already begun, and Pakistani officials have expressed the misguided opinion that Afghan refugees should return to their homeland. Afghanistan has been at civil war for more than twenty years and is experiencing its third year of record setting drought and famine. Additionally, the Taliban militia continues to deny women and girls access to education, employment, health care, and other basic human rights, exacerbating the tragic humanitarian crisis.