Our sense of belonging is not just rooted in seeing reflections of the same faces in our streets, but in acknowledging that all peoples share the same desire for self-determination, and, to have a place to call home. We chat with Pro Bono Australia 2016 !MPACT25 Winner, Executive Director of RACS, Tanya Jackson-Vaughan on the formidable challenges they face in helping people seeking asylum find refuge in Australia.

By Joanne Leila Smith

On 24 August 2001, an Indonesian fishing vessel overloaded with 433 people seeking asylum from Afghanistan, became stranded in international waters, 140 kilometres north of Christmas Island.

Under the directive of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the vessel was rescued by a nearby Norwegian container ship, the MV Tampa.

Tampa’s Commander, Captain Arne Rinnan, changed course for the Indonesian city of Merak, the closest port with facilities to dock such a large vessel. However, some among the rescued allegedly threatened to commit suicide if they were returned to Indonesia and others entered the ship’s bridge, requesting Rinnan to land them on Christmas Island.

The former Howard Government refused. At the time, former PM John Howard said, “I believe it is in Australia’s national interest that we draw a line on what is increasingly becoming an uncontrollable number of illegal arrivals in this country”.

With his new passengers showing signs of poor health, Rinnan made repeated requests to Australian authorities for assistance over the next 48 hours. While Rinnan’s calls were answered, they were not acted upon, so Rinnan entered Australian waters on 29 August. The Howard Government advised Rinnan that he was in ‘flagrant breach’ of the law and dispatched 45 Special Air Service troops to board the ship to prevent it from reaching Christmas Island.

Within days, the Government secured agreements with Nauru and New Zealand. The Royal Australian Navy escorted the people rescued from the MV Tampa to Nauru, from where 131 people were sent to New Zealand. The remaining 302 were processed on Nauru over the ensuing months, with some languishing on Nauru for a further three years.

This became known in Australia as the Tampa Affair, and inspired a series of new legislative frameworks for processing people seeking asylum, which became known as the ‘Pacific Solution’.

This solution included the excision of many of Aust

Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, INDVSTRVS, Joanne Leila Smith, RACS

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