Alyawarra People Ask United Nations For Refugee Status

A GROUP of Australian Aborigines has asked the United Nations for refugee status, claiming special emergency laws to curb alcohol and sexual abuse in the remote outback have turned them into outcasts at home.

Richard Downs, a spokesperson for the 4000-strong Alyawarra people in central Australia, said the request was given to James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, during a fact-finding tour to Australia.

“We’ve got no say at all. We feel like an outcast in our community, refugees in our own country,” Mr Downs told state radio.

A letter given to Mr Anaya, in Australia at the invitation of the Rudd Government to examine the Howard government’s intervention by police and soldiers in the Northern Territory two years ago, asked the UN to list the Alyawarra as internally displaced.

The intervention, launched in June 2007 to stamp out widespread child sex abuse, had taken away indigenous rights, Mr Downs said.

Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about two per cent of the population.

They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and have a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.

Mr Rudd has said he would continue the controversial intervention but review the way it operates, including an invitation for Mr Anaya to visit remote settlements in a first-ever UN fact-finding mission, long opposed by Mr Howard in his time in government.

Mr Anaya has received hundreds of submissions and letters during his two-week visit to Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia, to be followed by a report back to the UN Human Rights Council.

An Australian-based spokeswoman for the United Nations said Anaya, a US law professor and human rights advocate, would not comment on individual submissions.

Mr Downs said the letter followed a protest last month in Ampilatwatja, 300km north-east of Alice Springs, when about 100 people walked off their land in protest against poor living conditions in government-owned houses.

An independent review last year found the intervention affected 45,500 Aboriginal men, women and children in more than 500 Northern Territory communities, and progress on health care and security were undermined by a lack of full community support.

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