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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Huge support for Kenyan fugitives

YUKO NARUSHIMA September 23, 2009 OUTRAGE at Australia's plan to deport two women possibly facing genital mutilation in Kenya has triggered an alliance between political adversaries, lawyers and refugee groups who want the Immigration Minister to intervene. Independent senator Nick Xenophon joined the Opposition and the Greens in urging the minister, Chris Evans, to use his intervention powers to grant the women visas. Grace Gichuhi, 22, and Teresia Ndikaru Muturi, 21, fear deportation from Sydney would force them into female circumcision. The pair were rejected as refugees by the immigration department, an independent tribunal and then the minister despite a bill before parliament aimed at protecting such women. A groundswell of concerned readers yesterday contacted the The Age, appalled by the situation and eager to help. ''If the laws are changed, these women have a clear case for asylum,'' Senator Xenophon said. ''I urge the minister to exercise discretion to give these two women asylum.'' The comments were echoed by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who said the women sounded like ''prime candidates'' for the proposed ''complementary protection'' laws aimed at building on existing refugee criteria. Currently, refugees' fear of persecution has to be based on ''race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion'', allowing people facing genital mutilation for other reasons to be sent home. While Opposition spokeswoman for immigration Sharman Stone supported a second look at the pair's cases, she rejected the need for the new laws, saying the existing intervention powers were adequate. The Coalition will oppose complementary protection in the Senate. ''The minister of the day looks at what are often very complex, one-off situations, and he or she doesn't have to adhere strictly to any convention. They can then exercise their own sense of what is right and just and humane,'' Dr Stone said. But supporters of the change, including a member of her own party, said Dr Stone had outlined precisely what was wrong with existing laws. Professor of public law at the University of Sydney, Mary Crock, said the changes gave certainty to women such as Ms Gichuhi and Ms Muturi, whose cases would be ''no brainers'' if departmental officials had laws to apply. Liberal MP Petro Georgiou said current powers before the minister had limitations. He said: ''Ministerial intervention is not subject to a process other than an individual's position and the system can be improved.'' Immigration officials, who had told the women to prepare for deportation, are reassessing their claims with new information to put before the minister. Senator Evans' spokesman could not give a timeframe for a decision.