Washington International Law Journal


Mary Crock


The Australian Government's decision in August 2001 to close its doors to a maritime Good Samaritan, Norwegian Captain Rinnan, his crew, and 433 Afghan and Iraqi rescuees, provided a curious contrast to the image of humanity, generosity, and openness that Australia tried so hard to foster during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Victims or villains according to how the facts and the law are characterized, the MI/V Tampa rescuers represented for lawyers the intersection of a variety of areas of law and a clash of legal principles. The ambiguities in both international and state law pertaining to asylum seekers and refugees give rise to questions of state responsibility. The stand taken by Australia set a precedent that, if followed by other refugee receiving countries, could only worsen the already deplorable problems facing asylum seekers in the world today. The immediate Australian response to the Tampa Affair was a rash of legislative amendments to Australia's 1958 Migration Act that stifled appeals to federal courts and granted officers a broad range of power over rescuers within and outside of Australia's territorial jurisdiction. Australia has also responded with "Operation Relex" and the "Pacific Solution" which have not only been inadequate to address the needs of the rescuers, but have arguably violated both state and international law. The conflicting interpretations of the law—both domestic and international—that have emerged in the wake of the Tampa may be testament to the inadequacies of the legal framework for the protection of refugees.

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