KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 4 / October-November-December 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Captain Arne Rinnan of the Norwegian ship, the MV Tampa, has been awarded for rescuing asylum seekers from a sinking vessel near Christmas Island in August. The human rights award, made by the non-government organisation Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) was received on Captain Rinnan's behalf by the Norwegian Ambassador, Mr Ove Tehorsheim, in Canberra on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

A spokesperson for RAR, Dr Helen McCue, said rural people appreciate someone who gives a helping hand to those in need. It was hoped the award would become an annual event, presented to an individual who had made a selfless and substantial contribution to the welfare of refugees. She said: "Captain Rinnan displayed courage, compassion and moral fortitude during the Tampa crisis." Capt Rinnan has been named 'Captain of the Year' by Lloyds and is also in line for the German 'Person of the Year' award. Dr McCue said: "We want him to know that many Australians also thank and honour him."

Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) formed in response to, and reaction against, the bi-party policy on asylum seekers. It began in the Southern Highlands of NSW in October 2001 when three depressed people in a lounge room, feeling angry and helpless said, "what can we do?" The answer was, "let's work locally". After leafleting outside the supermarkets, promotion in the local press and on radio, RAR put on a hugely successful public meeting in Bowral on November 5 attended by over 400 people. Since then a national network has formed with RAR groups springing up all over the country, from Denmark in WA, to Wangaratta in Victoria, to Katherine in the Northern Territory. They have a ten-point action plan and hundreds of people prepared to put in work.

Rural Australians for Refugees wants the Government to act in accord with the UN convention on Refugees signed by Australia in 1954, close detention centres in their present form, abolish Temporary Protection Visas, and increase Australia's annual refugee intake to 24,000.

The Tampa Human Rights Award is only one of several RAR initiatives. Others include encouraging towns to become 'Welcome Towns' - communities who are prepared to take refugee families and help them settle; and the establishment of 'Welcome Books' similar to the Sorry Books that were such a significant part of the Aboriginal reconciliation movement.

Contact: Rural Australians for Refugees, P.O. Box 1308, Bowral NSW 2576
Convenors: Dr Helen McCue - phone: (02) 4862 2325 or Susan Varga and Anne Coombs - phone: (02) 4883-6098.