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August 27, 2009

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Aborigines ask for refugee status

A GROUP of Australian Aborigines asked the United Nations yesterday 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 4,000-strong Alyawarra people in central Australia, said the request was given to James Anaya, the UN 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," Downs said.

A letter given to Anaya, in Australia at the invitation of the government to examine a so-called "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 by the former conservative government in June 2007 to stamp out widespread child sex abuse, fueled by chronic alcoholism in indigenous communities, had taken away indigenous rights, Downs said.

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent 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.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made indigenous affairs a priority of his government, winning praise for apologizing in parliament for historic injustices against Aborigines.


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