In Tough New Stance, Australian P.M. Plans to Deport Asylum Seekers

In 2001 Australian navy personnel rescued asylum-seekers from a sinking boat off Christmas Island (Photo by Reuters)

By Dr Gill Gillespie, UK Director

The Iranian Refugees Action Network continues to be concerned about the plight of asylum seekers who flee to Australia seeking protection.  Many flee from persecution in Iran, Afghanistan, Burma and Sri Lanka.
Disappointingly, the result of a recent ‘Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers’ is a report supporting Julia Gillard’s touch new stance, where arriving asylum seekers would be deported to what are referred to as ‘processing centres’ on remote Pacific Islands such as Nauru and Manus Island which are in Papua New Guinea.

According to an article in The Telegraph on 13th August 2012 by Jonathan Pearlman (link below), such a decision marks a dramatic turnaround for the Labour government, which has  long rejected the so-called “Pacific solution” adopted a decade ago by the   former Liberal prime minister John Howard.

More than 100 boats carrying  7,300 boat people have arrived in Australia this year, while hundreds have  died in recent years trying to make the crossing from Indonesia in  unseaworthy boats.

The Committee reporting to the government urged them to reopen the Pacific detention centres and to work more closely with Indonesia to combat people  smugglers. It said the government should increase its annual humanitarian  refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 but should no longer provide immigration concessions to family members of people who arrive by boat.

Ms Gillard has been pushing for a refugee swap deal with Malaysia but has been   unable to win support from the Opposition, which has called for a hardline  approach centred on processing asylum seekers in Nauru and using the navy to turn back boats arriving from Indonesia.

The committee said Australia should pursue the Malaysian deal but only if it is assured refugees there will be treated humanely. It said boats should not be turned back at present but this ”could change in the future”.

Alex Pagliaro of Amnesty International argues that Instead of focusing on ‘stopping the boats’, Australia’s policy should “be more geared towards ‘reducing the number of boats by increasing protection for people in source and transit countries’. Not quite as catchy, but unlike ‘stopping the boats’, it is an approach that will genuinely work.”

Amnesty International’s refugee spokesman, Dr Graham Thom, said it was “shocking to see the panel favour punitive measures that deliberately hold vulnerable people hostage, separate families and leave them in limbo”.

The Iranian Refugees Action Network, like other human rights organizations, are appalled by the fact that the re-opening of the mothballed detention centres will, as they did before, subject refugees to horrendous conditions.  All refugees have fled persecution and many held in the centres on Nauru and Manus reported that they felt further traumatized by conditions there, and the length of time they were made to stay in these centres.  As The Independent reports today, some of those detainees went
on hunger strikes or attempted suicide; many suffered lasting mental health
problems.  A further relevant issue is that these deportations will only apply to those who arrive in boats, so they will effectively be discriminated against compared with other asylum seekers who do not arrive in boats.  The asylum-seeking process is difficult enough for refugees, who are seeking a safe haven, which they are legally entitled to under the UNHCR Conventions.  The flee to Australia because it has a reputation for good human rights and democracy.  We hope when these new recommendations are implemented, this will still be the case.

Read Jonathan Pearlman’s full report here


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