Not for Profits Slam Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers
14 August 2012 at 11:11 am
Not for Profits working at the coal-face with the increasing number of asylum seekers to Australia have slammed the Expert Panel report delivered to the Gillard Government with reactions ranging from ‘shock’ to ‘disappointment’.
The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers released its Report containing 22 recommendations on the policy options available to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia, including re-opening the Nauru facility.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) says the options presented by the expert panel do not reflect the recommendations by the hundreds of submissions made to the expert panel.
“We are in shock,” the ASRC’s Pamela Curr said.
“The only way people will be able to leave Nauru or any place of offshore processing is through death or a life threatening illness. It did not have to come to this. There are other ways as presented by the majority of the over 300 submissions to the expert panel.
“The recommendations are based on the premise of a no advantage test for those who come by boat. If you arrive by boat you will not be eligible for family reunion and offshore processing is at the heart of the panel’s recommendations.
“The recommendation to send asylum seekers to Nauru, Malaysia and PNG will come at a huge moral and economic cost to Australia – not to mention the human cost to the individuals sent away. The proposals are also in breach of our obligations under the refugee convention as the recommendations seek to punish those seeking asylum based on mode of arrival.
“It is worse than we expected,” she said.
ASRC Patron and Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser said deterrence has not worked in the past and will not work in the future.
“In six pages and 22 recommendations, the expert panel has shredded the principals of the Refugee Convention.
“The panel rewrote the terms of reference – from saving lives to deterring people to seek asylum in Australia.
“Asylum seekers rightly expect us to offer them protection. We rightly expected the expert panel to hold this protection at the heart of their recommendations. Sadly, we have been disappointed,” Fraser said.
The independent Panel was appointed by the Prime Minister on 28 June and comprises Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC, AFC (Ret’d), Prof Michael L’Estrange AO and Paris Aristotle AM.
Houston said the Panel had proposed a way forward that it believed would address the challenges that Australia faced over the short, medium and longer term.
Amnesty Australia said the Government’s initial response to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers’ report shows short-term political gains trumping Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.
“Introducing policies like offshore processing, with the ‘no advantage’ rule which will see refugees on Nauru languish for years, will not make refugees safer but rather undermine prospects for a genuine regional solution for refugees,” Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson said.
“This announcement sends a resounding message to the region that protecting refugee rights is something to be avoided at all costs.
“Ultimately, this will mean that more refugees in the Asia Pacific face torture, exploitation, and even death.
“The tragedy of asylum seeker deaths at sea must be addressed, but not by punishing people who have already fled torture and persecution.
“Whilst we welcome the initiatives that genuinely increase protection for refugees in the region, Amnesty International is very concerned with the punitive measures, such as offshore processing, that the panel’s report has prioritised.
“Amnesty International urges parties not to support any of the recommendations that blatantly breach Australia’s human rights obligations.”
The Uniting Church in Australia has expressed its disappointment in the recommendations of the Expert Panel known as the Houston Committee and called for a new beginning in the national debate on asylum seekers.
“The Expert Panel report is another fork in the road in this vexed debate," National Director of the Uniting Church's justice unit, UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos said.
"As a representative of a Church that has long advocated for a more compassionate treatment of asylum seekers, we cannot welcome the re-introduction of offshore processing to Malaysia, Nauru or Papua New Guinea where the care of vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees cannot be assured.
"What we can do is to urge all parties in this debate to reconsider the principles of compassion and protection in what has been an ugly conversation.
"For too long the debate has focussed on punishment and a false logic of deterrence. The Committee emphasised a 'no advantage deal' for asylum seekers arriving by boat. This serves only to punish people based on their method of arrival here – an approach that lacks compassion and breaches our international obligations."
The Uniting Church in Australia says it is a long-standing supporter of onshore processing, community placement for people on bridging visas, and an increased humanitarian intake.
"The Report's focus on 'regular pathways' ignores the reality faced by hundreds of thousands of refugees languishing in horrendous conditions in Malaysia.
"While we welcome the Special Humanitarian Program being increased by 4,000 places, removing current family reunion concessions will devastate families who have already endured so much.
"Increasing the Humanitarian Program places to 20,000 will begin to alleviate the pressures on our regional neighbours, but unless we delink onshore refugee claims from the Humanitarian Program, then asylum seekers arriving by boat will continue to be demonised.”
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston defended the recommendations saying:“We recommend a policy approach that is hard-headed but not hard-hearted. That is realistic not idealistic. That is driven by a sense of humanity as well as fairness.”
Prof L’Estrange said the Panel believed that Australian policy settings and regional arrangements needed to be adjusted.
“It is the Panel’s view that the balance of risk and incentive must be shifted in favour of regular migration pathways and established international protections, and against dangerous maritime migration,” L’Estrange said.
“We also believe that a ‘no advantage’ principle should apply whereby irregular migrants gain no benefit by choosing to circumvent regular migration mechanisms.”
From late 2001 to June this year, 964 asylum seekers and crew have been lost at sea on boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia. Of these, 604 people have lost their lives since October 2009.
Houston said the Panel believed the prospect of further losses of life at sea was one that demanded urgent and decisive action on the part of the Australian Parliament.
“The current impasse must be resolved. The Panel hopes our recommendations can contribute to a productive outcome,” Houston said.
The Federal Opposition has signalled it will back new laws to reinstate offshore processing.