Refugee Council Warns on Manus Island Detention
5 February 2013 at 9:23 am
The Refugee Council of Australia has called on the Federal Government to act on a UNHCR report which warns of significant inadequacies in the transfer of asylum seekers from Australia to Manus Island.
The report, based on a UNHCR site visit to Manus Island last month, found that the current arrangements of detaining all asylum seekers on a mandatory and indefinite basis without an individual assessment or review amounted to arbitrary detention.
UNHCR also recommended the suspension of transfers of children to Manus until administrative and legal safeguards were in place and expressed concern about the lack of a national legal framework to process asylum claims.
The report described conditions for asylum seekers on Manus Island as harsh and inadequate.
“The mandatory detention of 34 children and their families at the Centre is particularly troubling for us,” the UNHCR’s Regional Representative Richard Towle said.
“Asylum-seekers are distressed and confused about their situation. They are in closed detention, without a process in sight. They feel they have been forgotten,” Towle said.
Refugee Council of Australia Chief Executive Officer Paul Power said UNHCR was very frank in its criticism of Australia’s approach to its international obligations to asylum seekers.
“The report’s critical findings underline the critical need for the Australian Government to respond and review its policy on offshore processing,” Power said.
RCOA is opposed to offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and supports the return to a single statutory position of onshore processing for asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival in Australia.
“The Refugee Council of Australia was critical of the decision to send refugee families with young children to Manus Island when transfers started in November,” Power said.
“Manus Island, like Nauru, is unsuitable for refugee families. It is a remote location that can’t offer the level of community support and care available on the Australian mainland.”
Power said UNHCR’s report again confirmed that Papua New Guinea did not have the legal safeguards nor the competence or capacity to independently protect and process asylum seekers transferred by Australia.
“The report is further evidence that Australia isn’t taking seriously its obligations as a Refugee Convention signatory to accept asylum claims.
“This sends the worst possible message to countries in Asia, at a time when we should be setting a positive example by modelling best-practice refugee protection policies.
“Offshore processing diminishes Australia’s international standing as one of the leading Refugee Convention states in Asia and undermines the hard work needed to encourage other countries in our region to protect refugees and asylum seekers.”