The head of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Australia has expressed alarm at the “mean-spirited” public debate on asylum-seekers, warning that the nation is at a “crossroads” and must decide if it will continue to pursue harsh policies of deterrence.
The UNHCR’s regional representative, Richard Towle, said while Australia had an effective and generous resettlement program, it had been “accompanied by a sharp deterioration in the quality of protection for asylum-seekers and refugees coming by boat and a worrying erosion of public support for asylum in Australia”.
“UNHCR understands the widespread concerns in Australia about border security, and the costs of managing the higher number of people arriving by boats, but it is imperative that these do not eclipse the fundamental legal and ethical principles on which the global system of asylum is founded,” Mr Towle said in a speech to mark World Refugee Day.
He said the UNHCR was concerned about “an ever-widening suite of deterrent measures”, including the transfer of asylum-seekers to “less than adequate” processing facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, the “unfair and unreliable” screening methods used to return Sri Lankans, the suspension of processing of more than 20,000 asylum claims since August 13, and the lack of support for asylum-seekers in the community.
“Seen as a whole, UNHCR is concerned that asylum in Australia is very much at a crossroads — whether to continue down the path of ever more restrictive and deterrence-based policies and practices, or to redouble efforts that engage other countries in the region through meaningful co-operation and collaboration.”
Mr Towle’s comments came as another two boats, together carrying 229 asylum-seekers, were intercepted by authorities — including a boat branded with a boxing kangaroo that was taken to Christmas Island.
Retiring Liberal MP Judi Moylan also warned on the detention of asylum-seeker children in her valedictory address to parliament yesterday. “If we are committed to stopping the deaths at sea, in this most intransigent of political arenas, our parliament must find a way to forge a national consensus on this matter before we can possibly entertain any hope of achieving a regional consensus.”Source: The Australian – Ethics lost in asylum backlash: UN
- United Nations refugee agency slams Australia’s tough new asylum seeker policy (craighill.net)
- Up to 25,000 asylum seekers expected in Australia this year (craighill.net)
- Asylum seeker debate mean spirited: UN boss (theage.com.au)
- UNHCR takes Australia to task over migration zone changes (abc.net.au)
- Judge threatens to release Tamil asylum seekers (abc.net.au)
- Nine suspected asylum seekers found dead off Christmas Island (abc.net.au)
- Search on for asylum seeker boat (news.theage.com.au)
- Another asylum seeker boat intercepted (radionz.co.nz)
- ‘Children Overboard/; Two women, two stories’ by David Lesser-Feature Review (wordsforcontemplation.wordpress.com)
- Alarm over asylum underclass (theage.com.au)