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Australian Current Affairs

Australia in breach of international human rights laws over Manus Island asylum seekers


The desolate Manus Island detainee facility

The desolate Manus Island detainee facility

The international refugee agency says it is ”deeply concerned” for the asylum seekers Australia sends to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island detention centre.

In its second report on the conditions on the island centre, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says PNG is in breach of international human rights laws by detaining the asylum seekers ”on a mandatory and indefinite basis”.

”The remoteness of the location, the nature of the facility (on a naval base) and the difficult living conditions appear to contribute to the all-pervasive sense of frustration and despondency which, if left unresolved for a protracted period, is likely to lead to increased levels of psycho-social and physical harm of those affected,” the UNHCR report states.

After the UNHCR visited the centre in June, Australia has transferred all children and families from the centre back to Christmas Island.

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While the agency welcomed the news, it said the transfers showed how inappropriate it had been for Australia to send children to the centre in the first place.

Under international law, children are to be held in detention only as a last resort, and for the shortest time possible.

”UNHCR remains of the view that the legal framework and detention environment at the Manus Island facility fall short of international standards of protection [and] it is difficult to see how a determination of the best interests of transferee children, appropriately weighted, could lead to a conclusion that adequate and appropriate levels of care and support are currently available on the island.

”The recent transfer of children and their families to Australia, which UNCHR welcomes, appears to support this finding.”

On Friday, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said another 18 asylum seekers – Iraqis, Sri Lankans and Kuwaitis – had been sent to Manus Island, the 18th transfer conducted by Australia.

”The completion of this transfer reaffirms the strong message of deterrence for anyone considering risking their lives on dangerous people smuggling boats,” the department said.

But the UNHCR said given more than 20,000 asylum seekers had arrived since the government introduced its ”no-advantage” policy in August 13 – which included reopening the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres – the detention of some 300 on Manus Island appeared arbitrary.

”Many [asylum seekers] expressed a deep sense of injustice about why such a small number of them had been selected for transfer to Manus Island out of the 20,000 or so who had arrived by boat to Australia,” it said.

”This sense of injustice was compounded by the harsh conditions, their likely protracted stay and uncertainty about their eventual fate.”

The UNHCR said it welcomed improvements made at the centre since its first visit in January, and praised staff and officials at the centre, saying they conducted themselves with ”obvious sensitivity, dedication and good will”.

However, it said, Australia’s pre-transfer assessments of asylum seekers bound for Manus Island were  ”problematic”, and did not appear to take into account the individual needs of children or other vulnerable people.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke said the UNHCR reports continued ”to provide an important input to benchmarking the progress of the work at Manus Island”.

”Given the permanent structures are not yet in place I intend to review the findings of the UNHCR and they will be part of ongoing considerations into future decisions,” Mr Burke said in a statement.

”Manus Island is a critical part of a greater comprehensive regional approach.”

Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Concern lingers over Manus centre: UNHCR
 
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