Amnesty International response to Governments new(old) course on asylum seekers

Amnesty International’s position on the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers’ key recommendations

The full report:

Amnesty International’s response to the report: Expert panel recommendations a major setback for refugee policy

Amnesty International’s response to the Government’s response: Short-term political gains trump Australia’s human rights obligations


Amnesty International welcomes the following:

A strategic, comprehensive and integrated regional approach

Amnesty International believes that this is what will work to make refugees safer and reduce the need for people to get on boats. Amnesty International is calling on the Government to focus its energy on working with a) transit countries like Malaysia and Indonesia to improve the conditions for refugees waiting there, and b) source countries like Afghanistan and Burma to raise human rights standards so that people are not forced to flee in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is the recommendation getting the least attention. Amnesty International is concerned that no one is talking about what it means, about how to implement it, about when to start it. Instead, the focus in on deterrent measures that we believe will not make anyone safer.

Increasing our annual Humanitarian Program to 20,000

This means that next year we will protect an extra 6,250 people which is great news and something Amnesty International has been demanding for a long time. What’s even better is the suggestion that it increases further to 27,000 by 2018. Amnesty International (along with many other refugee agencies) believe Australia has the resources and ability to protect this many people from around the world.

Increasing resettlement among traditional and emerging countries

This is also something the Amnesty International has called for. While increasing Australia’s resettlement numbers is very important, there are more than 10 million refugees in the world and 800,000 of them desperately need resettlement, so it is crucial that other countries also pull their weight. Having Australia use diplomatic channels to encourage other nations to increase their resettlement numbers, or even start a resettlement program is needed for a fairer outcome for refugees in the region, and the world.

De-linking onshore and offshore humanitarian program

Amnesty International has long called for this change. Linking the numbers of refugees who are resettled from offshore (like refugee camps) with the number of refugees who seek asylum in Australia directly (boat and plane arrivals) is unnecessary and confusing. No other country links these two programs.

Amnesty International is appalled by the following:

Changing the Migration Act to allow offshore processing

This means removing the line that says Australia shouldn’t remove an asylum seeker to a place where they will not be protected. This will allow the Parliament to send Australia’s asylum seekers to anywhere it thinks is safe, without proper checks and balances.

Amnesty International firmly believes that any asylum seeker who arrives in Australian territory must be protected by Australia, not shipped off to another country where their basic human rights can’t be guaranteed.

Nauru and Manus Island to be reopened as soon as possible

This is just another ‘Pacific Solution’, which we know from experience is a disastrous policy. Last time, it destroyed the mental health of hundreds of already vulnerable people. It cost millions – maybe even billions. It broke international law. It was a complete international embarrassment.

Amnesty International believes that warehousing desperate refugees on tiny, impoverished islands while their sanity deteriorates is unacceptable.

The Malaysia Deal

Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned plans to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.

Malaysia already has over 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers of its own; it doesn’t need or want ours. The refugees in Malaysia have no legal rights, they are often beaten, exploited, raped and detained in horrific conditions.

Instead of sending Australia’s comparative handful of asylum seekers there, why don’t we help make life better for refugees in Malaysia so they don’t get on boats in the first place?

‘No advantage principle’

The Panel have suggested that any asylum seekers taken to Nauru and granted refugee status, should be made to wait for resettlement to Australia for the same amount of time as if they were in a place like Malaysia or Bangladesh. This means that once again, refugees will be languishing on Nauru for years, perhaps decades. Amnesty International believes it is appalling that a country like Australia is going to such efforts to recreate the horrific conditions for refugees across the region.

Remove Australia from Australia’s Migration Zone

This means the Government will pass a law to state that anyone who arrives anywhere in Australian territory without a visa no longer has any ability to claim protection from Australia – basically it is a legal loophole to allow the Government to sidestep the Refugee Convention.

This ignores that seeking asylum is a human right. It ignores that asylum is the mechanism that millions of refugees have used to find safety and today continues to be the only hope for more than 99% of the world’s refugees.

Introducing laws that disallow refugees to claim protection in Australia seriously violates the right to asylum and sets a dangerous example for the rest of the world, which may have dire consequences for the millions of refugees trying to find safety.

Turning back the boats

The Panel stated that turning boats back should be considered in the future. Amnesty International remains opposed to this policy in all circumstances. Turning back boats does not just violate human rights principles, it also puts every one’s life at risk – asylum seekers, crew, and Navy personnel. It does make it look like Australia will go to any lengths to avoid its responsibilities towards asylum seekers.

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