Human Rights concerns in Regional Resettlement Arrangement

Date: 
Thursday 25 July 2013

The Australian Human Rights Commission has asked the Australian Government to explain how the recently announced Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea will address Australia’s obligations under international human rights law.

“The Commission has repeatedly made clear its concerns that third country processing and the conditions on Manus Island may violate fundamental human rights,” said Commission President, Professor Gillian Triggs. “The recently announced Regional Resettlement Arrangement risks breaching Australia’s legal obligations”

Professor Triggs acknowledged that asylum seekers attempting to travel to Australia by sea posed serious and complex challenges, with no simple solution.

“Firstly, the loss of life among asylum seekers who are making the journey by sea is of serious concern to Australians,” Professor Triggs said.

“Nonetheless, Australia remains bound to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are recognised in any regional arrangement,” she said.

Professor Triggs said the Australian Government should exercise leadership by ensuring the humane treatment of asylum seekers in conformity with the rule of law.

“All asylum seekers should have their claims assessed in Australia by the Government, and we should provide protection to those who are found to be refugees.”

In particular, the Commission believes that the needs of children are a priority. Professor Triggs noted that the Minister has special obligations to protect the rights of unaccompanied children who arrive in Australia as he is their legal guardian.

“Accordingly, the best interests of the child must be the Minister’s primary consideration,” she said. “It is difficult to see how, in the vast majority of cases, transferring unaccompanied minors to Papua New Guinea could possibly be in their best interests.”

Professor Triggs reiterated the Commission’s long standing view that, where asylum seekers transferred to Papua New Guinea are subject to mandatory and indefinite detention, this may amount to “arbitrary detention” contrary to human rights law.

The conditions on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea have been described by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as harsh and below international standards.

“The impacts of prolonged detention on asylum seekers who were last detained on Nauru and Manus Island are well documented,” Professor Triggs said. “Some of these people were diagnosed with a range of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder and acute stress reaction, and there were also high levels of actual and threatened self-harm.”

Professor Triggs said the new Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea should comply with the international human rights by which Australia has agreed to be bound.

Media contact: Brinsley Marlay 02 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529