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<p>Department of Immigration and Citizenship</p>

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Offshore Standoff

The United Nations was not happy with Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers — and that was before a refugee in the Nauru detention centre attempted suicide.


The Australian government appears to be entering a stand-off with the United Nations Refugee Agency over its treatment of asylum seekers being sent to the remote Pacific island of Nauru and its plans to send others to Papua New Guinea’s equally remote Manus Island.

The tensions have been exacerbated by the first suicide attempt of an asylum seeker being held on Nauru since the government implemented its so-called Pacific Solution to boat arrivals in August. On Thursday an Iranian man reportedly attempted to hang himself at the Nauru detention centre. He was discovered blue in the face and rescued by fellow asylum seekers and staff.

The Sydney advocacy group, the Refugee Action Coalition, learned of the suicide attempt when another Iranian asylum seeker on Nauru made a phone call later on Thursday. The Coalition’s spokesman, Ian Rintoul, said the caller believed other asylum seekers on Nauru — now numbering over 250 in total — were becoming frustrated and depressed because their main activity was to eat and sleep.

... the backlog of asylum seekers being held within Australia and on Nauru awaiting the processing of their claims for refugee status is now building up into the thousands.

“He said there was nothing to do, there was no sport, no space, no books, no library and they were just eating and sleeping, eating and sleeping,” said Mr Rintoul.

He said the suicide attempt had followed a visit to Nauru made last week by the Minister for Immigration, Mr Chris Bowen, during which Mr Bowen had informed asylum seekers that it would be eight to ten months before processing of claims for refugee status would begin to be considered.

Mr Bowen’s office told The Global Mail that the Minister had made no such statement whilst on Nauru. Whilst Mr Bowen had discussed the Government’s determination that those arriving in Australia by boat would have no advantage over others in attempting to gain permanent entry to Australia, he had made no specific statements on the duration of processing.

<p>Department of Immigration and Citizenship</p>

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Nevertheless the backlog of asylum seekers being held within Australia and on Nauru awaiting the processing of their claims for refugee status is now building up into the thousands. Since the government announced on August 13 that it would re-activate offshore asylum seeker processing centres on Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island, the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat into Australian waters has not diminished – despite the government’s hopes that the return to offshore processing would deter boat arrivals.

The government suspended the refugee processing claims when it announced the re-activation of the offshore centres on August 13. But despite that action some 4,000 boat people have arrived since. Most are still being held in Australia’s detention centres as the Australian Defence Force hurries to enlarge the capacity on Nauru and to get the Manus Island centre back up to a standard at which it can begin taking asylum seekers. The latest boat was intercepted carrying 70 people off the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on Friday, making it the fourth boat arrival in two days. Since Tuesday, October 9, 334 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters.

The government suspended the refugee processing claims when it announced the re-activation of the off-shore centres on August 13. But despite that action some 4000 boat people have arrived since.

On Friday the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee’s representative in Canberra, Mr Richard Towle, spoke out on ABC Radio about the build up of the thousands of asylum seekers both within Australia and on Nauru caught up in the suspension of the processing of their claims for refugee status.

“These are operational questions for the Australian government to consider. But it’s very clear that if you have these burgeoning numbers of people, now as you say up towards 4,000, it’s very important that they be subjected to a process of refugee status determination as quickly as possible. What we’ve found in the past when there were suspensions of Afghans and Sri Lankan cases two years ago, this actually caused a lot of administrative headaches and caused delays in processing which finally impacted on psychological health.”

Mr Towle’s statement enlarges the stand-off the government is entering with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Antonio Guterres, over its treatment of asylum seekers.

On Thursday Mr Guterres, in a formal letter responding to the government’s re-activation of the offshore processing centre on PNG’s Manus Island, said that PNG had neither the “competence or capacity” to process the refugee claims on asylum seekers transferred from Australia.

Mr Bowen’s spokeswoman said the government “would have more to say in due course” on the processing arrangements for asylum seekers.

8 comments on this story
by Carlos

It appears to me that these 'processing centres' (so reminiscent of concentration) are a crime against humanity and all those involved should be "subject to the full force of the law", as politicians are so fond of saying.
Just to make it clear - asylum seeking is not, nor has it ever been, illegal. Not following the international agreements to give such asylum and assistance, is the illegal act. Not to mention immoral.
The political animals have consistently lived down to my expectations.

October 13, 2012 @ 10:51pm
by Marilyn

Papua New Guinea
"The Government of Papua New Guinea in accordance with article 42 paragraph 1 of the Convention makes a reservation with respect to the provisions contained in articles 17 (1), 21, 22 (1), 26, 31, 32 and 34 of the Convention and does not accept the obligations stipulated in these articles."

Article 17 1 – the right to work.

Artilce 21 – no housing

Article 22 – no right to education
Article 26 – no freedom of movement
Article 31 – they are allowed to punish refugees
32 – they can expel refugees
34 – no naturalization

The EU are not even allowed to force refugees in their territory to other EU nations like Greece if the conditions are lesser.

What makes us think we are allowed to do these disgusting things to women and kids.

October 14, 2012 @ 4:34pm
by Rainbow runner

the decision to continue this appalling approach to dealing with refugees, by the leaders of a nation founded by refugees of many kinds makes me deeply ashamed to be Australian.

There must be a better way to allow refugees into this country on condition that they are processed quickly, and undertake to accept citizenship after being inducted into a system of religious tolerance, lack of violence, respect and obligations to the community and acceptance of a civil society . Do we still uphold these principles? Makes me wonder.

October 15, 2012 @ 6:05am
by dane

The problem with the asylum seekers are not those who apply wrongfully. They can be weeded out with hiring more bureaucrats to process the applications, however, clearly that is not the intent of the Australian government. Basically, the whole centre is a punishment to warn legitimate asylum seekers away by imprisoning them for indeterminate amounts of time.

I would say to Mr Bowen that there is only one legitimate reaction to asylum seekers- prompt processing, and if the claim is legitimate asylum must be granted. No form of asylum seeker deserves years of imprisonment in between!

Surely faster processing would also end up costing the tax-payer less? If you reduce processing time to a quarter, then even if the amount of refugees double you are still only paying half. Then again, could it actually be cheaper to allow access to the country and give a social security check every month during processing?

I do understand the unwillingness to bear the costs of others' problems. Maybe a scheme reminiscent of the carbon trading scheme should be initiated. A refugee trading scheme, so the costs could be shared fairly between nations.

October 15, 2012 @ 6:51am
by Mundo

I find it odd that not one journo at one Abbott doorstop or PC yet has said, ' Mr Abbott you said that reopening Nauru would stop the boats. The advice to the government from the Dept. Imm. was that it would have no effect. Do you now concede you were wrong?
(and don't endorse the STB idiocy by the way)

October 15, 2012 @ 8:04am
Show previous 5 comments
by Michael

These developing and sorry circumstances evolving again resemble the appalling practicies of the Howard government. Sadly, it a waste of resources in a number of ways.

The ware-housing of refugees in these detention centre gulags works in such a way as to Increase asylum seeker anger resentment, anxiety, despair and depression.

These prison-like institutions have become sites for the generation of severe mental illness, and the evidence of this is abundant from the Howard-Ruddock era. Given that most applicants come to be approved as refugees, this is akin to Australia shooting itself in the foot in this question.

Most of the asylum seekers are able bodied and able minded people, people who could be given an opportunity to contribute to the nation in ways which utuise their existing skills and motivation, towards the betterment of the nation they aspire to belong to. Special short term work projects could be established to co- opt refugees to help build the nation's sorely declining iinfra-structure, rather than having them waste their lives, and having the goverment fund mega bucks to international custodial corporations.

The Global Mail is to be commended for running stories like this.

funding the building and the staffing of international custodial corporations

The financial cost of these off - shore ' solutions'

October 15, 2012 @ 2:24pm
by Helena

ridiculous isn't it? - what would Australians make of the estimated 50000 people that fly in and live here, having overstayed their visas - we should be treating these people who make such a perilous journey with compassion

@mundo liberal MPs have been asked and have said that offshore processing will not work unless "the full suite" of Liberal policies are

October 18, 2012 @ 12:06am
by Ron

@Dane. What makes you think that Australia is bearing the cost of other people's problems. Australia signedup to the Refugee Convention in order to obtain cheap labour in the 1950s. Until 1976, we basked in our good reputation but never actually had to take an asylum seeker, as is our obligation under the Convention. Now, we have to take a fairly small number of people seeking asylum and we are trying to make this a problem for nations like PNG and Nauru. Many other nations in the region have not signed the Convention and have to deal with what they called 'illegal immigrants'. I can see why they think Australia is big enough and rich enough to fulfill its own obligations. It's our turn to take responsibility instead of whingeing,

October 20, 2012 @ 9:33am
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