Asylum experts advise return to ‘Pacific Solution’

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard beamed when she met the Press in Canberra looking as if she is out of the asylum conundrum. The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, which her Government appointed prior to Parliamentary break in June 28, released a Report early today outlining 22 Recommendations on how to deal with people arriving by boat non-stop.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen meet the press in Canberra. (Photo: AAP/Alan Porritt)

The Report is a rehash of earlier solutions, among other things. Spectators even call it “mixed nuts.”  Topping the list is the restoration of a policy espoused by former Prime Minister John Howard: offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Notoriously known as the Pacific Solution, it was scrapped in 2008 due to reported human rights’ abuses. The Australian Human Rights Commission has disagreed with offshore processing as it may revisit a terrifying history:

….the Government’s announcement about Manus Island may herald a return to the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’, a policy that was extremely expensive to administer, caused significant hardship and mental harm, and greatly damaged Australia’s international reputation as a responsible humanitarian nation.

“When the Manus Island detention centre was operating between 2001 and 2004 under the former government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ some people detained there suffered serious mental harm because of their prolonged and indefinite detention and the uncertainty about what would happen to them”

Gillard introduced the Malaysian swap deal when she rose to power in 2010 and was approved in July 2011.

Children are among the survivors in the risky voyage of ayslum seekers to Australia. (Photo: Daniel Wilkins)

The Malaysia Solution proposes the dispatch of 800 unregistered boat people from Australia to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 genuine refugees from Malaysia within four years. The asylum seekers will then live in limbo in detention centres while waiting for a change of status–  as certified refugees.

The Panel’s advise to restore Nauru and Manus Island does not disappoint Gillard as it also upheld her Malaysian Solution. The Panel also recommended to take more refugees under the nation’s Humanitarian Program. This includes an increase of the current  refugee intake from 13,000 to 20,000 per annum; and in five years this number could leap to 27,000. See Recommendation 2 & 5.

The Prime Minister backs the recommendations: Nauru, Manus Island in PNG, and Malaysia while seeking for other third parties in the region, including Indonesia where boat smuggling is rampant.

The Panel advised the importance of building a stronger biateral relations with Indonesia and particularly in relation to an increased resettlement places allocation. The Panel believes both countries can enhance joint surveillance, response patrols, law enforcement, and search and rescue coordination. Changes to Australian law in relation to Indonesian minors and others crewing unlawful boat voyages from Indonesia to Australia are also recommended. Read the Panel’s Full Report.

While Gillard is happy with the Panel, the Report ignored recommendations from the AHRC submitted on 12 July 2012.

The AHRC suggested ways how to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea, along with a list of preventions are Australia’s international obligations on refugees and asylum seekers, among other things.

“Boat people” hold on dear life as they are shipwrecked off the coast of Christmas Island. (Photo: News Ltd)

The Commission has argued sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea “may not be a humane, viable alternative to an arrangement with Malaysia. “  It said  that although both countries are signatories to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967 (the Refugee Convention), Nauru is a newcomer. “

It has only been a party to the Convention as of June 2011 and has not had an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which it can comply with the international obligations under the treaty. Papua New Guinea has posed numerous reservations to the Convention which specify that it does not intend to comply with many of the obligations that it contains.

The Commission strongly recommends against a revival of former arrangements involving transfer of asylum seekers to third countries as occurred under the “Pacific Solution‟.

Malaysian High Commissioner Dato Salman Ahmad

Meanwhile, Malaysian High Commissioner Salman Ahmad expressed  his disappointment over Australia’s misrepresentation of Malaysia.

He admitted Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ human rights protocols and conventions on refugees; however, it does not necessarily mean Malaysia is not helpful in dealing with the issues of asylum seekers.

In a letter accessed by the ABC signed by the Commissioner addressed to Senator Mark Furner of Queensland dated 6 August, he said Malaysia has been instrumental in helping to resettle refugees and asylum seekers. It is, therefore, unfair for the Australian Parliament and other organisations vilifying Malaysia as immune to human rights.

The Commissioner admitted the complexity involved in dealing with boat people issues while Malaysia itself struggles in dealing with thousands of illegal aliens.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

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Lower House passes offshore asylum processing

Risky arrivals of boat people are non-stop–usually with a tragic end. (Photo: AAP)

Human smuggling is unstoppable. Two incidents of capsized vessels near the Christmas Island are reported this week. Rescue operations have been dispatched to look for survivors.

It has became all-too-ordinary when people are crammed into a boat and sail on treacherous waters with high hopes of reaching Australia— then the boat sinks before it reaches the northern shores.

The Parliament convened this afternoon and grappled with a long-awaited solution. The Lower House finally passed a bill to allow the offshore processing of asylum seekers, a move the Julia Gillard’s Labor Party has been pushing for.

Authored by Independent Rob Oakeshott, the legislation passed 74 votes to 72 following a heated and emotional debate that lasted for almost six hours. Even crossbenchers are reported to have sided with the Government.

Independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, and Tony Windsor listen during the bill deliberation. (Photo: Alex Allinghausen)

Gillard said a law is needed for the border protection and to assure the legal certainly of offshore processing of asylum seekers.

She told the Parliament it would an act of destruction not to pass laws removing the legal uncertainty over offshore processing of asylum seekers.  ”We are on the verge of getting the laws we need….It would be tremendous act of destruction and tremendous denial of the national interest … to conduct yourself in a way which means there are no laws, ” the Age reported.

The bill is aimed at bridging the government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act to allow offshore processing in Malaysia against opposition demands for humanitarian safeguards.

It will allow an immigration minister to designate any nation as an ”offshore assessment country” as long as it was party to the Bali Process, which includes Malaysia.

The coalition had wanted to ensure refugees were only sent to countries which had signed the UN refugee convention, which would exclude Malaysia.

The Australian Greens, however, are not amenable with the proposed legislation. Media reports say they will block the bill in the Senate, and want all parties to take part in a committee to find a long-term solution that respects human rights.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said he would not support the bill ” [because] it rips up the Refugee Convention”.

The bill is now scheduled to face the Senate.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent