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The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is shocked and disappointed with the release of the expert panel’s recommendations as they focus on deterrence, punishment and breach the very reason the Refugee Convention was established — offering protection to people fleeing persecution. The recommendations are a step backwards in Australia's humanity and will affect our reputation as a defender of human rights.
“Deterrence has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. In six pages and 22 recommendations, the expert panel has shredded the principals of the Refugee Convention', says the ASRC Patron and former Prime Minster, Malcolm Fraser.
The recommendations ignore the well-documented and proven failures of the policies of the past. Failures such as Nauru with the average cost of $500,000 per person that caused serious mental health issues as a result of detention. Failures such as the defeat of Malaysia in the High Court last year due to its unconstitutional nature.
The failure of these attempts have been disregarded and presented in a package that focuses on strategy, “regular migration pathways” and a “no advantage” principal for boat arrivals. The current policy of mandatory detention isn’t an “advantage” position and people still arrive seeking asylum.
Instead of addressing how to reduce deaths at sea with an informed, humane policy the expert panel have put forward recommendations that:
• Violate Australia’s international law obligations.
• Endorse offshore processing in Nauru, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea that will come at a huge moral and economic cost to Australia — not to mention the human cost to the individuals sent away.
• Are punitive based to those seeking asylum by boat.
• Do not reflect the recommendations by the hundreds of submissions to the expert panel, including from Amnesty, the Refugee Council of Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre and numerous eminent individuals.
• Boat arrivals may be detained indefinitely, due to a 'no advantage' test. There are no time limits on detention and no provisions to exclude children from detention - including unaccompanied minors.
• Remove the current protections in place for children. Attachment 10 of the report notes a legislative change that the Minister is no longer responsible for the movement of asylum seeking children — of who he is guardian.
Houston argued that onshore processing is a pull factor, therefore recommendations must be based on deterrence and offshore processing. There is no evidence of this. Fluctuations in the flow of people seeking asylum in Australia are consistent with the level of international asylum claims and correlate to geopolitical events. At the same time as asylum numbers decreased to Australia in Howard's time, they also decreased in Europe where policies of deterrence don't exist.
While the increase to the humanitarian intake and review of the linkage between onshore and offshore places are welcome, they are small shards of light in a very dark document.
The panel rewrote the terms of reference — from saving lives to deterring people to seek asylum in Australia. “Asylum seekers rightly expect us to offer them protection. We rightly expected the expert panel to hold this protection at the heart of their recommendations. Sadly, we have been disappointed,” says Fraser.