Refugee group condemns Oakeshott’s push for offshore processing

Refugee Action Collective Victoria's Sue Bolton. Photo:

The Refugee Action Collective Victoria released the statement below on March 15.

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Independent MP Rob Oakeshott is attempting to get legislation through parliament that will allow asylum seekers to be sent to third countries for processing. Oakeshott has called on both major parties to support his bill.

The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) has condemned Oakeshott’s bill as being anti-humanitarian and an attempt to circumvent the High Court ruling last year that said the Malaysian refugee swap deal was illegal.

RAC spokesperson Sue Bolton said: “Oakeshott’s legislation is extremely dangerous” because it would allow an immigration minister to designate any nation as a suitable offshore assessment country as long as it is party to the Bali Process, a grouping of more than 50 countries aimed at combating people smuggling.

Bolton said: “Oakeshott is shifting the focus away from protecting the right of people to seek asylum and instead focusing on people smuggling as a crime.

“Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum. Criminalising the means by which people seek asylum is negating international law.

“The major parties’ and Oakeshott’s attacks on people smuggling are a hypocritical attack on the rights of asylum seekers to escape their countries and seek asylum.

“Some of the countries that are part of the Bali process are guilty of gross human rights violations — Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“If it is legal to seek asylum under international law, then it is legal to get help from someone to escape. Many refugees from Nazi Germany sought help from people smugglers to escape. Many of the people smugglers from that era are regarded as heroes.

“Oakeshott’s legislation is silent about protecting the human rights of asylum seekers in a third country, if his legislation were passed into law.

“Malaysia doesn’t recognise refugees and simply treats them as illegal migrants, deporting asylum seekers back to danger. Malaysia also canes asylum seekers and refugees.

“In Indonesia, the situation isn’t much better. Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN Human Rights Convention. Recently, an Afghan asylum seeker was beaten to death inside a detention centre.

“The inhumane mandatory detention regime in Australia is no justification for offshore processing. Mandatory detention has to end. Offshore processing, including on Christmas Island, also has to end.

“Australia should provide safe passage to Australia for asylum seekers, alleviating the need for asylum seekers to use the services of people smugglers.”