Refugee rights groups call for end of offshore processing as 40 asylum seekers sent to Nauru

February 21, 2024
Nauru offshore detention
Forty asylum seekers have been taken to the island of Nauru to be processed in offshore detention. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Amnesty International (AI) Australia and refugee rights groups said the 40 people who recently sought asylum in Western Australia should be brought back to the mainland.

The asylum seekers, understood to be from Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been taken to Nauru.

Graham Thom, AI Australia spokesperson, said on February 19 that Labor must “listen to the human rights experts, medical professionals, legal advocates and the majority of the Australian public who denounce offshore detention as being unsafe, inhumane and unacceptable”.

“Detaining asylum seekers offshore is a dead-end policy of cruelty," Thom said. "After 10 years, hundreds of people who sought asylum in Australia suffer irreparable damage from their time on Nauru and Manus Island.”

“There are still 55 people who remain in PNG without permanent resettlement. The federal government must not condemn a new cohort of people to a policy that’s long been disgraced and discarded.”

Helen Panopoulos, Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) spokesperson, is calling on Labor to abandon its racist, cruel, inhumane and dangerous” policy of offshore detention and boat turn-backs.

“Operation Sovereign Borders is a bipartisan approach to refugee and asylum policy and practice in Australia,” she said. “Sending people offshore has proven deadly for some”, a reference to the 10th anniversary of the murder of 24-year-old Reza Barati, who died on Manus Island while under the protection of Australia.  

Panopoulos said that while 21 people have died in offshore detention, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) said “countless others have suffered and continue to suffer from medical neglect and deterioration of their mental health”.

Panopoulos said the recent asylum seekers came from Indonesia, “where almost 14,000 refugees have been languishing for nearly a decade with no rights” — the result of immigration minister Scott Morrison’s decision in 2014 that no one found to be a refugee by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia would ever be resettled in Australia.

She said evidence presented by the assistant secretary of Home Affairs to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal at the end of January showed that millions of dollars had been wasted in the offshore detention regime.

A damning review report by Dennis Richardson, examining offshore detention “integrity issues”, said improvements in “identifying foreign bribery and corruption” is needed.

It made four recommendations (the fourth being redacted) focusing on transparency and accountability, and did not refer any individual to the Australian Federal Police or National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Panopoulos said the public has “limited ability to monitor the way people are treated and whether their human rights are being protected” in offshore detention.

“Asylum seekers remain extremely vulnerable under these conditions,” she said.

RCOA wants a royal commission into Australia’s detention regime, and repeated this call after Richardson’s report was released.

It said Independent MP Kylea Tink’s Migration Amendment (Limits on Immigration Detention) Bill 2023, introduced in November, “provides a clear path forward in ensuring that detention is only used when necessary and for the shortest time possible”.

It introduces a 90-day limit on immigration detention and prohibits minors from being imprisoned. RCOA spokesperson Paul Power said the bill “aligns with the Australian Labor Party’s national platform which commits Labor to enshrining a ‘90 day rule’ on detention, regularly reviewing decisions to detain and ensuring children are not held in immigration detention”.

Tink said when introducing her bill that “Australia’s immigration regime is unique in the world: uniquely cruel and a unique denial of basic human rights”.

She said there had been at least 37 suicides related to immigration detention in the past 10 years and, over the same period, the detention regime had cost $9.7 billion, with offshore processing expected to cost $485 million in 2024.

Power said only a royal commission into the use of immigration detention can show a clear way forward. The Richardson report confirms just how urgent such a commission of inquiry is, he said.

ROCA said the “whatever it takes” mentality of successive Australian governments to offshore detention for more than 20 years and “the apparent limited oversight” by ministers and senior officials of the day-to-day policy “have created room for the corrupt dealings” highlighted by the Richardson report.

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