Two months ago, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre reported on Australia’s man-made crisis in Nauru. That report observed that this was a ‘crisis’ that had an easy answer. We say again what we said there:
These people can simply be brought to Australia, and should have been brought here years ago. This is entirely within Australia’s power to achieve. The number of people involved is tiny. It would be an enormous cost saving to the government, and help to restore our credibility in the region and internationally. It would drain a poison that has been slowly engulfing our politics, our identity and our democracy.
Since that report, we have seen the tide of public opinion start to turn, as people finally wake up to the damage that is being done in our name. We have seen doctors, teachers, and academics speaking up, as never before. We have seen government and independent MPs start to demand that something be done in the name of humanity. We have seen thousands of people in the streets, and online, demand that this suffering must end.
We hope that, by the time this report is published, the children will be off Nauru, being given proper care, and with lives no longer in limbo. But we must not forget the men in PNG, both brave and broken, whose prospects for the future are bleaker than those on Nauru, and for whom we in Australia continue to be responsible.
Our key recommendations
The Australian Government should end offshore processing immediately, and bring them to Australia, or a safe third country.
While this is being implemented, the Australian Government should ensure the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including access to adequate mental health care, and where medical treatment is required in Australia, access to timely transfers based on medical needs. It should end immigration detention practices (including open forms of detention) and other discriminatory limitations on their right.
The Papua New Guinean Government should independently, promptly, effectively and impartially investigate all complaints of violence or other crimes committed against refugees and people seeking asylum and, where there is sufficient evidence, ensure that perpetrators are held accountable through a court of law, without recourse to the death penalty.
Both governments should ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is respected in practice and that no individual is forced to return to a country where he is at risk of persecution or other ill-treatment. They should accept and co-operate fully with third countries willing to provide safe settlement of refugees rapidly, including but not limited to, the government of New Zealand. They should ensure that independent agencies, including the United Nations, international and national authorities and non-governmental organisations, have full and free access to the centres to monitor the conditions and provide humanitarian assistance where necessary.