27 April 2016

The announcement today by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of the closure of the Manus Island immigration detention centre provides the opportunity for an urgent rethink on Australia’s immigration detention policies, says the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

Paul Power, RCOA’s CEO said, “With the Manus Island ‘solution’ and Australia’s offshore processing system crumbling under legal challenge and human despair, it’s time to set politics aside and put humanity first. Australia can bring those we sent to Manus back to be resettled or have their claims assessed here. Those already recognised as refugees can be quickly resettled and the asylum claims of the remainder processed as should have been done three years ago.

“The collapse of Manus Island detention provides the Turnbull Government with the opportunity to end the perversity of our current policies which have caused our neighbours to act illegally and inflicted immense pain on those stuck in an interminable limbo.

“By bringing those we have sent to Manus back to Australia to be assessed and resettled, the Turnbull Government can put politics aside and reset Australia’s approach to people seeking asylum,” Mr Power said.

“In considering Australia’s options, we must recognise that our nation’s reputation has been badly damaged by our past and current treatment of people seeking our help. We must not destroy our remaining credibility by trying to force other nations into accepting people our Government doesn’t want to bring to Australia.

“The better path is to accept that those currently on Manus Island must come to Australia and to put our national energy into working cooperatively with our neighbours to find better answers for persecuted people in our region.

“No one wants to see desperate people get on leaky boats. However, better answers can only come through calm planning and cooperation between nations, the sort of cooperation we saw three decades ago in response to the Indochinese refugee crisis.

“This is the perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to take charge of his Government’s policy and act with a cooler head than his predecessors. A change in attitude from Australia now could give much-needed momentum to the nascent efforts to build a more effective response to the needs of desperate and persecuted people in the Asia-Pacific region.”

For more information contact Laura Stacey on 0488 035 535 or Tim O’Connor 0431 147 366