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Refugee Council of Australia
Home > Reports > A platform for change: Reforming Australian refugee policy

A platform for change: Reforming Australian refugee policy

End offshore processing

The permanent end to offshore processing

The problem

The policy of detaining people seeking asylum on Nauru and Manus Island has had devastating impacts on those subject to it. This includes:

  • Deteriorating mental health, including: very high levels of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder; alarming incidents of threatened or actual self-harm; and high risk of suicide.
  • Deteriorating physical health due to poor living conditions, limited access to medical facilities and doctors, and Immigration Department restrictions on transfers of people back to Australia (including the separation of families).
  • Continued and escalating reports of sexual abuse and other serious harm, including fear of safety within detention centres and in the community.
  • Escalating pattern of deportations and ‘voluntary returns’ despite lack of fair process and clearly established risk of harm.
  • Families separated between the islands and Australia, without any current hope of resolution.
  • The damage and human cost of this regime has been documented in a variety of reports and assessments by international and Australian organisations. Recently, those held on Manus Island sued the Australian Government for the harm that their ongoing detention has caused. The Australian Government settled for over A$70 million, the largest ever pay-out in a human rights class action.

Costly, damaging and illegal

  • The offshore processing regime costs over A$1 billion per year, more than A$464,000 per person annually. Since the re-emergence of offshore processing in 2012, the Australian Government has spent more than A$5 billion on measures which have harmed people seeking protection.
  • The refugee status determination processes have been marked by lengthy delays, inadequate processes and lack of judicial review in PNG. When people have been found to be in need of refugee protection, the options available to them – permanent settlement in PNG or Cambodia or temporary protection in Nauru – have offered no real hope of long-term security, safety or a viable future. The resettlement deal Australia has brokered with USA offers some hope to refugees on Nauru and Manus Island but there remains a lack of clarity around basic details of the transfer including how many people, when and treatment of those in Australia with split families.
  • The expectation of basic safety cannot be met at offshore processing centres nor within communities. This is evident by the deaths of nine people over the past four years: one murdered, and eight others dying as a result of inadequate health care and/or suicide. The “Nauru Files”, over 2000 leaked documents, detail the lack of safety for people transferred to Nauru. These include records of sexual assaults (including against children), untreated injuries, and self-harm. The PNG detention centre has been subject to external attacks, including a shooting in April 2017.
  • The PNG Supreme Court determined in April 2016 that the detention of people seeking asylum is not legal under the PNG constitution. Nevertheless, people remain without adequate options for safety and security.

Proposed policy solution

Our vision: Australia ends offshore processing and instead processes all people onshore. Australia ends the practice of “turning back boats” and instead provides search and rescue; cooperates with the region for safe disembarkation/reception and protection measures. Australia ends its detention and deterrence approach and instead responds to people seeking asylum in line with its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention.
This can be achieved by:

  • Urgently resolving the situation of those currently in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, to end their long-running suffering.
  • Closing all Australian-funded offshore detention, processing and transit facilities.
  • Bringing all refugees and people seeking asylum to Australia while determinations are made about durable solutions.

The ideal option would be for Australia to resolve this issue quickly by itself by:

  • bringing all people trapped on Nauru and PNG to safety in Australia
  • ensuring all asylum applications are assessed fairly and quickly, and
  • giving recognised refugees permanent protection.

While not ideal, still better options would be:

  • An expedited U.S. resettlement deal which resolves the issue for most people
  • Small numbers being resettled elsewhere, such as New Zealand
  • Even smaller numbers being transferred to and remaining in Australia for medical treatment or other exceptional circumstances, with their cases resolved quietly (as with the last Pacific Solution)
  • People with family links overseas being sponsored for resettlement in other countries
  • Split families with members in Australia being reunited
  • Resolving this situation would not create a pull factor if there is a broader regional vision and an increased commitment to refugee resettlement
  • Legislating to bar future Australian Governments from enacting offshore processing and detention.

Join the movement!

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