Refugee Council of Australia
Passport with Australia immigration stamp

Recent changes in Australian refugee policy

Offshore processing

Offshore processing

Transfers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea

People seeking asylum by boat who came after 19 July 2013 are subject to offshore processing. Under this policy, they are transferred to regional processing centres (RPCs) in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island where their claims are processed under the laws of those countries. If they are found to be refugees, they will be settled in a country other than Australia. Nauru is offering recognised refugees temporary visas, with permanent protection only if they choose to resettle in Cambodia (see below).

While PNG has adopted a National Refugee Policy allowing for permanent settlement and a pathway to citizenship, in practice the process of settlement remains fraught.

Nauru progressively introduced open centre arrangements from 25 February 2015 until 5 October 2015, when it declared the centre open. Some refugees and people seeking asylum are now living in the community in Nauru. However, a number remain in the processing centres because there is not enough housing or because of a perceived lack of safety. As of 26 April 2018, there were still 255 people, including 22 children, at the Nauru RPC.

PNG also introduced open centre arrangements for Manus Island RPC. On 27 April 2016, a bus service commenced to assist movement between the Manus RPC, the Lorengau township, and the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. Manus RPC closed at the end of October 2017 and people were transferred to other accommodation in Manus Island (see below).

The Department no longer regularly reports on the number of people living in the community in Nauru or in PNG. However, based on the information provided during Senate estimates, as of 21 May 2018, there are 1,655 people on both Nauru and PNG in various living arrangements.

Operation Sovereign Borders and offshore processing statistics

Resettlement deal with Cambodia

On 26 September 2014, Australia and Cambodia signed an agreement providing for the relocation of refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. Under this, people found to be refugees subject to offshore processing in Nauru could choose to resettle in Cambodia, where they would be provided with services and a path to citizenship. However, only seven refugees have chosen to take up this option, and it has been reported that only one is left.

Resettlement deal with the US

In November 2016, Australia announced a deal with the United States of America (US) which would allow some of the refugees in Nauru and Manus Island to resettle in the USA. Reports indicated the US would resettle up to 1,250 refugees. Prior to resettlement, people who expressed interest will be subject to security assessment, further interviews and medical checks.

The change of government in the USA created great uncertainty around the future of this deal. Departures did not start until September 2017. As of 30 April 2018, 165 refugees from Nauru and 84 refugees from PNG have left for the US. So far, Iranian and Somali refugees have had the highest refusal rate for resettlement in the USA. While Iranians constitute the largest population of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, only 15 Iranian nationals have been accepted for resettlement and 70 were refused. This has created grave concerns that people from countries subject to USA’s enhanced security screening will be denied a chance at resettlement.

The Australian Government has not identified options for resettlement other than the US or Cambodia. It has repeatedly turned down an offer by New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees. A handful of people have also moved to other countries mainly through private sponsorship. This includes a father and son from Syria who were reunited with family members in Canada, an Iranian man privately sponsored to Canada, and an Iranian cartoonist, known by the pen name of Eaten Fish, who moved to a Northern European country after being granted artist’s residency through the International Cities of Refuge Network. The future is also uncertain for those who have been found not to be a refugee but are unable to return home (due to statelessness or inability to source travel documents).

Detention in PNG

In late April 2016, PNG’s Supreme Court ruled that the transfer and detention of people seeking asylum on Manus Island violated the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution. The Supreme Court ordered that immediate steps be taken to end the detention of people seeking asylum in PNG. In mid-May 2017, people in the Manus Island detention centre were told that the centre would close on 31 October 2017. The centre closed on that day.

The plan was to place them in different accommodation areas on Manus Island, based on their refugee status. Many refused to leave due to fears for their safety and concerns (confirmed by UNHCR) about the adequacy of the new accommodation. To force people to leave, a number of essential services, including electricity, water and healthcare, were withdrawn. However, people continued to remain. The standoff ended after three weeks when the PNG authorities cleared the facility by force.

Until When? Our report on Manus Island

Living conditions on Nauru and Manus Island

Since the start of offshore processing, many organisations including UNHCR and Amnesty International have reported on the harsh living conditions, substandard services, and the physical and mental health impacts of indefinite detention. In its most recent report, Amnesty International highlighted the reduction of health services on Manus Island and withdrawal of counselling services, at a time they are needed most.

There have been many incidents of self-harm, protests and disturbances on both Nauru and Manus Island. There have been consistent and alarming reports of abuse (sexual and otherwise), including of those living in the community in Nauru, and of gay and lesbian people. There have been at least two deaths as a result of delays in medical treatment and multiple incidents evidencing woefully inadequate health care.

The Australian Government has repeatedly refused to bring people in urgent need of healthcare to Australia. When obliged to do so (for example by a court), it separates families to ensure the person returns. When treatment is not available in PNG and Nauru, Australia has transferred people to Taiwan. Several times, pregnant women who require termination and are unable to have the procedure on Nauru (as abortion is illegal in that country) have received inadequate and extremely delayed care.

Australia’s man-made crisis on Nauru

Deaths on Manus Island and Nauru

So far 12 people have died on Nauru and Manus Island, mainly as a result of inadequate healthcare or by suicide. They are:

  • Reza Barati (Iran, 24 years old): beaten to death in February 2014, after security guards and police stormed Manus Island RPC and attacked people who were protesting
  • Sayed Ibrahim Hussein (Pakistan): drowned while swimming in Nauru in June 2014
  • Hamid Khazaei (Iran, 24 years old): died in September 2014 from a sepsis infection three weeks after he cut his foot at Manus Island RPC and received inadequate medical care
  • Omid Masoumali (Iran, 23 years old): set himself on fire in late April 2016. After he self-immolated, it took over 24 hours for him to be medically evacuated.
  • Rakhib Khan (Bangladesh, 26 years old): died in May 2016 of a suspected heart attack while living in community in Nauru, with some alleged that he overdosed deliberately
  • Kamil Hussain (Pakistan, 34 years old): drowned in August 2016 while swimming at a waterfall on Manus Island during a day trip from the immigration detention centre
  • Faysal Ishak Ahmed (Sudan, 27 years old): died in Brisbane on Christmas Eve 2016, after urgent medical evacuation from Manus Island RPC, alleged after being denied medical treatment for months
  • Hamed Shamshiripour (Iran, 31 years old): found dead in August 2017 in the forest near East Lorengau refugee transit centre on Manus Island, with suggestions that he committed suicide and with a known history of mental health issues
  • Rajeev Rajendran (Sri Lanka, 32 years old): found dead in October 2017 in Lorengau hospital in Manus Island, after being admitted because of an attempted suicide
  • Jahingir (Bangladesh, 29 years old): died in November 2017 after his motorbike collided with a car driven by a group of Nauruan locals
  • Salim Kyawning (Rohingya, 52 years old): died in May 2018 on Manus Island after he jumped from a moving bus. He suffered from severe epilepsy for many years and had spent a few months in Australia for medical treatment
  • Fariborz Karami (Iran, 26 years old): committed suicide in June 2018 after repeatedly asking for help for his deteriorating mental health.

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