Australia’s notorious policy of detaining refugees and people seeking asylum in horrific offshore detention centres is in danger of being replicated by other countries, including some EU member states which are seeking to force people rescued at sea to disembark at locations outside Europe where they would be exposed to serious human rights violations, said Amnesty International Australia.
In an open letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, written to coincide with the 5thanniversary of Australia’s “Regional Resettlement Arrangement” on 19 July, the organisation urged EU heads of state to heed the lessons of the illegal Australian policy, which has seen thousands of refugees and asylum seekers forcibly sent to camps in Nauru and Manus Island where they continue to face dire conditions.
It follows an agreement at a European Council meeting on 28-29 June to explore the idea of “regional disembarkation platforms” outside of Europe, where people rescued at sea would be offloaded, and suggestions by some European ministers that people rescued in the Mediterranean should be disembarked in Libya.
“Proposals currently being discussed in Europe have an eerily familiar ring to us here in Australia. Over the past five years, we’ve seen first-hand the devastating and traumatising impact on men, women and children of the Australian Government’s cruel and illegal policies,” said Claire Mallinson, National Director of Amnesty International Australia.
“The example set by Australia’s government provides an object lesson in the dangers of outsourcing responsibility for refugee policy to countries that have neither the will nor the capacity to properly settle refugees.
“Before proceeding with their own disembarkation policy, we urge EU member states to take a long, hard look at the appalling patterns of abusive treatment and intentional neglect by governments in Nauru and Manus Island since 2013. Australia’s policy has failed refugees and migrants on a grand-scale and must not be used as a template for others to follow.”
On 19 July 2013, Australia enacted a policy that meant anyone who arrived by boat anywhere in Australia – including the mainland – would be barred from seeking asylum in the country. Instead, any persons arriving by boat would be transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, and even those recognised as refugees would never be allowed to settle in Australia.
More than 1600 people remain on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea and Nauru, with the majority being assessed as refugees. Under a bilateral agreement, whereby the US government agreed to settle up to 1,250 refugees, nearly 400 refugees have been sent to the US in the past year. However, hundreds of refugees are likely to remain on Manus Island and Nauru in abysmal conditions indefinitely, with no clear plans for their future.
Amnesty International has called for the refugee detention centres on Manus Island to be closed and all refugees and asylum seekers to be brought to safety in Australia. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has widely condemned these cruel policies, noting that the refugee population has the highest rates of mental illness in the world, and has called on the Australian government to end ‘offshore processing’ and transfer refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru to Australia and grant them protection.