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Commission warns against revisiting aspects of 'Pacific Solution'

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

The Australian Human Rights Commission is concerned that the transfer of asylum seekers to an immigration detention centre on Manus Island could lead to breaches of the human rights of vulnerable people who are seeking protection from persecution.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC said she was concerned that the Government’s announcement about Manus Island may herald a return to the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’, a policy that was extremely expensive to administer, caused significant hardship and mental harm, and greatly damaged Australia’s international reputation as a responsible humanitarian nation.

“When the Manus Island detention centre was operating between 2001 and 2004 under the former government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ some people detained there suffered serious mental harm because of their prolonged and indefinite detention and the uncertainty about what would happen to them,” Ms Branson said.

“The Commission welcomed the Labor government’s dismantling of the Pacific Solution in 2008 and we do not want to see it re-introduced.

“Australia should treat all asylum seekers in the same way, regardless of how they arrive in Australia. Treating people who arrive by boat differently from those who arrive by plane by sending them to a third country undermines Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Ms Branson said the MOU with PNG contained no detail about what will happen to those sent to Manus Island, especially how their refugee claims will be processed, how long they may be held in detention, and whether they will have access to timely resettlement if they are found to be refugees.

She said the Commission was concerned about whether asylum seekers sent to Manus Island would have access to legal assistance and whether there would be any form of independent or judicial oversight of their detention.

“Although the MOU says that ‘special arrangements’ will be developed for unaccompanied minors, we remain particularly worried about them and other vulnerable asylum seekers such as survivors of torture and trauma,” Ms Branson said.

She said the Commission was also concerned about those in detention on Christmas Island who are subject to the third country transfer policy.

“We are disturbed by the fact that people awaiting transfer have very limited access to communication facilities and oversight bodies such as the Commission. We’re also concerned that families with children and unaccompanied minors are being detained in a medium security immigration detention facility and that currently children are not able to access education,” Ms Branson said.

“No other developed country has an immigration detention policy as harsh as Australia’s mandatory detention policy. Rather than sending asylum seekers to third countries, Australia should allow asylum seekers to live in community-based alternatives to detention while their refugee claims are assessed.”

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Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597.