Australia’s boats policy raises rights issues
As a party to the UN’s Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that refugees are not sent back to a country where they could be killed, tortured, persecuted or seriously harmed.
But human rights monitors are concerned that this principle of non-refoulement or forcible return of asylum seekers has been compromised by Australian policies such as turning back asylum-seeker boats and placing asylum seekers in offshore detention.
In a snapshot report In March 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission examined how Australiawas doing in terms of its obligations to protect asylum seekers and refugees.
The commission noted some positive developments, including a reduction in the number of people in detention, the closure of many detention facilities, and the release of almost all children from detention.
It also noted an expansion in the use of community alternatives to detention and the reinstatement of work rights for most asylum seekers living in the community.
But commission president Gillian Triggs observed that substantial gaps remained between Australia’s human rights obligations under international law and its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive by boat.
She says that since 2013, the watchdog has become increasingly concerned about Australian policies that increase the risk of refoulement, including boat turnbacks, third-country processing of asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, changes to the refugee status determination process, inadequate pre-transfer assessments, and restrictions on access to free legal advice.
The commission says living conditions in the off-shore centres remain below international standards, with multiple reports of physical and sexual assault, and negative impacts on detainees’ mental and physical health.