13 Jan 2023

Rights group calls for end to decade-long asylum seeker policy

4:19 pm on 13 January 2023
A protest by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

A protest by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Supplied

Human Rights Watch says Australia's now ten-year-old policy to process asylum seekers is a stain on the country's international human rights reputation, and it needs to end.

The group has this week released its World Report 2023.

There are about 90 people in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, and a similar number in Nauru, who have been detained because they tried to enter Australia by boat a decade ago.

The Australian government under Anthony Albanese has shown no sign that it will change the previous government's policies despite the deteriorating health of many of the people being detained.

The Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said the policy has placed people on remote islands in miserable conditions "for no good reason except to say that they are not welcome in Australia".

She said it has had lasting impacts on the mental health of those people.

Pearson said she finds it unacceptable that ten years later there are still people who have missed their family members, who have missed out on work opportunities, and on study opportunities.

"The right thing to do is bring them to Australia, wherever they end up being settled long term - we know that some of them may end up in the United States, or in Canada, or in other countries - but these people have suffered enough and so it is time for that policy to end."

The Report's section on Papua New Guinea says: "Refugees and asylum seekers in PNG continued to endure violence and harassment, with little protection from authorities. Medical facilities have proven unable to cope with the complex medical needs of asylum seekers, particularly their mental health needs."