Australia accused of shirking responsibility
Australia's government has been criticised for shirking responsibility for the plight of asylum seekers and refugees caught up in its offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
Australia's government has been criticised for shirking responsibility for the plight of people caught up in its offshore processing centres.
A new report by human rights NGOs found Australia is ignoring a wide range of rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru.
Furthermore, attempts by Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court to have Canberra comply with a ruling that holding people against their will on Manus Island is illegal have been knocked back.
Johnny Blades has more.
Researchers for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that the 1,200 men, women and children forcibly transferred to Nauru were being subjected to abuses such as sexual harassment, denial of medical care and general inhumane treatment. It has largely been hidden behind a wall of secrecy as outside access to the Nauru centre, like Manus, is tightly restricted. But in a statement, Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it strongly refuted many of the report's allegations, and that it did not exert control over Nauru's laws.
DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: "Australia does, however, provide support to the Government of Nauru by funding accommodation and support services for all transferees and refugees, including welfare and health services. We welcome independent scrutiny of regional processing matters, noting that access to the Centre is a matter for the Government of Nauru. All transferees are made aware of their rights and responsibilities while they are in the regional processing centre when they arrive, including how to make enquiries or complaints through safe and confidential channels."
The Department suggested the report was not an independent form of scrutiny, claiming the NGOs didn't consult with it in preparation of the report. HRW's Elaine Pearson says they didn't inform Canberra before going to Nauru because if they had done, their visas would most probably have been revoked.
ELAINE PEARSON: "So I don't think it's appropriate for the government to simply dismiss the allegations no the basis of the lack of consultation. In the past, we have repeatedly written to the department, we've sought meetings, particularly when I got back from Manus Island [in Papua New Guinea, which hosts another of Australia's offshore processing detention centres] when we issued a similar report and we've simply, at every turn, been stonewalled, and there's been a similar kind of knee-jerk response, saying offshore processing is here to stay, and no matter what issues are raised by human rights groups, that's just the way it's going to be. And I think it's really disappointing that there isn't more of a desire to engage in the substance of the allegations."
Meanwhile, PNG's Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia requested that Canberra come forward about who is in charge of the Manus centre to indicate its plans for resettlement of over 900 detainees there. April's ruling made clear that the centre is illegal, leaving it incumbent on both PNG and Australian governments to take steps to comply with the court decision. However Canberra has denied the request, saying it's not a party to the case. Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has ruled out any of the refugees being resettled in Australia, and the refugees have made it clear they don't want to resettle in PNG. PNG's former top judge Sir Arnold Amet says the enforcement of the ruling is not progressing as it should.
SIR ARNOLD AMET: "That's why parties are going back to court, continually trying to find some sense on how to give effect and meaning to the court's judgement. It might be in that context that the Chief Justice is asking questions. Really it's a question to both countries to provide some permissible resolution to this and dismantle this place and move these people out from this detention centre."
Meanwhile, PNG authorities have given refugees on Manus a week to come up with arrangements, and funds, to repatriate the body of a Pakistani refugee who died after drowning at a waterfall on the island. Australia's government said funeral arrangements for asylum seekers and refugees who die in Manus are a matter for the PNG government.
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