August 24, 2012
THE United Nations High Commission for Refugees is refusing to work with the federal government to process asylum-seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
The Angus Houston-led expert panel on asylum-seekers said the UNHCR’s involvement in registration and processing of refugees from Nauru and Manus Island would be “highly desirable”, and should be urgently pursued.
But the UNHCR’s regional representative Rick Towle today said the organisation would play an arms-length monitoring role in relation to the facilities under the refugee convention, but would not play any part in their management.
“We believe primarily that this is a matter for Australia’s responsibilities under the refugee convention, working with two other countries that are also convention states,” Mr Towle told the ABC’s World Today program.
“We do not see that the UNHCR has an active role to play in those arrangements.
“Australia may choose to transfer physically people to other jurisdictions, but we believe that under international law very clearly Australia is not absolved of its legal responsibilities to protect people through all aspects of the processing and solutions.”
Mr Towle said the UNHCR had many concerns with Australia’s new offshore processing arrangements.
He said it was difficult to make “full and credible” refugee status determinations in such remote locations, and was concerned about the difficulties in delivering adequate health and care to asylum-seekers on the islands.
“We are dealing with very vulnerable populations, particularly women and children (and) unaccompanied minors, and to try and manage all of their needs in a protection-appropriate way in remote places, particularly in the Pacific, has proven to be challenging in the past and we have no doubt it will be challenging again in the future,” Mr Towle said.
Under the government’s new “no advantage” principle, asylum-seekers will remain on Nauru and Manus Island for as long as they would have waited for resettlement if they stayed in transit countries such as Indonesia or Malaysia.
Mr Towle said the UNHCR was “fundamentally opposed” to mandatory detention, and believed any arrangements to transfer asylum-seekers to Nauru and PNG “do not involve detention any longer than is absolutely necessary”.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s office said the UNHCR’s decision was not unexpected.
Mr Bowen told Sky News last week that he was “not envisaging them being involved in the processing on Nauru or Manus Island”.
“They will be very interested in this; they’ll want to provide us with feedback on it, of course.
“But this will be an operation which doesn’t require UNHCR involvement in terms of the processing of people.”
-With Lauren Wilson
This story was originally published here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/un-wont-work-with-labor-on-asylum-seeker-processing-on-nauru-and-manus-island/story-fn9hm1gu-1226457449222?sv=979f8eb1e13d06677841ff1c4a4a2886