June 18, 2013
The United Nations refugee agency has expressed alarm at a ”sharp deterioration” in the quality of protection for asylum seekers coming by boat and a ”worrying erosion” of public support for asylum in Australia.
Declaring that Australia is at a crossroads in its treatment of asylum seekers, the agency’s regional representative, Rick Towle, highlights the ”increasingly negative and, at times, mean-spirited” nature of debate in Australia about asylum seekers.
Mr Towle also lamented the ”ever-widening suite of deterrent measures” being proposed, or already in place, for boat arrivals – from the forced transfer to inadequate facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to the use of ”unfair and unreliable” screening arrangements to decide if people have legitimate claims.
He also cited the suspension of processing of more than 20,000 asylum claims since August 13 last year; the use of mandatory detention; and limited levels of support for asylum seekers in the community ”that are likely to inflict long-term harm and suffering” if claims remain unresolved.
Mr Towle’s remarks came as the federal Coalition blamed former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s dismantling of John Howard’s border protection regime for the steep increase in boat arrivals.
Mr Towle said the agency understood the concerns about border security and the costs of managing the higher number of people arriving by boats but added: ”It is imperative that these do not eclipse the fundamental legal and ethical principles on which the global system of asylum is founded.”