July 16, 2013
A family of Rohingya asylum-seekers gather at the refugee housing complex in Medan city of North Sumatra province on April 9, 2013. (AFP Photo/Romeo Gacad)
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Monday that he was studying a UN report critical of Australia’s handling of asylum-seekers in Papua New Guinea and said he would not shirk his responsibilities to refugees.
The UN refugee agency was last week deeply critical of Canberra’s detention of asylum-seekers at a temporary center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, saying it failed to meet international protection standards.
Speaking in Port Moresby with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Rudd said the influx of asylum-seekers was a problem he would not “shy away from.”
“I thank the UNHCR for its work in this report and we’re studying its recommendations. We will work through those recommendations with our friends here in PNG,” Rudd said.
The UNHCR has criticized the lack of freedom of movement afforded asylum-seekers on Manus, saying their detention was open-ended, mandatory and apparently arbitrary.
“The combination of a tough physical environment, restricted legal regime, and slow processing mean that existing arrangements still do not meet the required international protection standards,” the UNHCR’s Adrian Edwards said last week.
Rudd stressed the importance of PNG, a poverty-stricken Pacific island state, as part of an effective regional response to people-smuggling and said the construction of a permanent facility on Manus was underway.
“As I’ve said before, where the circumstances change, Australia will adjust, continue to adjust and, where necessary, change our policy.”
O’Neill agreed with Rudd in welcoming the report, and said he would also study its details.
Rudd said Australia and PNG were working together against “our common enemy — people smugglers.”
Australia has attempted to stem the influx of boats loaded with asylum-seekers by transferring the would-be refugees to processing stations in PNG and the Pacific nation of Nauru. The UNHCR has repeatedly slammed the policy.