July 25, 2013
There are mounting concerns that Australia could be breaching its international obligations by sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea.
It has been almost a week since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd unveiled his policy for asylum seekers who come by boat to be processed in PNG and resettled there if they are refugees.
The Law Council says it has a number of concerns about the system for processing claims in PNG and whether it conforms to Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention.
The council says the Malaysia solution did not legally guarantee refugees rights, and it appears the PNG agreement does not either.
Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs says the Government needs to explain how the deal addresses Australia’s obligations under international human rights law.
“What is the basis of the arrangement with Papua New Guinea and Australia, and does Papua New Guinea have the resources and capacity to properly assess these claims and to ensure they are assessed within a reasonable period of time?” she said.
“Or are we simply consigning people to years and years of life detained on a remote island?”
Burke visits Manus Island
Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who is visiting Manus Island, says the layout of the detention centre there will be changed to avoid the risk of detainees being assaulted by other asylum seekers.
A whistleblower from a security company hasclaimed detainees have been raped and tortured at the facility.
Mr Burke says the whistleblower has not provided names of victims or alleged perpetrators but that changes can be made to reduce the risk of assault.
“There are particular issues about whether you have a larger number of compounds, that you have some smaller compounds, when it becomes important to separate some people from the rest of the population,” he said.
“That’s one of the criticisms that’s been made of the current configuration and I’m working through with the Department ways of being able to fix that in the design of what happens here.”
Aid officials begin work in PNG
Meanwhile, senior Australian aid officials have begun work in PNG on the fast-tracked infrastructure projects agreed to under the refugee resettlement deal.
The value of the incentive package offered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is still not known and there has been controversy over how much control PNG will have over Australian aid money.
The Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea says senior officials from AusAID and the PNG government travelled to the country’s second biggest city Lae to begin planning the upgrade of a hospital.
The officials are also driving to Madang to get a sense of what is needed for a major highway upgrade.
In Port Moresby, AusAID officials met with PNG’s chief magistrate to discuss a new court complex for the capital.
The projects are at an early stage and have not yet been costed.
PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill has criticised Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for comments about the control of Australia’s aid budget.
The statement from the High Commission says the fast-tracked infrastructure projects are part of the jointly agreed development goals for Papua New Guinea.
Indonesia calls for joint approach
Australia did not warn the Indonesian president’s office that it was planning to launch a deal with Papua New Guinea that is designed to stop asylum seekers leaving Indonesia by boat.
The number of asylum seekers and refugees waiting in Indonesia at any one time has been growing.
The official count tipped over the 10,000 mark last month and it is estimated the total number could be as high as 20,000.
A spokesman for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says Mr Rudd called the president today and that he “underlined” to Mr Rudd the issue was not just one country’s problem.
He told Mr Rudd that it should be dealt with through the regional cooperation agreement, called the Bali Process.