What’s Driving the Merciless Asylum Seeker Policies in Australia?

In Australia – a wealthy nation, far from major war zones, whose 23 million people enjoy a per-capita GDP of 67,458 dollars – the government has implemented ruthless policies for the roughly one percent of global asylum seekers who hope to find refuge on its shores.

Last year Australia received 4,589 asylum applications compared to 29,009 in France and 51,289 in the United States. Over 37 years Australia received a total of 69,445 asylum seekers, only slightly higher than the 67,400 Germany received during the first six months of last year.

Those who arrive by sea are transferred to offshore detention centres in the developing Pacific Island states of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. They are refused resettlement in Australia, even if assessed as refugees. More than a year ago the government began turning asylum-seeker boats back at sea.

This is necessary to stop people drowning at sea, the government argues, despite the policy threatening the lives of vulnerable people and violating the principle of non- refoulement laid out in the 1954 U.N. convention referring to the status of refugees.

In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council Monday, Juan Mendez, the U.N.‟s special rapporteur  on  torture,  concluded  that  Australia‟s  “Migration  and  Maritime  Powers  Legislation Amendment, which has passed both the house and the Senate of Australia at this point, violates the [Convention Against Torture, or CAT] because it allows for the arbitrary detention and refugee determination at sea, without access to lawyers.”

Australia‟s mandatory and prolonged immigration detention policies are also “in clear violation of international human rights law”, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recently reported.

Refugee assessments were suspended more than two years ago to remove advantage to those arriving by irregular means. By mid-2014, approximately 3,624 asylum seekers, including 699 children, were in detention centres.

Long confinement on average for 413 days in harsh living conditions were key factors in 34 percent of children and 30 percent of adults being diagnosed with serious mental disorders. There were 1,149 recorded incidents of serious assault, including sexual abuse, in detention centres, and 128 of children self-harming, the AHRC found.

The government‟s recent announcement that children below 10 years will be released into community detention with bridging visas won‟t apply to those who arrived before Jul. 19, 2013.

There is recognition by Australian legal and policy experts that “critical to any asylum policy is not whether it deters, but whether the needs of those seeking protection are met.” Organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Refugee Action Coalition also provide refugee advocacy and support.

But a 2010 public survey revealed more than 60 percent of respondents accepted the government‟s hard-line stance.

11/03 – Catherine Wilson – http://www.ipsnews.net (extrait)