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Australia: losing perspective in the search for simple solutions
July 21, 2013

Australia: losing perspective in the search for simple solutions
Jesuit Refugee Service fears refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Australia from Indonesia will be shuttled back to Indonesia, where safety conditions cannot be guaranteed. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
JRS believes that if Australia was to begin turning back asylum seekers it would set a dangerous precedent and reduce progress towards equitable responsibility sharing across the region. Why should Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand not then do the same — send people back to a previous transit country?

(Sydney) July 21, 2013 – Jesuit Refugee Service has welcomed the recent visit to Indonesia by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as part of the 2013 leadership meeting between the two countries on July 5. JRS also commends President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's proposal for Indonesia to host a regional summit on irregular movement of people in the region.

JRS believes this is an important opportunity for major countries of origin, transit and destination to discuss concrete cooperation to manage irregular movements of asylum seekers in Asia Pacific and to develop a much-needed regional protection framework. 

JRS hopes this step is seen as a refutation of simple solutions put forward in the recent past, such as proposals to return asylum seekers to Indonesia. JRS does not believe that Indonesia currently provides safe pathways for refugees to undergo the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) and resettlement processes; sending them back may therefore put their lives and safety at risk.

In addition, JRS believes that if Australia was to begin turning back asylum seekers it would set a dangerous precedent and reduce progress towards equitable responsibility sharing across the region. Why should Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand not then do the same — send people back to a previous transit country?

Australia cannot hope to credibly promote a higher standard of protection and processing efficiency to States who are not yet signatories to the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, than Australia itself is willing to accept as a country bound by the Convention.

The proposal to establish mechanisms to deny entry to asylum seekers who are "no longer in direct flight" fails to take into account that asylum seekers who do not find adequate protection in Indonesia are still in direct flight to find safety. 

Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and lacks a legal framework for the protection of people of concern to UNHCR. A recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found that Indonesian guards in immigration facilities throughout the country commonly abuse detainees, including children. 

Until Indonesia offers a guarantee of non-refoulement and establishes adequate standards for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, sending refugees back to Indonesia is a violation of Australia's international obligations. 

While 800,000 refugees need protection globally, only 80,000 places are offered annually by resettlement countries.

In Indonesia alone, there are more than 10,000 persons of concern registered with UNHCR as of June. If there were more resettlement places worldwide and those refugees in Indonesia could see themselves attaining one of those sooner, through fair and transparent processes, they would not risk their lives to find asylum and resettlement in Australia. 

Although JRS welcomes the Australian government's recent increase to the Humanitarian program from 14,750 places to 20,000 — with an additional 400 places allocated to refugees waiting in Indonesia — even in the unlikely event of no more arrivals in Indonesia, it will take more than ten years to resettle all those who are desperately waiting for a solution.

Recommendations

• Resettlement countries such as the Australia, Canada and the U.S. should consider increasing their quotas for humanitarian visas, and decrease processing times.

• All states should respect and uphold the rights and dignity of asylum seekers and refugees.

• All states should aim to standardize procedures so that refugees face the same treatment in each country, thus reducing their need to seek asylum in those countries which can offer safety.

• States must provide additional financial support to agencies such as UNHCR to reduce and standardize the waiting period for asylum seekers to be recognized.

• Increased funding must be made available to ensure that the basic rights of asylum seekers are met, such as access to healthcare, psychosocial support, legal assistance, and education.

For further information contact

Oliver White, Head of Policy and Advocacy, JRS Australia
Click here to email.
Tel. +61 2 9356 3888


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