London, 6 August 2013 — Today, The Equal Rights Trust wrote to Australian Prime Minister Hon Kevin Rudd MP, with regard to the announcement of the ‘Regional Settlement Arrangement’ under which Australia signed agreements with Papua New Guinea (PNG) on 19 July and Nauru on 3 August. Australia has also indicated that it is open to entering into similar agreements with additional countries. Under this Arrangement, asylum seekers who arrive by boat will neither be processed nor settled in Australia. Instead, they would be sent to PNG and Nauru where they will be detained and assessed, and those determined to be refugees would be settled. ERT condemns the retrogressive and inhumane policy of forcibly removing asylum seekers to third countries without determining their status and in breach of the principle of non-refoulement and other obligations under international law.
The right to seek asylum is a universal human right and one of the basic tenets upon which the international community operates. States have an obligation to identify refugees who have arrived in their territories fleeing persecution, and to grant them protection or in the very least, to desist from forcibly removing them in violation of the principle of non-refoulement. States must further implement their obligations under refugee and human rights law without discrimination. By announcing that no new boat arrivals will be accepted, Australia is failing to uphold its obligation to determine refugee status and acting in a discriminatory, inhumane and unlawful manner. Unlike the majority of those who arrive by air, the vast majority of boat people escaping violence and persecution in conflict ridden societies have no option but to flee by boat. Penalising those who! have no other route to escape persecution is discriminatory and unacceptable under international law.
ERT is also concerned that neither PNG nor Nauru has the resources or commitment to assess, protect and support refugees in an effective and sustainable manner. The human rights of those sent to either country under this policy (including the right to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to life and the right of access to justice) will be at heightened risk. As Australia has entered into these agreements in full awareness of the real risks of irreparable harm faced by asylum seekers and refugees in PNG and Nauru, this policy contravenes Australia’s obligation of non-refoulement under the 1951 Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture.
In light of the above, ERT urged the Australian government to revoke this retrogressive and inhumane policy. ERT also called on the Australian government to reassess its wider law and policy framework governing asylum, statelessness and irregular migration, in order to make it compliant with Australia’s international obligations.
Press release Equal Rights Trust