Monday, February 04, 2013

UN says Australia's PNG refugee camp is inadequate

Channel News Asia

SYDNEY: A United Nations report Monday criticised Australia's immigration camp on Papua New Guinea (PNG), warning living conditions are harsh and asylum-seekers' detention arbitrary.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees called for no more children to be sent to the camp on remote Manus Island, which was established as part of Australia's plan to ship refugees offshore to deter more from coming.
In its report, the UNHCR warned of "very significant inadequacies in the legal and operational framework governing the transfer, treatment and processing" of asylum-seekers.
Detaining asylum-seekers on a mandatory and indefinite basis, without possibility for review, amounted to "arbitrary detention which is inconsistent with international human rights law", it added.
"The key failing is that there are in place no legal frameworks for the processing of refugee claims," UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Australian government said it was committed to working with the UNHCR, which has a long-standing opposition to offshore processing, and would do so in regards to the processing centre on Manus.
"We continue to work closely with the PNG government regarding the assessment of asylum claims. Processing has not yet begun, but will occur in due course," a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said.
Papua New Guinea had assured Australia that asylum claims would be assessed in line with the Refugee Convention, she added.
A UNHCR team that visited Manus for three days last month said both Australia and PNG were committed to adequate procedures and conditions being in place despite the difficulties faced in remote Pacific locations.
But it said at the time of their visit, living conditions for most of the 221 detainees on Manus were harsh and, for some, inadequate.
"The hot and humid weather made the temporary accommodation very uncomfortable," Towle said.
The government spokeswoman said the standard of facilities at Manus were "in line with the living standards and amenities for local PNG residents".
"Detainees have access to health, mental health, education and recreational services," she said.
Australia began dispatching asylum-seekers to Manus Island in November as part of a new policy of sending boatpeople offshore to deter others from making the risky journey to Australia which has claimed hundreds of lives.
Canberra's other offshore camp, on the small Pacific nation of Nauru, has also been criticised by rights advocates, with Amnesty describing conditions there as "appalling" and likely in breach of obligations to refugees.
Australia last year dealt with a record 17,202 asylum-seekers arriving by boat. The majority pay people-smugglers for passage from Indonesia on leaky wooden vessels, and sinkings are routine.

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