Australia’s boats policy raises rights issues

Lloyd Jones – AAP

1 minute read

Australia's Human Rights Commission has highlighted gaps between the country's human rights obligations and its treatment of refugees, particularly those who arrive by boat.

LONDON: As a party to the UN's Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that refugees are not sent back to a country where they could be killed, tortured, persecuted or seriously harmed.

But human rights monitors are concerned that this principle of non-refoulement or forcible return of asylum seekers has been compromised by Australian policies such as turning back asylum-seeker boats and sending asylum seekers to offshore detention centres in third countries.

In a snapshot report In March 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission examined how Australia was doing in terms of its obligations to protect asylum seekers and refugees.

The commission noted some positive developments, including a reduction in the number of people in detention, the closure of many detention facilities, and the release of almost all children from detention.

It also noted an expansion in the use of community alternatives to detention and the reinstatement of work rights for most asylum seekers living in the community.

But commission president Gillian Triggs observed that substantial gaps remained between Australia’s human rights obligations under international law and its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive by boat.

She says that since 2013, the watchdog has become increasingly concerned about Australian policies that increase the risk of refoulement, including boat turnbacks, third-country processing of asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, changes to the refugee status determination process, inadequate pre-transfer assessments, and restrictions on access to free legal advice.

The commission says living conditions in the off-shore centres remain below international standards, with multiple reports of physical and sexual assault, and negative impacts on detainees' mental and physical health.