You will never settle here: Australia tells boat people

Tracey Ferrier – AAP

3 minute read

SYDNEY, Australia: A critical plank in Australia's stop-the-boats policies has been to send anyone trying to sneak into the country by sea to offshore detention centres in other countries.

The government calls it "regional processing", with people sent to centres in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island nation of Nauru while their asylum claims are assessed.

Those deemed in genuine need of protection are promised resettlement outside their homelands, but never in Australia.

"Settlement in Australia will never be an option for anyone who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat. There are no exceptions," Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in late April, as he marked 1000 days since the last people-smuggling boat reached Australia.

Dutton was also at pains to point out that it had been more than three years since the last known death at sea at the hands of people smugglers.

But the regional processing regime has exposed Australia to accusations of serious human rights breaches.

In 2015, a United Nations report found aspects of Australia's asylum-seeker policies violated the International Convention Against Torture.

The UN report said Australia had violated the rights of asylum seekers held at the Manus Island processing centre in PNG to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

It had done this by failing to provide adequate detention conditions, with the UN pointing to escalating violence and tension at the facility.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International accused Australia of setting up a deliberately cruel and inhumane system intended to make desperate and vulnerable people suffer.

Amnesty's Secretary-General Salil Shetty has gone ever further, recently saying Australia's policies on maritime asylum seekers are "flagrantly violating" international refugee and human rights conventions.

He also says Australia's hardline border protection policies are only serving to keep asylum seekers in circulation and in need of the services smugglers offer.

The Manus Island centre is to close in late 2017, but not because Australia has decided to respond to its alleged human rights violations.

In April 2015, PNG's Supreme Court ruled the centre was illegal and that detaining asylum seekers there breached the country's constitution.

That's left Australia with a problem: what to do with the more than 800 men being held there.

Dutton wants the Manus Island centre closed by October 31.

"The advocates can bleat all they want, they can protest all they want, we have been very clear those people are not going to settle in our country because that would restart the people (smuggling) trade," he said in April.

People on Manus Island, if they are found to be genuine refugees, will be resettled under an agreement with the United States or in PNG itself. Others will be returned to their homelands.

Australia and the US have done a deal that will see the US accept refugees from Nauru and Manus Island and Australia take in refugees from Central America.

The people swap deal was struck with the Obama administration and will be reluctantly honoured by new US President Donald Trump although he has branded it a "dumb deal".

But it remains unclear how many people will be resettled in the US.

American officials have already begun the process of vetting those held offshore to determine who will be let in and who won't.

Australia intends to keep the Nauru centre open, as an "important deterrent" to boat arrivals. At the end of April, 373 people were held there, including more than 40 children.