Amnesty International Australia strongly condemned the Australian Government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act, announced today by the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone.
"In spite of the exposed human suffering under Australia’s mandatory detention regime in recent years, through for example the Palmer Inquiry, the Government is now proposing to send asylum seekers to remote and isolated detention centres, rather than address the many shortfalls of its immigration detention regime in Australia”, said Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Coordinator, Dr Graham Thom.
"Today's announcement is nothing short of a travesty of justice and a flagrant disregard both for the strong community support across Australia for legitimate refugees and for Australia's international obligations”.
"The Australian Government is now prepared to penalise people who seek to exercise a fundamental right to seek asylum - by taking individuals to a remote location and placing them in detention, and denying them legal assistance and the right to an independent appeals process".
Australia already has a well established Refugee Status Determination system and all asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival, must be entitled to access this system. All asylum seekers must be treated equally.
Australia's commitment under the International Refugee Convention Australia is that it will not penalise refugees based on their method of arrival. Article 31 of this Convention requires that States do not impose such penalties - the continued use of offshore processing for boat arrivals does not meet Australia's international obligations.
"Following the Palmer Inquiry, Australia introduced a number of important and necessary reforms to its detention policy – we ask the Government do these reforms apply to asylum seekers detained offshore? What will the independent oversight be of these people turned away from Australia, yet who need our protection? Can we receive guarantees that we will not see another Cornelia Rau situation, only this time to be detained in remote Baxter but an offshore island?
"Once people are recognised as refugees, Australia must not detain them under international law and as such, we have serious concerns for anyone recognised under this process, given the delays that will occur, if indeed, any third country is willing to accept them".
Amnesty International is concerned that legislative changes such as those proposed today by the Australian Government represent an approach to stemming the flow of asylum seekers without addressing the human rights abuses which cause these people to flee.