Thursday, May 18, 2006

UN outcry over boatpeople plan

News agencies report today "the United Nations refugee agency will try to block Australia's plan to lock up all boatpeople on a Pacific island while their refugee claims are considered.

"It's a pretty dramatic solution to the situation," UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said from Geneva yesterday.

"They're penalising people arriving in Australia by boat, as opposed to people who arrive by plane. Other countries deal with boat arrivals in much greater numbers than Australia."

The UNHCR said it would seek changes to legislation introduced to parliament on Thursday that would divert all asylum-seekers reaching Australia by boat to other countries for "offshore processing".

Boatpeople claiming to be refugees fleeing persecution would most likely be detained in centres on Nauru or the Papua New Guinean island of Manus.

Ms Pagonis said the UNHCR was concerned that Nauru had not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and whether asylum-seekers would have the same access to legal representation as those already in Australia.

She said the Government had failed to consult the UNHCR and was "not living up to the spirit" of the Refugee Convention. The UNHCR was not shown the legislation before it was tabled in parliament and requests to see the agreements with Nauru and PNG were ignored, she said."

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