Australia 'can't Just Ignore' Asylum-Seekers

November 09, 2013

  Australia Asylum Seekers

Australia may be disregarding its international obligations by forcefully sending asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and other detention centres aboard.

Violation of UN refugee convention

Alleged violations of UN obligations have come up as Australia deported seven men who landed at Torres Strait, to seek asylum, after escaping from Indonesian territory of West Papua. The men had participated in a protest against Indonesian human rights abuses in West Papua and now feared for their lives.  At Torres Strait, they were arrested by authorities and finally deported to a remote refugee camp close to the Indonesian border.

Asylum request cannot be ignored

"We can't just ignore [their claim for asylum]," said Anna Copeland, director of the clinical legal program at Murdoch University, quoted by Guardian Australia.

"Because we're signatories to the UN refugee convention the whole obligation is that we don't just ignore it.

"We are supposed to implement [the convention] in good faith with the intention that it was set out, so this kind of manoeuvring to be able to refuse is a breach of our international obligations," she emphasised.

Deportation under 2003 memorandum

Following the deportation, Australia’s immigration minister Scott Morrison said the West Papuans were deported under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2003.

Under the agreement, Australia can deport asylum seekers to PNG if they have spent more than seven days in that country prior to their arrival on Australian shores.

The West Papuans repeatedly told Australian immigration officials that they had only spent two days in PNG on their way to Australia.

Experts, however, feel the memorandum does not allow Australia to forcefully deported asylum-seekers to an area they consider hostile.

‘In Australia we feel safe’

Australia is obliged to ensure the asylum-seekers have a fair chance to have their request considered and ensure their safety from persecution in the interim.

Guardian Australia, interviewed one of the seven West Papuan asylum-seekers, Yacob Mechrian Mandabayan, and quoted him saying he feared for his life as the detention centre was close to the porous Indonesian border.

The group’s attempt to get a stay on their relocation to the camp was thwarted as PNG immigration officials who forcefully transferred them to the remote detention camp before their application with Port Moresby Court could be taken up.

"We do not feel safe here because this place is not guarded by police or security guards," he said. The group feels dumped at the camp: "to just stay until we die in here".

Fearing persecution, the group has refused to seek asylum in PNG and there was no immediate chance of their asylum request to Australia will be processed any time soon.

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