Saturday 20 August 2011

Amnesty International slams Manus return

SENDING asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea is no different to housing them in Nauru under the failed Pacific Solution, Amnesty International says.

Amnesty and refugee groups have criticised plans to reopen the Manus Island detention centre, after a memorandum of understanding agreeing to establish the centre was signed between Australia and PNG yesterday.

The human rights organisation said the development was yet another bad policy move which would revive a central plank of the former Howard government's failed Pacific Solution.

"The Pacific Solution was domestically and internationally condemned as an inhumane policy which breached Australia's human rights obligations," Amnesty International Australia refugee spokesman Dr Graham Thom said in a statement on Saturday.

"Bizarrely, the very same government which dismantled the failed Pacific Solution is now reviving it." Dr Thom said there was very little difference between sending asylum seekers to Manus Island or Nauru."In both cases Australia is outsourcing its humanitarian obligations to developing countries and worsening the trauma of refugees who have fled conflict, persecution and torture."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday said signing the MOU was a positive first step towards re-establishing the assessment centre. It commits to treating detainees with dignity and respect in accordance with the United Nations convention on refugees, processing them as quickly as possible and at no cost to the PNG government.

Greens' immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the party would refer the Manus Island proposal to a Senate inquiry, as it did with the government's asylum-seeker deal with Malaysia.

"We want to know how much the Manus Island deal will cost Australian taxpayers, who will be expelled there and what happens should their claims for protection be approved," she said in a statement.

She said the Gillard government had learned nothing from the damage Manus Island caused asylum-seekers and how it tainted Australia's international reputation. "This is merely the Pacific Solution reloaded," she said.

The federal government has signed a deal to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia, although the first group of refugees to be transferred have been held up due to High Court action by refugee advocate lawyer David Manne.

The High Court hearing will begin on Monday.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the arrival of another 71 asylum-seekers off Christmas Island on Friday meant there were now 337 people waiting "in a transit lounge" on the island for the High Court decision.

He said more than 900 people had arrived since the government announced its people-swap deal, which made the government's quota of 800 transfers look "more and more perishable".
The MOU with PNG "is unlikely to provide any support for some time yet", he said.

"Apart from the gross hypocrisy of reopening a centre the prime minister had previously described as 'wrong in principle' the MOU has no dates, no dollars and no details," he said in a statement.

"This means there is no deal and the coalition will not be holding its breath for a deal to be completed." Aid and development charities body the Australian Council for International Development labelled the reopening of Manus Island as unethical policy.

ACFID executive director Marc Purcell said it would harm people and use Australian aid as a bribe to ensure PNG will host the centre. Senator Hanson-Young later accused the government of trying to push the plight of boat people ''out of sight, out of mind''.

''The Greens are very concerned that the government is steamrolling ahead with the Manus Island proposal and they seem to have learnt nothing from the mistakes of the past when it was open under John Howard 10 years ago,'' she said.

''We know that it was a disaster then and there's no need to try and imagine how much of a disaster it will be now.'' She said a senate inquiry would highlight the human and economic cost of the plan.

''We need to really know how much this is going to cost Australian tax payers and exactly who is going to be sent,'' she said. Ms Hanson-Young said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had a responsibility to look out for the best interests of unaccompanied minors.

''We know that he has to look out for their best interest and shunting them off, dumping them in a malaria infested island like Manus simply can't be believed by anyone to be in their best interest,'' she said.


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