A Downing Street plan to consider mimicking Australia’s offshore detention system for asylum seekers risks creating a new “human rights catastrophe”, say experts familiar with immigration policy.
The Guardian reported on Wednesday that Foreign Office documents revealed that Downing St. had sought advice on “negotiations to facilitate the processing of an offshore asylum similar to the Australian model in Papua New Guinea and Nauru”.
For more than eight years, Australia, under financial agreements with its governments, has sent all asylum seekers who have reached their territory by boat to purpose-built facilities in two Pacific countries.
The policy has drawn worldwide condemnation from governments, legal parties, UN agencies and human rights NGOs for their continued lack of transparency and documented failures, including human rights violations and international law violations.
At least a dozen people have died on Australia’s offshore detention network, while thousands more have fallen victim to epidemics of mental illness and self-harm and were shot by drunken PNG soldiers in Happy Friday 2017. In the same year, the Australian government was ordered to pay more than 70 70 million in compensation to about 2,000 prisoners.
Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch Australia, said the Australian experience of offshore processing was “a human rights catastrophe” that still suffers.
“Detention for long and indefinite periods has led people to traumatic, stressful and other dangerous levels of mental health,” he said. “Australia’s strict refugee policy is not a global model.”
Behrouz Bochani, a Kurdish journalist, writer and former detainee, spent more than seven years on Manus Island, where most prisons were housed before being “opened” – but still guarded.
He said the UK should take care of what the move means not only for those who want its protection, but also for the future of their country.
“What the Australian government has done has damaged Australia’s reputation and political culture,” Bochani told the Guardian. “It has damaged democracy in Australia. You’re not just doing it with refugees. You are undermining your country’s values and policies. “
Buchani says it is impossible to improve the Australian model because it has “banned” people on its core and deprived them of their basic human rights.
“What the Australian government has done has not worked. It will remain in the history of Australia forever. For example, those countries that look at Australia should think about it. “
The State Department document recommended that department officials note PNG’s protracted short and prosperous public health system and warned that it would “renew Australia’s own offshore processing”. A document added: “Politically we judge the possibility of a positive engagement with the government in this matter to be almost nil.”
The PNG government told the Guardian that no UK representative had yet been contacted.
Graham Thom, from Amnesty International Australia, said part of the issue with the Australian system was “there is no end to it”. When the agreement was signed, PNG did not expect refugees to settle in their country permanently, and Australia failed to find any third-party alternatives.
“That’s why we had the US agreement [to take Australia’s refugees]But the UK is unlikely to get a US deal, “Thom said.” Then who will take these people if they are transferred to PNG? Moldova and Morocco will ask the same question. “
Thom said asylum seekers in Australia are still stranded on the coast and hundreds have ended up in Australia for treatment, with the government “shaking up for a solution” after paying extra costs, Thom said.
“It’s a violation of international law, it’s very costly, and in the end it didn’t stop anyone. “This is the change that has made the difference,” he said, referring to a similarly controversial Australian authorities’ policy of returning asylum seekers to international waters, or transferring passengers to lifeboats or fake fishing vessels.
The arrangement, signed by former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, will soon become a serious issue in bilateral relations with Australia. Current leader James Marape has openly criticized the Australian system, which has not benefited PNG and the people of Manus Island in particular.
Legally, the UK will not be able to establish a detention center the way Australia initially did. In 2016, the PNG Supreme Court found it unconstitutional and ordered its closure. The process of transferring detainees to new housing blocks was brutally suspended for 24 days, culminating in beatings by PNG police officers refusing to leave.
David Burke, legal director of the Center for Human Rights Law, said: “We have seen the damage done to people by the Australian government’s offshore detention.
“The only thing that holds offshore captivity is cruelty – a system that relies on conditions worse than the loss of refugees.”