Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard beamed when she met the Press in Canberra looking as if she is out of the asylum conundrum. The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, which her Government appointed prior to Parliamentary break in June 28, released a Report early today outlining 22 Recommendations on how to deal with the flood of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
The Report is a rehash of earlier solutions, among other things. Spectators even call it “mixed nuts.” Topping the list is the restoration of a policy espoused by former Prime Minister John Howard: offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Notoriously known as the Pacific Solution, it was scrapped in 2008 due to reported human rights’ abuses. The Australian Human Rights Commission has disagreed with offshore processing as it may revisit a terrifying history:
….the Government’s announcement about Manus Island may herald a return to the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’, a policy that was extremely expensive to administer, caused significant hardship and mental harm, and greatly damaged Australia’s international reputation as a responsible humanitarian nation.
“When the Manus Island detention centre was operating between 2001 and 2004 under the former government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ some people detained there suffered serious mental harm because of their prolonged and indefinite detention and the uncertainty about what would happen to them”
Gillard introduced the Malaysian swap deal when she rose to power in 2010 and it was approved in July 2011.
The Malaysia Solution proposes the dispatch of 800 unregistered boat people from Australia to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 “genuine refugees” from Malaysia within four years. The asylum seekers will then live in limbo in detention centres while waiting for a change of status – as certified refugees if they qualify.
The Panel’s advice to restore Nauru and Manus Island does not disappoint Gillard as it also upheld her Malaysian Solution. The Panel also recommended to take more refugees under the nation’s Humanitarian Program. This includes an increase of the current refugee intake from 13,000 to 20,000 per annum; and in five years this number could leap to 27,000. See Recommendation 2 & 5.
The Prime Minister backs the recommendations: Nauru, Manus Island in PNG, and Malaysia while seeking for other third parties in the region, including Indonesia where boat smuggling is rampant.
The Panel advised the importance of building a stronger biateral relations with Indonesia and particularly in relation to an increased resettlement places allocation. The Panel believes both countries can enhance joint surveillance, response patrols, law enforcement, and search and rescue coordination. Changes to Australian law in relation to Indonesian minors and others crewing unlawful boat voyages from Indonesia to Australia are also recommended. Read the Panel’s Full Report.
While Gillard is happy with the Panel, the Report ignored recommendations from the AHRC submitted on 12 July 2012.
The AHRC suggested ways how to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea, along with a list of preventions are Australia’s international obligations on refugees and asylum seekers, among other things.
The Commission has argued sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea “may not be a humane, viable alternative to an arrangement with Malaysia. “ It said that although both countries are signatories to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967 (the Refugee Convention), Nauru is a newcomer. “
It has only been a party to the Convention as of June 2011 and has not had an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which it can comply with the international obligations under the treaty. Papua New Guinea has posed numerous reservations to the Convention which specify that it does not intend to comply with many of the obligations that it contains.
The Commission strongly recommends against a revival of former arrangements involving transfer of asylum seekers to third countries as occurred under the Pacific Solution.
Meanwhile, Malaysian High Commissioner Salman Ahmad expressed his disappointment over Australia’s misrepresentation of Malaysia.
He admitted Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ human rights protocols and conventions on refugees; however, it does not necessarily mean Malaysia is not helpful in dealing with the issues of asylum seekers.
In a letter accessed by the ABC signed by the Commissioner addressed to Senator Mark Furner of Queensland dated 6 August, he said Malaysia has been instrumental in helping to resettle refugees and asylum seekers. It is, therefore, unfair for the Australian Parliament and other organisations vilifying Malaysia as immune to human rights.
The Commissioner admitted the complexity involved in dealing with boat people issues while Malaysia struggles in dealing with thousands of illegal aliens.