A UNITED Nations investigator will be spending 18 days in Australia and its notorious refugee processing center in Nauru to assess the country’s asylum seeker policy, putting the Turnbull government’s tough immigration laws under international scrutiny.
According to reports, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crépeau, finally arrived in Australia on Tuesday, after aborting plans for a similar visit last year allegedly due to lack of government assistance and access to the refugee camps.
“This is an opportunity for me to understand how Australia manages its overall migration policies, and their impact on the human rights of migrants,” Crépeau was quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement.
It is not immediately known how long the UN investigator will spend in Nauru, a tiny South Pacific island nation where some 410 men, women and children currently remain in indefinite detention.
Currently, under Australia’s tough immigration policy, asylum seekers intercepted while trying to reach the country’s shores by boat are sent immediately to its offshore processing centers in Papua New Guinea’s Manus island or Nauru.
There are over 1,200 people currently at these camps, which rights advocates insist are more like open-air prisons instead of refugee processing centers.
Crépeau’s visit to Australia comes amid outrage in the country over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s proposal last weekend to permanently ban asylum seekers who arrive by boat from ever setting foot in the country again.
Under the proposal, the Turnbull government wants to amend the 1958 Migration Act to prevent irregular maritime arrivals taken to any regional processing country from being able to apply for an Australian visa, even if they are listed as refugees. The amendment Bill is expected to make its way to the Australian Parliament as early as next week.
If approved by Parliament, a permanent ban would mean that asylum seekers sent to either Manus island and Nauru would never ever be allowed into Australia – whether as tourists, to do business or even as an Australian’s spouse – even if they are internationally recognised as refugees.
Rights groups slammed the proposal, describing it as appalling and unnecessary but Turnbull refused to back down.
Turnbull’s proposal came just weeks after global rights group Amnesty International released a damning report that documented the alleged abuse and mental torture suffered by refugees taken to Nauru.
In the 64-page report titled “Island of Despair” – the result of a combination of field and desk research carried out between July 1 and October – the group flagged the Australian government for flouting international rights conventions, saying the conditions at the camp that the refugees are subjected to amount to “torture” under international law.
It claimed that due to deteriorating mental health exacerbated by such conditions, security issues, and lack of adequate access to medical attention and education, many refugees were driven to inflicting self-harm and attempting suicide.
After the report was released, Turnbull denied the allegations on television and said during an interview that his government will stand by its strict immigration policies.
The prime minister insisted that the policy, though tough, was to prevent drownings at sea, noting that under the previous Labor leadership, there had been reports of 50,000 illegal arrivals and over 1,200 deaths.
“Now I know that’s a tough policy, I know that it’s hard but the alternative is what we had under Labor… 50,000 unauthorised arrivals, and 1,200 voices that were silenced that cannot go on Four Corners, that cannot go on the radio because they drowned at sea.”