THE UNITED NATIONS has again criticised Australia’s offshore immigration detention facilities on Nauru, with a Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants declaring it is a “blemish” on the country’s largely positive human rights record.
Having visited the tiny Pacific island state for three weeks last November, Special Rapporteur François Crépeau’s observations have been published in a report in which he concludes “the system cannot be salvaged” in terms of meeting Australia’s human rights obligations.
Contrary to claims by Australia that responsibility for the offshore centres falls with the host governments and security contractors, Crépeau said Australia was “ultimately accountable” for human rights violations in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
He deemed Australia’s approach to unauthorised asylum seeker boat arrivals “very punitive”, noted the increasing detention of migrants and a growing “prison culture” as well as urged the government to close its processing centre in Nauru.
Crépeau recommended Australia introduce a bill of human rights and adopt a rights-based approach to its migration policy. He had originally planned to visit Nauru in 2015, but had to cancel because of a lack of government assistance and access to the camps.
Australia’s other offshore processing centre on Manus Island is in the process of being closed after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that detention of asylum seekers was illegal in Papua New Guinea last April.
Nauru remains economically reliant on the millions of dollars Australia provides for hosting an immigration detention centre and considered by analysts to be a failed state.
Despite widespread criticism from the UN, human rights groups and other nations, Nauru’s President Baron Waqa claimed in April the country was an example of “best practice” in terms of the management of asylum seekers and refugees.
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The UN report praises Australia’s “exemplary” resettlement programme for refugees, including increasing the number of visas issued to refugees to 18,750 by 2018 who will be resettled via “generous and well-thought through integration programmes.”
Nevertheless, Crépeau noted “the strong focus on securitisation and punishment blemishes the country’s good human rights record.”
“For all the progress made by Australia in all other areas of life, several of its migration policies and laws are regressive and fall behind international standards,” he said.
Some 1,250 of the refugees from Nauru and Manus Island will be resettled in the United States, under a so-called “swap deal” made under the previous Obama administration.