Scathing Senate report on offshore processing and conditions inside detention
On Friday the government released a report by the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs, which followed a seven-month inquiry into allegations of abuse on Manus and Nauru sparked by the publication of the Nauru files.
ALHR’s submission was quoted extensively throughout the report. The Co-Chairs of ALHR’s Refugee Rights Subcommittee Rebecca Dowd and Khanh Hoang also appeared before the Committee to give oral evidence.
Australia is the only country to detain asylum seekers indefinitely in jail- like conditions, including adults and children with severe psychiatric impairment as well as those with identified developmental and cognitive disabilities. In ALHR’s view this represents a clear breach of Australia’s human rights obligations and of the rights of these individuals. Furthermore, the detention of children is in contravention of responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was ratified by Australia in 1990.
The report is damning on the government, and among other things, found that Australia has a duty of care to asylum seekers and refugees and that the culture of secrecy and lack of accountability and transparency needs to be addressed:
In the committee’s view, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (the department) bears the onus of demonstrating that issues of concern identified by previous committees have been addressed. The committee does not believe that the department has done this. Rather, the evidence presented to this inquiry indicates that many of the problems identified during previous inquiries continue today, and that the re-classification of the RPCs as ‘open centres’ has in fact exposed refugees and asylum seekers to new risks. The evidence has also clearly demonstrated that the department has failed to implement a system of accountability among its contractors and sub-contractors.
The committee rejects the department’s assertion that it does not bear ultimate responsibility for all aspects of the operation of RPCs (and the health and welfare of the asylum seeker and refugees in PNG and Nauru) and merely funds their operation. The department has ultimate decision making power as the contracting agency, makes final decisions in relation to the provision of specialist and emergency medical treatment, and (largely as a result of its capacity building measures) is the primary source of guidance and expertise to the Governments of Nauru and PNG in relation to the management of all matters associated with the presence of refugees and asylum seekers.
For a policy which represents such a significant investment of Australian public funds, this lack of accountability is unacceptable. The Committee notes that the centres were never intended to become long term centres of detention, but this has been the result of the Government’s inability to negotiate viable third country resettlement options.
For Australia to continue facilitating the processing of claims for asylum offshore, the major faults in the policy of offshore processing must be acknowledged and rectified as a matter of urgency.
The Report also acknowledged key factors leading to self harm in offshore immigration detention including a damaging living environment and a lack of autonomy as well as a complicated and inadequate health care delivery system, and made the following 12 recommendations:
- That the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as a matter of urgency, commission an external review of its medical transfer procedures in offshore processing centres.
- That the Australian Government undertake to seek advice in relation to whether improvements are required to the medical treatment options available to asylum seekers and refugees in the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, particularly mental health services.
- That the Australian Government recognise the impacts of long-term immigration detention, including by commissioning an independent assessment of its impacts on physical and mental health.
- That an external audit and investigation be conducted into all incident reports over the life of the Transfield Pty Ltd and Broadspectrum Australia Pty Ltd contracts at the Manus Island and Nauru Regional Processing Centres, including an analysis of:(a) incidents which were downgraded in severity; and
(b) any inconsistencies in relation to incidents being downgraded in severity; and
(c) evidence of follow-up activities in relation to reported incidents.
- That the Australian Government undertake to work with the Government of the Republic of Nauru to establish an independent children’s advocate who would have both the jurisdiction and authority to advocate for the rights of children being held in the Republic of Nauru.That the Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirm publicly that any asylum seeker or refugee who has been transferred to Australia for medical or other reasons, or who remains in Australia pursuant to domestic legal action, can apply to participate in the US refugee resettlement arrangement, and that they will not need to return to either the Republic of Nauru or Papua New Guinea to do so.
- That the Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirm publicly that any asylum seeker or refugee who has been transferred to Australia for medical or other reasons, or who remains in Australia pursuant to domestic legal action, can apply to participate in the US refugee resettlement arrangement, and that they will not need to return to either the Republic of Nauru or Papua New Guinea to do so.
- That the Australian Government give serious consideration to all resettlement offers it receives, including the Government of New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru. Further, if particular resettlement offers are considered unsuitable, the Government should clearly outline the reasons.
- That the Australian Government give consideration to supporting refugee and asylum seeker family members to pursue options to resettle together.
- That the Australian Government increase Australian funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
- That the Australian Government commit to increasing Australia’s annual refugee intake.
- That the Australian Government undertake to work with Australia’s Asia-Pacific neighbours to establish a regional framework for the processing of claims for asylum.
- That the Australian Government review the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure that Comcare can exercise its regulatory powers in relation to Australian workplaces outside Australia’s geographical jurisdiction, in a timely and straightforward manner.
You can read the full report here:
Report: Serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers in relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and any like allegations in relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre