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Australia still has questions to answer on refugees

Australian government campaign poster aimed at deterring asylum seekers
Screenshot of Australian government video aimed at deterring asylum seekers (Australian Customs & Border Protection Service)

While Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement today that Australia will take in an additional 12,000 Syrians from persecuted minorities is welcome, it fails to address a host of problems with the country’s deeply flawed policies towards migrants and asylum seekers:

- Abbot and his government have long been under fire from rights advocates for refusing to let any boats carrying asylum seekers reach Australian shores.

- Australia regularly intercepts boats full of asylum seekers, which are either turned around or taken to one of a handful of offshore processing centres on distant islands.

See: Outsourcing asylum

- It has an agreement with Papua New Guinea to detain asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat in a “transit centre” on Manus Island. Those recognised as refugees are meant to be resettled in PNG after being processed, but no refugees have been resettled yet. Last year, a detainee was killed during riots at the facility.

See: Security firms prosper as more migrants detained

- The Guardian reported on Tuesday that a Syrian asylum seeker was voluntarily repatriated in late August after spending almost two years on Manus Island. The International Organization for Migration has suspended assistance for repatriation to Syria, so Australian immigration officials facilitated the process.

- Australia also runs an asylum processing centre on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru. The centre became the site of scandal when a former Save the Children employee testified in a submission to a senate inquiry that guards were using their influence to solicit sex from detainees.

- Earlier this year, Australia signed a deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees being held in Nauru to the Southeast Asian country, but only four detainees have agreed to take part.

- Australia runs immigration detention centres on its remote territory of Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia. The federal budget released in May noted that two detention facilities on the island would close in 2016 and only one would remain open. 

- Even though Australia is the richest country in the region, Abbott refused to allow any Rohingya refugees to resettle there in May after Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia offered 7,000 Rohingya temporary asylum when their boats were abandoned and left adrift in the Andaman Sea by smugglers.

- The Australian government has been accused of paying off people smugglers to get them to turn boats around.

- Australia has long provided funds and resources to Indonesia to support its use of immigration detention and deter asylum seekers from making the onward journey to its shores. 

See: Poor conditions in Indonesian detention centres fuel violence

- Australia’s policy of detaining the children of asylum seekers, although curtailed under the Abbott government, has not been reversed. A report earlier this year by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that a third of children detained needed psychiatric help.


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