The Australian Government’s announced change in legal status and withdrawal of support to refugees and asylum-seekers is a blatant attempt to coerce the most vulnerable to return to Papua New Guinea, Nauru, or their countries of origin.
This is according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Representation in Canberra.
Removing accommodation and financial support leaves people at serious risk of destitution in Australia. Equally, the withdrawal of access to basic services such as trauma and torture counselling will exacerbate their already precarious situation. About 400 refugees and asylum-seekers remain in community detention in Australia, having been transferred from Papua New Guinea and Nauru due to both serious medical and protection concerns. The Government of Australia has implicitly recognised through these transfers that the conditions there are unacceptable.
The Government has not granted these refugees and asylum-seekers the right to work. Most were brought to Australia with acute medical needs. To claim abruptly that these same people should immediately support themselves financially is unfair and unreasonable.
Papua New Guinea and Nauru remain unsuitable as places of settlement for refugees and asylum-seekers sent there by Australia. UNHCR has consistently reported the impossibility of local integration on even a temporary basis for the vast majority of refugees and asylum-seekers, along with concerns for their physical security. Medical experts have repeatedly confirmed the urgent need for medical and psychological services which are unavailable in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
The majority of asylum-seekers transferred from Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia have still not had their claims for international protection determined after more than four years. Until their asylum claims are finalised, they should not be returned to their countries of origin. Going home is not an option for those who have a fear of serious harm and persecution.
As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Australia remains responsible for those who have sought its protection. This includes a duty to consider claims for international protection fairly and efficiently, and to provide refugees and asylum-seekers with a minimum standard of living which is humane and dignified.
Those who have suffered most under inhumane conditions in Papua New Guinea and Nauru need care and compassion. Refugees and asylum-seekers who have been transferred to Australia, like all refugees and asylum-seekers, should be provided with adequate support and a much-needed long term solution outside of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.