The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has released two reports criticising the harsh living conditions for asylum seekers held at Australian immigration detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s Manus Island.
The reports, released on Nov 26, described the living conditions constituting arbitrary and mandatory detention as unsafe and inhumane. While the UNHCR acknowledged some positive developments since the June 2013 inspection, recent observations revealed that the processing centres “do not provide a fair, efficient and expeditious system for assessing refugee claims” and “do not provide for adequate and timely solutions for refugees.”
The UNHCR reported that only one decision has been handed down at the processing centre at Nauru in the 14 months since the centre reopened.
UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle says transferring families and children to Nauru or PNG was inappropriate and was particularly concerned about transferring unaccompanied children to the processing centres.
“Unaccompanied children are already very vulnerable and to place them in situations of uncertainty and tough physical conditions…could be very damaging to their health and well-being,” Mr Towle said.
The UNHCR says that they are very concerned about the physical and psycho-social health of vulnerable people – including unaccompanied children and survivors of torture and trauma. They have called on the Australian Government to cease the transfer of children and their families to processing centres.
Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for UNHCR, said that the agency understands Australia’s determination to respond robustly to the challenges of people-smuggling, however, he reminds Australia not to neglect the compelling protection needs, safety and dignity of the individuals affected.
“UNHCR is particularly concerned by the impact of policies that will prevent recognised refugees from finding safe, dignified and sustainable solutions in the medium to long term,” Mr Edwards said.
“The prospect for refugees in PNG finding permanent protection there presents formidable challenges, and it is clear that Nauru will offer only very limited opportunities for refugees, even in the shorter term.”
On the same day, Brisbane’s Federal Circuit Court adjourned a court application that sought an injunction to prevent a premature newborn and his asylum-seeker family from being transferred to detention. Lawyers for the family argued that sending a sick newborn to Nauru was an injustice and the child should be afforded the same rights as other children born in Australia.