PNG 'solution' contrary to Australia's international obligations

The NSWCCL firmly opposes the Labor government’s PNG regional re-settlement agreement.

The underlying premise of the solution appears to be that PNG is an undesirable place of resettlement, so much so that refugees would rather face a lifetime of uncertainty than risk the possibility of resettlement there. If PNG was a genuinely viable resettlement option, then asylum seekers should be willing to travel from Indonesia to PNG. There is a veneer of legality in the policy, but it is fundamentally contrary to the intentions of the United Nations Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a party. Indeed the PNG ‘solution’ is a cynical subversion of the Refugee Convention, which is intended to provide a framework whereby people, in need of protection, are able to receive it, not a framework for making genuine protection practically unattainable.

The PNG policy is undeniably contrary to Australia’s international obligations. By subjecting asylum seekers to unjustified adverse differential treatment on the basis of their ‘illegal’ mode of entry to Australia, the government is likely to violate its obligations under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the PNG agreement fails to take into consideration Article 33, which prohibits states from ‘expelling or returning [re-fouler] a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his (or her) life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’. In addition, Article 33 should be read in conjunction with Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, which similarly prohibits states from ‘expelling or returning a person to countries where there is a substantial risk that they will face torture, inhumane or degrading treatment’. PNG, while a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, is not a signatory to the Convention Against Torture.

In the event the PNG policy is successful, in that it ‘stops the boats’, then asylum seekers are left in limbo, unable to seek the assistance they deserve. In this case, the Australian government would then be denying asylum seekers, pursuant to Article 32, the right to undergo due process in order to ascertain on what grounds they are being expelled. Moreover, Australia would be denying refugee’s the fundamental right to seek asylum and are in effect punishing refugees for seeking protection.

Conversely, in the event the PNG policy is unsuccessful, and refugees are resettled in PNG, then various legal issues are associated with PNG as a re-settlement country. It becomes imperative to recognize that PNG is an impoverished country that ranks 156th on the Human Development Index, in contrast Australia ranks 2nd. Hence, there are serious concerns as to whether refugees resettled in PNG are likely to enjoy the fundamental human rights, including health care, education and work, owed to them under the refugee convention.

It appears from the refugee re-settlement agreement that the Australian Government is trying to shroud its international obligations by emphasizing its intention to stop people smuggling, thereby failing to acknowledge the rights of the people being smuggled.