Australia brushes off UN concern over Papua New Guinea refugees

Featured Oceania - October 12th, 2012
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Australia brushed off concerns raised by the UN refugee agency on its new policy on asylum-seekers, saying it was “on track” with its plan to send people to Papua New Guinea, AFP reports.

In a letter to Canberra, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres questioned whether Canberra’s move was “fully appropriate”, writing that, according the UN refugee agency’s assessment, the impoverished country “does not have the legal safeguards nor the competence or capacity to shoulder alone the responsibility of protecting and processing asylum-seekers transferred by Australia”.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that the policy was on course, as asylum-seekers are expected to arrive on Manus Island within weeks. “We have consulted with and tabled correspondence by the UNHCR – and as always, we take on board issues they have raised,” the spokesman said, adding that Canberra will continue to work with Papua New Guinea’s government.

Australia decided to toughen its refugee policy following the influx of more than 4,000 asylum-seekers and rising death tolls from dangerous voyages at sea.

The new policy, however, would not have deterred people from coming to Australia, an asylum-seeker told Australia’s Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs. Asylum-seekers are worried that they would be sent to Nauru and that their assessment would take longer, Triggs told ABC radio.