23 May 2013

UN says Australia's new asylum seeker policy is wrong

8:11 am on 23 May 2013

The United Nations refugee agency has taken Australia to task over a tough new policy allowing boat people who reach its mainland to be sent to remote Nauru or Papua New Guinea for detention while their asylum claims are processed.

The so-called excision rules, passed recently, extend previous legislation which only allowed the authorities to send boat people for detention in the Pacific nations if they reached Australian offshore territories.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the approach is at best wrong, and falls foul of the 1951 international treaty covering handling of asylum.

It says the UNHCR's position has always been for all asylum seekers arriving into Australian territory, by whatever means, and wherever, to be given access to a full and efficient refugee status determination process in Australia.

The head of the agency's international protection, Volker Turk, says this is in line with international refugee law.

He says if asylum seekers are transferred to another country, the legal responsibility for those asylum seekers may in some circumstances be shared with that other country.

The UNHCR also underlined it had found serious shortcomings at asylum centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, including conditions and processing delays.