21 Sep 2016

Australia's offshore processing not a model, says lawyer

7:48 pm on 21 September 2016

An Australian lawyer is rejecting a suggestion his government's policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat is a model for other countries to follow.

Protest on Nauru

Protest on Nauru Photo: supplied Refugee Action Coalition

Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have been touting their border protection policy as world-standard.

"Australia's immigration policies have focussed on finding a balance between population growth, nation-building and economic needs, while sharing the responsibility for resettling the most vulnerable refugees," Mr Dutton said.

"The Australian story demonstrates how societies can benefit from safe, orderly and well-managed migration."

A lawyer who has represented refugees, Eric Vardalis, said that Canberra is continuing to allow the mistreatment of almost 2000 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island for no good reason.

He said that offshore processing was taking a huge toll on those held on Nauru and Manus, the vast majority of whom were genuine refugees and should be accorded proper protections.

"They are spending billions of dollars on Nauru and Manus. And why? There's no need for these people to be there. We spend $4 billion on refugees on Manus and Nauru. That money could build hospitals, roads, schools, social services."

According to Mr Vardalis, the ignorance of Australia's public about the people held for offshore processing was fuelling the government's harsh migration policies.

Mr Dutton reiterated that none of asylum seekers it transferred to Nauru and Manus Island for processing would be resettled in Australia.

The government has credited its policy for a drop-off in arrivals of so-called "boat people"; Mr Vardalis said the majority of Australia's public supported this policy.

The lawyer pointed out that the almost 2000 refugees and asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus were suffering in what was effectively a jail, having fled persecution and conflict zones.

"You've got a government and an opposition that says, no, you're never going to come to Australia, and nowhere else. Who is going to take them?" he said.

"[The government] are just pandering to the Australian public. They shouldn't be exacerbating the racist problem. They should be saying to people, look these are genuine refugees. And it's ignorance - no one's ever met one, no one's ever met a refugee. They [Australians] think they [refugees] are all terrorists, every one of them, even the kids."

Mr Vardalis said those found to be genuine refugees should be brought to Australia.

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