The federal
government’s changes to the asylum-seeker processing system, to be
announced today, are an “alarming overreaction” according to Head of
the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, who says the tough new rules will usher in a new era of “extremity and cruelty in our treatment of refugees.”

The
changes “represent a clear cut incontrovertible breach of our
obligations,” Manne told Crikey this morning. “It effectively defines
the whole Australian territory as an excised or dehumanized zone, where
basic fundamental human rights do not apply”.


The new changes have been made in an effort to patch up relations with
Jakarta and stem the ‘flow’ of Papuan asylum seekers after the
Department of Immigration issued temporary protection visas to 42
Papuan boat people last month.

Manne
told Crikey that the government’s plan to expand the current
regulations that allow islands to be excised from Australia’s migration
zone to include asylum-seekers who make it undetected to the mainland,
thereby denying them the review process under Australian law, is about
“exporting our basic obligations to protect vulnerable people from
gross abuse.”

“It would appear that another country’s pressure
has resulted in the Australian government agreeing to rewrite our own
laws and to downgrade our commitment to the fundamental principles of
protecting vulnerable people from persecution,” says Manne. “This is an
extremely dangerous development.”

The new rules mean that any
claim for asylum will be processed as if the applicant were in an
overseas UN refugee camp. Under the current system, “if someone arrives
in Australia on excised territory on the mainland, and are found to be
a refugee… they are granted protection in Australia and can start to
rebuild a life in safety,” says Manne.

“But the implication of
this new rule is that even if you’re found to be a refugee, your fate
and your future will be completely uncertain … completely at the
discretion and the whim of the government. There will be no legal
requirement that you must be allowed to live in Australia … you could
be stuck on a Pacific island indefinitely.”

Asylum seekers will
also be deprived of legal assistance in putting their case forward for
protection. “Offshore processing under the Pacific Solution has
deprived asylum seekers of the opportunity for legal assistance and
there will be no proper review mechanisms available… and in a system
where a significant amount of cases are overturned on review, there
will be no proper system of reviews.”

“People will be subject to
a system outside the normal Australian due legal process,” says Manne.
The changes will mean that “the spirit and the intent of the UN Refugee
Convention will clearly be violated,” says Manne. “If other countries
were to do this it would be such a radical undermining of the
convention that the whole system would break down and be rendered
meaningless – it would collapse.”

Meanwhile, the federal government is launching a massive new surveillance effortin
which submarines, warships, spy planes and top-secret radars and
satellites will be employed to stop West Papuan refugees from reaching
Australia.

Peter Fray

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