Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews is new to the portfolio, but is that any excuse for him to completely mix up the roles of the key organisations involved in handling refugees?
Speaking on the ABC’s PM program last night, the minister detailed how 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, detained on Christmas Island since they were picked up by authorities three weeks ago, would head to Nauru for processing.
This is what he told PM:
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Immigration Minister says he understands some of the Tamils have indicated they wish to seek asylum.
KEVIN ANDREWS: I don’t have the precise detail of how many or what stage that’s at, but their claims will be processed on Nauru and that will be done according to the United Nations protocols and indeed, the International Migration Organization that operates effectively as an agency at the UNHCR at Nauru.
Which was all but entirely wrong. It’s true that the International Migration Organisation administers migrants in Nauru on behalf of the Australian government. But IOM, the International Organisation of Migration, is not an agency of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
IOM and UNHCR are “two quite separate organisations”, says UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery. The United Nations body has “no formal role in Nauru at the moment at all”. In fact, the UNHCR has long voiced concerns about Australia’s detention of asylum seekers at Nauru, where there are “lesser procedural safeguards” than onshore processing.
The confusion in Andrews’s meaning is “because of the way [the interview] was cut”, his spokeswoman told Crikey today.
The asylum seekers’ claims will be processed by officers of the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, she confirms, not officials representing the UNHCR. Their procedures will be modelled on UNHCR guidelines. Andrews got muddled trying to “talk about two issues at once”.
ABC News says that the portion of the interview that was used on PM wasn’t altered in any way.