UN refugee commission claims 'formidable challenges' for Australia's deal to send 'boat people' to Papua New Guinea

Kevin Rudd's draconian and controversial plan has already outraged human rights campaigners

The world's top body for the protection of refugees has highlighted "formidable challenges" for Australia's draconian and controversial plan to settle asylum-seekers in Papua New Guinea, which it says has "significant shortcomings."

The plan was announced last week by new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and was seen as an attempt to win over blue-collar voters before this year's election. It horrified human rights advocates, with Malcolm Fraser, a former prime minister, calling it “an abdication of our basic humanity”.

The so-called "boat people" - those who arrive in the country after long and extremely dangerous trips in unsafe vessels - will not have their asylum claims heard in Australia, but at processing centres on the neighbouring island where, if the claim is accepted, they will be resettled.

And today the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) wrote of the new plan in a statement: "UNHCR is troubled by the current absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum seekers and refugees in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Australia’s Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA) with the Government of PNG raises serious, and so far unanswered, protection questions.

"There are currently significant shortcomings in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers from Australia. These include a lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions within open-ended, mandatory and arbitrary detention settings (in PNG)."

The commission did recognise Australia as a "generous resettlement country," and said: "We recognise that these measures take place against a backdrop of rising arrivals by people taking exploitative, dangerous sea journeys – including disturbing numbers of families, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals."

Asylum-seekers – who have been arriving in record numbers this year – were sent to Papua New Guinea’s remote Manus Island between 2001 and 2007, but only to have their refugee claims processed. Abandoned by Mr Rudd in 2008, the policy was resurrected last year by his Labor successor, Julia Gillard.

Now Mr Rudd, who deposed Ms Gillard last month, has gone further – a step some believe contravenes the UN refugee convention, which Australia has signed.

Papua New Guinea has poor healthcare, high unemployment, a dubious human rights record and its capital, Port Moresby, has one of the world’s worst crime rates.

The UNHCR noted the difficulties specific to the nation, writing: "From UNHCR’s first-hand experience in supporting Melanesian (people from the Pacific islands to Australia's north-east) and non-Melanesian refugees for nearly 30 years, it is clear that sustainable integration of non-Melanesian refugees in the socio-economic and cultural life of PNG will raise formidable challenges and protection questions."

Earlier this week, a whistleblower who worked at Manus Island - which will be expanded under the new system - condemned it as unfit to "serve as a dog kennel," and alleged, among other things, rape and sexual abuse between asylum seekers with the full knowledge of staff.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke said it was the first time he’d heard the most serious claims, telling the programme: “I need to hear the very specific allegations, I need to make sure they’re properly investigated.

“If the implementation of different policies needs to be reviewed as a matter of that, then that needs to occur.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own