Offshore Detention – AUSTRALIA

Australia is the only country in the world that has offshore processing and mandatory detention of asylum seekers as its policy and practice.

In November 2017, 2292 people were in detention facilities having arrived in Australia to seek refuge from oppressive regimes, war or genocide.

Offshore detention began in 2001, when the Australian government under Prime Minister John Howard instigated the policy, espousing the approach as the ‘solution’ to people without visas travelling to Australia by boat to seek asylum. The policy has been continued by subsequent governments from both sides of politics. Although Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention – to which Australia is a signatory – states clearly that those fleeing a territory where ‘their life or freedom is threatened’ to seek asylum have a lawful right to enter a country without the usual authorisation, Australian politicians at the highest level continue to incorrectly refer to those taking desperate measures to reach safety as “illegals“.

The commitment to detaining asylum seekers offshore in harrowing conditions continues to be justified by claims that ‘a deterrent will diminish the operations of people smugglers and prevent people drowning at sea’ in efforts to reach Australia in unsafe boats.

However, experts have stated that there is no evidence that a deterrent policy is effective in preventing asylum seekers from taking whatever means they can to reach a country where they might find safety for themselves and their families away from war, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

In addition, it has been proven that ‘turning back’ boats is

  • is illegal AND

  • has led to an increase in deaths.

(Listen to the SBS News interview excerpt below with the author of the report, “The Interdiction of Asylum Seekers at Sea: Law and (mal) practice in Europe and Australia“. Dr Violeta Moreno-Lax is a Lecturer in Law, founding Director of the Immigration Law programme and acts regularly as an expert consultant in international refugee and migration law. )

And yet, the ‘we’ve stopped the boats‘ rhetoric continues to be a source of pride for one side of politics and a source of contention or envy for the other.

This bipartisan support for a policy that only leads to more fatalities, harm and suffering and does nothing to affect the activities of people smugglers (who simply take their passengers on longer and more dangerous routes to countries obligated under law to accept asylum seekers) would seem baffling as well as highly destructive. However, as the legal communiqué excerpt below indicates, the need for governments to repeat messages of strong border security to feed the ever-growing public fear of terrorism is a key motivation.

So Australian governments choose to impose:

  • a policy that leads to more people dying at sea and has no effect on the business of people smugglers (or the efforts of their passengers to use the only measures available to them to find a safe place to live and work)

  • indefinite offshore incarceration with no chance of settlement in Australia on people who have to escape life-threatening danger and persecution AND

  • inhumane conditions that cannot fail to cause more physical, emotional and mental damage to innocent victims of war and tyranny

FOR MORE INFORMATION, You can go to the other pages under the Offshore Detention menu e.g.

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