Right: Australian army engineers and construction workers inspect the abandoned Manus Island camp facilities in early 2012. The camp was brought back into service to be part of Australia's offshore processing system. The PNG agreement announced by the Rudd government in July 2013 means that the Manus centre will have to be expanded many-fold. '
Arguments against those seeking asylum by boat being settled permanently in Papua New Guinea
1. The new asylum seeker policy is not legal
The United Nations refugee agency has warned Australia that its decision to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea could breach international law and its human rights obligations.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement on July 26 which pointed to 'significant shortcomings' in Papua New Guinea's ability to legally and humanely process asylum seekers.
The UNHCR listed a range of concerns about the legality of attempts to have refugee claims processed in Papua New Guinea. The statement said, 'These include a lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions within open-ended, mandatory and arbitrary detention settings.'
The UNHCR has also claimed that Australia cannot permanently transfer its legal obligations for those who come to its shores seeking asylum. UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle has stated, 'If protection cannot be found in Papua New Guinea, and if protection can't be found through any other resettlement options to any other country, then we would think it logical that the residual responsibility rests with Australia.'
Richard Towle has further stated, 'We're concerned that the net effect of the measures is that for all intents and purposes Australia ceases to be an asylum country under the convention for anybody coming to the country other than by air.'
Critics have argued that as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention Australia cannot simply determine that the means by which a refugee arrives on our shores determines whether that person will receive our assistance. The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has stated, 'This policy flouts key articles of the Refugee Convention, including Article 31, which forbids discrimination against asylum seekers due to how they arrive.'
It has also been noted that the legal rights of refugees are likely to be violated if they are forced to remain in Papua New Guinea.
PNG does not meet basic standards for asylum seekers as laid out in the refugee convention. Abdul Karim Hekmat, a youth worker and recipient of this year's Refugee Council of Australia's John Gibson refugee community leadership scholarship, has argued, 'As a predominantly Christian country, PNG - through its Parliament - passed a motion to ban non-Christian faiths. Most of the asylum seekers travelling by boat to Australia for protection are Muslims often fleeing religious persecution. Not being able to practise your religion in the country of asylum is a breach of the convention. It does not matter if one lives under the theocratic regime of Iran or Taliban rule; lack of religious freedom is a violation of human rights.'
Abdul Karim Hekmat has also noted, 'PNG is one of the world's worst places for women. Violence against women is so high it puts the country on an almost equal footing with Afghanistan. Recent data claims 50 per cent of PNG's women have been raped in their homes and on the streets, and 68 per cent have been subjected to physical violence. Gang rapes are common. Even taxis are too dangerous for women because of the fear of rape by raskol gangs.' Thus the fear of persecution which asylum seekers are seeking to escape may well confront them in Papua New Guinea. This is a violation of their rights under international law.
2. The new asylum seeker policy is not feasible
Critics of the new asylum seeker policy have claimed that it cannot be put into practice.
The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has been highly critical of plans to transfer refugees permanently to Papua New Guinea. It has claimed the policy is simply not practicable.
Amnesty International states,'The UN Department of Development Programme's Development Index measures national income per capita, availability of education and average life expectancy. Under this index, Australia ranks 2nd in the Asia Pacific, whereas PNG ranks 156th.'
The implication here is that Papua New Guinea is simply not wealthy enough, nor does it have the facilities or infrastructure which would enable it to deal appropriately with a large influx of refugees.
Amnesty International has stated also stated that Papua New Guinea is a country that does not have a good record with regard to protecting the human rights of its own citizens. The organisation is sceptical that it will be able to protect the human rights of refugees. Amnesty International has argued, 'PNG is not exempt from ensuring human rights standards for asylum seekers - but this is a country facing significant human rights problems, where 50% of women have been raped and homosexuality is still considered a crime.
The one asylum seeker processing facility in PNG - on Manus Island - has been widely criticised for failing to protect the rights, health and welfare of the 200 asylum seekers detained there.
Now the Government wants to send thousands upon thousands of desperate people to PNG. This is why we have serious concerns about PNG's ability to ensure the rights of thousands of asylum seekers and refugees.'
Former Liberal Minister for Migration, Peter Reith, has suggested that Papua New Guinea will not be able to accommodate the likely numbers and further that the plan will foment religious and political instability in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Reith has argued, 'The agreement with PNG is for a year. The current facilities hold a few hundred people. It has taken nearly a year to organise that much. Rudd's suggestion that detention centres could pop up all over PNG seems fanciful...
And if there are resettlements...the idea that there will be no political or practical issues with thousands of Muslim and other religious groups living in Christian PNG - with the benefit of health, education and schooling, provided by Australia whilst the locals miss out - seems politically unlikely.'
3. The new asylum seeker policy will not be an effective deterrent
It has been claimed that Kevin Rudd's new policy on asylum seekers is for local consumption, intended to win his party support within the electorate and that it will not be an effective deterrent to prevent asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat.
The premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, has claimed that it will be a relatively simple matter for refugees placed in Papua New Guinea to travel by boat across the Torres Strait to Australia.
Mr Newman has stated, 'What Kevin Rudd is doing is creating a launching pad for a wave of additional ongoing immigration from PNG into Queensland, either legal or illegal. Torres Strait is a porous border right now. It's only 4km from PNG on to the soil of Queensland. You can go from PNG into Queensland across the Strait in a row boat.'
Queensland Local Government Minister David Crisafulli has claimed that it was unbelievable that asylum seekers who had risked their lives travelling to Australia from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan would not try to do so again from PNG.
Mr Crisafulli has stated, 'The Federal Government has tried to end a political headache and in the process thrown Queensland to the wolves.'
It has also been claimed that there is nothing in the agreement Australia has reached with Papua New Guinea that guarantees that refugees will not later be resettled in Australia. Scott Morrison, the Oppositions immigration spokesperson, has stated, 'So what we have here is the Prime Minister saying big words, big announcement, never ever, can't be resettled in Australia - but the agreement does not back that up. So what this is is just Kevin Rudd's promise - it's just Kevin Rudd's talk, it's not an actual agreement.'
Finally it is argued that no policy based on deterrence is likely to work as the persecution from which asylum seekers are fleeing is far greater than any disincentive an Australian government can provide.
This point has been made by former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who has stated, 'The fact remains that, however unpleasant the Australian government tries to be, it cannot match the terror from which those who are genuine refugees are fleeing. That remains the fundamental flaw in the policy of deterrence.'
4. The new asylum seeker policy is inhumane
Critics of Australia's new asylum seeker policy for those who seek to come to Australia by boat have condemned it as a cruel and inappropriate way to people who have already suffered greatly.
Sue Nuttall from Bendigo's Rural Australian for Refugees group has described the new agreement, which will allow the resettlement of asylum seekers in PNG under a regional arrangement, as 'very sad'.
Ms Nuttall has said, 'It's a fairly sad indictment on our country that we have to go to this extent to stop people coming here. In Australia, in 2010 we were ranked 69th, per 1000 population, for the number of asylum seekers that we received and that's pretty low.
I think you'd have to say we're a very inhumane country... why do we seem to be a country that is so unaccepting of the problems of others?'
Alison Gerard, senior lecturer in justice studies at Charles Sturt University, has stated, 'It stands out as one of the most reactive and punitive asylum seeker policies, lacking in both compassion and a sophisticated understanding of migration in the Asia Pacific.'
Critics have looked at the way in which the current asylum seeker detention facility in Papua New Guinea (on Manus Island) has operated and conclude from that that the new system is likely to impose unacceptable hardships on the asylum seekers sent to live permanently in New Guinea.
Azadeh Dastyari, an associate of the Castan Centre for human rights law and a lecturer in the faculty of law at Monash University has stated, 'We know, from UNHCR reports, that the detention facility in Manus Island is "harsh" and inhumane. So inhumane and unacceptable in fact, that as acknowledged in the announcement by the Minister for Immigration, children have recently been removed from the centre.'
5. The new policy will be unsustainably expensive
It has been claimed that setting up detention and processing centres overseas to deal with asylum seekers is very expensive.
Prior even to Kevin Rudd's most recent proposal regarding Papua New Guinea, a range of experts had suggested that off-shore detention and processing was the most costly option available.
In April, 2013, Sienna Merope, of Right Now, an Australian human rights organistaion, stated, 'I t is difficult to calculate the exact financial cost of our policy of mandatory detention. What is clear, however, is that it is exorbitant. In May 2012, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship estimated that the cost of running detention centres for the 2012-2013 financial year would be over $1 billion dollars. According to the Department, this figure was based on an average number of 8,400 people in the system throughout the year, so roughly speaking that is around $119,000 per asylum seeker, per year. By February 2013 this estimate had risen to $2.124 billion dollars, reflecting both the increase in numbers and the greater cost of administering detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea than mainland Australia. Unsurprisingly, the more remote the place where you lock people up, the more expensive it is.'
Mr Merode has further claimed, 'All together, the Department of Immigration says that over the next four years, setting up and running Nauru alone will cost $1.9 billion dollars. That's $1.9 billion, to lock up 750 desperate people who have committed no crime, in conditions recently described as "cruel, inhumane and degrading" by Amnesty International. Or, to look at it another way, more money than will be allocated to mental health reform in this country over the next five years.'
Critics of the Papua New Guinea option argue that its costs are likely to be even greater than those of our current policies. Gemma Jones in an opinion piece published in The Townsville Bulletin on July 20, 2013, stated, 'Papua New Guinea has been given a blank cheque by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to resettle all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, in a bid to solve the border protection crisis.
In return Australian taxpayers will half-fund university reforms in the Pacific country, the redevelopment of a hospital in Lae and its ongoing costs, and law and order initiatives as well as all resettlement costs for refugees.'