UNHCR seeking details on reports of boats forced back from Australia

Briefing Notes, 10 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is seeking details from the Australian authorities about recent media reports of the Australian navy forcing boats, presumed to be carrying asylum-seekers on their way to Australia, back to Indonesian territorial waters, as well as reports of plans to buy and provide vessels for future push-backs.

UNHCR would be concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection. Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the Refugee Convention and other international law obligations.

As past experience has shown, such practices are also operationally difficult and potentially dangerous for all concerned.

Instead of a policy of push-backs, UNHCR continues to recommend that efforts be made to strengthen regional cooperation on the basis of solidarity and responsibility-sharing which build on national asylum systems. UNHCR supports investment in a regional cooperation framework in South East Asia, and recognizes the work of the Bali Process States in addressing protection and humanitarian needs in mixed migration flows in the Asia-Pacific region.

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