UNHCR asks Australia to clarify reported asylum seeker 'push-offs'
CANBERRA, September 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency's Canberra office has sought clarification from the government about reports that Australia is preventing vessels which may be carrying asylum seekers from entering its territorial waters. The request for clarification comes after Australian media reported two boats with possible asylum seekers being refused entry to Australia in recent days.
In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was concerned that asylum seekers may be facing rejection at the Australian border without being granted access to fair and effective procedures for determining their status. "Any such rejection runs counter to a number of conclusions reached by UNHCR's Executive Committee, of which Australia is a member, and are incompatible with general obligations voluntarily assumed by Australia under the 1951 Refugee Convention," the agency said.
UNHCR also expressed concern that Australia's measures could reverse an "important and longstanding humanitarian tradition against so-called 'push-offs'". Australia played a significant role in the international effort in the 1970s and early 80s to ensure the rescue of Indo-Chinese boat people and to combat "push-offs" by coastal states.
In addition to the two recently reported boat arrivals, Australia saw the arrival in late August 2001 of over 430 asylum seekers rescued at sea by the Norwegian freighter Tampa. A further 200 asylum seekers were intercepted at sea by Australian naval vessels on September 8. The Australian Federal court ruled that Australia's refusal to allow the asylum seekers aboard the Tampa to enter Australia was illegal. The government has appealed the decision.