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UNHCR statement on 8 years of offshore asylum policy

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UNHCR statement on 8 years of offshore asylum policy

19 July 2021

Eight years ago today, Australia announced that people arriving by boat seeking asylum would be transferred to Papua New Guinea, later Nauru and barred from settling in Australia. Some 1400 people, the vast majority refugees, remain in limbo as a result.  

This externalization of Australia’s asylum obligations has undermined the rights of those seeking safety and protection and significantly harmed their physical and mental health. 

Around 130 of this group who were medically evacuated to Australia, remain in detention. Over its 70 years UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency has seen time and again the profound harmful effects of long term detention on people seeking asylum – many of them being people who have already suffered great hardship, trauma and danger. 

This is why UNHCR’s advice to governments worldwide is to refrain from externalization and avoid detention of refugees and asylum seekers. With 82 million people forcibly displaced around the world, stepping up to the commitment of stronger responsibility-sharing in the Global Compact on Refugees is critical. 

On this anniversary, we once again urge Australia to draw an end to this policy and urgently provide solutions for the remaining asylum seekers and refugees still under its offshore processing arrangements. UNHCR’s experience is that just systems of asylum aid effective border management while contributing importantly towards the global effort to find vital long-term solutions for people forced to flee through no fault of their own.