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UNHCR reviewing Australian changes on offshore processing

Briefing notes

UNHCR reviewing Australian changes on offshore processing

17 August 2012

UNHCR is studying arrangements proposed in Australia this week by a panel of experts, and subsequent legislation passed by its Parliament, under which asylum-seekers would be processed in offshore camps.

As things stand, the proposals raise many complex legal, protection, policy and operational issues. There is value in those parts of the proposals as they relate to regional capacity building, engagement and cooperation in South-East Asia, which UNHCR has long supported. However, the strong deterrent elements reflected in the re-establishment of offshore processing in the Pacific raise concerns and many questions.

UNHCR's preference remains an arrangement which would allow asylum-seekers arriving by boat into Australian territory to be processed in Australia. This would be consistent with general practice.

The Government's decision, enabled by legislation passed by Parliament, to allow offshore processing is an exception to this general practice. We do not want to see a return to lengthy delays in remote island centres for asylum seekers and refugees before durable solutions are found. We are also concerned about the psychological impact for those individuals who would be affected.

It is essential that any arrangement involving the transfer of asylum-seekers contains, in both the formal arrangement and in its practical implementation, the fundamental human rights and protection safeguards that are owed by Convention States.

UNHCR hopes to discuss the details of the changes with the Australian Government in the near future.

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