11 May 2014

Australia urged to stop shifting responsibility and to start sharing responsibility for irregular movement of people

Indonesian foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa launched a veiled attack on Australian policy, saying the region should be looking at ‘shared responsibility’ for the irregular movement of refuges, ‘not shifting responsibility’. The remark represented the opening statement of a conference that was opened on 5 May in Jakarta in order to discuss the protection of refugees in the region. 15 states, including Australia took part in this conference.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, following the two-day conference in Jakarta, Tom Vargas, UNHCR senior regional protection adviser stated that Australia’s proposal of sending back refugees to Cambodia was against the spirit of resettlement.

In an interview with Sky News, Australia’s Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, defended the tow-back policy on asylum seeker boats, indicating towards the fact that the practice of smuggling people into Australian territory has already resulted in the loss of life at sea of almost 1200 people. Furthermore, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, a spokesperson for the Minister pointed to the fact that ever since the strong border protection policies have been enacted, there has been no more loss of life as a result of people smuggling ventures to Australia and that in four months not a single venture of this sort has met with success. Lastly, it was pointed out that the inflow to Indonesia and the flow through Malaysia have also been reduced.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that UNHCR regional coordinator, James Lynch, showed himself sympathetic to Australia’s concerns over loss of life at sea, criminality in the people smuggling trade and economic migration veiled under the cover of asylum seeking. However, he was of the opinion that the Australian practices of sending boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea or Nauru and of returning boats to Indonesia, even when people have entered Australian waters or landed on Australian territory, run counter to the refugee Convention.

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Source: The Sydney Morning Herald | UN representatives criticise Abbott government's boat tow-back policy

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