The ‘Timor Sea Solution’: a tragic return to the Howard Years?
6 July 2010
Today’s decision by the Prime Minister to ask East Timor to establish a ‘regional processing facility’ does not represent progress in regards to Australia developing a more humane and sustainable response to asylum seekers. While East Timor is a signatory to the Refugee Convention (unlike Nauru) this does not mask the blatant fact that the current Government – just like the Howard government before it – is seeking to outsource our responsibility to provide a humane and effective response to the plight of asylum seekers who arrive by boat and seek protection in Australia.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s CEO, Kon Karapanagiotidis has expressed his concern that this policy is merely the continuation of the warehousing of refugees in impoverished countries with a lack of infrastructure and capacity. ‘In a country ranked 162 out of 182 countries in the 2009 UN Human Development Index, and fares poorly on key indicators such as life expectancy, access to education and standard of living, how will East Timor have the capacity to humanely care for thousands of asylum seekers?’, said Mr Karapanagiotidis.
Mr Karapanagiotidis believes that we only need to look at Australia’s track record in Indonesia for us to be concerned. Afghan asylum seekers assessed as refugees by the UNHCR, currently live in inhumane detention conditions in Indonesia. Recently, the Government committed $32.9 million over the next 4 years for Indonesia to manage the ‘irregular migration flow’. The waiting period to be settled in Australia can be up to 37 years, as we take on average 50 people a year from Indonesia.
Moreover, we must remember the lessons learnt from our history. The processing of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island was a disaster. People were left in limbo for years in poor conditions in remote detention centres which had a devastating impact on their mental and physical health until finally they were released onto mainland Australia
The new policy has left us with more questions than answers.
- What happens once the UNHCR assesses a person as a refugee in East Timor?
- Will Australia take them then or seek to pass them off to a third country?
- Will they be held in detention centres funded by Australia?
- Will this include families and unaccompanied children?
- Who will monitor the conditions in these centres to prevent human rights abuses?
- Will asylum seekers be left in limbo for years after being assessed as refugees if we don’t take them?
- Will we be increasing our refugee and humanitarian quota to enable quick processing?
- Under which law will asylum seekers be assessed and processed?
Refugees deserve better than to be dumped in an Australian funded detention centre in East Timor.
There is an alternative.
As we did before the creation of offshore detention centres, asylum seekers can
be processed onshore in Australia.
Moreover, as was our policy for 15 years, peacefully and successfully before the introduction of the policy of Mandatory Detention in 1992, people arriving by boat can be processed in the community at a tenth of the cost to the taxpayer and without all the needless suffering that this new ‘solution’ will inevitably bring.
Kon Karapanagiotidis Director ASRC.