Yesterday’s (6 Oct) announcement of Australia’s withdrawal from its offshore arrangements in Papua New Guinea (PNG) ought to be welcome news.
Sadly, it is happening without confirmed viable long-term solutions for many of the individual refugees and asylum seekers it will affect.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has long advocated against policies under which states externalize asylum and protection obligations.
We have noted on many occasions the harm done to those asylum seekers and refugees involved.
We have also spoken of the grave risks to the global refugee protection regime when countries seek to shift their responsibilities onto others, typically developing nations where refugee protection standards are poor.
In the case of Australia, we have advocated too for its offshore arrangements to be ended and more compassionate approaches to be found. Yesterday’s development will achieve neither.
Indeed, we note with concern the recent Australia-Nauru MoU that instead extends offshore arrangements there.
For the 125 people remaining in PNG from Australia’s offshore programme new uncertainty lies ahead. Among the stated choices they have been given, the option of moving to Nauru is not a long-term solution.
The choice to return to their home countries to face risks there is no choice at all for any refugee. Meanwhile, the systems needed for long-term successful local integration in PNG are still undeveloped and largely absent.
UNHCR appeals to Australia to work towards concluding its offshore programme and to recognize the plight of the individuals who for so many years have paid the price. Externalization is never an answer.