Potential return of refugees and people seeking asylum to Nauru and PNG proof of policy failure

Today, the Federal Government confirmed the Minister for Home Affairs has chartered a flight to return refugees and asylum seekers to offshore detention on Nauru in a worrying development the Time For A Home coalition said highlighted the Government’s continued failure to provide a solution for the people it has held for 8 years. The statement was made during the hearing of a Federal Court case in which the plaintiffs – who are in detention in Australia – had sought release from detention or return to offshore detention in Nauru. 

In 2019, both Minister Peter Dutton and the Department of Home Affairs publicly stated that they were aiming for zero people in offshore detention, with the Department setting a date of early 2020. Yet more than a year later:

  • there are more than 200 people still held offshore; 
  • the Federal Government is holding almost 100 other people in detention in hotels and centres around Australia; and
  • hundreds more children, women and men are in the community in Australia but with no support and left on six month visas without any guidance on their futures. 

The Morrison Government does not have resettlement options for this group of people. In 2016, when there were more than 2,000 people held on Manus Island and Nauru, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a deal with the US to resettle up to 1,250 refugees. Five years later, Australian officials have said that the deal will end this year.  Since 2013, New Zealand has offered to take 150 refugees from the regional processing cohort each year. The Australian Government has never accepted the offer. 

The Time For A Home coalition said that the possibility of people being sent back to offshore detention – when the Government has publicly confirmed its aim to shut it down and without any proposal for the resettlement of those people – highlights the abject failure of the Morrison Government to plan for the end of this cruel policy.

David Burke, Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre:

“It’s been years of policy failure from the Federal Government. After 8 long years people are desperate. Some may choose a return offshore over the hopelessness of hotel detention. Many others are terrified of the prospect of return to the devastating reality of life detained on remote islands. Enough is enough. The Morrison Government cannot wash its hands of the problem it has created. The Government must allow people to rebuild their lives in safety.” 

Jana Favero, Director Advocacy and Campaigns, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre:

“It is devastating that the Morrison Government has chartered a flight to return people offshore. The severe mental and physical health implications of people held offshore are well documented and known. Lawyers, doctors, human rights activists and caseworkers are united in rejecting returning people to an uncertain situation. The Government continues to fail people seeking asylum and refugees and this is another indication of a chaotic and haphazard approach to their policy failure over the past 8 years. The fair and humane solution is to urgently prioritise safe resettlement so people can rebuild their lives.”

Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator, Amnesty International Australia: 

“This move by the Government only highlights that after nearly 8 years, they still don’t have a solution to this humanitarian crisis. The Government is now forcing people to choose between detention offshore, where they face medical neglect, or hotel detention in Australia, where they are locked in rooms for up to 23 hours a day. It is time for this Government to fulfil its responsibilities and provide refugees with safe and permanent resettlement options so people can rebuild their lives.” 

Sarah Dale, Centre Director and Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS):

“After 8 years of offshore detention, what refugees need is a safe place to live where they can rebuild their lives and recover. But the Government continues to fail them. They are left to suffer in limbo, be that offshore or onshore.

“This news is yet another example of the Government’s chaotic mismanagement and Australia’s hostile refugee policies. The way they continue to treat people seeking safety is appalling and we will keep calling for change until our Government remembers their humanity and finds a permanent resettlement pathway for all refugees.”

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