meeight years and the equivalent of £ 5 billion. Twelve deaths and thousands of lives damaged, interrupted and left in limbo. Australia’s “extraterritorial processing” regime for asylum seekers accomplished little and resolved less, said one refugee kept at the heart of the system for seven years.
“Australia has created a tragedy,” journalist and author Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian Kurdish refugee detained on Manus Island, told The Guardian. “I don’t think the people of the UK want their government to create the same tragedy on their behalf.”
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to release plans this week to reform Britain’s asylum system, including legislative changes that would allow the UK to send migrants who have applied for asylum to processing centers in third countries.
Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, and the Isle of Man, a Crown dependency, have reportedly been disputed by officials. It is also understood that other islands are being considered off the British coast, possibly in Scotland.
But the Home Office’s proposal to emulate Australia’s regime runs the risk of a “human rights disaster”, would cost billions of pounds and would not deter migration by boat, policy experts have warned.
Australia has instituted high seas detention policies twice, from 2001 to 2008, and since 2012.
While it technically still maintains a policy of sending all asylum seekers arriving by boat to shore (aircraft arrivals, by far a larger cohort, are not eliminated), Australia has not sent anyone to shore since 2014.
However, around 250 people remain on the high seas after more than seven years, and more than 100 detained in Australia, as a result of the high seas policy.
Australia’s two offshore processing centers, on the remote islands of Manus in Papua New Guinea and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru, have been widely condemned for systemic abuses and human rights violations.
The UN has said Australia’s system violates the convention against torture and the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said indefinite detention at sea was “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and illegal under international law.
At least 12 people have died in the camps, including killed by guards, medical negligence and suicide.
In 2016, Nauru files released by The Guardian exposed the detention system’s own reports of rape, sexual abuse, self-harm and child abuse in overseas detention.
Psychiatrists sent to work in the camps have described the conditions as “inherently toxic” and similar to “torture.”
In 2017, the PNG camp was found to be illegal and the Australian government was ordered to pay A $ 70 million. [£35m] in compensation to those illegally detained.
Australia’s camps, which had a capacity of 2,500 people at a time, cost approximately 1 billion Australian dollars [£557m] one year to run. The vast majority of asylum seekers sent abroad (more than 85%) had their applications for protection recognized.
Madeline Gleeson, Senior Research Associate at the Kaldor Center for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales, testified before the UK House of Commons committee at the English Channel crossings in November last year.
“This doesn’t work,” he told the committee. “It did not work in Australia. It was introduced with the aim of trying to discourage people from seeking asylum in Australia by boat, but in the first 12 months of the policy we saw more people arriving in Australia by boat than at any time in history or since. “
The Nauru and Manus detention centers reached their maximum capacity in three months.
Gleeson told The Guardian that he was physically intercepting ships and sending them back, primarily to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, again raising significant international law and human rights issues, reducing the number of ships arriving in Australia.
Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson said the Australian overseas prosecution system had been “a human rights disaster” and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law.
“It has been a textbook case of what not to do. Many people still remain in limbo on the high seas, and even those who have reached Australia safely have endured long periods of detention, long-lasting impacts on physical and mental health, and their futures are not yet secure. “
Pearson said Australia’s system was “a clear case of a rich developed country, shifting its responsibilities to poorer and less developed countries with a weaker capacity to protect people. It is very worrying that the UK thinks this is something to follow ”.
Boochani questioned what, after eight years, Australia’s policy had accomplished.
“They have harmed hundreds of innocent people and they have also damaged the political culture of that country. They have spent over AU $ 9 billion [£5bn] under the motto of national security but, in fact, they wasted an enormous amount of money and damaged their humanitarian principles.
“Australia has tortured many people inside the prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru. Thats the reality “.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism