These asylum seekers dream of a promised land, but many end up in island camps far from Australia’s pristine shores. The camps were set up by the Australian government and have been likened to prisons. Up to 700 detainees recently went on hunger strike on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea – reigniting the debate over how Canberra treats illegal immigrants.
The Australian government has come under fire from refugee activists and even the UN for its harsh policy on asylum seekers. Thousands – from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran – attempt the treacherous sea-crossing, setting sail from Indonesia but very rarely ending up in Australia.
Ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard was the first to tighten the noose on asylum seeker policy – clamping down hard on sea-crossings and reintroducing ‘offshore processing’ in 2012. Under Australian law, anyone who arrives illegally by boat must be transferred to off-shore detention centres outside Australian jurisdiction to be ‘processed’ by a ‘third country’. In a nutshell, that legal jargon effectively takes the matter out of Australia’s hands and dumps it in the hands of two countries: Papua New Guinea and the tiny island country of Nauru. Virtually everyone who arrives is either turned back – often to Indonesia – or transferred and detained, including unaccompanied children. Legally, there is no limit to the length of time an asylum seeker may be held. According to Australia’s Human Rights Commission:
Initially published on France24 on 02/03/2015
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