It has not taken long for the Australian government to implement its draconian new asylum policy, whereby any asylum seekers arriving by boat would be immediately turned away and sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG). At the time, Amensty International’s regional refugee coordinator, Graeme McGregor, said the policy marked “the day Australia decided to turn its back on the world's most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key".
It now seems Australia’s immigration officials are determined to do that with a smirk on their face. In a press release titled '81 Iranians get the new message: you will not settle in Australia', the Department of Immigration has released photographs of clearly distressed Iranians now awaiting deployment to PNG beside insensitive captions such as 'A female asylum seeker comes to terms with the fact she won’t be settled in Australia'.
PNG has a deplorable human rights record and the decision to send vulnerable people there flies in the face of Australia’s international obligations to protect such people who arrive at its shores. There are also strong doubts over PNG’s ability to adequately process asylum seeker claims, as Maria O'Sullivan, an associate of the Castan Centre for Human Rights, outlines:
"Papua New Guinea is a developing nation. Although it is a party to the 1951 UN refugee convention, there is no regional human rights infrastructure or other mechanisms in place to ensure basic common standards for processing and protection will be met in the region."
Perhaps even more damagingly, those whose asylum claim is accepted will be resettled in PNG and not Australia. This is The Guardian’s portrait of the ‘country suffering spiralling violence’:
"The Australian government currently urges travellers to PNG to “exercise extreme caution” due to high levels of serious crime and dangers of violent clashes, ethnic disputes, carjacking, and endemic levels of cholera, high levels of HIV, and malaria.
Papua New Guinea has recently been labelled one of the worst places for gender-based violence in the world. One hospital in the country’s second biggest city, Lae, recently reported that half of all sexual violence victims they saw were children.
Unicef described Papua New Guinea’s children as among the most vulnerable in the world, due to extremely high rates of violence, customary child marriage, exploitation, police brutality and detention in adult jails for young offenders...The country currently allows five forms of execution: hanging, lethal injection, medical death by deprivation of oxygen, firing squad and electrocution. Homosexuality is illegal and adultery is a criminal offence."
Australia’s hard-line policy is exacerbated by the fact that it is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, built on immigration and displacement, and currently hosts only 0.3% of refugees worldwide.
Human Rights groups in Australia were quick to condemn the move. House of Welcome, an NGO supporting asylum seekers and refugees in Sydney, described the photos as “upsetting” and “creepy”, whereas Elenie Poulos, the National Director of UnitingJustice, tweeted “Posting these pics is heartless and abusive”.
It takes a depraved department to publish pictures like this, revelling in the misery of asylum seekers. Unfortunately, such behaviour is not beyond the insensitivity of our own law enforcement agencies, as the picture below from the UK Home Office suggests: