Australia is set to deport over 100 Rohingya asylum-seekers to detention centres in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru in the coming weeks, in spite of accusations that the move would breach international human rights law.It follows a decision by the former government in July to redirect all asylum-seekers to its poorer Pacific neighbours in an effort to stem the influx of boat people to Australia – which the newly elected Conservative prime minister has vowed to uphold.
All new arrivals – of which 1,585 were recorded in August – will be sent onwards to Nauru or Manus Island in PNG where they will be resettled if successful, despite allegations of mistreatment and abuse at local detention facilities.
According to a local campaign group, at least 100 Rohingyas fleeing conflict and persecution in Burma’s western Arakan state are among those to arrive in Australia since the government announced its new policy.
A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration confirmed to DVB on Wednesday that 72 Burmese nationals and 284 stateless individuals – which is likely to include some Rohingyas – were set for removal.
Although he would not lay out a concrete time frame, he said that “regular transfers” of asylum seekers had taken place since July, with exceptions only being made for those with urgent medical needs.
“Everyone who’s arrived since 19 July is subject to transfer – initially to processing on Christmas Island and then onwards to either PNG or Nauru,” said the spokesperson.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was sworn into office on Wednesday, has moved to implement an even more draconian immigration policy by authorising the navy to intercept and physically drag boats back to their country of origin, usually Indonesia.
“It’s so important that we send a message to the people-smugglers that from today their business model is coming to an end,” Abbott said at his inaugural ceremony.
Part of the AUS$440 million (US$397 million) scheme includes buying old fishing boats from Indonesia in a bid to prevent traffickers from using them, which activists say raises serious safety concerns for Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma.
Chris Lewa from the campaign group, the Arakan Project, described the plan as “totally ridiculous”, adding that it will only punish the victims and not the traffickers.
“It’s definitely not going to stop [the boats] that’s for sure,” Lewa told DVB on Thursday. “Here I’m asking [Rohingya] people in Malaysia if they are still planning to go to Australia, and they say ‘yes’.”
More than 300 Burmese nationals have arrived in Australia this year, along with nearly 2,000 stateless people – who are all counted as one group but include Rohingyas, Kurds, Palestinians and others.
Earlier this week a group of Australian lawyers vowed to challenge their government at the current UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, after criticising Abbott’s policy as tantamount to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.