25/09/2012 15:25

Catholic Bishops’ Conference Lawyer: MOU on Asylum Seekers Unlawful and Inhumane

The Governments of PNG and Australia recently signed the Memorandum of Understanding in Russia to allow the boat people to be detained in Manus waiting the processing of their refugee status. As we would expect from our 2003 experience, these people will comprise men, women and children. In 2003 there were 356 people, 232 adults and 124 children under 17 years of age.

It is a clear fact that Nauru and PNG is not the destination of choice for these asylum seekers. These people are going to Australia. The Australian Government will be forcefully taking them to Nauru and PNG. In order to avoid condemnation, the Australian Government has passed legislation to legitimize its actions.

The United Nations Commission on Refugees is deliberately staying away from these developments and stated that it will monitor the situation at arms length. Is this a responsible attitude on the part of the United Nations? Has it no concern at all about the welfare and well being of these people and what about their human rights both in Australia and the host countries? Are asylum seekers not within their mandate?

The Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and Solomon Islands have stated in 2011 that a more humane response to asylum seekers is onshore processing in Australia, not in Manus.

Whilst Australia has passed legislation to authorize its actions, what has PNG and Nauru done? Both PNG and Nauru have human rights provisions in their Constitutions. Australia cannot impose its law on PNG and Nauru.

Both PNG Prime Minister and the Attorney General assume that the acceptance of the asylum seekers into Manus by the MOU is legally compliant. It is not. The MOU is only an understanding between the two countries of their respective rights, responsibilities and benefits. PNG has jumped to embrace the deal for the economic benefits it stands to gain. PNG has no concern and control over the welfare and well being of the asylum seekers. There is no concern about the human rights of these people guaranteed under the Constitution.

What sense does it make for PNG to overlook and ignore the human rights of these desperate and vulnerable people?

PNG cannot rely on the Migration Act to allow these people in. The Act does not apply to them. If Australia had legislated to bring these people in, PNG should also legislate to accept them into the country. Such legislation should be fully compliant with the Constitution.

As it is, PNG has succumbed to the powerful influence of money to enter into an unlawful and inhumane deal.

Paul Harricknen

(CBC Communications 250912 – giorgiolicini@yahoo.com)