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REGION: Canberra guilty of 'devastating hypocrisy and meanness', says lawyer

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison ... 'selfish' policy under fire. Image: Radio Australia

Monday, May 26, 2014

Item: 8627

AUCKLAND (Radio NZ International / The Nation / Pacific Media Watch): The "new Australia" is one of "devastating hypocrisy and meanness", says a leading human rights lawyer.

Julian Burnside, QC, told Radio NZ International that the Australian government's latest bid to have approved asylum seekers resettled permanently in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea was "ludicrous" and "selfish".

The Australian government has so far taken almost two years to process the asylum applications of thousands of asylum seekers it is detaining in its Nauru and Manus Island deportation centres.

Recently, it granted 23 asylum seekers from the Nauru deportation centre asylum in Nauru, Radio NZ International reported.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told The Nation newspaper that the approved asylum seekers would be able to leave and re-enter Nauru and PNG but would not be allowed to enter Australia.

But in an interview with journalist Christopher Gilbert, Burnside told Radio NZ International that the asylum seekers would find it very difficult to cope:

"Nauru is tiny and it has a population of about 10,000 people. It's a very harsh climate, it has no real Gross Domestic Product, and people live in fairly miserable circumstances. Now, just how refugees are supposed to blend into that community and how they're supposed to support themselves is a fairly serious question. What Australia is doing in substance is dumping a bunch of refugees into a community that has no real capacity to manage them."

Morrison, accusing him of being dishonest for claiming that the asylum seekers would be self sufficient within a year:

"It is ludicrous to suppose that within 12 months of being released into the Nauruan community any refugee will be able to support themselves in that community. The local Nauruans have difficulty supporting themselves in their community ... what the Australian Immigration Minister has not said is who's going to support them for the first 12 months and whether they will be helped if they can't get work or income after the first 12 months."

Asylum seekers from Manus Island being resettled in Papua New Guinea would probably fare worse because there was greater antipathy towards them. Burnside added that many might want to leave, but would find it very difficult to get another country to accept them.

"It's also interesting to consider the selfishness of Australia's stance on this. Australia is a large and rich country by any standards, Nauru is tiny and bankrupt. Now we have sent about 1100 asylum seekers to Nauru. If even half of them were given Nauruan visas that would increase Nauru's population by about 5 percent. That same number would increase Australia's population by about one-thousandth of 1 percent. And yet somehow Australia thinks that Nauru can cope with it and we can't. It's the most devastating hypocrisy and meanness, of which I'm afraid to say is the new Australia."

Meanwhile, the Papua New Guinean Foreign Minister, Rimbink Pato, has told Radio NZ International that the Australian government will have to make alternative arrangements for the 11 people who have been granted asylum in PNG, if they choose not to live there when they are released from the Manus Island deportation centre in July. Pato said:

"The idea is those who are determined as genuine refugees, they should settle in Papua New Guinea. But obviously, if it is their decision not to settle in PNG, then we don't have a choice but we will have to liaise with the Australian government as to where in which other country they should resettle."

Canberra has also been criticised over plans to dump asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island in Cambodia.

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Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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