No turn-backs; no offshore processing – An appeal to delegates of the national conference of the Australian Labor Party.

We are calling for endorsements for the following statement, which will be circulated to delegates at this weekend’s ALP conference. Please endorse and share widely.

No turn-backs; no offshore processing – An appeal to delegates of the
national conference of the Australian Labor Party.

A humanitarian refugee policy cannot be achieved by lessening, or trading off, the recognised rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Ending the interception and turn-back of boats carrying asylum seekers, closing the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, and ensuring that all asylum seekers are brought to Australia to reside in the community while their claims for protection are assessed, are essential pillars of a just and humane refugee policy. Sacrificing these on the pragmatic ground does nothing but further erode community expectations about the proper treatment of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The view being put forward in some quarters that refugee supporters should pragmatically accept offshore processing and the turn-back of asylum boats as a necessary evil in order to gain political concessions on the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia is misguided and mistaken. There has also been repeated reference to the “closure of ocean route between Java and Christmas Island”, without regard for the consequences of such a decision.

The interception and turn-back of boats have resulted in fires, drownings, sinking and disappearances and jailing of those intercepted. Turn-backs prevent asylum seekers from exercising their right to seek protection in Australia. They are also a direct violation of non-refoulement obligations that are the cornerstone of refugee rights.

Similarly, offshore processing also represents a fundamental breach of Australia’s international obligations to those seeking asylum. Neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea has a resettlement arrangement for refugees. The conditions of detention on Manus Island and Nauru have been repeatedly condemned by international human rights organisations. In 2013, Amnesty International described the conditions on Manus Island as ‘cruel, inhuman, degrading and violating prohibitions against torture’. The government’s own Moss review and the current “Senate Inquiry into allegations of abuse on Nauru” has revealed an appalling history of abuse of children and asylum seekers there.

Compromising on turn-backs or offshore processing would be a victory for the policies of fear, demonisation and deterrence over the policies of hope, compassion and justice.

Any decision by delegates at the Labor Conference to adopt a refugee policy that incorporated turn-backs or support for offshore processing would compound the bi-partisan mainstream political support for the violation of asylum seekers’ human rights.

We call on all delegates to the national conference of the Australian Labor Party to uphold the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and support resolutions:
(i) to end offshore processing;
(ii) to unequivocally oppose the turn-back of asylum boats;
(iii) to end policies of mandatory detention.