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“Since the reinstatement of offshore processing for asylum seekers was announced in August 2012, there has been much debate around whether the government’s ‘circuit breaker plan to reduce the current surge in irregular migration to Australia’ has been successful. What seems most notably absent from all political discourse currently around offshore processing, is the lack of public discussion of asylum seekers’ human rights.

The last time the Pacific Solution was in effect, over two thirds of asylum seekers processed offshore were accepted as refugees and were given permanent visas. What this demonstrates, is that these asylum seekers have been proven to have genuine refugee claims, people who under the UNHCR’s definition of a refugee, have a “well-founded fear of persecution” and quite literally, people who have fled their country of origin for fear of their own or their family’s lives. These people are not criminals, they have not illegally breached any national or international laws, nor have they sought to do anything other than find safety for themselves and their families.

Despite this clarification and amid recent reports of denials of basic human rights for asylum seekers on Nauru and Christmas Island, the Government’s current policy is framed around how harsh a deterrent is acceptable as opposed to how we might fairly treat asylum seekers and process them in a humane manner.

In her recent UN fact-finding mission to Christmas Island, Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs expressed her concern that facilities would easily become crammed and overcrowded. She noted that for many asylum seekers an “enormous mental anxiety lay with the fear that they would be transferred to Nauru; that their assessment would not take place for some months and would not be over for many years.”

The anxiety harbored by asylum seekersappears to be well founded, after the surfacing of shocking reports this week from asylum seekers living in Nauru. “We have no accommodation,” the Nauru callers said to Refugee Action Coalition Sydney (RAC) earlier in the week:

“We are in tents. We have no fans, no water, no air conditioner and no fridge. It is very hot – 40 degrees; 42 degrees…people have attempted suicide. Every day people are mentally sick. They have used blades to cut themselves. Now they are being followed everywhere by four security guards”.

As well as the attempted suicides, 300 of the 377 asylum seekers on Nauru have reportedly been on a hunger strike, with one person not having eaten for 27 days.

What is most shocking in this case, is the revelation that conditions on Nauru are not about to change quickly. In terms of physical structures, funding to build detention centres on Nauru was only approved in the lower house earlier this week, 8 weeks after asylum seekers arrived on the island. This demonstrates that the Government has no problem allowing the men to languish in tents in excess of 40 degree heat until more permanent structures are constructed. In terms of processing asylum claims, a senior Immigration Department official has statedthat processing is not likely to commence for another 6 months, and Julia Gillard has speculated that asylum seekers could expect to wait in conditions such as these for as long as five years. This is also in addition to reports this week of asylum seekers having had no access to a lawyer to learn their rights, with some asylum seekers being rejected without their cases even being heard.

My question here is, when did arbitrarily detaining people with no legal trial, in inhumane conditions, purely for the purpose of deterring others, become a morally acceptable notion? Politicians are deliberately ignoring the inherent human rights of the people they are dealing with purely to give their deterrence policy more meat.

However, so far it appears the Government’s deterrence policy is not working. As Ms. Triggs noted when interviewing asylum seekers on Christmas Island, “I asked them had they known of the Nauruan policy or offshore processing policy, would they still have come, overwhelmingly the answer is that they would have done”. Statements like this are substantiated by the fact that since offshore processing was announced, the number of boat arrivals has actually hit a record high with 6,575 asylum seekers arriving by boat since August.

As protests around the country over the last week have demonstrated, the Australian public does not think this is acceptable. With an issue that is no doubt going to be a deal breaker at the next election, the Australian public deserve to see an alternative solution that recognises asylum seekers as having inherent human rights, rather than a “solution” which dehumanises people for a political strategy.”