For video visit: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-07/amnesty-to-visit-manus-island-processing-centre/4454802

Dr. Graham Thom, of Amnesty International:

“It’s very important for Australia to really look at how it’s meeting it’s own international obligations, particularly around people who are fleeing violence from Afghanistan… And now, obviously, Syria is a major concern, and one of the priorities that Australia has set is the situation in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran… We have a number of people seeking asylum from those countries, given what’s going on there.

For us to be able to speak with authority and the security counsel, we really need to be able to demonstrate that we are treating those people who are suffering human rights violations with dignity and respect…

We know accomodation is being built [on Nauru], but unfortunately people are effectively in a construction site in those tents while that’s happening. We did want to see more engagement from the Nauruan government in terms of being present in those camps… Really, who is controlling those camps? Who is controlling the day-to-day lives of these people who are seeking protection was a real concern for us when we went to visit Nauru, and so we have similar questions around Manus Island – exactly who is taking responsibility for these people is really important…

We did want to see processing start on Nauru, and that hasn’t happened yet… But we know there are ongoing negotiations about that… These people need some certainty around their life… What are we doing in terms of taking people off-shore to process them? Does this serve any practical purpose at all, apart from destroying the lives of those people who’ve come here seeking our help? Both governments are set on this policy, so we really just need to make sure we’re monitoring what’s happening… That’s why we want to go to Manus Island next month and make sure, particularly the children who are being detained there, are being treated humanely…

Now that we’re on the security council we have a lot of scope to be able to work around what’s happening in those source countries – what is forcing people to flee… those push factors… We need to be working more closely with our region, to be improving the human rights standards and human rights protections in places like Indonesia and Malaysia and Thailand.

If people are unsafe, if people have no certainty, if people still feel that they could be returned back to a dangerous place at any time, of course they will keep moving – they will go to the only safe country in the region – and at the moment, that’s us. Unless we’re working with the region and we’re working at those source countries, people are going to continue to move…

We really need to have a look at what’s happening in Sri Lanka, what’s happening in Afghanistan, obviously what’s happening in Syria is going to have a flow-on effect in that region… Those push factors are still going to be there [in 2013]. How we mitigate against that, how we help people to get protection when they flee from those countries – that’s what’s going to be really important – how we engage with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan; who are all seeing tens of thousands of people fleeing the violence in Syria, as opposed to the few thousands that are coming here. That’s going to have a big impact on whether or not people are forced to make onward, dangerous journeys”.

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