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The Australian Government’s interest in the refugee protection measures recommended by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers has not matched its haste to implement the Panel’s recommendations on deterrence, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says. RCOA CEO Paul Power said that the political debate and the activity within the Parliament since Monday’s release of the Expert Panel report had focused almost exclusively on just three of the Expert Panel’s 22 recommendations – those related to re-establishing forced transfers of asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island. Today, RCOA was one of 20 organisations to join former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and seven senior academics and lawyers in writing to the Prime Minister to oppose the legislation before the
Parliament to re-establishing offshore processing of asylum claims. The letter raised serious concerns about the human rights implications of the legislation and the absence of any measure to enable regular Parliamentary scrutiny of transfer arrangements. “The Refugee Council does not support the Expert Panel’s recommendations about the reestablishment of offshore processing but we note that the Panel saw these recommendations as part of a package of measures which included critical steps towards improving protection options for refugees
within Asia,” Mr Power said. “We know that on Monday the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister committed to implementing all 22 recommendations but we have heard little or nothing since about any of the recommendations designed to provide refugees with constructive protection alternatives to travelling to Australia by boat. “The quality of the political debate from the Government and Opposition this week yet again leaves many Australians despairing about whether our political representatives have the interest or the
capacity to deal with the complex nature of the regional challenges in refugee protection. “Australians – and the many people across Asia and beyond who are watching our national debate – need to hear more detail as soon as possible about Australia’s plans to expand refugee resettlement and focus greater attention on regional cooperation and supporting refugee protection.” Mr Power said the Australian Government must give details of its strategies to implement the following measures recommended by the Expert Panel:
• An immediate increase in the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to 20,000 places and an increase to 27,000 places within five years.
• Increased funding for UNHCR to improve processing systems for asylum seekers in Asia and the Middle East.
• Increased support for capacity-building and service delivery programs among NGOs and civil society groups in the region.
• Focusing Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program on asylum seeker flows moving from source countries into South East Asia.
• Regional engagement and cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia.
• A whole-of-government strategy to engage with source countries for asylum seekers coming to Australia, with a focus on increased resettlement from the Middle East and Asia.
• Addressing the current backlog in the Special Humanitarian Program.
• Creating more opportunities for resettlement by promoting coordinated strategies among traditional and emerging resettlement countries.
“If the Australian Government is serious about creating incentives for asylum seekers to seek protection through established regional systems, it needs to start this work now,” Mr Power said. “That means committing to targets and a timetable to build the Regional Cooperation Framework that stands the best chance of improving protections for refugees and asylum seekers in the region and ensuring they don’t have to risk their lives at sea to find basic protection.”

Joint letter to the Prime Minister follows this page
RCOA’s submission to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers can be viewed at
http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/r/sub/120720_RCOA.pdf
Media contact: Andrew Williams 0488 035 535