Ben DohertyAustralia will take refugees from camps in Costa Rica as it offered more money for peace building and refugee assistance, but no additional resettlement places, at Barack Obama’s global migration summit in New York.
That humanitarian intake will include a cohort of refugees from the violence-plagued “northern triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador taken from camps in Costa Rica, Malcolm Turnbull announced.
The prime minister praised Obama “for bringing us together to pledge new commitments to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people”, but did not pledge any additional places in Australia.
Instead he announced the previously earmarked increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake to 18,750 by 2018-19 would be made permanent.
Australia’s approach to the issue of forced migration was “both principled and pragmatic”, Turnbull told the summit.
“Our strategy addresses all parts of the problem – employing strong border protection policies and a tough stance on people smugglers, while tackling the causes of displacement, with a generous and compassionate resettlement program supporting refugees in our communities.
“This is why Australia recently announced a $220m commitment to help the humanitarian and resilience needs in Syria and its neighbouring countries.
“And I can announce that Australia will commit an additional $130m over the next three years in support of peace building and assistance to refugees, forcibly displaced communities and host countries. This multi-year commitment will give greater certainty to aid delivery organisations and facilitate longer-term planning.”
Turnbull’s address did not mention Australia’s offshore processing regime, or the future of the 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers held on the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus.
Nauru’s justice minister, David Adeang, told the same gathering that while he was proud of his country’s role in assisting in refugee processing, Nauru would never be a permanent home for the refugees now held there. “Nauru invites other countries to assist in finding durable resettlement solutions for our refugees,” he said. “This is the critical missing component.
“Remote processing is one part of what needs to be a comprehensive migration strategy. I encourage states today to assist us find permanent homes for the 924 refugee men, women and children currently on Nauru.”
Turnbull’s failure to acknowledge or address the ongoing human rights abuses in the Australian-run offshore camps – including physical and sexual violence, child abuse, and endemic rates of self-harm – has been condemned by rights groups.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s director of legal advocacy, Daniel Webb, said the fundamental principle of indefinite offshore detention was flawed, and that “showing decency to one person seeking asylum doesn’t justify or require cruelty to another”.
“Right now there are 2,000 innocent people in our care who are suffering. I’ve sat face to face with women who have been sexually assaulted on Nauru. I’ve seen a man in our care collapse unconscious after being beaten on Manus. I’ve spoken with families desperate to begin rebuilding their lives in safety but who still languish on a painful road to nowhere after three years. Last night’s announcement doesn’t end their suffering.”
Turnbull has also been criticised for his consistent characterisations of Australia’s refugee resettlement program as one of the world’s most “generous”.
“Australia’s program of permanent refugee resettlement is the third largest in the world,” he told the Obama summit.
But Dr John Minns, associate professor at the Australian National University and convenor of Canberra Refugee Action Committee, said claims that Australia was the third-most generous resettler of refugees in the world was “a trick”.
“Last year Australia resettled just 11,776 people. According to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, of those we recognised, registered or resettled – considered the truest way of determining generosity to refugees – Australia was ranked 25th overall, 32nd per capita and 47th compared to our GDP. Those we take compared to the total refuges under the UNHCR mandate puts us 81st in the world on a GDP basis – hardly something of which we can be proud.”
Minns said for Australia to boast of its performance in the face of an unprecedented global refugee crisis was embarrassing.
“Australia took fewer than 12,000 in 2015 while a much poorer country such as Turkey has over two and a half million, Pakistan has around one and a half million and Lebanon and Iran have around one million each.”
Save the Children’s chief executive, Paul Ronalds, welcomed Turnbull’s announcement of a funding boost in Australia’s assistance for refugees in other countries but said the prime minister had failed to back this up with a meaningful increase in the refugee resettlement intake.
“Claiming that the maintenance of Australia’s already stated humanitarian intake for 2018-19 of 18,750 places into future years is some kind of significant pledge to help the international community deal with the global refugee crisis is disingenuous,” Ronalds said.
“While we welcome any additional financial contribution by Australia towards helping children and adults forced to flee their homes from conflict and persecution, the $130m announced by the prime minister pales in comparison to the $9.6bn the Australian government has spent since 2013 maintaining its damaging and isolationist ‘deterrence-based’ asylum seeker policy.”