Morrison dismisses UNHCR's concerns

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has accused the United Nation's refugee arm of overstating its criticisms of offshore processing of asylum seekers.



Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has played down the United Nations refugee agency's scathing assessment of Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that asylum seekers are being subjected to arbitrary, mandatory and indefinite detention in unsafe and inhumane conditions.

Officials inspected detention centres at Nauru and PNG's Manus Island in October, and say they found harsh conditions which failed to meet international standards.

Mr Morrison said the UNHCR had a long track record of opposing offshore processing.

"The criticism of Papua New Guinea and Nauru is quite overstated," he told reporters in Sydney.

"They're working very hard to put their systems in place."

Mr Morrison said offshore processing is still in a "transitional phase" but there would be improvements over coming months and flagged further talks with Nauru and PNG.

"In our first 100 days, it's our expectation that we would have more than doubled the capacity of offshore processing and addressed the quite serious funding issues that remained unaddressed in the previous government," he said.

Last week, a Senate committee was told the cost of detaining asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island detention centres was set to blow out beyond $1 billion in this financial year.

Mr Morrison said the previous government had re-established offshore processing in a "muddled and incompetent" way in 2012.

"This presented a real challenge particularly for our partners in Nauru and PNG ... who had to deal with constant chopping and changing of Australian government policy," Mr Morrison said on Wednesday.

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the UNHCR's report on the "detention slums" demonstrates why children and pregnant women should not be sent to Nauru to languish.

"The government's secret war on refugees is going into overdrive, but the world is watching on," she said.

There are currently eight pregnant asylum seekers living in tents on Nauru.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison declined to provide a timeframe on when cooperation on combating people smuggling between Indonesia and Australia will resume.

2 min read
Published 27 November 2013 at 2:49pm
Source: AAP