KUALA LUMPUR – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has asked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reconsider Australia’s tough border security policies at the recent ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) summit.
Ban Ki-Moon spoke personally with Turnbull and also released a strongly worded statement voicing particular concern over mandatory detention policies which has seen asylum seekers held in offshore detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. In the official statement, he “appealed to the Prime Minister to share responsibilities”.
Australia’s current ‘operation sovereign borders’ policy at least according to the Department of Immigration and Border protection’s website is “a military-led border security initiative to stop the boats, prevent people risking their lives at sea in the hands of criminals, and preserve the integrity of Australia’s immigration program”. The government has claimed it a successful policy as only one boat, in 2014, has arrived since the tough policies were introduced
‘Stopping the boats’ was one of former ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s key policies of the 2013 election. Indeed boat people, refugees, immigrants, asylum seeker, however classified, have long been a political football in the post 9/11 security conscious world.
Critics of the Australia’s asylum policy point to violence, racism and widespread human rights violations. In 2014, violence, led to the death of an Iranian man, Reza Berati, who was held in detention on Manus Island. Earlier in 2015, there was widespread criticism after the government passed laws making it illegal for those working in detention centres to share information to the media. However, on Monday the federal upper house passed a bill that would remove all children from detention centres by Christmas as well as passing amendments for the mandatory reporting of abuse and allowing media scrutiny of detention centres.
Many critics in Australia have also pointed to the damaging impact hard-line policies have had on Australia’s reputation and relationships on an international scale, particularly in relation to Indonesia. The plea by the UN chief comes as Australia took in the first of a planned 12,000 asylum seekers fleeing the Syrian conflict.
Ki-Moon’s concerns are not the first to be voiced from the UN. In October, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated their disturbance at increased allegations of sexual assault and rape of asylum seekers transferred to Nauru in 2012. In 2013, Australia was found guilty of close to 150 violation of international law of the detention of refugees by the UN Human Rights Committee.
Whilst strong border protection policies championed by the Liberal Party government have proven popular domestically, it remains to be seen how Turnbull’s new leadership will negotiate Australia’s hard-line in the international arena.
– Michael McDermott, Correspondent (Politics)