Julie Bishop rejects asylum 'inhumanity' accusations
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has defended the government's offshore detention centres against accusations of inhumanity, and comparisons with Guantanamo Bay, in a hostile interview with the BBC.PT2M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34lvm 620 349 March 12, 2014
Julie Bishop must have left her briefing notes behind when she confronted a BBC journalist who accused her government of operating a kind of ''Guantanamo Bay'' for asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
Either that or the normally unflappable foreign affairs minister was so taken aback by the depiction of the government's ''uncivilised'' conduct, she forgot a few facts when defending Operation Sovereign Borders to a British audience.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg
First came the assertion that the claims of asylum seekers ''are processed in third countries, and then we look for resettlement in other countries, including in Australia - and we've done this before and it worked''.
If this were the case, some of the concerns of human rights agencies would be allayed, but the message to boat arrivals is that they will never be resettled in Australia.
According to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, the only resettlement option for those on Manus Island whose refugee claims are recognised is resettlement in Papua New Guinea, even though this is a matter of conjecture in PNG. The same, it appears, goes for those on Nauru.
Then came, ''people are clearly having their applications for asylum processed there [on Manus and Nauru] and if they are found not to be genuine asylum seekers, they are returned [home]''.
The problem here is that no determinations on refugee status have been made - aside from one positive decision on Nauru - and the UN refugee agency has serious doubts about the capacity of either country to make determinations and give adequate protection to those who have fled persecution.
Finally came a defence of the conditions in the camps, with the minister asserting that the asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect. ''Their children go to school, they have community centres … the standard of accommodation and the standard of support they receive, in many instances, is better than that received by the people of Papua New Guinea''.
Not so, says Sarah Hanson-Young, who has been to Manus and Nauru, where a combined 2400 asylum seekers are being detained, and Christmas Island, where another 1700 are being held.
''On Christmas Island, none of the children are going to school, and on Nauru, the situation is even worse,'' says the Greens' immigration spokesperson. ''In the middle of the Nauru compound, there is a tent where they run activities for the children for two hours a day, and that's it. There is no proper education and no dedicated learning space, let alone 'schooling'.''
When Ms Bishop was asked about the discrepancies, she said she was referring to the past practice of resettling in third countries and Australia. She then referred other questions to Mr Morrison.
The minister was on firmer ground when she declared that the policy of deterrent was proving effective in stopping the boats and deaths by drowning at sea. What is less clear is whether the same end could be achieved by less brutal means.