Ill-considered, unethical, and a breach of international law. That’s the view of the Refugee Council of New Zealand on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s plan for a regional processing centre in East Timor to process asylum seekers arriving in Australia. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has supported the plan claiming people smuggling is a “realistic threat” to New Zealand -despite the 2000km sea separating the two countries. “Even if a boat actually did ever reach our shores, then the East Timor solution would not be the best option.” said the council in a press release. The Refugee Council joins opposition political parties and human rights organisation Amnesty International in opposing the plan.
We are also concerned about the appalling conditions in existing Australian asylum detention centres such as Christmas Island and believe that no New Zealand taxpayer funding should be applied to supporting a regional ‘transitional’ camp in East Timor. The so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ was eventually proven to be a failure, and the East Timor option is most likely to do so as well, and to have very limited actual deterrent value.
The ‘Pacific Solution’ was a scheme introduced under the Howard government which saw 700 refugees held in detention on the tiny island state of Nauru, a deal Australia sweetened with the promise of a $20 million financial assistance package, a 20% boost to the island’s gross domestic product. Under international law, any signatory to the UN Convention (which Australia and New Zealand are) must receive and give due process under natural justice to all asylum claimants seeking refuge from persecution, war or torture. This must take place on a country’s own soil if an asylum seeker arrives in territorial waters.