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Seven Years On: An Overview of Australia Offshore Processing Policies

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Media release: Seven years and $7.6 billion later, new data compiled by the Refugee Council shows hundreds still suffering as a result of offshore detention

This Sunday, 19 July 2020, marks seven years since then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that people who seek asylum in Australia by boat would be processed offshore and never resettled in Australia. Today, a new report released by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) compiles data showing how this policy has exacted untold harm on thousands of people, hundreds of whom are still trapped on Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

At the time the policy was introduced, people were told they would be resettled “elsewhere”. However, despite seven years passing,and $7.6 billion of taxpayers’ money spent, there is still no plan in place for those detained offshore.

The report shows that of more than 3,000 people who have been detained offshore since this policy began, or 4,183 including those detained since offshore detention resumed in 2012: 1,220 are currently in Australia transferred for medical treatment and considered “transitory persons”;436 remain on PNG and Nauru; 12 have died offshore and the remainder have either been returned to their country of origin or resettled in a third country. Those in Australia have been brought here for urgent medical treatment, but many have not received adequate treatment and all have been informed they may be returned offshore at any time. They are ineligible for support and have no stability regarding their future. Those who remain on PNG and Nauru also have no idea when or where they will find safety, and continue to live in perpetual limbo. Of the 12 people who died offshore (and others who died in limbo while in Australia), some took their own lives in despair, while others died due to a lack of medical care.

Phil Glendenning, President of the Refugee Council of Australia, said that this policy is a national shame: “Australia’s offshore processing system is not saving lives – instead, we are killing people more slowly and more remotely, starving them of hope, and denying them a future.In continuing to exact this senseless cruelty, we have not only caused untold harm to thousands, we have also sacrificed our good relationship with two countries with whom Australia has close historical ties. We have lost all of the credibility we had gained from decades of leadership in resettling refugees. As other countries start to step in and grant protection to those we have detained for years, we are cementing our place as a country that harms refugees, rather than protects them.

“Why is it,” Mr Glendenning continued, “that after 84 months, and $7.6 billion spent by successive Australian governments on just over 3,000 people, many are still languishing on Nauru and in PNG? Some were teenagers, arriving in Australia alone. They are now young men and women, their dreams for the future shattered, the most important years of their lives wasted while they were being shifted from one country to another, from one detention centre to another. Why are those who have come to Australia for medical treatment still locked away in detention or are left in the community with no support and no future?

“As we mark this tragic anniversary on Sunday, we are calling on our Government to take immediate action to resettle these people to safety. This is state-sanctioned abuse and it must end now,” said Mr. Glendenning.

Media enquiries: Laura Stacey 0488 035 535