At the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to find new long-term solutions for refugees.
In Australia, however, political debate is more often about ways to stop refugees from reaching the country
, especially in the lead up to that country’s national election on July 2.
Amid a record number of displaced people
around the world, including an estimated nine million people in Asia, restrictive asylum policies have implications for refugee protection across the region and the world.
There are only a handful of signatories to the Refugee Convention in Southeast Asia, and Australia is one of them.
It therefore has a responsibility to offer access to fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee claims.
Refugees turned back at sea
Currently, a policy of turning back asylum seeker boats at sea is supported by the two main political parties, the center-right Liberal/National Coalition and center-left Labor, but rejected by minor party the Australian Greens.
The issue of “turn-backs” has resulted in breaches of international law and caused tension with Indonesia, while asylum seekers have been interrogated and jailed upon their forced return to Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
A focus on deterring asylum seekers limits the promotion of human rights in the region and farther afield, and impedes the achievement of a protection framework that is so sorely needed.
Australia has refrained from publicly commenting on human rights violations committed by those countries with whom it cooperates on turning asylum seeker boats back.
It declined to back a 2014 U.N. resolution for an international inquiry into alleged atrocities
during the closing stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, and since then both the current Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have confirmed that support for the Rajapaksa government secured its assistance in preventing Sri Lankans from fleeing to Australia.