UN refugee agency says Australia has shirked its international obligations

11 November 2003

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that Australia had shirked its international obligations when its navy prevented 14 boat people from seeking asylum there at the weekend.

UNHCR’s spokesman Kris Janowski told a press briefing in Geneva that it will be asking Indonesia for immediate access to the 14 people, whose boat was towed back to Indonesia by Australia’s navy.

A representative from UNHCR today handed a note to Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry urging the country not to deport the group of likely asylum seekers.

Mr. Janowski said UNHCR was very concerned by Australia’s decision on Saturday to deny the boat people the opportunity to land on Melville Island, off Australia’s northern coast.

Media reports since the weekend say the group are Kurds from Turkey who had made their way to Indonesia before trying to reach Australia by boat.

He said that by sending them back to Indonesia, which has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, Australia – which is a member of UNHCR’s Executive Committee, its governing body – had shirked its obligations under international law.

Mr. Janowski said UNHCR was also perturbed by Australia’s decision to refuse the agency any access to the boat people to discuss possible solutions to where they should go.

“These people had already entered Australian territory and should have been given access to a fair asylum procedure – a fundamental principle of international law,” he said.

“Instead they were sent back to a country which has no asylum procedure in place and where there is no possibility of being granted durable asylum.”


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