Australia: UN agency concerned by reports that asylum-seeker boats forced back to Indonesia

10 January 2014

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) confirmed today that it is seeking details from Australian authorities about recent media reports of the navy forcing boats, presumed to be carrying asylum-seekers on their way to Australia, back to Indonesian territorial waters, as well as reports of plans to buy and provide vessels for future “push-backs.”

Briefing reporters in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said the agency would be concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection.

“Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the [1951] Refugee Convention and other international law obligations,” said Mr. Edwards.

As past experience had shown, such practices were also operationally difficult and potentially dangerous for all concerned, he added.

Instead of a policy of push-backs, UNHCR continues to recommend that efforts be made to strengthen regional cooperation on the basis of solidarity and responsibility-sharing which build on national asylum systems.

“UNHCR supports investment in a regional cooperation framework in South East Asia, and recognizes the work of the Bali Process States in addressing protection and humanitarian needs in mixed migration flows in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

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