April 28, 2015
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), a network of over 230 civil society organisations and individuals working in 26 countries, condemns the Australian government for returning a group of Vietnamese asylum seekers back to Vietnam, and we express our grave concern for their safety.
Reports have indicated that, as part of a secret mission, the Australian Navy ship HMAS Choules intercepted a group of 46 asylum seekers earlier this month and returned them to Vietnam. It has been confirmed that the group was handed over to the Vietnamese authorities.
Australia’s atrocious treatment of asylum seekers arriving by sea and the scant regard to its commitments under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and other international human rights obligations, only continues to intensify. These repeated incidents of forced repatriation of asylum seekers clearly reflect Australia’s utter disregard for the principle of non-refoulement and blatant lack of respect for international human rights law. Despite their international responsibility as a signatory of to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, Australia’s actions represent the antithesis of refugee rights protection.
While these asylum seekers may have valid claims of persecution, reports have indicated that once again the Australian government has fallen critically short of its international obligations by screening the group whilst at sea, denying them their right to a fair and just adjudication of their refugee claims. By handing these asylum seekers directly over to the Vietnamese authorities on return, Australia exposes this group to even greater risk of serious persecution, torture or death. The violent abuse of returnees by Vietnamese authorities is an issue that has been well-documented by human rights groups. The Australian government action has directly placed the lives of these asylum seekers in peril.
This is not an isolated incident. The Australian government has previously confirmed the return of a total of 15 boats as part of its “Operation Sovereign Borders”. Rather than moving to ensure that international responsibilities are met, Australia continues to seek harsher deterrents to prevent those fleeing persecution from arriving on their shores. Australia must cease these actions immediately.
APRRN strongly urges the Australian government to withdraw and reassess its unlawful refugee policies. APRRN strongly urges the Australian government to move back to following practices that uphold its obligations under international law and ensure the full respect of those in need of protection. Specifically, APRRN urges Australia to:
- Immediately stop the interception of boats with asylum seekers at sea.
- Ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is fully upheld within all future policy and action.
- Stop all ‘enhanced screening’ as part of their refugee status determination program.
- Ensure that all asylum seekers have access to timely and fair asylum procedures, without fear of refoulement, expulsion and punishment.
- Ensure that all people found to be entitled to protection have access to durable solutions.
- Uphold their obligations under international law and ensure that protection is provided to those who require it regardless of their mode of arrival from the country of origin.
- Work collaboratively with other states, UNHCR and civil society in developing regional processes that have the protection of refugees and asylum seekers as their top priority for engagement.
- Engage in multilateral action to address the root causes of forced displacement combined with collective efforts to prevent and resolve protracted refugee situations, in order to significantly reduce the need for vulnerable people to make onward movements in search of protection.
- Contribute to the development of regional processes which are inclusive and collaborative and which have refugee and asylum seeker protection as the central core for engagement in line with international human rights law and treaties.
First published on Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, 28/04/2015