The Prime Minister has declared that “the line has to be drawn” on Australia’s asylum seeker policies. But is that line on the right side of principles?
On February 3, the High Court of Australia ruled that the country’s offshore processing arrangements with Nauru are authorised under Australian law – but the court did not consider whether the policy comports with international law.
The immediate result is 267 asylum seekers – including 91 children, of whom 37 were born in Australia – are now at risk of involuntary transfer to indefinite limbo on Nauru, a fiscally bankrupt island in the middle of the Pacific.
Twenty-three men are also at risk of return to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, some of whom suffer from serious physical and mental health problems.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded to the court decision by immediately proclaiming that “our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border.”
The problem is the line is drawn on the wrong side of the relevant principles – that every asylum seeker who comes to Australia should have access to a fair and timely asylum process in Australia, and that Australia has an obligation to provide special protection for children.
The line is being drawn across the future of 37 infants, who were born in Australia, who have never been outside Australia, and who Australia should recognise as Australian citizens.
It’s being done at the expense of 54 children, 36 of whom currently sit in Australian classrooms.
And it will be done at the expense of more than a dozen women who will now be forcibly returned to Nauru after having suffered sexual assaults and harassment there.