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Rights group declares Australia's offshoring of refugees a ‘disaster’

No asylum seekers in Australia's overseas Manus Island have been resettled in 2015, says Human Rights Watch

Protests have been held against the government's treatment of refugees since Australia signed an agreement for the detention of the refugees with Papua New Guinea (PNG) in July 2013. This 2013 rally in Sydney was held in support of the asylum seekers.
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Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared Thursday that Australia's policy of offshore detention is a "disaster” for the refugees arriving on its shores.

For the past two years, Australia has detained nearly 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Since the start of 2015, two asylum seekers have died, including one the rights group says was allegedly beaten to death by detention center security staff. No one from the island has been resettled since Australia started detaining individuals abroad in 2013.

Since then, Australian authorities gave 40 men official refugee status but continued to deny them the right to work or seek education.

"Even the few people provided refugee status have been denied freedom of movement and the right to work. All should be allowed to move on with their lives in dignity and security," said Elaine Pearson, HRW's Australia director.

While Australia’s agreement with PNG requires that refugees at the detention center be treated “with dignity and respect and in accordance with relevant human rights standards,” advocacy groups have repeatedly criticized what they call rights abuses the cramped facilities.

Amnesty International has described conditions on Manus as “excessively cruel and prison-like,” and the United Nations’ refugee agency reported that Australia’s transfer camps in Manus and Nauru Islands “do not meet international standards.”

In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture found that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers violates the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Asylum seekers held on Manus have mounted several protests against their detention, going on a hunger strike in January, some of them swallowing razor blades and stitching their mouths shut.

Getting information on what is happening on Manus has been difficult for the media as well as human rights groups, who do not have access to detention facilities there.

Rights groups like Amnesty and HRW have also condemned Australia for allegedly paying human smugglers to turn migrant boats around, paying Cambodia to resettle four refugees (held in the Central Pacific nation of Nauru) and for asserting a right to detain asylum seekers at sea for weeks on end.

Australia’s Regional Resettlement Arrangement with PNG, signed in July 2013, has cost Australia around $450 million per year.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stood by his policy on migrants and refugee seekers, urging European Union leaders to "stop the boats" and adopt his country's strategy to halt the flow of refugees arriving by sea. 

Australia received 16,000 asylum applications in 2014, a number that represents less than 0.5 percent of the over all asylum seekers worldwide according to UN figures.

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