Australia’s ‘cruel’ refugee policy costs $1.2 billion

- Human rights lawyer David Manne condemns ‘fundamentally flawed’ offshore detention center policy and its 'human cost.’

By Jill Fraser

MELBOURNE (AA) -- Australia’s government has spent more than $1.2 billion in one year to run its contentious offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, implementing what human rights lawyer David Manne told The Anadolu Agency is a “cruel’ and “flawed” policy. 

Documents released this week show that during the last financial year, detention centers on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island cost the Australian taxpayer dearly to stop asylum seeker boats heading to the mainland.

Manne, executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, maintains there is a cheaper and better way “and it wouldn’t include spending that sort of money on destroying innocent human beings.”

Fairfax reports that during the last financial year, the Immigration Department spent $474.1 million to operate the offshore processing center on Nauru, which accommodates 895 people, including children and family groups. This figure included health care services, welfare services, food supplies and security.

Papua New Guinea's Manus Island detention center, which currently holds 1035 male asylum seekers, and has been a hotbed of unrest and protests, cost $437.6 million to run.

Transfers between both islands and Colombo in Sri Lanka during 2013/14, facilitated by the Australian Federal Police, cost about $8.3 million.

The detention center on Christmas Island, meanwhile, cost $318 million to operate.

According to Manne, what Australians are getting for $1.2 billion is a “deterrence factor”, which “does nothing to address the root cause of why people are fleeing or their desperation.”

“The number of boats heading to Australia has markedly declined as a consequence of the current policy. But I question if that means the policy is working?” he said.

Manne, whose work representing refugees and asylum seekers in the High Court has challenged the immigration policies of successive governments and resulted in a string of victories, argues against a deterrence policy.

“The political and policy logic of deterrence is that the more painful the penalty, the more successful the policy.

“The real issue is the human cost,” he said. “Independent evidence is that these sorts of policies are harming people who have fled in fear of harm.

“These extraordinary figures put into sharp focus the fundamentally flawed nature of the policy and the cost of the cruelty that underpins it.”

Manne and the Greens Immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young point to the exorbitant diversion of significant public resources that could be used to build public hospitals and schools.

“If the government really wanted to save money, they’d shut down the multi-billion dollar gulags on Manus Island and Nauru,” Sarah Hanson-Young told AA.

“It’s disgraceful that families, including young children, are detained in shocking conditions offshore and the Australian tax-payer is left to pick up the multi-billion dollar bill.

“The government’s own Commission of Audit showed that processing refugee claims in the Australian community would cost just 10 percent of the offshore costs,” Hanson-Young said.

Manne and Hanson-Young advocate the government switch to a policy based on a Regional Cooperation Framework, in which countries within the region cooperate to establish humane solutions for asylum seekers.

Manne said a Regional Cooperation Framework ensures three basic principles. These include humane treatment for asylum seekers wherever they go, fair and consistent processing of their claims, and providing them with a reasonable modicum of protection, safety and security if they are found to be refugees.

“The question is, whether this current $1.2 billion a year policy is one we should be spending any money on at all,” Manne said. “The answer is quite simply, no.”

www.aa.com.tr/en

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency