Extra Federal Police have been sent to Christmas Island to deal with any fallout from the Government’s decision to change its refugee policy.
The Government has suspended refugee processing for Sri Lankan and Afghani asylum seekers, although it will not affect those who are already on Christmas Island.
The Opposition’s Justice and Customs spokesman, Michael Keenan, says that could lead to tension between asylum seekers.
He is concerned other police operations may suffer.
“We’re very concerned about the conditions on Christmas Island,” he said.
“You wonder what duties [the AFP] have been redeployed from to have to go up there to make up for the Rudd Government’s failures.”
A Government spokesman says the AFP makes its own deployment decisions.
Refugee advocate David Manne has slammed the new policy, saying it could lead to a violation of asylum seekers’ human rights.
He described the suspension of refugee processing as “indefinite, prolonged periods of incarceration in prison like conditions.”
“It may well cause considerable confusion and frustration,” he said.
Last month, Immigration Minister Chris Evans told the Senate that the Government did not want to hold people in detention for long periods of time.
There are now 2161 asylum seekers in the island’s detention centre – about 120 above the official capacity.
The Immigration Department is preparing to fly more people off the island as early as today.
Two boats that have been intercepted in recent days are still to arrive.
UN reviews guidelines
The Government’s path was smoothed by the fact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is reviewing its protection guidelines for asylum seekers fleeing from those two countries, as revealed on this program a month ago.
Doctor Sam Pari, from the National Tamil Congress, says the Government’s move will not make much difference because Tamils continue to be persecuted and oppressed.
“The only way that the Australian Government can deter asylum seekers from coming here is by looking at the root cause,” he said.
“The problem is the Sri Lankan government. The Australian Government should put pressure on Sri Lanka to start treating its Tamil citizens equally and justly.”
Refugee lawyer David Mann, who headed to Christmas Island on Friday, says the suspension will undermine Australia’s international obligations.
“This strategy is essentially designed to avoid obligations which are currently owed to people seeking refugee status,” he said.
“This strategy… flies in the face of our international obligations to properly assess refugee claims at the time they’re made.
“The other real concern here is that we face a situation of asylum seekers being held in prolonged detention without just cause leaving people in legal limbo in detention, cause profound harm and in many cases crush people.
Amnesty says the asylum suspension is inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations, but the UNHCR’s regional representative, Richard Towle, is reserving judgment.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at the policy or the implications of the policy to see how it matches with the Refugee Convention or any … other obligations that Australia might have, but we’ll be looking at those sorts of thing in the fullness of time,” he said.
“The key thing is to make sure that people who are in the suspended position are able to live dignified and humane lives while they’re waiting this period.”