In contrast to Europe’s openness Australia is known to have a very strict immigration policy. However, the policy has not always been this strict. The first people classified as modern asylum seekers to reach Australia’s shores were three young friends and two brothers from Vietnam in 1976; they tore a map from a school Atlas to navigate the seas. A larger group of Vietnamese followed, and they ended up being known as “the boat people” because that is simply how they arrived. For the next five years 2,054 more people would follow. Most Australians wanted to see these migrants stay, and they were therefore given refugee status.
People who arrived by boat today that are seeking asylum are not welcomed nearly as much. According to Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, Australia’s “’position is very clear, and that is we are not going to accept people who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat. They will not settle permanently in our country.'”[i] Instead Australia send them off to either Nauru, or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island for “offshore processing” and most of the time the people are never resettled. This policy was developed in August 2001 by the Howard government. On September 28, 2001, it implemented by Philip Ruddock who was Australian Immigration Minister at the time. The policy of sending people to Manus Island and Nauru, has helped to slow the flow of migrants, and cut the number of refugees drowning at sea. The UN also sees this policy as a breach of their rights. Today, there are a large number of people who have committed no crime, and “are warehoused in appalling conditions in arbitrary and indefinite detention.”[ii] Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with dozens of countries, and the United Nations, have criticized the illegal detention.
Australia has recently made an agreement with Cambodia, in hopes to lower the number of people being held on Nauru and Manus Island. The refugee relocation agreement between Australia and Cambodia is the first of its kind. Since it is involving a traditional resettlement country, as well as a developing country that has limited capacity to meet their needs. The agreement states that Cambodia will offer a permanent settlement to the people who were seeking asylum in Australia, and instead were forced to be relocated to Nauru.
There was a United Nations convention in 1951 which determined who was classified as a refugee, Australia is one of the many countries that signed it. The convention not only defined a “refugee” but also set out rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities that the nations have who grant asylum. Through looking at the conditions of some of the center on Nauru and Papua New Guinee’s Manus Island, Australia may be in violation of parts of the agreement. People who are deemed asylum seekers, are granted individual rights, and on the islands, not all human rights are being upheld. This could become an issue, if other counties begin to see that Australia hasn’t upheld the agreement they might start to follow some of the same policies. If this is the path that Australia wishes to take, then they should consider removing themselves from the agreement.