SYDNEY – The United Nations on Friday said it is “troubled” by Australia’s decision to send asylum seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea given conditions there fail to adequately protect refugees.
In its first assessment of the hard-line policy announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it is concerned greater numbers of asylum seekers could be sent to the poor and developing nation.
“UNHCR is troubled by the current absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum seekers and refugees in Papua New Guinea,” it said in a statement.
Australia resumed sending asylum seekers offshore to PNG’s Manus Island and the Pacific state of Nauru in 2012 in a bid to deter record numbers of refugees arriving by boat. Hundreds have drowned making the perilous journey.
But under the new arrangement, which the UNHCR said raises serious and so far unanswered questions, they will not only be processed in PNG but permanently resettled there if found to be genuine refugees.
Rights groups have already criticized the state of facilities on Manus and Nauru, and the UNHCR said there are also legal considerations.