The Australian government has recently signed two bilateral agreements on cooperation with Papua New Guinea and Nauru in asylum policy.
These agreements enable the resettlement of asylum seekers who reach Australian shores by boat in PNG’s or Nauru’s territory.
Peter Kuek-Kong Lee, a specialist migration lawyer and migration agent, questioned the sustainability of “this very one sided proposal”, especially with regard to safety for asylum seekers and the real resettlement capacity of Nauru.
Similarly, according to Maria O’Sullivan of Monash University, “it is not a sincere, workable regional framework on asylum”.
In her opinion, Australia should seek inspiration for the model of regional cooperation in Europe and its Dublin Convention.
However, Mr Kuek-Kong Lee identifies two main obstacles preventing the European model from being imported and successfully applied in the South East Asian-Australasian region.
Firstly, there is no system of free movement of people in this region similar to the European Schengen Agreement, and secondly, Australia’s regional neighbours are not signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
“Our region must establish our own mechanism to solving this problem,” he said.
In his speech on 17 June 2013 on World Refugee Day, UNHCR Regional Representative Richard Towle stated: “Genuine cooperative approaches, that promote burden-sharing, not burden-shifting, could help lead to asylum-seekers and refugees being able to find viable protection options other than through dangerous and exploitative boat journeys to Australia and other parts of the region.”
“Sadly, this burden-shifting is expected to continue regardless of which party wins government in September, and despite Australia’s international obligations,” Mr Kuek-Kong Lee concluded.