Asylum-seeker claim processing system inadequate: report

Tent accommodation for irregular maritime arrivals in Nauru.
Tent accommodation for irregular maritime arrivals in Nauru. Department of Immigration and Citizenship

REFUGEES who were already suffering from trauma and the effects of torture were living in harsh, aggravating conditions in the offshore processing centre on Nauru, a damning report found on Friday.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees released its findings and recommendations on what should be done to improve conditions and immigration application processing on Friday.

The report comes after a UNHCR legal protection team returned from a mission to Nauru in early December where they met with local officials and inspected living conditions at the processing centre.

Among the mission's findings were that the asylum-seeker claim processing system was inadequate and there was a lack of capacity to properly assess refugee status claims.

The mission team wrote the present conditions at the "closed and congested detention centre" were below international standards.

"They are harsh, with little natural shelter from the heat during the day, and these conditions were aggravated by the significant noise and dust from the construction of the permanent facility," the report reads.

A number of transferees were also suffering from the effects of pre-existing trauma and torture, which the UNHCR said "raised questions about the capacity of health providers on Nauru to deal with these issues".

The team was also worried about the effectiveness of the pre-transfer assessments that Australian authorities completed prior to people being chosen for transfer to Nauru.

The UNHCR also found there was a lack of clarity as to the legal obligations and operational arrangements between Australia and Nauru, and there was "no functional, fair and effective system for refugee status determination".

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it should be recognised the UNHCR had a long-standing opposition to offshore processing.

She said the government was committed to working constructively with the UNHCR, but the government was also committed to implementing the recommendations of the Houston Panel on asylum seekers.

"We continue to work closely with the government of Nauru regarding the full assessment of asylum claims, which will begin early in the new year," she said.

"Initial interviews have already commenced to gather biographical data and other relevant information," she said.

Latest figures from the Immigration Department showed there were currently 379 irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) housed in the Nauru centre, but the department would not confirm what the current capacity of the centre was.

On Christmas Island, where many asylum seekers land or are transferred before transfer to offshore and onshore processing centres, there was currently 2075 IMAs on the island.

The Immigration Department's figures for Christmas Island show the capacity of that processing centre was only 1094, while the "contingent capacity" at Christmas Island was 2078.

In its report, the UNHCR team wrote that if the issues raised were not addressed without delay, the impacts on the people in the centre were likely to be exacerbated by the current conditions.

The report comes after three more boats were intercepted in the past two days, carrying some 147 IMAs, while Foreign Minister Bob Carr flew to Sri Lanka on Friday in a bid to stem the flow of refugees leaving that country.

Topics:  asylum seekers nauru

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