‘Solution’ Branded A Costly Flop

'Solution' branded a costly flop

Jewel Topsfield
The Age (Melbourne)
August 25, 2007

EVERY asylum seeker processed in offshore centres such as Nauru under the Federal Government's controversial Pacific Solution has cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars, a report says.

The report, by aid organisation Oxfam Australia and refugee advocacy group A Just Australia, says the “flawed system” fuelled mental illness in refugees, failed to uphold Australia's commitment under international law and squandered taxpayers' money.

It says that since the Pacific Solution was introduced six years ago, the Government has spent $1 billion more than $500,000 a person to process fewer than 1700 asylum seekers on Nauru, Christmas Island and Manus Island.

“By comparison, the latest estimates from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship suggest that to process 1700 asylum seekers for 90 days each at the Villawood detention centre in Sydney would have cost around $35 million around 3.5 per cent of the cost of processing them offshore,” it says.

Manus Island in Papua New Guinea had been empty since 2004, but was maintained at an annual cost of $2 million in readiness for new asylum seekers.

Under the Pacific Solution introduced following the Tampa crisis in the lead-up to the 2001 federal election asylum seekers intercepted before they reach the Australian mainland are processed offshore.

The report says the policy creates a two-tiered processing system, one for people within Australia and one for people offshore which opens the way for discrimination and breaches of the international Refugee Convention.

Australia has said it is not obligated to accept asylum seekers processed offshore even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

“The Pacific Solution is neither value for money nor humane,” Oxfam Australia executive director Andrew Hewett said.

The report, A Price Too High, says medical studies, Immigration Department figures and testimony from staff and former asylum seekers on Nauru painted a shocking picture of psychological damage for detainees.

Cases included 45 people engaged in a serious hunger strike and incidents of self-harm and attempted suicide as a result of prolonged isolation in offshore detention centres, where access to mental health services were limited or non-existent.

The report documents long delays in resettling people found to be refugees, compounding post-traumatic stress disorder for asylum seekers.

The report says the Pacific Solution failed to uphold Australia's commitment under international law, which forbids sending a refugee back to a place where they might face persecution. It recommends that the Pacific Solution be abolished and all asylum seekers processed on the mainland.

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and Queen's counsel Julian Burnside will address a Tampa Day commemoration tomorrow at the north end of the Sandridge Bridge at 1pm.