Australia on Friday said it was on track to send asylum-seekers to impoverished Papua New Guinea despite the United Nations raising concerns about the country's ability to handle refugees.
letter to Canberra, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Antonio Guterres said it was not clear to his agency that the transfer
of boatpeople to PNG was "fully appropriate".
It was the UNHCR's
assessment that PNG "does not have the legal safeguards nor the
competence or capacity to shoulder alone the responsibility of
protecting and processing asylum-seekers transferred by Australia", he
But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said asylum-seekers were set to arrive on PNG's Manus Island within weeks.
have consulted with and tabled correspondence by the UNHCR -- and as
always, we take on board issues they have raised," the spokesman said.
continue to work with the PNG government on implementation and expect
the first transfers... occurring in coming weeks," he added.
announced a tough new policy for boatpeople in August under which they
will be sent to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru or Manus Island in PNG
while their claims for refugee status are assessed.
The policy is
designed to deter people from making the dangerous boat journey to
Australia after scores of deaths en route, but has so far failed to stem
the record flow of arrivals this year.
More than 4,000 boatpeople
have turned up since the policy was announced, with vessels arriving
most days, the last bringing 53 people on Friday.
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said asylum-seekers she
spoke to said the policy would not have deterred them from coming to
Australia, but they were worried about what happened after arriving.
recently returned from Christmas Island, Australia's remote Indian
Ocean immigration processing centre, and said most of the people she
spoke to were grateful for the facilities and their treatment.
their enormous mental anxiety lay with the fear that they would be
transferred to Nauru, that their assessment would not take place for
some months and would not be over for many years," she told ABC radio.
new policy was introduced after a flood of boatpeople to Australia this
year -- with more than 11,736 arriving so far -- many of them Afghans,
Iraqis and Iranians who have paid people-smugglers to ferry them from