Australia must uphold human rights obligations to asylum seekers it transfers offshore

Australia’s human rights obligations apply extraterritorially to asylum seekers transferred offshore to Nauru and Manus islands, the HRLC has told the federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Committee is conducting an inquiry into the offshore processing regime following requests from the HRLC, together with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In a supplementary submission, the HRLC said that Australia’s human rights obligations extend to people within its effective power or control.

“Australia’s human rights obligations do not end at our borders," said HRLC Senior Lawyer Daniel Webb.

“Australia is responsible for those who are within its effective jurisdiction or control even if those people have been transferred abroad.”

Transferees are initially detained by Australian authorities. The decision to transfer them offshore is taken by the Minister under Australian law and to give effect to Australian Federal Government policy. Once transferred to Nauru or Manus, transferees are detained at Centres funded by the Australian Government and receive services from providers contracted by the Australian Government.

“From the moment they arrive, transferees are effectively subject to Australia’s control. Consequently, Australia retains human rights obligations to asylum seekers it transfers offshore,” said Mr Webb.

The HRLC previously appeared before the Committee on 19 December 2012, giving evidence that Australia’s offshore processing laws and policy are fundamentally incompatible with Australia’s obligations under international law.