Chapter 11 - Pacific Solution: Outcomes and
will ensure that no persons are left behind in Nauru.’
Legislative changes in
September 2001 restructured the arrangements for the processing of asylum
applications made by unauthorised boat arrivals. One
effect of these changes was to limit the ability of ‘offshore entry persons’ to
make valid visa applications.
Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Act
No. 127 2001 inserts
into the Migration Act 1958 a new definition of ‘excised
offshore place’ and a related definition of an ‘offshore entry person’. Excised
offshore places include Christmas Island and Ashmore Island. An offshore entry person cannot make
a valid visa application if that person is in Australia and is an unlawful non-citizen,
except where the Minister decides that it is in the public interest to allow
them to do so.
Provisions of the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration
Zone) (Consequential Provisions) Act No. 128 2001 authorise the removal of
offshore entry persons to ‘declared countries’ where their asylum claims can be
processed. This Act also included a privative clause, preventing proceedings
relating to offshore entry persons except proceedings brought in the original
jurisdiction of the High Court.
Both Nauru and
Papua New Guinea are currently declared countries under Section 198A of the Migration Act, providing the legislative
framework for the establishment of offshore processing centres in those
Such offshore processing ensures
that the asylum seekers have access to neither the Migration Act review procedures nor judicial review under
As summed up by the Minister
for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Philip Ruddock, in
foreshadowing the legislation:
What it means is there will
be no basis upon which [people] will be able to land on Christmas Island and
see it as a taxi rank to brought automatically to Australia, engage our
protection obligations, have the opportunity to have their claims considered
first by the department, second by the refugee review tribunal and then to
enter into the judicial review process which they are doing right now.
This chapter looks at the
refugee status assessment processes in place in PNG and Nauru and
the outcomes achieved so far. It also considers the cost of the arrangements.
Assessment of Refugee Status
Australia’s protection obligations under the Refugee Convention extend to
refugees who have entered Australia’s
territorial seas. These
protection obligations do not, however, require the processing of claims in Australia,
or by Australian officials.
Determination of asylum seeker
claims on Nauru is being undertaken by officials from both Australia
and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Processing on
Manus is being undertaken entirely by Australian officials. Neither Nauru nor
PNG has its own refugee status determination process in place, although Australia
has implemented mechanisms to train Papua New Guinean officials in such matters.
Nauru requested the assistance of the UNHCR on or about the time the
first processing centre was established, and Australia
undertook to meet all costs incurred by the UNHCR related to the processing of
The UNHCR agreed to conduct processing
of the group transported by the HMAS
Manoora to Nauru. This includes those
people rescued by the MV Tampa,
excepting those who were accepted for processing in New Zealand, as well as 237 people
intercepted on the Aceng in the
vicinity of Ashmore Reef. As of 16 April 2002, 525 people on Nauru
were being processed by the UNHCR.
Subsequent groups transferred
to Nauru and all of the people transferred to the Manus facility in PNG have
been processed by Australian officials, with the UNHCR indicating that it would
not be involved in the processing of any other groups. The asylum seekers on Manus do not
have access to the UNHCR, and the UNHCR regional representative has not had the
opportunity to present his credentials to the PNG government. Forty two officers of the
Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs had been
involved in refugee status assessment on Nauru and
Manus by May 2002.
Unlike Nauru, Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, and would be obliged to
consider providing protection to any person seeking asylum there. So far none
of the people who are being processed on Manus have sought Papua New Guinea’s protection.
Australian officials have
stated that they are adopting the UNHCR procedures and standards in the
processing of asylum claims. In evidence to the Committee Mr Robert Illingworth, Assistant Secretary,
Onshore Protection, DIMIA, advised that:
The processes that are adopted on Nauru
by the UNHCR and by the Australian government are essentially the same
processes. The Australian processing arrangements have been modelled very
closely on the arrangements that the UNHCR follows in Nauru
and elsewhere in the world, and we have liaised closely with the UNHCR in
refining those arrangements to ensure that is the case.
The determination process
relies to large extent on information gained in interviews with claimants ‘by a
trained officer who actively explores all of the possible reasons that an
individual may have for seeking refugee protection, discusses country
information as relevant with that person and discloses any issues that might
need a response from the individual’.
Training received by Australian
case officers includes the 1951 Refugee Convention, the UNHCR Handbook on
Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status, principles of natural
justice and Australian domestic legislation in relation to interpretation of
the convention, although Australian jurisprudence does not apply.
Asylum claimants receive advice
about the determination process, but do not have access to assistance in
putting together their claim.
DIMIA gave evidence to the inquiry that access to legal or other assistance, if
requested, would be a matter for the centre managers (IOM under contract to
DIMIA) or the Nauru or PNG Governments.
The group Australian Lawyers
for Human Rights advised the committee that they had sought to send a team of
lawyers to Nauru to provide independent advice to those claiming refugee
status, and that the proposal had in-principle support from the UNHCR. As of 10 July 2002 the proposal had not been proceeded with as the Nauruan Government
had declined to issue visas to the lawyers.
The UNHCR, in evidence to the
Senate Inquiry into Migration Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures)
Bill 2002, advised that it had worked closely with DIMIA officials on Nauru and
it appeared that a fair and effective refugee status determination system was
The UNHCR did express concern,
however, in regard to one significant point of disparity between DIMIA and
UNHCR processes, whereby the UNHCR considered that spouses and minor children
of recognised refugees should be granted refugee status, and reunited
immediately, while DIMIA required that such spouses and children qualify for refugee
status on their own merit.
A further point relating to the assessment of
refugee claims has been raised by Dr John Pace, who
visited Nauru in November 2001 on behalf of Amnesty International. Dr Pace noted that
symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had been observed during assessment
interviews, and was concerned whether it was appropriate to perform refugee
screening determination in
such situations, when the symptoms of the disorder may seriously affect the
As of 16 September 2002, 1,495 asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru had
received the outcome of their initial refugee status determination. Of this
number, 520 people were found to be refugees and 975 were not. Review outcomes are outlined later
in this chapter.
Of the 520 people approved on
initial assessment, 432 were Iraqis, 59 Afghans, and 29 of other nationalities.
The 975 found not to be refugees included 216 Iraqis, 701 Afghans and 58 of
other nationalities (see Table 11.1).
The initial decision making
process is now complete. A small number of people did not receive a decision,
generally because they either returned to their country of origin, or were
resettled in New Zealand on the basis of a family relationship, prior to a decision on
refugee status having been made.
Initial decisions for Iraqi
claimants were successful in 67% of cases, compared to just over 7% for Afghan
claimants. The low proportion of Afghans receiving positive decisions reflects
the changed circumstances in that country, with the result that those that
earlier may have had valid claims no longer met assessment criteria. Afghan
decisions were also the most delayed, with people reinterviewed in the light of
the overthrow of the Taliban regime, and decision makers waiting ‘for the
circumstances in Afghanistan to develop’.
The remoteness of the
locations, logistical and resourcing concerns and a need to coordinate UNHCR
and Australian announcements has also affected the length of time taken for
Processing of claims started on
Manus in October 2001, for the group from SIEV 4, and a number of weeks later
in Nauru. The first 439 asylum claim decisions, most for Iraqis, were released
on 8 April 2002. . The majority
of decisions for Afghans were handed down in June 2002, some ten months after
the rescue of the first Afghans by the MV Tampa
prompted the Pacific processing arrangements,  and the last of the initial
decisions were not handed down until September 2002.
Refugee Determination Processing Status
16 September 2002
Review Decision Australia
The Committee is concerned at
the length of time which has been taken to finalise refugee status
determination, and the effects on asylum seekers of such extended periods in
the processing centres.
In comparison to the results on
Nauru and Manus, of the 131 people from the MV Tampa accepted by New Zealand, 130 have been found to be refugees
and resettled in that country.
While the high proportion of successful claims may be accounted for by New
Zealand’s selection of people it thought were likely to be refugees - children,
women and family groups - they are also Afghans, who have had a notably low success
rate in the other processes.
If the outcome of a refugee
status determination by Australian officials at one of the offshore processing
centres is that a person is not a refugee, the only avenue of appeal is
internal review by a more senior departmental officer. DIMIA advises that this
is consistent with UNHCR procedures on Nauru. This contrasts with the avenues of
appeal open to unsuccessful onshore applicants for protection as refugees, who
have access to a merits review from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or
Refugee Review Tribunal and judicial review processes.
As of 16 September 2002, a
further 92 Iraqis, 74 Afghans, and 15 people of other nationalities had been
found to be refugees through the review process. Forty eight review decisions were
still pending on Nauru, and thirty three on Manus.
The total number of people
processed under Pacific Solution arrangements and found to be refugees as of
September 2002 is 701, comprising 524 Iraqis, 133 Afghans, and 44 people of
other nationalities. Six hundred and seventy eight people have been found not
to be refugees, and 81 still await a review decision.
Resettlement of asylum seekers
who are found to meet refugee status criteria is reliant upon a place being
found for them in Australia or another country. As DIMIA advised a Senate
Committee considering estimates in May 2002,
Australia, and the minister, have made it clear that Australia
will play a role in relation to resettlement but does not regard it as being
the only country with a resettlement obligation or indeed the only country with
the ability to offer resettlement places. Our
focus will be on people who may have ties or some links with Australia. In
relation to resettlement elsewhere, there has been a series of discussions with UNHCR. Essentially we see UNHCR as being the
key organisation able to deal with the resettlement issue.
As of 1 October 2002, 200
refugees processed on Manus or Nauru had been granted protection in Australia, generally with three or five year
temporary protection visas. Most were women and children with family members
already in Australia.
Five people had been granted
subclass 449 humanitarian stay (temporary) visas, which enable the holders to
remain in Australia until a date determined by the Minister. Criteria for this class of visa
include not being able to return to one’s place of residence and grave fear for
personal safety because of the circumstances of displacement. In not requiring
that the applicant be subject to persecution or substantial harassment, this
type of visa may offer protection to those not successful in obtaining refugee
status but without a reasonable prospect of safe return to their home country.
Both the Australian Government
and UNHCR have been in discussion with possible resettlement countries on
behalf of those asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus found to be in need of
As of 16 September 2002;
179 persons assessed as refugees had been
resettled in New Zealand,
8 persons assessed as refugees had been
resettled in Sweden;
15 others had been resettled in New Zealand
either before their refugee status had been determined or before receiving the
Ireland was at one time mooted
as a potential resettlement country,
and DIMIA officials indicated that following the conclusion of elections in
that country discussions would continue.
The UNHCR had also referred a small number of people with links to Canada and
the USA to those countries for consideration.
With over 300 recognised
refugees still awaiting resettlement, and further review decisions pending, the
prospect remains of a large number of people who have been found to be refugees
remaining in the processing centres for an indeterminate period.
The UNHCR has expressed its
concerns in relation to the situation of these refugees:
Of concern to UNHCR in the cases of Nauru and Manus Island, is
that refugees who have been recognized and therefore have had their status
regularised remain detained until a durable solution is found. This detention
is without time limits or periodic review. The ongoing detention of persons
recognized as refugees is a restriction of freedom of movement in breach of
Article 26 of the 1951 Convention. Furthermore, such detention is not
consistent with Article 31(2) of the Refugee Convention, which provides that
restrictions of freedom of movement shall only be applied until the status of
refugees in the country is regularised. Even though these recognised refugees
are no longer on Australia's territory, Australia's obligations under the
Refugee Convention continue to be engaged until a durable solution is found.
On 16 May 2002 the Governments
of Australia and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning
the voluntary return of refugees and asylum seekers. On 23 May, Minister
Ruddock announced that Afghans who had arrived at, or were in transit under
Australian control to, a processing centre on Nauru or Christmas Island on or
before 16 May 2002 would be eligible to apply for a reintegration package if
they opted to return to Afghanistan. The offer also extended to Afghans who had
arrived in Australia before that date.
Persons who have been found not
to be refugees, or who are awaiting a decision, are eligible to apply for a
package of cash assistance of $2,000 per person (up to $10,000 per family),
assistance with travel documentation, air fare to Kabul, and some on-arrival
On 30 May 2002 the
reintegration package offer was extended to non-Afghans on Nauru and Manus who
voluntarily returned to their country of origin or third countries which they
had permission to enter.
The offer must be accepted
within 28 days of notification of a negative refugee status assessment, or 28
days from the date of notification of a negative review decision. The package is
administered by the IOM, which also distributes the cash payment. Australia
reimburses the IOM for its costs.
Asylum seekers who wish to
depart before a decision is made on their claim for refugee status must
withdraw the claim in writing.
As of 28 June 2002, seven
people from Nauru had returned to their home countries under the reintegration
arrangements. These seven were part of a total of ten who had returned home
voluntarily from Nauru, with a further four returning from Manus. A further 27
people on Nauru had signed voluntary reintegration papers. 
Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone)
(Consequential Provisions) Act No. 128 2001 introduced two classes of temporary visa which are
relevant to people processed on Nauru and Manus and determined to be in need of
protection. As well as meeting the relevant visa
criteria, applicants need to demonstrate a compelling case and fall within the
relevant quota for the visa class. As summarised by DIMIA officials in evidence
to the inquiry:
There are two visas which
would be the most relevant. There is the 447 visa, which is a three-year
temporary visa which carries the same entitlements as a temporary protection
visa onshore carries. That is the visa that should be available to people who
are offshore entry persons—that is, people who have landed on an excised
offshore place and who are subsequently found to be in need of protection. The
other visa, which is a five-year temporary visa, is the subclass 451 visa, and
that is available to people who have not landed on an excised offshore place.
The legislation was enacted in
response ‘to the increasing threats to Australia’s sovereign right to determine
who will enter and remain in Australia’ resulting from ‘the growth of organised
criminal gangs of people smugglers who bypass normal entry procedures’.
It also reflected the
Government’s concern at what it called the ‘increasingly broad interpretations
being given by the courts to Australia’s protection obligations under the
refugees convention and protocol.’
Others have argued that the reaction is inherently flawed in that it punishes
the victims exploited by people smugglers in order to combat the crime.
Offshore entry persons
Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Act
No. 127 2001 created a separate visa application
regime applying to persons, now called offshore entry persons, who arrive
unlawfully at certain places that are excised from the migration zone, for the
purposes of limiting their ability to make valid visa applications. DIMIA have
identified all the people being processed on Manus Island and at the State
House site on Nauru as offshore entry persons.
The category of ‘offshore entry
person’ arises from the insertion of a new definition into section 5 of the
Migration Act of ‘excised offshore place’.
Such places include Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Australian sea and
resources installations. They will also include any other external territories,
or State or Territory islands, prescribed by regulations. Offshore entry persons are those who have entered Australia at an excised
offshore entry place after the excision time and become an unlawful non-citizen by that entry.
Offshore entry persons who are
in Australia and are unlawful non-citizens are barred from making a valid visa
application by the newly inserted Section 46A of the Migration Act. This bar, however, does not apply to an offshore
entry person who is not in Australia, such as those on Nauru and Manus. The
relevant visa class for offshore entry persons who are not in Australia and are
in need of protection is the Secondary Movement Offshore Entry (Temporary)
Subclass 447 Visa.
applicant for a subclass 447 visa must either be subject to persecution in the
their home country; or subject to substantial discrimination, amounting to
gross violation of human rights, or a female person who is subject to
persecution or is registered as being of concern to the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees.
This visa is valid for three
years. Holders of the visa are eligible for successive temporary protection
visas if there is a continuing protection need, but are not eligible for
permanent residence. They are not eligible to bring their families to Australia,
and have the same entitlements as onshore temporary protection visa holders.
The UNHCR has expressed concern at the transitory solution offered by subclass
447 visas and the negative impact on family reunification and access to travel
Secondary movement relocation visas
For those persons on Nauru who
are found to be refugees and did not reach Australian soil at an excised
offshore place, but are considered to have bypassed or abandoned protection en
route, the relevant visa would
be the new Subclass 451 Visa, the Secondary Movement Relocation (Temporary)
Visa. Those falling into this
category include people from the MV Tampa
A person is considered to have
bypassed or abandoned protection en route if they have, since leaving their home country, resided for a continuous period of at least seven
days in a country, such as Indonesia, in which they could have sought and obtained the effective
protection of that country or the offices of the UNHCR in that country.
The subclass 451 visa is a five
year visa which enables a person to gain access to a permanent protection visa
after four and a half years if there is a continuing need for protection. The
same criteria in respect of persecution or substantial discrimination must be
met by applicants for this visa as apply to the subclass 447 visa.
The Committee finds it curious
that those who have been intercepted or rescued at sea have a more favourable
potential visa outcome, including the possibility of permanent protection, than
those who reach Australian soil, simply by virtue of not having completed the
Humanitarian stay (temporary) visas
According to evidence provided
to the Senate Inquiry into Migration Amendment (Further Border Protection
Measures) Bill 2002, five humanitarian stay (temporary) subclass visas 449 have
been granted to people processed on Nauru or Manus. This class of visa provides
temporary protection for people displaced from their place of residence and
with a grave fear for their safety because of the circumstances of that
displacement, without requiring circumstances of persecution or substantial
harassment. The duration of the visa is determined by the Minister.
information is available on the costs associated with the operation of the offshore
processing centres in Nauru and PNG, the Committee has not been able to collate
an accurate picture of the full cost of the Pacific Solution. The substantive
difficulty arises from the inability fully to identify the cost of the
activities of the Australian Defence Force in support of the arrangements.
The establishment and
operational costs of the Nauru and Manus facilities lie with the Department of
Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. The Department’s budget for
these activities in 2001-2002 was $114.5 million (Table 11.2), although recent advice is that the
total cost for that year was $80 million.
Department of Immigration and Multicultural
and Indigenous Affairs
Offshore Asylum Seeker Management Budgeted
Nauru and Manus
Establishment and infrastructure provision
IOM - management of facility
APS – additional security*
UNHCR – processing
DIMIA staffing and support costs
Asylum seeker transportation
Other (including medical and health)
Offshore operations contingency*
* Available for Nauru and
DIMIA’s 2002-2003 budget for
the offshore reception and processing of asylum seekers in third countries is
$129.3 million. Forward year budgets are $99.3 million for 2003-2004, $100.5
million for 2004-2005, and $101.7 million for 2005-2006.
The Department notes that some
savings can be expected in onshore processing costs as a result of the transfer
of operations offshore, and have estimated these savings at $28 million in
2001-2002, and over $86 million a year from 2002-2003 on.
These savings cannot be solely
offset against the cost of the Nauru and Manus centres as they are achieved
through processing on Australian external territories, such as Cocos and
Christmas Islands, as well as from the Pacific arrangements. DIMIA’s budget for
2002-2003 includes $81.9 million for the reception and processing of asylum
seekers at Australia’s external territories, with $122.8 million for 2003-2004,
$124.4 million for 2004-2005 and $126.0 million for 2005-2006.
Also included in the budget are
capital costs and expenses for the construction of a new, purpose built,
permanent Immigration Reception and Processing Centre on Christmas Island as
part of the offshore processing strategy. Capital costs are $195 million over 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, while expenses are $9.5 million in 2002-2003 and $8.3 million in
forward years. The capital cost includes $74.7 million
provided in 2001-2002 to DIMIA and $116.4 million provided across DIMIA and the
Department of Transport and Regional Services in 2002-2003.
The 2002-2003 budget provisions
are based on the processing of 4,500 asylum seekers per annum at offshore locations,
either in Australia’s external territories or in third countries such as Nauru
The DIMIA budget for 2002-2003
also included a total of up to $5.1 million over three years in personal
reintegration assistance for Afghan asylum seekers in Australia or offshore who
wished to voluntarily return to Afghanistan, of which $2.6 million was
specifically identified for Afghans at Nauru
(there are no Afghans on Manus). A further $740,000 was allocated in 2002-2003
to a reintegration package for non-Afghan asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus.
Australia’s commitment to Nauru
for extra development assistance under the FAA and MOU totals $26.5m. $19.5m was allocated for
2001-2002, $18.8 million of which
was an administered item and $700,00 a departmental appropriation for expenses
such as employee and administrative costs.
$7 million has been allocated in 2002-2003 to fulfil the requirements of the
MOU, of which $6.8 million is an
administered item and $200,000 departmental appropriation. The Budget papers advise that all
funding for this package has been in addition to the aid budget.
Information on AusAID payments
to Nauru in 2001-2002 provided to the Senate Estimates process in February 2002
show that up to that time payments for fuel supplies had totalled $9.738
million, health $1.524 million, power plant and desalinisation $359,501,
education $47,229, sports $35,957, telecommunications $5,659 and aviation
There is no additional aid
component in the agreement with PNG,
which is confined to meeting the costs associated with establishing and
operating the site including refurbishment of existing infrastructure and
renovation of the naval base.
In evidence before the
Committee, AusAID indicated that there had been no reduction in Australia’s
financial assistance to other countries as a result of the Pacific Solution
funding. Several submissions to
the Committee had raised concerns in regard to the impact on Australia’s aid
budget, and the undermining of the credibility of Australia’s good governance
programs, which have been a focus of Australia’s aid efforts in the region.
For the purposes of reporting
on Australia’s overall overseas development aid level, the operational costs of
the offshore processing centres on Manus and Nauru are also categorised as aid,
providing a potentially misleading if technically accurate picture of
Australia’s aid commitment. As AusAID advised a Senate Estimates Committee in
... it would fall under that category in the sense that it is
assistance being provided to displaced persons in a developing country. It does not matter who they are displaced by.
Cost of negotiations
While it is not possible to
quantify the cost of the negotiation phase of the Pacific Solution, the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised that the department had
absorbed a cost of about $81,000 in 2001-2002 for liaison with the Norwegian
government during the Tampa crisis,
staffing a crisis centre, and travel within the Pacific ‘to talk to some of the countries about possible
sites to house asylum seekers’.
Temporary Consul in Nauru
Under arrangements with Nauru
for the processing of asylum seekers Australia has established a Temporary
Consul on the island. In 2001-2002 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
absorbed the cost of its activities on Nauru, estimated at $580,000 for the
year. The Department also
absorbed costs associated with a liaison officer in Manus.
For 2002-2003, $2.1 million of
new funding was included in the Departmental budget for Australia’s diplomatic
presence in Nauru in support of the Memorandum of Understanding. $580,000 of the $2.1 million is
provided for salaries, the balance is spread across administrative expenses,
property costs, plant and equipment, vehicles and depreciation. No funding has been identified in
the budget papers for forward years.
It has not been possible for
the Committee to quantify fully the costs of services provided by the
Australian Defence Force and Department of Defence in support of the Pacific
Within the Defence Portfolio
Budget Statements, funding for Operations Gaberdine and Relex is not separately
identified. Both fall under the general
description of operations to protect Australia’s northern and western
borders from unauthorised boat arrivals.
Defence support of the
Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in the
management of asylum seekers comes under Operation Gaberdine. Under Gaberdine,
the ADF assisted with setting up facilities on Nauru, Manus, Christmas Island
and Cocos Island, as well as preparing facilities for the accommodation of
asylum seekers at defence establishments on the mainland.
In the 2001-2002 Defence
Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements it is noted that Defence will absorb
most of the costs of new operations, one of which is the deterrence of
unauthorised boat arrivals. New funding of $19 million, ‘for specific
additional costs that cannot be readily absorbed’, 
was provided to Defence in the 2001-2002 Additional Estimates Statements for
this purpose, of which $12 million is listed as operating costs and $6 million
new capital acquisitions related to the deployments.
The 2002-2003 Portfolio Budget
Statements included a further adjustment of $22.3 million for 2002-2003, of
which $19.6 million was an appropriation for operating costs and $2.7 million a
new capital injection.
There is insufficient
differentiation in the figures available to separate the Pacific Solution costs
incurred by Defence from the broader picture of new funding and absorbed costs
for the deterrence of boat arrivals.
The Defence Department has,
however, provided some information on the level of activity concerned,
indicating that assistance to the establishment and management of the asylum
seeker processing facilities focussed primarily on the provision of ADF
air-lift support, specifically C-130 aircraft.
For the period from August to
December 2001, Defence flew 1,065 hours in direct support of DIMIA under
Operation Gaberdine, including a
period in August 2001 when up to eight C-130 aircraft were employed on
Operation Gaberdine missions.
Defence also chartered civilian transport aircraft to support ADF involvement,
and provided advice and planning support to DIMIA and the IOM in the sourcing and chartering of commercial
In regard to Nauru, Defence
personnel were involved in developing recommendations on the contents of the
First Administrative Arrangement, in discussions concerning security
arrangements with the AFP and Nauru Police, and in the inspection of potential
Three Defence personnel went to
Nauru on 12 September to render safe, or dispose of, old and unstable ordinance
and weapons, partly in response to a heightened concern on the part of Nauruan
police that ‘the risk of civil unrest may increase as a result of the arrival
of the people on board HMAS Manoora’. Some of the costs associated with
their deployment were borne by the Defence Cooperation Program.
The ADF provided substantial engineering
and air transport assistance in the construction of the first site on Nauru.
The ADF element involved in the construction of the processing centre comprised
a team of up to 81 personnel, including an army engineering element, RAAF
personnel and construction equipment. The ADF presence on the island lasted for
a period of more than two weeks, with some equipment remaining on loan to the
IOM until December 2001.
Defence also provided limited
support to the establishment of the processing centre in PNG, largely in the
form of liaison and coordination duties. Defence was involved in discussions
concerning the suitability of the site, and later provided engineering
assistance and security advice concerning the centre to the PNG Defence Force
under the Defence Cooperation Program.
A liaison officer was
maintained on Manus Island until February 2002, and ADF personnel provided
ground services support to ADF aircraft landing in PNG on Operation Gaberdine
tasks. Defence provided air transport on behalf of the IOM contractor, Eurest,
transporting equipment from Port Moresby and Lae to Manus Island.
The ADF has also transported
asylum seekers to the offshore processing centres including, for example, the
protracted involvement of the HMAS Manoora
in the transportation and disembarkation of asylum seekers from the MV Tampa and the Aceng. These transportation costs have not been able to be
DIMIA have estimated that the
average cost for reception, processing and detention of an unauthorised arrival
in Australia is about $29,000, noting that such average figures can be
misleading given the large variability in the caseload.
Based on that average figure
the cost for processing onshore the 1,515 people who were at one time
accommodated on Nauru or Manus would have been around $44 million. This figure
is simplistic in that it does not consider the cost of any expanded capacity
which would have been required if those arrivals had needed to be processed
on-shore, nor the financial benefits of the deterrent function of offshore
Nevertheless, it is apparent
that the cost of the Pacific Solution processing arrangements on Nauru and
Manus to date, including additional aid funding, have been significantly more
expensive than onshore processing of the same number of people. This is true
even without a full accounting of the cost of the supporting services provided
by the Defence Force.
The DIMIA budget for the
operational costs of offshore processing in 2002-2003, including the Australian
external territories of Christmas and Cocos Islands as well as Nauru and Manus,
is based on 4,500 asylum seekers per annum being accommodated through the
If the 4,500 figure is accepted
as reasonable, the budgeted per person cost for offshore processing in
2002-2003 is roughly comparable to onshore processing, when projected onshore
savings are included. However that assessment does not include the considerable
capital cost of the new Christmas Island facility, or, once again, Defence
The new Christmas Island
permanent Immigration Reception and Processing Centre will have a capacity of
1,200 and is scheduled for completion in January 2003. There is also some minor capacity
on Cocos Island. Being able to process 4,500 people a year offshore, as
indicated in the budget papers, is an objective apparently dependent on both
Papua New Guinea agreeing to renew its MOU when it terminates in October 2002,
and Nauru remaining satisfied to continue its cooperation, which can be
terminated by either party at any time.
Even if both MOUs continue at
the current level, in light of the processing and resettlement times achieved
for the first group of just over 1,500 people accommodated at Nauru and Manus,
processing the 4,500 per year figure on which the costings are predicated would
appear difficult to achieve.
Of course if the current
reduction in boat arrivals is maintained such capacity will not be required. It
is perhaps worth noting that in the last decade such numbers of unauthorised
boat arrivals have been reached only in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. It has been
far more common over that period for annual figures to be in the hundreds
rather than thousands.
No unauthorised boat arrivals
have been transferred to the mainland for processing since the Pacific Solution
arrangements came on stream, and
the objective of blocking access to onshore processing arrangements including
judicial review opportunities has been achieved.
The number of unauthorised
boats attempting to reach Australia has declined dramatically, although the
effect of the offshore processing arrangements and the new legislative regime
in halting the flow of illegal boat arrivals is difficult to isolate from the
influence of other factors, including disruption activities, regional
anti-smuggling initiatives, the SIEV X disaster, and global developments such
as increased border security in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
In a recent submission to
another Senate inquiry, DIMIA have advised that:
The anti-smuggling regime adopted by Australia in cooperation
with other countries in the region has resulted in a virtual cessation of
attempts by asylum seekers to enter Australia illegally by boat. The people
smuggling rings have been confounded by the disruption and have had to abandon
their usual modus operandi to seek
There has also been a major
reduction in the number of Afghans entering the smuggling ‘pipeline’ in the
wake of the fall of the Taliban regime. The exodus from that country has
started to reverse with ongoing large scale voluntary repatriation from
neighbouring countries, although security concerns remain in some less stable
regions and for groups with particular protection vulnerabilities.
While deterrence objectives
appear to be achieved, albeit at considerable cost, outcomes in terms of
achieving durable protection for refugees processed under Pacific Solution
arrangements, and a timely resolution for those found not to be so, are less
Over a year after the Tampa incident, and more than nine
months after the last unauthorised arrivals were transported to the islands,
less than 400 of the 701 people found to be refugees have been resettled, and
eighty one people still await a final decision on their refugee status. A small
number of people have returned to their country of origin, or have been
resettled without a refugee determination.
The remainder, whether they
have been found to be refugees or not, remain in situations of uncertainty and
Concerns also remain about the
impact of the arrangements on the social fabric of the communities where the
processing centres have been established, the capacity of the local resource
base to support such numbers on Nauru, and Australia’s reputation in the
The so-called Pacific Solution
has achieved its objective of preventing on-shore processing of unauthorised
boat arrivals. The arrangements ensure that those amongst the arrivals who are
found not to be refugees do not have access to lengthy appeal processes, and
those who are successful in their claims have no presumed right to resettlement
However, lack of transparency
in the implementation of the arrangements, and difficulty in accessing
comprehensive costings for some of its aspects, has created an atmosphere of
obfuscation quite apart from concerns over the legal and human rights merits of
Further, the policy does
nothing to address the fundamental issues of the break down in the global
response to the refugee problem, although the outcomes have been favoured by an
emerging resolution in Afghanistan.
The uncertain outcomes for
those being processed in the centres continues to be a substantial concern.
There remains a shortfall in resettlement opportunities for those who have been
legitimately found to be refugees. The objective of sharing the burden amongst
a range of countries has, with the exception of New Zealand’s generosity, been
largely unsuccessful to date which, given the relative insignificance within
the international context of the burden this group imposes upon Australia, is
not surprising. The future for those not found to meet refugee criteria but who
cannot safely return to their countries of origin is even more uncertain.
It appears likely that the
majority of those found to be refugees will need to be resettled in Australia,
as evidenced by the recent arrival of refugees from both Manus and Nauru. As
the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs commented
in a submission to another current Senate inquiry:
...if other countries are unable or unwilling to provide
protection against non-refoulement for refugees who have entered Australian
territorial waters seeking asylum, Australia is obliged to ensure that
convention protection is provided.
Senator Peter Cook