UNHCR to endorse Australia-United States relocations as “offshore processing” arrangements fail refugees

The approach taken by Australia in transferring refugees and asylum-seekers to open-ended detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru has caused immense harm to vulnerable people who have sought asylum since 2013. In this context, UNHCR welcomes the announcement today that refugees currently held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea will be relocated under a bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States.

The arrangement reflects a much-needed, long-term solution for some refugees who have been held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for over three years and who remain in a precarious situation. It is on this basis that UNHCR will endorse referrals made from Australia to the United States, on a one-off, good offices, humanitarian basis, in light of the acute humanitarian situation. The full details of the agreement are not yet known, and UNHCR is not a party to it.

UNHCR remains gravely concerned about the fate of all vulnerable individuals in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Appropriate solutions must be found for all of them. UNHCR’s endorsement of these referrals under the humanitarian imperative does not alter Australia’s obligations under international law, including the right to seek asylum irrespective of the mode of arrival.

Australia must be part of the solution for refugees and asylum seekers who have sought its protection, and particularly those who have family ties to Australia or special needs. The current policy has failed refugees and asylum seekers who need and deserve safety and care.