The Abbott government is set to sign an even more draconian migration bill on Tuesday that could see asylum seekers sent back to countries where they face torture, rape or murder.
The move comes after weeks of warnings from human rights groups that Australia’s policies towards refugees could amount to genocide.
The controversial bill is expected to be signed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and will set new requirements for the detention of asylum seekers and migrants, and will likely include tougher penalties for those who seek to sneak into Australia.
Immigration Minister Scott Emerson has previously warned that a return to a “third world” mentality, which saw Australia turn away hundreds of thousands of refugees during World War II, would mean “mass migration” and “genocide”.
“If you want to return to the world of the 1940s, you’ve got to take care of your people, your women and children,” he told the ABC in June.
“It will not be a situation where we’re going to take refugees from third world countries and send them back to third world areas where they have to live in the shadows, under threat.”
Mr Emerson said the legislation would also create a new “regional protection” zone for Australia.
The bill would allow for asylum seekers to be detained in regional camps and detention centres.
The Australian Government has already said it will not repatriate refugees and migrants from other parts of the world.
“We have no plans to return people to countries in which they face horrendous torture, forced labour, rape, and murder,” Mr Emerson told the National Press Club.
“If we do, we will do so by the same means we used to use.”
Human Rights Watch has also warned that the legislation could be used as a way to return refugees to their home countries, where conditions are far worse.
“Australia has a long history of sending asylum seekers back to places where they will face torture and abuse, including at the hands of their own government,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Asia director at Human Rights Under Siege.
“But if the Government of Australia intends to return these people to Australia and use it as a tool to return them to their own countries, it has no real options but to do so through the most draconian of all laws.”
The Human Rights Institute, which has repeatedly warned of the dangers of a return policy, said the bill could mean a return of “genocidal and forced migration policies”.
“Australia’s current policy of returning asylum seekers is the most aggressive in the world and sends an unmistakable message that this country is not an ‘open door’ for refugees, and that it is unwilling to return any refugees to places that will put them in a state of fear, torture and violence,” said Ms Whitsons.
“By setting up a regional protection zone, the bill will give the Government even more leeway to bring people back to Australia.”
‘A total abdication of responsibility’ The Human Right Watch report found that the Government’s policies are already causing “mass atrocities” and that “a return to these policies is likely to lead to genocide”.
“While the Australian Government will be able to argue that the bill is necessary to protect Australians from imminent threat of persecution, a return would only be a partial answer, and would only serve to further exacerbate existing human rights abuses, as the bill does not apply to asylum seekers who have already crossed into Australia, and do not pose a threat to the safety of Australians,” the report said.
Human Rights Council president Dr Anneke Aarts said it was “a total abdenication of the responsibility of Australia to protect refugees and asylum seekers”.
“This is an opportunity to end the shameful practice of locking people up in regional centres,” she said.
Australia has been criticised for its policies towards asylum seekers. “
Instead, we should be talking about what this bill means for people like us, the women and girls who have been fleeing their countries of origin, and how it will impact our lives and the lives of our children.”
Australia has been criticised for its policies towards asylum seekers.
In October, the Government revealed that it had rejected applications from 11,500 people, including 2,000 who were seeking protection from rape and torture, and one person who sought to seek asylum.
Mr Morrison told the Senate that the new laws would be designed to ensure Australia was “doing the right thing” and would “not be used to punish Australians”.
“The government is not doing what they need to do, the country is doing the right kind of thing,” he said.
He later told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the laws were designed to stop “the boats”, which are the main way asylum seekers are sent to Australia.
Mr Emerson has also previously criticised the legislation, calling it “a complete abdicating of responsibility”.
The Human Resources Minister told ABC radio on Friday that he was happy to sign the legislation and that the government was committed to helping those in need.
“I’m very proud of the work we’ve done,” he added