Contributed by Ugly
The UN has condemned Australia’s mistreatment of refugees. And in November 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) made clear that Australia must no longer flout international conventions in its treatment of refugees.
Australia has breached;
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
The case of Iranian L:ongman Sawari could prove pivotal. This is about a young man who experienced the execution of his cousin and imprisoned his two brothers. In 2013, his father urged him [then aged 17] to flee the country. As a result, Sawari made his way by sea to Australia. But the Australian navy intercepted the boat and transported him to Christmas Island, in Australian territory. From there, they took him to Australia’s concentration camp on Manus Is. in Papua New Guinea.
Sawari was one of the first asylum seekers on Manus to be recognised as a refugee. Consequently, he received permission to take up resettlement on Papua New Guinea (PNG), where he lived in the city of Lae.
He found life in PNG unbearable, became depressed and attempted suicide. But instead of helping Sawari, the authorities jailed him. Eventually, an expat Aussie who ran a centre for PNG homeless children offered Sawari support.
Sawari begged to go back to the Manus Island detention centre because he felt he would be safe there. But authorities refused his request. So he fled the mainland by boat. His luck then turned, as locals on a neighbouring island gave him protection.
In April 2016, the PNG supreme court ruled that Australia’s detention of refugees on Manus and Nauru was illegal. That decision paved the way for a deal with the US and other countries to relocate these refugees. Yet the Australian government has done nothing to expedite this deal.
US President Donald Trump announced his own crackdown on refugees in January 2017. And it was at this point that Sawari decided to act.
Using money saved up over several months, Sawari bought an airline ticket to Suva in Fiji. And, somehow, he managed to board a plane at Port Moresby under a false name.
Just like Australia, Fiji is a signatory to the Refugee Convention. There is a much higher likelihood that Fiji will abide by that convention than ignore it in the way Australia has done.
One Fijian family has given Sawari refuge. Now, Sawari intends to present himself to Fijian immigration officials. He will seek protection, not only from Iran but also from Australia.
This is unprecedented. Sawari would not have found himself trapped in PNG had it not been for Australia. There is now an opportunity for lawyers in Fiji, New Zealand or Australia to take up Sawari’s case.
And if the courts rule that Sawari’s claim is valid, this could set a new precedent. This in turn could affect all other refugees on Manus and Nauru. It would also represent a powerful indictment of the illegality of Australia’s interception, detention and imprisonment of asylum-seekers over many years. It is a ‘can of worms’ the Australian government is terrified of facing. It would be likely to do almost anything to avoid such a situation.
We watch to see how this will play out in the coming months.