MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A United Nations official said Australia would probably be in breach of the Refugee Convention if it enacted a proposal for a permanent visa-ban for asylum seekers who attempted to reach the country by boat, Fairfax media reported on Saturday.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed last Sunday that asylum seekers sent to the county’s offshore processing center’s would be prevented for applying for any visa to Australia, even if they had been classified as refugees or resettled in another country.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees regional representative Thomas Albrecht said such a move would likely breach the convention’s article prohibiting the punishment of those seeking asylum.
The proposed permanent visa-ban would be applied to anyone transferred to a regional processing center after 2013, including some 1,400 people currently held offshore.
The leader of the center-left opposition party, Bill Shorten has criticized the plan, but his party hasn’t stated whether they will attempt to block the bill in the Senate, where the government doesn’t have a majority.
The current policy of sending asylum seekers who arrive Australian waters by boat to countries like Papua New Guinea and Nauru where their status as refugees is confirmed or rejected has bipartisan support in the Australian parliament.
“While solutions for refugees currently on Nauru and Papua New Guinea are critical, third-country settlement for them would not alter Australia’s fundamental obligations to provide asylum to those who need and seek its protection, including by sea,” Albrecht said, according to Fairfax media.
Reporting by Jarni Blakkarly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore