The Turnbull government has defended a policy encouraging refugees held on Nauru to sever ties with their families in order to be considered for resettlement in the US, The Guardian reports.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said yesterday that Australia’s policy would not change but the UN children’s agency and parliamentarians have all urged Australia to uphold international law and the unity of families.
Several hundred refugees have been brought to Australia from offshore processing centres for medical treatment not available in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
In dozens of cases, their immediate family members have been left on offshore islands and told that, if they want to be considered for resettlement under the US deal, they must abandon their families, or encourage their families to return to offshore processing, even in defiance of doctors’ advice.
Mr Dutton said the government’s policy was that nobody brought to Australia from offshore for medical treatment could be considered for resettlement in the United States.
“We have been clear on people who have received medical advice here: it was the reality for people on Nauru that if people left and came to Australia then consideration of their file would be suspended until they returned back to Nauru.”
Unicef Australia director Amy Lamoin said the UN’s children’s agency had consistently provided advice to the government on the importance of, and legal protections for, family unity.
“Placing people in a position where they have to make an impossible decision – one that may have lifelong ramifications – to choose between their families and an option to live in a safe country with a feasible future is unacceptable.”
Ms Lamoin said Australia’s offshore processing policy had caused “severe physical and psychological harm, and … deliberately split vulnerable families”.
“Unicef Australia urges the Australian government to consider the plight of children who have already suffered so much and to take steps to ensure that the identified vulnerable families, including children, can be reunited in an appropriate country such as Australia with adequate and ongoing support.”