“Extraterritorial processing of asylum seekers: Australia’s role in managing people movements in the Asia Pacific region.

The last decade has marked a significant shift in Australia’s approach to the management of asylum seekers, with repercussions for the management of people movements within the broader Asia Pacific region.  The 2001 ‘Pacific Solution’ saw the introduction of an offshore processing regime, with asylum seekers headed for Australia intercepted and transferred to  Nauru and Papua New Guinea.  Despite the cessation of processing on Australia’s behalf by other nations in 2007, extraterritorial processing of asylum seekers remains  a key component of Australia’s refugee processing policy.  Since 2008, asylum seekers have been detained and processed on Christmas Island, located 360 km south of Jakarta.  Although the island belongs to Australia it has been excised from Australia’s migration zone since 2001 with the consequence that asylum seekers detained there have not been processed pursuant to Australian refugee law. A recent judgment of the High Court of Australia casts doubt on the legality of this approach and will be examined. 

Beyond processing of asylum seekers on Christmas Island, the prospect of a return to processing on Australia’s behalf in other Asia-Pacific nations remains high on the political agenda. During the 2010 election campaign the opposition Liberal-National coalition announced that it would reintroduce processing in Nauru if elected to office, while the Labor government announced plans to establish a processing centre in the region’ newest nation, East Timor. These plans will be put before the Bali Process. Whatever the outcome, Australia appears likely to re-establish the system of engaging other nations to process asylum seekers seeking its protection. My paper will examine the ramifications for social justice and human rights within the Asia Pacific region.

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