UNICEF statement on Australia and Vietnam signing MOU to return Vietnamese asylum seekers

Statement attributable to Amy Lamoin, Head of Policy and Advocacy, UNICEF Australia

SYDNEY, 13 December 2016 - UNICEF Australia notes the announcement yesterday that a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security.  

UNICEF Australia welcomes policy settings and initiatives that have a legitimate aim of protecting asylum seeker and refugee children on land and at sea.  However, based on available information regarding the new arrangement with Vietnam we are concerned that families may be at risk of return to situations where they could experience persecution and serious human rights violations.

Under international law, Australia is obligated not to return an individual to persecution or other serious harm. The Australian government must respect the right of all persons to leave their country and seek asylum, regardless of their mode of arrival.   

The Australian Government has stated that this arrangement is consistent with Australia and Vietnam’s respective domestic and international legal obligations. Currently, people seeking asylum who are intercepted at sea are subjected to an enhanced screening process - an attenuated procedure conducted on board Customs and Navy vessels at sea.

UNICEF is concerned that any process that bypasses rigorous refugee assessment standards in favour of a swift resolution, risks denying asylum seekers – including women, children and unaccompanied minors – access to a fair and comprehensive hearing of their protection claim.

Without a proper assessment, the Australian Government cannot determine whether it is safe to return asylum seekers to their country of origin. People seeking asylum must be given the opportunity to voice their protection claims, be granted access to legal assistance, and have an independent review of the decision.

While the Australian Government has made a significant investment in technical cooperation on human rights with Vietnam to strengthen protections for gender equality and minority rights, significant challenges remain.  Therefore, the utmost care must be taken to ensure that people are not returned if they are fleeing persecution.

UNICEF Australia encourages the Australian Government to consider positive measures for cooperation with countries in the region to ensure that the best interests of children seeking asylum, and their families are prioritised. We further encourage the Australian Government to continue their exploring options for a common regional protection framework to coordinate predictable responses and pathways for asylum seeker and refugee children.
 
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For further information, please contact:
Nicole Mackey, UNICEF Australia, 0403 964 334, nmackey@unicef.org.au
 
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