The Refugee Action Coalition has strongly condemned the Houston panel’s recommendations for offshore processing as made public at their press conference this afternoon.

‘Mr Houston and his colleagues had an opportunity to listen to the experts, escape the major parties’ persecution of refugees and inject reason into the asylum seeker debate,’ said Nick Riemer, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

‘But the panel has made no recommendation that will improve the situation for refugees who have no other choice than to get on boats. All we have seen is a return to the cruelty and inhumanity of the policies of the past.

‘If the panel’s arrangements are implemented, refugees will suffer and languish in Nauru, Manus Island, just as they did under the Howard government. The only people these recommendations will help are the major parties.

‘The panel has claimed to be motivated by humanitarian considerations,’ Riemer continued. ‘But all its recommendations are about outsourcing Australia’s responsibilities to poorer, less-equipped neighbours. People desperate enough to sacrifice everything to get on a boat deserve our help. But the panel wants to shunt them off to places in our region where they have no hope of living in safety. The only place that can give refugees the security and support they need is Australia. Refugees should be welcomed into the community,’ Reimer said.

‘The panel stressed that its aim was to provide incentives for ‘regular pathways’. By giving the green light to the Malaysia Agreement, the Panel has not provided any credible regular pathway for refugees to get to Australia. Would Australia really turn away asylum seekers fleeing the desperate circumstances in Syria?’

‘While the Panel recommended increasing Australia’s overall refugee intake, without guaranteed resettlement to Australia, refugees will still have no alternative but to resort to boats.

‘As the direct arrival of Tamils to Australia shows, war, torture and persecution are not the kinds of situation that allow regular pathways. No one with any knowledge of refugee movements thinks that there is any way to prevent dangerous ocean crossings.

‘The no advantage provisions for boat arrivals are extremely callous. The panel’s real attitude is revealed by the fact that they haven’t excluded turning back the boats.’

‘Refugees quite simply have the right to risk their lives at sea if they think that those journeys are worth that risk. Six hundred people have died at sea, but thousands have successfully reached Australia. Tony Kevin’s authoritative figures show that the overwhelming majority of boat arrivals get here successfully. Howard’s Pacific Solution didn’t save lives either.

‘The only way to save lives at sea is to decriminalize people smuggling, to open Australian processing centres in the region, and to massively increase our humanitarian intake without making vulnerable boat arrivals pay for it.’

‘To add insult to injury, the one positive measure the Panel proposed – to de-link the onshore and offshore humanitarian programs (recommendation 21) has been left for two years to review.’

For comment contact Nick Riemer: 0435 533 027, or Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713