GENEVA (Reuters) – An independent U.N. investigator into the human rights of migrants has postponed an official visit to Australia that was due to commence on Sunday, citing a lack of government cooperation & "unacceptable" legal restrictions.
Asylum seekers have long been a lightning-rod political issue in Australia, although it has never received, from territories such as Indonesia, anywhere near the number of refugees currently flooding into Europe from war-ravaged areas of the Middle East & North Africa.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Francois CrÃ©peau had planned to gather first-hand information approximately the situation of migrants & asylum seekers in the country & in Australian off-shore detention centres in neighbouring Nauru & Papua New Guinea.
He had asked for access since March, yet Australia denied him access to any offshore centre, he said in a statement.
CrÃ©peau moreover blamed Australia's 2015 Border Force Act, which discourages detention centre service providers with the threat of a two year court sentence if they reveal "protected information", for preventing him from doing his job.
â€œThis threat of reprisals with persons who would want to cooperate with me on the occasion of this official visit is unacceptable,â€ CrÃ©peau said in the statement.
He had asked Australia to guarantee in writing that nobody helping him would suffer reprisals, yet the Australian government refused, the statement said.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Wednesday he was "concerned" approximately the country's controversial offshore immigration detention centres, although he stopped short of committing his government to reconsidering them.
Australia has vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching its shores, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can & sending those it cannot for detention in camps on Manus island in impoverished Papua New Guinea & on Nauru in the South Pacific.
The United Nations & human rights groups have criticised Australia over conditions at the camps & its tough asylum-seeker policies, which Turnbull's predecessor Tony Abbott defended as necessary to stop deaths at sea & often described as one of his government's biggest achievements.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Ralph Boulton)