Australia has told a United Nations committee investigating possible inhumane forms of punishment, that the healthcare it affords asylum seekers in offshore detention centres is “comparable to that in Australia”.
The committee, which was meeting in Geneva, monitors the policies and actions of signatories to the UN convention against torture.
It is investigating Australia’s policies of enhanced screening, mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum seekers who attempt to come to the country by boat.
“Healthcare services are not denied to asylum seekers,” Mark Cormack, representing Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection, told the committee.
“International Health and Medical Services are required to deliver healthcare that is the best available in the circumstances and broadly comparable with the health services within the Australian community.”
The healthcare of asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island has been under increased scrutiny following the deaths of two detainees, Reza Berati and Hamid Kehazaei, earlier this year.
According to The Guardian, Cormack also told the committee that from next month five to six detainees would be released each week and would be permitted to seek employment on Manus Island in PNG.
Cormack added that the Australian government was working towards removing as many children as possible from its offshore detention centres, including the one on the tiny island nation of Nauru, as soon as it can.
“Within months all but a few children will be out of detention,” he told the committee.
However, the Australian delegation argued that the welfare of the detainees was ultimately the responsibility of the host country.
Claudio Grossman, the chairman of the UN committee, rebuffed the suggestion, though, saying Australia had “effective control” of conditions at the facilities.
“It is not convincing to claim Australia is not responsible for these people … Australia pays the bills,” Mr Grossman said.
IMAGE: People attend a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers, in Melbourne in February 2014. Hundreds of people participated in the candlelight vigil in the major cities of Australia in response to the death of 23-year-old Iranian man Reza Berati who died in a detention centre on Manus Island on February 18. (Photo credit should read ESTHER LIM/AFP/Getty Images)