Geneva: An independent UN expert on migrant rights said Friday he had postponed a visit to Australia citing restrictions on his access to detention centres, and concerns people he met with could face reprisals.
Francois Crepeau said he had been invited by the Australian government to visit from September 27 to October 9 to gather first-hand information about the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in the country and in its off-shore detention centres based in neighbouring Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
But in preparing for his visit, he said he had discovered a provision in a new law making it punishable with two years in prison for detention centre workers who disclose "protected information".
The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said he had been concerned this would discourage people he met with from fully disclosing information.
"This threat of reprisals with persons who would want to cooperate with me on the occasion of this official visit is unacceptable," he said in a statement, adding that he had asked the Australian government for a written guarantee that no one he met with would be sanctioned or intimidated.
"As the Australian government was not prepared to give the written assurances required ... it was not possible for me to carry out the visit in my capacity as a UN independent expert," he said.
He also said he was "extremely disappointed" that the government had not granted him access to any offshore detention centres, despite months of efforts to gain its cooperation.
Crepeau pointed out that under his mandate, he needed to have free access to all detention centres, and that access to the offshore centres was particularly important "given the international human rights and humanitarian law concerns regarding them."
Australia`s immigration policies, hardened by the conservative government that took power in 2013 to include the physical turnback of boats, have long been criticised.
All asylum seekers coming by boat to Australia are sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and ultimately denied resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
Rights groups and refugee advocates have claimed asylum seekers are subject to indefinite detention in inadequate conditions, with particular concerns about the safety of children.
Australia`s new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitted earlier this week he had concerns about asylum seekers being held in Pacific island camps, but gave no indication of immediate change to the hardline policy.