In early October 2017, Thomas Albrecht, the Canberra-based Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), took to The Guardian to register his dismay about the Australian government’s response to asylum seekers. ‘The current policy has been an abject failure,’ he wrote. ‘A proper approach by Australia must include, at a minimum, solutions for all refugees and asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and an end to offshore processing.’
It was highly unusual for a senior UNHCR diplomat publicly to take issue with the government’s policy by penning an opinion piece in a newspaper. How extraordinary it was becomes evident when reading Claire Higgins’s Asylum by Boat about Australia’s response to Indochinese ‘boat people’. Higgins’s account draws extensively on the papers of Guy Goodwin-Gill. For many years he has perhaps been the world’s most authoritative expert on international refugee law. Now an emeritus fellow of All Souls College at the University of Oxford and professor of law at the University of New South Wales, in the late 1970s and early 1980s Goodwin-Gill served as the UNHCR’s legal adviser in Australia. In that capacity, he contributed to the Determination of Refugee Status (DORS) interdepartmental committee, which was set up by the Fraser government to assess asylum applications.