Refugees in Australia and under Australian Protection

economic migrant or refugee jpeg“As a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Australia has sworn a commitment to offer protection to people who have fled from their home country due to a real threat to their lives and/or basic freedoms. When Australia ratified the convention it became part of Australian law. By signing the Convention (and the 1967 Protocol), Australia declared its belief in the universal human right to seek asylum and the right of asylum seekers to have their claims fairly heard.”

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Student Resource Kit, Asylum Seekers and Refugees Fact Sheet, accessed 14 May 2013,

“The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is the national umbrella body for refugees and the organisations and individuals who support them.  RCOA was founded by Major-General Paul Cullen in November 1981, just a month after he received UNHCR’s global Nansen Medal for his support of refugees through Austcare and Australian Jewish community organisations. Since then, RCOA has grown to a network of 185 organisations, 800 individual members and thousands of supporters.

Our organisation has broad national and international respect as an authentic voice of Australian organisations involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers.  It is funded through contributions from its members and by project grants from philanthropic bodies and government agencies. The priority activities for RCOA are set by its members, as represented by an elected Board.

RCOA’s own work is centred around five key areas: policy, support for refugees, support for its members, community education and administration.

RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said RCOA had noted that the Government had released more than 1500 asylum seekers from detention on Bridging Visas in the two months to 31 March 2014. RCOA has long argued that immigration detention should be used only as a last resort and only when there is clear evidence that a person’s immigration status cannot be better resolved while living in the community.” … “This trend towards community release needs to pick up significantly if the Government is to arrest the alarming increase in long-term detention over the past six months. Between 30 September 2013 and 31 March 2014, the number of people detained for six months or more increased nearly six-fold from 621 to 3618. Of these, more than 3000 arrived by boat to seek asylum. 

People who have been detained for arriving by boat to seek protection have told us on so many occasions that the single biggest factor which makes mandatory detention so unbearable is its length. For people already traumatised by the persecution that forced them to flee their homes and the journey to find safety and protection, the length of detention and uncertainty can result in significant risk of self-harm and mental health damage.

Mr Power said Australia should be guided by international best practice in the use of alternatives of Detention…

Our organisation has argued for years that the positive alternative to all that we are seeing lies in incremental improvements to the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh and, where possible, attempting to influence conditions inside countries of origin such as Burma, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As I endlessly repeat, the current issues facing Australia will not disappear until governments in Asia-Pacific begin to realise that collectively they have much more to gain by working together on a regional approach to refugee protection than by trying unilaterally to turn their backs on those in need.”

(Various media publications from RCOA’s website)

First posted Tue 14 Jan 2014, ABC News

“The Abbott government is set to save $280 million by closing six more detention centres on the Australian mainland and Christmas Island. This is just another example of how stopping the boats is delivering for our country and why the Government will not back down to the pressure of Labour and the Greens to abolish our strong border polices that are clearly working,” Immigration minister Scott Morrison said in a statement to The Adelaide Advertiser.

The Northern Immigration Detention Centre and the Darwin Airport Lodge, both in the Northern Territory, will close by the middle of the year, with detainees transferred to other centers.

By the end of the year the Inverbrackie Detention Centre in the Adelaide Hills will close, as will two sites on Christmas Island. The development comes after the federal government announced in December it would close four onshore detention centers – Leonora, Scherger, Port Augusta and Pontville – to make a budget saving of $7.4 million.

However, government policy to process asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru will continue to be a drain on the federal budget.

It costs more than $400,000 a person to detain asylum seekers in overseas detention centers a year, compared to $239,000 in Australian detention centers, a graph in the Commission of Audit report shows.

(Source: Commission of Audit report)

At-a-glance: Onshore detention closures

Centers to close: -Northern Immigration Detention Centre, Northern Territory (June 30, 2014) -Darwin Airport Lodge (June 30, 2014) -Inverbrackie, South Australia (by end of 2014) -Aqua Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island (by end of 2014) -Lilac Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island (by end of 2014) -Curtin, Western Australia (by mid-2015)

Centers already closed: -Scherger, Queensland -Leonora, Western Australia -Port Augusta, South Australia -Pontville, Tasmania

Above published by SBS, 8 May 2014

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce – what do we believe? (Small extract only, check their website – italics mine)

What should drive our asylum seeker policies?

*    a humanitarian response focused on protection needs;

*     meeting our obligations under the Refugees Convention and other international treaties;

*     working productively in our region over the long-term to find real, durable and just solutions.

Can we afford to help all these arrivals?

As one of the wealthiest, safest and most secure countries in the world, we should be able to fund a humanitarian response to asylum seekers without taking money away from our overseas aid commitments.

 Children in Detention

 Australian Churches

Refugee Taskforce

“Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘CROC’), one of the six ‘core human rights treaties’ that underpins our international human rights framework6. The CROC provides a critical cornerstone for protecting children’s rights and monitoring the obligations of States towards them.

The four fundamental principles that underpin the CRC framework are: non-discrimination; survival; development and protection; participation; and the best interests of the child. The latter is perhaps the most important in any discussion of unaccompanied children. Enshrined in Article 3(1), it is further reinforced by Article 18(1) which states

*children should not be detained unlawfully or arbitrarily (Art 37(b));

*children must only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time (Art. (Art 37(b));

children in detention:

*should be treated with respect and humanity, in a manner that takes into account their age and developmental needs (Art 37(c));

*have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court or other independent and impartial authority (Art 37(d));

*children seeking asylum have a right to protection and assistance – because they are an especially vulnerable group of children (Art 22);

*children have a right to family reunification (Art 10); and

*children who have suffered trauma have a right to rehabilitative care – recovery and social reintegration (Art 39).

Australia’s current treatment of unaccompanied children also raises issues under the Refugee Convention, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Convention Against Torture (CAT). 

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) argues that article 18(1) suggests that the best interests of an unaccompanied child must not only be a primary consideration (as suggested by art 3(1)) but the primary consideration for their legal guardian.

Interview by Sarah Ferguson (ABC 7.30 Program, 10.4.14) and Minister Morrison:

Ferguson: “There are currently 1000 children in detention, including 177 on Nauru. Psychiatrists who visited Christmas Island recently described children that are depressed, afraid, developmentally delayed. They described also terrible physical conditions – sores that won’t heal, blood-shot eyes. What policy could justify treating children like that?”

Minister Morrison: “8000 children turned up as part of the 50 000 and more that turned up under the previous government. The reason we have children in detention, Sarah, the reason they’re here at all is because the previous government’s failed policies put them here. Now…”

Ferguson: “Yes, but you’re keeping them in detention.”

Minister Morrison: “And the policy was that on Christmas Island where people arrived after 19th July, that they would be subject to offshore processing and that’s a bipartisan position and people who are on Christmas Island will be transferred to Nauru now with their families. For those who are onshore, then it is our policy to get people into community detention and where possible onto bridging visas, and that’s what we’re endeavouring to do and that’s what we’ve been doing. There are more children in community detention than there are in held detention within Australia. Now the held detention facilities in places like Blaydin Point and Wickham Point, these are, I think, first-rate facilities, and for those who’ve had the opportunity to visit them – I think you and I actually did an interview outside one of them when they were being built many years ago. And those facilities I think provide the adequate care and support to families and in particular children.”

Compiled by Pia Horan, 12 June 2014

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