On 16 July 2012, the HRLC made a submission to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, established by the Government to inquire into "the best way forward for Australia to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia". The HRLC is concerned that several policies proposed by the Government and the Coalition breach Australia’s international human rights obligations.
Australia’s non-refoulment obligations prohibit the transfer of asylum seekers to third countries where they face human rights violations. In the HRLC’s view, both the ‘Malaysia Solution’ (where asylum seekers are not protected against being returned to the country from which they fled) and the proposal to send asylum seekers to Nauru (where they would face extended detention) breach this prohibition.
The HRLC’s submission also highlights that international law prevents Australia from imposing penalties on refugees on account of their ‘illegal’ entry or discriminating against asylum seekers on the basis of their nationality. Policies which operate punitively against boat arrivals or impac disproportionately on asylum seekers from particular countries may breach the requirement to perform these legal obligations in good faith.
The HRLC’s submission also emphasises that any policy involving the detention of children or their transfer to third countries to which they have no ties would fall foul of Australia’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The HRLC submission recommends thatAustralia increase its humanitarian intake and provide additional resources for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to process and resettle asylum seekers in the region. Such policies would help relieve more asylum seekers of the need to pursue riskier options for seeking protection.
The HRLC’s Rachel Ball urged the Expert Panel to recognise that “asylum seekers do not want to make the dangerous boat journey to Australia. People get on boats as a last resort. Many of these people have fled torture, ill-treatment and persecution in their home countries.”
Ms Ball said “As a wealthy, secure country with a bipartisan commitment to good international citizenship, we have an ethical and legal obligation to treat these people humanely and to provide them with refuge and protection.”
The Expert Panel has been asked to provide advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship prior to the start of the next Parliamentary sitting period in August 2012.