Urgent UN intervention sought to halt Government attempts to coerce refugees back to harm

The United Nations has been asked to urgently intervene to halt the Australian Government’s moves to make refugees and people seeking asylum destitute as a means of coercing them to return to danger and harm on Nauru or Manus Island.

The urgent communication, issued overnight by the Human Rights Law Centre and the Geneva-based branch of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, requests the intervention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The request for urgent action relates to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last week issuing ‘final departure Bridging E Visas’ to more than 60 vulnerable men and women living in the community, immediately stripping them of basic supports and putting them at risk of homelessness and destitution.

Documents provided to these men and women reveal the Minister is targeting up to 400 people who have been rebuilding their lives in the Australian community - some for several years - after the Government evacuated them from offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island. The group includes women sexually assaulted on Nauru, men shot and attacked on Manus and children who were so traumatised by offshore detention that they needed urgent psychiatric care.

The Human Rights Law Centre assists most of the affected group. HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb said:

“The Government is forcing people to choose between destitution here or danger and abuse elsewhere. These are innocent people who have been rebuilding their lives in our communities. The sensible, compassionate and decent thing to do is to let them stay. Instead, the Government is trying to starve them out,” said Mr Webb.

The first round of final departure visas were imposed last Monday and there are serious fears that hundreds more will follow.

“It’s absolutely awful. People are panicking every time the phone rings. They are terrified of being kicked out onto the streets. These men and women were just starting to rebuild their lives in our communities. Now suddenly they've been completely cut off and are a week away from potential homelessness,” said Mr Webb.

“Making people destitute to coerce them back to danger is cruel, unlawful and fundamentally wrong. We are asking the UN to urgently intervene,” said Mr Webb.

Lucy McKernan, the Geneva Representative for the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said:

"Subjecting vulnerable people to deliberate destitution is morally and legally indefensible. It is also embarrassing to Australia as it trumpets its credentials as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council."

"Rendering vulnerable people deliberately destitute is a flagrant breach of human rights. It is also wholly incompatible with Australia's commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council."

"Subjecting people to deliberate poverty and destitution deeply harms those people. It also deeply harms Australia's claim to be a principled protector of human rights or a credible candidate for the UN Human Rights Council."

The urgent intervention sought

The UN Special Rapporteurs have been asked to call on the Australian Government to:

  • refrain from issuing ‘final departure Bridging E Visas’ to any other refugees or people seeking asylum who have been evacuated from Nauru or Manus Island to Australia for medical treatment;
  • immediately reinstate the housing and income supports to the more than 60 people who have been issued with these visas already and ensure that all of those people have access to adequate housing and to sufficient income support to meet their basic needs; and
  • allow the affected group to apply for refugee status in Australia and to have their protection claims assessed under Australian law.

The urgent communications comes as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the Victorian Government will intervene to assist affected refugees and people living in Victoria to ensure they do not become homeless or destitute.

Download a copy of the urgent intervention here.

For further information or interview please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519