63 mothers, fathers and children permanently separated between Australia and indefinite offshore detention on Manus and Nauru have taken their case for family reunion to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
The group includes:
five babies born in Australia whose fathers are indefinitely detained on Nauru;
a father detained on Manus Island for five years whose wife and children are living in Sydney and whose daughters are studying at University; and
husbands and wives, children and parents, and brothers and sisters, who remain permanently separated because they arrived and sought protection in Australia on different dates.
The complaint, made on behalf of the families by the Human Rights Law Centre and barristers Kylie Evans, John Maloney and Marion Isobel, is one of the largest UN actions ever brought against the Australian Government and comes during the Government’s first year as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
Daniel Webb, director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, said:
“These families just want what every family in the world wants – to be together with the people they love the most. But instead they are being needlessly ripped apart and go to bed every night with a massive knot in their stomach not knowing if or when they will ever see each other again,” said Mr Webb.
“Every one of these families has a heartbreaking separation moment - a moment when they realised our Government was permanently tearing them apart. One of the dads told me he felt like his entire body froze. He said he couldn’t move or even breathe and just collapsed to the floor and had to be carried away.”
“Ripping apart these families is cruel, harmful and clearly illegal.”
The UN case contains detailed evidence of the harm being caused to the families by their indefinite separation, particularly the harm being caused to the children who are separated from one of their parents.
“The medical evidence is harrowing. Some of these kids are permanently grief-stricken – in their minds every single day it’s like someone they love has died. Imagine being a child and growing up permanently grief stricken, hearing your mum crying in bed every night because she doesn’t know if you will ever get to meet your dad. It’s just brutal,” said Mr Webb.
The families, who have been separated for up to five years, have made repeated requests to the Government to be reunited. Each time they are just ignored or told to go back to offshore detention.
“We’re talking about a handful of families. Instead of forcing people to choose between the cruelty of indefinite detention and the cruelty of family separation, the government should just put a handful of people on a plane and reunite these families in Australia,” said Mr Webb.
The case comes during the Australian Government’s first year on the UN Human Rights Council, during which it has pledged to “make progress in the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights", "including through implementation of [UN] recommendations and resolutions".
“I’ve been at the UN and watched our Government sit there in the front row and tell the world how much it cares about human rights. But that is all going to be exposed as a flat out lie if our Government ignores a clear ruling in a massive case like this,” said Mr Webb.
The case is brought on behalf of 14 refugee families – 63 people in total – indefinitely separated between Australia, Manus Island and Nauru.
Some of these families are separated because they arrived in Australia on different dates – some just prior to the commencement of offshore detention and some just after.
Other families have been separated when some members of the family needed urgent medical evacuations to Australia and the Australian Government chose to leave some members of their family behind on Nauru – a move designed to coerce those in Australia to return to offshore detention.
Quotes from ‘Tina’ – a new mother whose husband and the father of her child remains trapped in Nauru.
We just want to have a normal family, and a normal life, and be together. It is the basic right for any human being to be together.
I want my son to bond with his father. This is not a healthy way to be. I want my son to have a father figure in his life and to look up to his father. I need him to be here.
My son is my priority and his safety is my priority. I just want my child to grow up in a free and safe place, like any parent in the world.
The UN action
The case has been submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee, the world’s highest human rights authority. The Committee is comprised of 18 independent international law experts from around the globe.
The complaint argues that the Australian Government, by indefinitely separating families and causing serious harm and suffering in the process, has violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The case seeks orders for the immediate reunion of each family in Australia.
For interviews please call:
Michelle Bennett, director of communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519