Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers to be condemned on the world stage

Australia is violating the fundamental human rights of people seeking its protection, the UN Human Rights Council will hear this evening.

The Human Rights Law Centre will deliver a statement to the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva expressing deep concern about Australia’s unlawful and increasingly punitive treatment of people seeking its protection. 

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Rachel Ball, said the arbitrary and indefinite detention that many asylum seekers are being subjected to was occurring in conditions that the UN had already assessed as falling short of international human rights standards.

“Some politicians label asylum seekers on boats as ‘illegals’, but it’s actually our cruel treatment of them that breaks the law,” Ms Ball said.

The statement alerts the UN Human Rights Council to the incoming Australian Government’s plans to use the military to tow boats carrying asylum seekers back to their origin without proper assessment of the protection needs of those on board. It also warns of plans to scrap the Refugee Review Tribunal and cut legal aid to asylum seekers. 

“A terrible situation is about to get even worse. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is already cruel and unlawful. Plans to abolish independent appeal rights and withdraw legal assistance for asylum seekers are an affront to the rule of law and will increase the risk of returning refugees back into the hands of their persecutors,” said Ms Ball.

The statement calls upon the international community to urge Australia to stop shirking its responsibilities and to comply with international law.

“Australia has just assumed the Presidency of the UN Security Council, yet at a time that we’re expected to provide leadership on the world stage, we’re turning our back on our own obligations. This sends a very dangerous message to other countries that respecting human rights is optional,” said Ms Ball.

Ms Ball is hopeful that member states of the Council will urge Australia to reconsider its self proclaimed “single-minded focus on deterrence” as well as plans to drastically cut its humanitarian intake.   

“Ensuring refugees get the protection they need is a global humanitarian challenge. It requires collaborative efforts to develop safe protection pathways, not unilateral efforts to close existing ones,” said Ms Ball.

“There are over 10 million refugees in the world. Australia is trying to deter people from seeking our protection and at the same time is planning on cutting its annual intake to 13,750. The international community will not be impressed by Australia’s buck passing,” said Ms Ball.

A copy of the statement to be delivered to the UN Human Rights Council can be found here.