The Human Rights Law Centre’s outstanding work defending the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers has been recognised with an award from the Migration Institute of Australia and the ANU College of Law.
The MIA's National President, Angela Chan FMIA, said the award was presented to the HRLC because it provides pro-bono advice and representation to clients where they have no other access to advice.
“The work of the Human Rights Law Centre raises issues of public interest. This was most recently demonstrated in their action representing the 157 Tamil asylum seekers who were detained at sea in communicado. The continued work and support for the HLRC is essential to ensure the rule of law is respected at its highest level,” said Ms Chan.
The HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, who accepted the award tonight at the MIA’s Australian Immigration Conference, said the refugee and asylum seeker issue is one of the most divisive and most complex policy challenges in Australia right now.
“Whilst opinions on policy may differ, there are at least two things on which all of us should be able to agree. Firstly, Australia, as a wealthy, developed and fundamentally decent nation should never return a person to serious harm. Secondly, the only way to ensure we don’t is to fairly and thoroughly assess individual protection claims. Yet these are the basic principles we’ve had to go to the High Court to defend,” said Mr Webb.
The challenge against the Government’s decision to secretly detain 157 Tamil asylum seekers on board an Australian customs vessel is a prime example of the HRLC model of operation which combines quality-research, evidence-based advocacy, and strategic legal action to promote and protect human rights in Australia and beyond.
As reports came in that the Government was holding asylum seekers incommunicado, the HRLC moved quickly to request urgent UN intervention and was on the front foot with media advocacy on national television and in publications such as the Herald Sun.
“You can’t just detain 200 people and not tell anyone. And you can’t just deliver 200 people straight back into the hands of those they claim to be fleeing. Doing so would clearly breach international law. We’ve asked the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to take urgent action to stop this from happening,” said Mr Webb at the time.
A HRLC report – the result of months of extensive research in Sri Lanka, was used as the primary piece of evidence in a successful application for a temporary injunction from the High Court to stop the forced return of the asylum seekers.
The HRLC then assisted Shine Lawyers to assemble a pro bono legal team and run the High Court challenge, which was heard earlier this month and considered fundamental issues of liberty, safety and due process. A decision is yet to be handed down.
Mr Webb said these fundamental issues are what lawyers and migration agents working for refugee and immigration legal services around the country assist with on a daily basis.
“I’d like to thank them for their incredible work and also thank MIA and ANU for this very generous recognition of our work. And of course, much of the strategic litigation that we do at the Human Rights Law Centre - across a range of issues - is done with the fantastic pro bono support of some of Australia’s leading barristers and commercial law firms, so I’d like to acknowledge their work, their expertise and their commitment to pro bono and thank them for their support,” said Mr Webb.
Donations to the Human Rights Law Centre, can be made online here: www.hrlc.org.au/donate
For further information, please contact:
Dani Malone, MIA Media and Communications Manager on 0478768200 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Clarke, HRLC Director of Media and Communications on 0422 545 763 or email@example.com