UN Human Rights chief condemns Australian government’s “hostility and contempt” towards refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has delivered a scathing assessment of Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva overnight.

The statement, detailing the High Commissioner’s “growing alarm” at the plight of asylum seekers worldwide, condemned “the hostility and contempt for these men, women and children that is so widespread among the country’s politicians” and added that Australia’s cruel deterrence policies had “set a poor benchmark for its regional neighbours”.

Human Rights Law Centre Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said the High Commissioner’s criticisms of Australia were his strongest yet.

“An urgent humanitarian crisis is unfolding both in Europe and in our region. Australia should be part of the solution. Instead, we’ve been singled out on the world stage as part of the problem,” said Mr Webb.

The High Commissioner criticised Australia’s policies of offshore detention and boat turnbacks, noting they had been found to be in breach of international law.

“The Government says its policies comply with international law and are a model for other nations to follow. Well, it is wrong on both counts and is being told so in crystal-clear terms on the world stage,” said Mr Webb. 

The statement also emphasises that asylum seekers are often forced to resort to irregular pathways to protection because they lack regular channels. “This does not make them criminals. It does not withdraw their right to be treated with dignity. On the contrary, their vulnerability cries out for humanity,” the statement reads.

“Desperate people are resorting to unsafe and irregular pathways precisely because there is no safe and orderly alternative,” said Mr Webb.

“The world’s refugees do not need crueller deterrence measures. They need safe and viable pathways to protection. That’s what Australia should be working with the UN and our neighbours to develop.”

 A copy of the full statement can be found here and follows remarks from the Commissioner last month that he was "dismayed" as Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.


For further information or comments contact:
Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy, on 0437 278 961 or daniel.webb@hrlc.org.au