UN human rights chief “dismayed” at Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has condemned Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in a statement delivered to the UN Human Rights Council overnight.

While speaking on the refugee crises unfolding in both Europe and South East Asia, the High Commissioner said he was “dismayed” at Australia’s interception, return and offshore detention of people seeking its protection.

Human Rights Law Centre Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that the statement reflected growing international concern at the example Australia was setting.

“An urgent humanitarian crisis is unfolding both in Europe and on our own doorstep. A wealthy, developed and fundamentally decent nation like Australia should be part of the solution. Instead, we’re being called out on the world stage as part of the problem”, said Mr Webb.

The statement emphasised that people boarding asylum seeker vessels “are some of the most vulnerable people in the world” and called for a “more humane, less mean-spirited” response. Specific to the Rohingya fleeing Burma, the High Commissioner reported that they often had only two options – “stay and die or leave by boat”.

“It is a tragedy that many of the world’s most vulnerable people are having to risk their lives on boats in order to reach safety. It’s cruel and counterproductive to punish them for doing so. These people need safe pathways to protection, not harsher deterrence measures,” said Mr Webb.

The High Commissioner emphasised that “there is a better way”, urging states to respond in a way that is “grounded in our values and commitments – not in prejudice and fear”.  He called on states to expand safe and regular pathways to protection and criticised countries for militarising the issue and offering too few resettlement places.

“The UN is urging countries to respect international law and share responsibility, yet Australia is breaching international law in order to shift it. When it comes to asylum seekers, Australia does none of the things the UN urges and all of the things the UN condemns,” said Mr Webb.

“Australia should be working with the UN and our neighbours to develop a genuine regional solution which provides safe pathways to protection for people who need to seek it,” said Mr Webb.

The High Commissioner’s speech can be found here.


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