Monday 20 June 2011

Australians should pause this World Refugee Day to reflect on the courage, resilience and contributions made to Australian society by more than 750,000 refugees who have found hope and a new home in Australia since the nation signed up to the United Nations Refugee Convention 60 years ago, the Australian Human Rights Commission said today.

Commission President Catherine Branson said this year’s theme of ‘1 refugee without hope is too many’ reflected the mood of many Australians who understood the dire conditions from which more than 10,000,000 refugees worldwide were fleeing.

“Australia has been welcoming refugees for decades and has consistently been among the most compassionate of nations worldwide in providing a safe haven and hope to refugees,” Ms Branson said.

“Australian society has been richly rewarded by the contributions refugees have made to our economy, culture and social fabric.

“I’d like to think in this 60th anniversary year of the Refugee Convention that Australians not only acknowledge but also celebrate the courage, resilience and determination of refugees in Australia.

“It is time for us to focus on creating hope, not hopelessness for refugees and helping them to build a future that is free of the conflict and persecution so many of them are fleeing,” she said.

Ms Branson said only two per cent of the world's asylum claims were made in Australia and that people fleeing from persecution have a legal right under international law to seek asylum. She noted that the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Andrew Metcalfe had recently told a Senate committee that asylum seekers arriving by boat made up less than three per cent of last year's migration intake.

“Australia presently has around 6000 people in immigration detention facilities for indefinite periods of time while their mental health deteriorates. There are alternatives to prolonged and indefinite detention in remote areas,” Ms Branson said.

“We welcome the Government’s progress in moving towards the successful placement of more than 1000 people into community-based detention and urge them to continue down this path,” she said.

“We know that community-based alternatives are cheaper, more effective, and more humane than holding people in immigration detention facilities for prolonged and indefinite periods.

“The Australian Government should move as quickly as possible to place more people in community-based detention to avoid further deterioration in mental health and wellbeing that results from prolonged detention,” she said.

“Immigration detention should be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time. Asylum-seekers and refugees should always reside in the community unless they posed an unacceptable risk,” she said.

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Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597