Date: 
Tuesday 22 October 2013

The Commission has released its Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot report 2013 which highlights the significant gap between Australia’s human rights obligations under international law and our current treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

Releasing the Report, Commission President, Professor Gillian Triggs, urged the new Australian Government to “ensure that all asylum seekers and refugees are treated humanely, regardless of their mode of arrival, and to continue to uphold our proud history of providing protection to some of the world’s most persecuted, vulnerable people.”

The Report provides an overview, or snapshot, of the key human rights issues that continue to arise from Australia’s approach to asylum seekers and refugees who arrive by boat. It focuses on immigration detention and third country processing and includes observations about some of the policy changes proposed by the newly elected Australian Government.

“As a result of Australia’s policy of mandatory detention, there were 6403 people in closed immigration detention facilities across Australia on 30 September 2013, 1078 – or approximately one in six – of which were children” Professor Triggs said.

“While the number of asylum seekers and refugees in closed detention facilities remains high, the report recognises Australia has taken significant steps towards enabling asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims for protection are being processed,” Professor Triggs said. “However, the denial of work rights to asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas, numbering over 21000 people on 2 September, may force individuals and families into poverty and lead to breaches of multiple human rights.”

The report also observes that the introduction of an ‘enhanced screening process’ for all unauthorised maritime arrivals from Sri Lanka does not constitute a fair asylum procedure and risks excluding those with legitimate claims for protection.

“Although we acknowledge that preventing further deaths at sea among the rising number of asylum seekers seeking protection in Australia is a complex challenge with no simple solutions, we agree with the assessment by Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights from June 2013,” Professor Triggs said. “The Committee concluded there was a significant risk that the laws and legislative instruments underpinning the third country processing regime are incompatible with a range of international human rights obligations.”

Professor Triggs said it was important to consider Australia’s humanitarian intake in the context of what is happening in the rest of the world. During 2012, a worldwide average of 23000 people per day were forced to abandon their homes due to conflict and persecution, whereas Australia received 15963 applications for asylum for the entire year.

The report is available at: www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/asylum-seekers-refugees-and-human-rights-snapshot-report