Date: 
Thursday 30 September 2010

The Australian Human Rights Commission today welcomed the lifting of the suspension of processing of claims lodged by asylum seekers from Afghanistan, which was introduced by the Australian Government on 9 April 2010.

Commission President and Human Rights Commissioner, Catherine Branson QC, said that the lifting of the suspension was a positive step in the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

“The Commission is seriously concerned about the impacts of the suspension on asylum seekers in immigration detention,” Commissioner Branson said. “The suspension has prolonged the detention of hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers, including children, for up to six months.”

The Commission urged the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to move quickly to process the back-log of asylum claims caused by the suspension.

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes AM, also welcomed the lifting of the suspension.

“The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently found that the suspension was inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination”, said Commissioner Innes. “So it is pleasing that the Australian Government has now ended this differential treatment of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.”

The Commission remains seriously concerned about the high number of people in immigration detention, and the increasing periods of time for which many people are being detained. Ms Branson said the prolonged detention of asylum seekers, especially children, could have serious and long-lasting impacts on their mental health.

“I urge the Australian Government to take all possible measures to reduce the length of time people are held in immigration detention,” Ms Branson said.

“Families with children, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable individuals should not be held in immigration detention facilities. I urge the Minister for Immigration to place these vulnerable groups in the community on bridging visas, or in Community Detention as soon as possible.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted recent visits to the immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island and in Darwin. The Commission will release public reports outlining key issues of concern from those visits in the coming weeks.

Media contact for Commissioner Branson: Louise McDermott 0419 258 597
Media contact for Commissioner Innes: Brinsley Marlay 0430 366 529