Skip to main content

2009 Media Release: COMMUNIQUÉ: Human rights of international students a major issue

Commission Commission – General

Thursday, 05 November 2009

COMMUNIQUÉ: Human rights of international students a major issue

Australia and New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable 2009

The rights of international students are a significant human rights concern for national, state and territory human rights commissions in Australia and New Zealand.

Commissioners at the annual Australia and New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable, held in Sydney this week, view recent instances of racial harassment, abuse and violence directed at international students as symptoms of a whole range of human rights issues that need to be addressed, including their rights to non discrimination, equality of treatment, security of the person, access to justice, housing, information, freedom of religion and culture, and labour rights. 

Numbers of international students have grown rapidly over recent years and now make up a significant group of over half a million Australian residents whose human rights need to be safeguarded. There has also been rapid growth in New Zealand.

At the Roundtable, Commissioners heard directly from international student representatives, researchers, education providers and government agencies. They were told that while student safety has received the most attention, it is a symptom of other issues including racism and discrimination, the lack of accessible and affordable accommodation, poor employment conditions, transport costs, lack of student support services, variable quality of education, and social isolation and exclusion. They were also made aware of the importance of seeing the students not as cash cows, but as global citizens and Australian residents. Up to 40 % of students are engaged in the workforce and around 20 % go on to become permanent residents with a wide range of skills and qualifications.

The Commissioners resolved to:

  • Highlight the treatment of international students as a major current human rights and race relations issue and stress the importance in any response of addressing it from a human rights perspective;
  • Note that the harassment and abuse of international students cannot be adequately addressed if the existence of racism as a significant factor is denied;
  • Call for more research into the actual experience of discrimination and harassment of international students in specific communities and contexts, including regular surveys of students by education providers to provide a better evidence base for policy decisions;
  • Call on the police to record complaints and incidences of racially motivated crime, and for education providers, local government and other stakeholders to provide accessible reporting systems for racial harassment and discrimination, including web-based systems;
  • Encourage the provision of reliable and accessible web-based information to prospective international students, including about their human rights and support available;
  • Monitor progress in addressing the human rights of international students and support students’ organisations in their advocacy and support for an improved experience for international students in Australia and New Zealand;
  • Increase public awareness of the rights of international students, their contribution to the Australian and New Zealand economies and societies, and the importance of speaking out when they witness instances of harassment, discrimination and abuse;
  • Continue to engage with stakeholders on the rights of international students’ networks and forums.

Commissioners present at the Australia and New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable were Graeme Innes (Chair), Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner; Joris de Bres (Chair), New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner; Dr Helen Szoke, Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; Susan Booth, Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland; Sarah Bolt, Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Tasmania; Lisa Coffey, Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission; Yvonne Henderson, Equal Opportunity Commission Western Australia; Linda Matthews, Equal Opportunity Commission of South Australia; and Sean Costello, representing Dr Helen Watchirs, ACT Human Rights Commission.

Media contact: Brinsley Marlay 02 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529

Human Rights Commission - Te Kāhui Tika Tangata logoAustralian Human Rights Commission logo