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2010 Media Release: World Refugee Day should remind us of our responsibilities to people seeking asylum

Rights Rights and Freedoms

The Australian Human Rights Commission has used World Refugee Day today to remind Australians of the ongoing need for asylum seekers to be treated humanely.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC, said World Refugee Day, which marks the beginning of Refugee Week, should cause us to reflect on the harsh reality that millions of people around the world flee their homes every year to escape persecution.

“The annual figures released just last week by the UN refugee agency show that more than 43 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2009, the highest number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution in the last 15 years.”

“Australia has a long history of providing help and a safe haven to refugees from around the world and helping them to build new lives free from fear of violence and trauma,” Ms Branson said.

“That history has led to our community being greatly enriched over the years by the many contributions made to Australian life by individuals and communities that have come to this country seeking refuge.”

Ms Branson said it was right for Australia to continue to provide support to refugees and to continue to honour its international obligations with respect to those seeking asylum.

Ms Branson also said recent public debate about asylum seekers has often ignored the fact that they made up a very small percentage of Australia’s immigration intake, with Australia receiving less than two percent of asylum claims made in industrialised countries in 2009.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission urges the government to lift its suspension of processing of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan as a matter of urgency,” Ms Branson said.

“The suspension of processing is leading to longer periods of detention. Prolonged detention in remote locations such as Christmas Island or Curtin, where providing services is difficult, can have devastating effects on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers.

“In these locations it is difficult to provide appropriate services such as mental health care, torture and trauma counselling, legal advice and religious services.”

Ms Branson said the Commission remained particularly concerned about the ongoing detention of women and children. 

“Children in particular should only be detained as a last resort,” she said.

Refugee Week runs from Sunday, 20 June – 26 June and has the theme ‘Freedom from Fear’.

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Media contact: Louise McDermott - 0419 258 597