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HREOC media release: Australia's treatment of refugees still has a long way to go

Commission Commission – General

17 June
2007

Australia's treatment of refugees still has a long way to go

Marking the start of Refugee Week on 17 June, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes AM, is encouraging Australians to celebrate the resilience and courage of refugees in Australia, many of whom have escaped persecution and suffering to reach this safe haven.

Mr Innes commended Australia for its continuing commitment to take in and resettle refugees from all over the world – approximately 13,000 humanitarian visas are issued each year – but he said much more still needed to be done to improve Australia’s record on asylum seekers and refugees.

“I congratulate the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on its recent efforts to improve conditions for detainees in Australia’s immigration detention centres, however onshore asylum seekers still need to be treated with the dignity that they deserve. To do this, several policies need to be reformed dramatically,” Mr Innes said.

“First, Australia’s mandatory detention policy should be abolished. While the conditions in detention centres have improved, and children have been released into alternative forms of detention, the fact remains that the policy breaches Australia’s human rights obligations.”

Commissioner Innes said it was also time to seriously reconsider the Pacific Solution. "We still have a situation where people who arrive on excised Australian territory can be taken to Nauru and left there indefinitely. These asylum seekers are denied access to free legal assistance and judicial review of their asylum claims. And there is still no independent scrutiny of the conditions of the detention centre in Nauru.”

Mr Innes also said temporary protection visas (TPVs) need to be abolished as they made it almost impossible for refugees to start their new life in Australia.

“TPVs give refugees the persistent fear that they may be sent back to the place that they fled and they also separate refugees from their families for long periods of time,” said Mr Innes.

The Commissioner said there also needs to be a review of the conditions of bridging visas given to people who are still waiting for their refugee outcomes to be finalised.

“Many people on Bridging Visa E are living below the poverty line due to the fact that they are denied the right to work and cannot access Medicare. Many have to rely on the support of church groups and other charity organisations to survive.

“During this week and on World Refugee Day (20 June) we should remember that most refugees do not leave their country for economic gain, but are trying to escape persecution and threats to their lives. They should be treated with respect and admiration, and in a manner that allows them to recover from their trauma and rebuild their lives in their new home.”

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