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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

Australian Human Rights Medallists

An Open Letter from Australian

Human Rights Medallists

We appeal to the

humanity, decency and sense of fairness of our fellow Australians in respecting

the human rights of men, women and children escaping persecution.

We urge all Australians

to remember that:

In 1954, under the

Menzies Government, Australia adopted the International Convention

on the Status of Refugees as part of the law of this land. Since then,

we have had a proud and compassionate tradition of accepting a flow of

asylum seekers fleeing persecution. We have been glad to accord them refugee

status after due process. Such people are neither 'illegals' nor migrants

for they have a right to claim asylum as refugees.

This Refugee Convention

is part of our international law obligations, but it has now been undermined

in two ways. First, by the withdrawal of some Australian territory from

the application of the processing provisions of the Australian Migration

Act; and secondly, by the active removal of asylum seekers to Pacific

nations where the Refugee Convention does not apply and the processing

of their applications for refugee status will be carried out by the United

Nations at our expense.

This is not our normal

policy towards refugees. Our multicultural society formed over the past

fifty years, has been founded on the non-discriminatory entry of people

who have arrived either through the official migration program, or from

the relatively small number of asylum seekers granted refugee status.

There is no queue in Australia for admission as a refugee because our

refugee quota remains unfilled. Both of these groups, migrants and refugees,

have always been a major factor in helping the Australian economy and

community life to expand and grow in wealth and diversity.

We urge the Australian


  • Not to turn away

    asylum seekers from our shores but, with compassion, to imagine their

    despair. Let there be no more inhumanity to man, woman or child in our


  • Not to approve

    the setting up of detention camps in neighbouring countries where all

    refugee applications for asylum will be processed by the United Nations

    at enormous cost to the Australian taxpayer, with the result that many

    of those accepted as entitled to refugee status will either remain stranded

    or eventually be admitted here anyway.

  • Not to discriminate

    against a particular racial and religious grouping of people (including

    children) fleeing from persecution and seeking asylum with us. We now

    add to their suffering, instead of helping them as was previously our

    normal practice. Why treat in this way a group of refugees whom we used

    to welcome? It may be discrimination that breaches Australian anti-discrimination

    law. Such

    negative stereotyping of a particular racial and religious group of

    people can be a warning of a disastrous future for our country. Is there

    any 'fair go mate' left at all?

  • To call upon the

    government to reform the conditions and treatment of asylum seekers

    held in detention centres run by punitive regimes, and seek alternatives

    to the policy of mandatory detention itself. These camps have been described

    by Malcolm Fraser as 'cruel' and 'brutal'; some are extremely isolated

    and some, due to lack of facilities, are filthy and unhealthy. Such

    treatment by Australia of these people, particularly of the children,

    is both unwarranted and avoidable. Let us once again be a nation that

    is held in high repute by the international community because of our

    respect for the dignity and human rights of all those people who seek

    our help. We did not fail them in the past as we are failing them now.

We call for:

  • the immediate

    removal of all children and their families from mandatory detention

  • a judicial inquiry

    into the conditions and treatment of asylum seekers held in detention

    camps inside and outside Australia

  • a change in present

    government policy towards asylum seekers and a return to the normal

    non-discriminatory welcoming policies adopted by past Australian governments.


Australian Human Rights


  • 1987 - Rose Colless
  • 1988 - Reverend Dorothy


  • 1989 - Reverend Robert


  • 1992 - Father David Passi

    and James Rice.

  • 1993 - Barbara Hocking
  • 1994 - Dr Robert Sykes
  • 1995 - The Hon. Elizabeth

    Evatt AC

  • 1996 - Rebecca Peters
  • 1997 - Dr Faith Bandler


  • 1998 - Vivi Germanos

    - Koutsounadis

  • 1999 - Helen Bayes
  • 2000 - The Rt Hon Malcolm



Updated 9 January 2003.