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
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
- 1996 - Rebecca Peters
- 1997 - Dr Faith Bandler
- 1998 - Vivi Germanos
- 1999 - Helen Bayes
- 2000 - The Rt Hon Malcolm
Updated 9 January 2003.