Thursday, March 09, 2006

Asylum-seekers in Australia remain in long-term limbo

It is worth reflecting on the Amnesty report of last year that "estimates that as at 29 May 2005, 210 people detained in Australian immigration facilities (including the offshore centre on the South Pacific island of Nauru) had been there for over 18 months. The longest serving detainee at that time was Peter Qasim, a rejected Kashmiri asylum-seeker who had been held since September 1998. Australian law requires that a non-national in Australia without a valid visa must be detained until he or she is either granted a temporary protection visa or leaves the country. Rejected asylum-seekers such as Peter Qasim, who cannot leave Australia because no country will accept him as a national or allow him entry, face being detained indefinitely...Australia’s mandatory detention regime places it in breach of several of the inter-national human rights treaties which it has signed up to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In June the Australian Prime Minister announced several changes to the detention regime, intended to soften its edges without altering the fundamental policy.

While the changes are a step in the right direction, they have not adequately addressed the key recommendations made in AI’s report. Unless further changes are made asylum-seekers who arrive without a valid visa will continue to be automatically detained in contravention of Australia’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law. They will continue to be held without an assessment of whether their detention is necessary and proportionate, and without access to review by an independent body able to order a release.

The only safeguard against indefinite detention will be the Minister for Immigration’s discretion – which she cannot be forced to use. And any alternative to indefinite detention for rejected asylum-seekers who cannot be returned will also be at the Minister’s discretion."

Experience has shown that anything left to the discretion of this government's Ministers is likely to lead to further human rights violations.

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