Thursday, March 12, 2009

Human Rights in Australia - a lot yet to be done for refugees

The ACT Refugee Action Committee has recently updated what is happening to asylum seekers since September 2008. Although the situation of refugees has improved immeasurably under the Rudd Govt, major areas of concern remain!

What is Happening to Asylum Seekers arriving by boat since September 2008 ?

1. Eight Boats of asylum seekers were intercepted off the coast of north and West Australia since September 2008. The 2008 total of unauthorised arrivals was 164 which was slightly up on the 2007 figures.

2. There were also other attempts by Afghani and Burmese refugees to leave Indonesian detention centres and come to Australia. Four are reported to have drowned. Refugee activists are urging the Australian government to pressure Indonesia for better treatment of refugees. Recent reports illustrate Indonesia’s poor record of human rights in regard to refugees.

3. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees regional head Rick Towle said that it was important to keep a sense of perspective about the numbers of boat people arriving in Australia, compared with countries such as Italy, where thousands had landed over the same period. He said that it was no accident that most of the asylum-seekers were coming from Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan -- countries battered by years of bloody warfare and insecurity

4. Recently the Australian government has prosecuted some of the people smugglers who have received prison sentences.

5. The first group of 28 Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers to be processed at Christmas Island under the Rudd Government's new migration policies were granted permanent protection visas and were settled in South Australia in January. They were granted the visas after showing they had a well-founded fear of persecution or death if forced to return home. Ten children are among the group of 26 males and two females, which arrived in three boats, including one intercepted on September 29, the first boatload of asylum-seekers detected in Australian waters since the Rudd Government was elected. Later in January 10 more were granted visas while over 100 asylum seekers remain on Christmas Island.

6. All have been given legal support to prepare their appeals and from all reports staff and management attitudes and services provided are an improvement on what happened in the past in Baxter and other detention centres.

7. The isolation of Christmas Island is still a great concern. It also costs $32m to run each year.

8. The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is urging the Government to consider supervised release and bail requirements as alternatives to immigration detention. The IDC has appeared before Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Migration to discuss its proposals.

9. Concern is mounting for the welfare of 20 children in immigration detention at Christmas Island without their parents, with human rights groups warning Australia is breaching international obligations. "You have a situation where the minister is both the guardian and the jailer," Professor Mary Crock, a specialist in immigration law, said. Children are still being held in immigration detention facilities for unacceptable periods, Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says. Although no longer kept behind razor wire in high-security detention centres, they are still detained in low-security facilities where their movement is restricted and monitored.

10. The Australian Human Rights Commission says asylum seekers are still being treated like political footballs and enduring "miserable" conditions at some immigration detention centres. The commission's latest report on immigration detention again calls for the new Christmas Island centre to close and parts of the Villawood centre in Sydney to be demolished.

11. The ageing and cramped Villawood detention centre will be knocked down, with a new facility to be built on Commonwealth land either close to the existing site or the airport.

12. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has signed a 5 year health services contract with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS). This will ensure all persons detained in Australian immigration detention centres will receive physical, mental, and dental health services. The contract's specifications mean that those detained in Australian immigration detention centres will receive care comparable to that of the Australian community and will be to international standards.

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