Saturday, May 16, 2009

Budget heralds more reform of refugee regime but full inquiry into Howard Govt practices still necessary

Changes to the rules for asylum seekers under the Budget is welcome, especially those related to increased working rights.

The Rudd Government has improved the situation for refugees through a series of incremental changes. It has been accused of going soft on border protection by the 'fear perpetual' brigade but slowly but surely Australia is bringing its refugee regime into line with international law and refugee conventions.

However, there remains a need to review previous practices under the Immigration Act to avoid the worst violations of the past. This week it has been revealed that Immigratiuon misled an asylum seeker to facilitate her repatriation to the family's country of origin!

The Immigration Department has admitted that the case of a detainee whose daughter was deported to Iran without his knowledge was clearly unacceptable.

Departmental officials lied to the man and misled the child in an operation to get the girl out of Australia.

He also found that the department had acted against its own legal advice.

The Ombudsman's report on the case has found that they might have breached the Public Service Code of Conduct by doing so.

I expect this is the case and that there are many other examples lurking in the annals of Immigration's management of refugees.

Having been involved in the administration of aspects of the Pacific Solution, and having been shocked by the callous disregard of human rights that characterized the management of refugees during the Howard years, I have lobbied the current Minister to initiate a full inquiry into the asylum seeker policies and practices of the previous government. As you would expect, I have been fobbed off! However, until we have a transparent review of this period we run the risk of violations happening in the future.

An interesting discussion of the previous TPV regime can be read here. Some of the comments reveal the extent of ignorance on refugee matters. I would have thought refugees from an arena of war where we are an active combatant would have a strong case to be accepted by Australia, even for those who can't stomach the universal right of refugees to seek asylum in a country that is a signatory to the Refugee Conventions.

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