Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and their treatment by the federal government has attracted much attention recently. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seeking details from the Australian authorities about recent media reports of the Australian Navy forcing boats, presumed to be carrying asylum-seekers on their way to Australia, back into Indonesian territorial waters, as well as reports of plans to buy and provide vessels for future push-backs.
'UNHCR would be concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection. Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the Refugee Convention and other international law obligations.
As past experience has shown, such practices are also operationally difficult and potentially dangerous for all concerned.'
Source: 'UNHCR seeking details on reports of boats forced back from Australia', Briefing Notes, 10 January 2014. For more details, see 'Towbacks may breach international law, UN refugee agency cautions Abbott', The Guardian Australia, 11 January 2014.
The UNHCR has produced a factsheet about refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, September 2013.
Three refugees who arrived by boat and have been refused permanent visas have had appeals lodged in the High Court. If successful, this could have implications for other asylum seekers already in Australia wanting to make a claim for a permanent protection visa. For more details, see 'High Court challenge could enable asylum seekers to stay in Australia' by Lenore Taylor, The Guardian Australia, 14 January 2014.
Our Research Guide Human Rights: HSC Legal Studies – asylum seekers and refugees has been updated to include recent developments. This would be an interesting topic to follow while studying human rights issues in Australia.