Entries by category: Refugees


Asylum seekers arriving by boat

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.  


Indefinite detention of refugees by Australia - response of the UN

A UN watchdog has called on Australia to release 46 refugees being held in indefinite detention, labelling it 'cruel and arbitrary'. The UN Human Rights Committee has slammed Australia's treatment of the group, saying the country broke global human rights rules by denying the group a chance to challenge their detention. In a review of complaints from the refugees - 42 Sri Lankan Tamils, three Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and a Kuwaiti - the committee said the detention was arbitrary and broke the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 'Australia's indefinite detention of 46 recognised refugees on security grounds amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, inflicting serious psychological harm on them' the committee said in a statement.

Media responses

Other media responses to Australia's Government plans on managing refugees

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Boat arrivals and people smugglers to be stopped

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced the Labor party's tough new stance against asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, as well as indicating a crackdown against people smugglers - those responsible for boat arrivals in Australia.  In 2012, the total number of people who arrived in Australia by boat was 17,202.  This year, the number of boats has not abated and in recent weeks, a number of people who boarded boats to come to Australia have died before arriving.  This is a highly-emotive and politically-charged issue and the population of Australia is sharply divided on the subject of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

The announcement concerning asylum seekers, made on 19 July, is called the Australia and Papua New Guinea Regional Settlement Arrangement.  Prime Minister Rudd announced:

'As of today asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.  Under the new arrangement signed with Papua New Guinea today – the Regional Settlement Arrangement - unauthorised arrivals will be sent to Papua New Guinea for assessment and if found to be a refugee will be settled there.  Arriving in Australia by boat will no longer mean settlement in Australia.  Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north.  Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas.'  See media release.

Transcript of the joint press conference on 19 July 2013 – Prime Minister of Australia, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Minister for Immigration, Attorney-General will give you more detailed information about this new arrangement and Prime Minister Rudd's intention to review the United Nations Convention on Refugees.

Response of the media:

Statistics on boat arrivals

Targeting people smugglers

The Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, Jason Clare, announced that the Australian Federal Police will pay rewards of up to $200,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people organising people smuggling ventures to Australia. 

'There are criminals in Australia that are part of international people smuggling syndicates. These syndicates stretch from Australia to Indonesia and to places like Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.  Australian based people smugglers help to organise passengers, collect payments and transfer money overseas.  These people are peddling in misery and death. We need to shut this market down. That’s why we are putting a bounty on their heads.'  See media release.

For more information about asylum seekers and refugees and Australia’s response to their plight, see our Research Guide HSC Legal Studies: Human Rights – Asylum seekers and refugees.  You will find helpful information under the tab 'Human Rights in Australia'.  Note that you can use the tabs along the top of the guide to find information on a range of human rights topics and issues.


High Court decision - ASIO and refugee protection visa

The High Court, in a majority decision on 5 October 2012, ruled invalid a regulation that prevented the issue of a protection visa to a refugee with an adverse security finding made against them by ASIO. This meant that the refusal of the visa based on that regulation was a decision ‘not made according to law’.

The plaintiff, identified as ‘M47’, is a Sri Lankan national who arrived in Australia in December 2009, and has been held in detention since that time. He was granted refugee status on the basis of a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ on the basis of his race or political opinion. He was however refused a protection visa because ASIO had assessed him as a risk to national security. A clause within the Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) has a criterion for providing a visa (called ‘public interest criterion 4002’), which requires that the applicant has not had an assessment made that they are a risk to security under the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth).

Here are some newspaper articles which discuss the case, before and after the decision:

Freedom or a life without liberty?’ by Michael Gordon, SMH, 5 /10/2012

High Court rules ASIO powers on refugee decisions are invalid’ by Michael Gordon, SMH, 5/10/2012 

A media release by the Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the decision and called for an immediate reconsideration of more than 50 other refugees in the same situation.

The High Court has provided a summary of the case and the full decision is also available on AustLII.

Listen to the ABC Law Report on the High Court decision, or read the transcript of the program, broadcast on Tuesday 9 October, 2012.


Nauru reopened

The Australian Government has reopened Nauru as an offshore processing site, with the first refugees flown there on 14 September 2012. Another group of Sri Lankan refugees were transferred on 18 September 2012. A 'tent city' was quickly erected to house the asylum seekers, although the Nauru government has said that it will not take any women or children until conditions were improved, support services were provided, and segregation of various populations was viable.

 On 10 September 2012, Chris Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, signed an Instrument of designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country under subsection 198AB(1) of the Migration Act 1958.

Read the Instrument and Statement of Reasons and the Minister's media release.

Articles in the media

Meanwhile the Minister has announced that 1000 refugees from Syria will be resettled in Australia, as part of the expanded humanitarian program for 2012-13. The refugee intake has been increased to take 20,000 people annually.

Media release from Minister.


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