Refugee Action Collective (Vic)

Free the refugees! Let them land, let them stay!

We say: stop this detention centre ‘torture’

RAC has called out the systemic “torture” of people held in Australian immigration detention facilities (IDFs) in a submission to a United Nations body.

We have called for an end to mandatory detention, for refugees and asylum-seekers on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea to be brought here, as well as a raft of legal changes and a Senate inquiry. RAC continues to call for all refugees to be given permanent protection.

The submission was made to the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, outlining how the Australian government has been, and still is, breaching the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) and its optional protocol (OPCAT).

OPCAT inspectors visited Australian IDFs and prisons in October but left the country in protest after being denied entry by NSW and Queensland.

The CAT definition of “torture” includes “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of detainees. Our submission points to examples such as:

  • 15 reported sexual assaults on children between 2012 and 2015 at the Nauru IDF
  • the failure to stock a tropical infections antibiotic at the IDF on PNG’s Manus Island (closed in 2017) and the failure to ensure quick emergency medical airlifts to Australia, resulting in detainee Hamid Khazaei’s arrival, brain dead, at a Brisbane hospital in 2014
  • 8000 forced transfers of onshore detainees by air (usually in handcuffs) from one IDF to another during 2017–19, an average for detainees of one such transfer every two months
  • repeated refusals – by the Home Affairs department’s Australian Border Force unit (ABF) – of doctor-requested transfers of offshore detainees to Australia
  • in 2019, even after the Migration Act’s “Medevac” amendments ordered such transfers, Home Affairs/ABF locked up transferees in IDFs, and continued to prevent most of them from receiving doctor-recommended specialist health care.

RAC has sent a copy of its submission to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, whose inspectors monitor CAT compliance between UN inspector visits.

To help end government breaches of human rights obligations, RAC’s recommendations include:

  • enacting a Human Rights Charter
  • defining “human rights” in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 and the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 to include all applicable human rights instruments, including the Refugee Convention
  • inserting – in the Object provision of the Migration Act and related Acts – wording such as “to give effect to Australia’s international obligations”, then, in Schedules to each Act, reproducing each relevant international instrument.

Read the RAC submission in full.

Read RAC’s letter regarding the submission sent to Ministers.

Government must drop three new anti-refugee Bills

The Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) joins with other refugee supporters in calling on the federal government to abandon three pieces of proposed legislation before parliament.

As the world watches in horror as the humanitarian crisis unfolds in Afghanistan, the Australian government is being asked to demonstrate more compassion not less. These Bills seem at odds with current community expectations.

The Bills are an attempt to revive previously discredited measures and impose an even harsher and inequitable regime on refugees and asylum-seekers. The Bills have nothing to do with good governance and are set to drive people already in mental distress even further into despair.

As the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has rightly said: “The suite of Bills targets refugees, people seeking asylum and other migrants who are in immigration detention or facing visa cancellation or refusal.

“If passed, these Bills would cause more people to be held in indefinite detention, potentially for the rest of their lives, or to be deported to countries where they face serious harm or have little connection to, with many also facing permanent separation from their Australian spouses and children.”

The three Bills are:

  • The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention) Bill 2020 – which will, if passed, allow the Minister to prevent refugees and people seeking asylum from having everyday items, such as mobile phones, while in detention.
  • The Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019 – which will introduce arbitrary and unreasonably low thresholds for the Minster to revoke or refuse visas for people based on the maximum possible sentence they could receive, rather than the sentence they actually received.
  • The Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Information Provisions) Bill 2020 – which will allow the Minister to use secret information to revoke the visas of refugees and people seeking asylum.

RAC (Vic) believes that the current suite of laws governing refugees and asylum-seekers is already draconian and that these Bills represent another severe attack on human rights.

In particular, RAC acknowledges the enormous part that access to a mobile phone plays for those in detention – to contact friends, family and lawyers, and to monitor and record potential breaches of their rights by the detention system.

At a time when the government should be focused on major issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the dangers posed by global warming, and poverty, introducing these new Bills designed to harm some of the most vulnerable in our society is petty, cruel and capricious.

RAC calls on the ALP, Greens and cross-bench MPs and senators to oppose these new Bills with the utmost vigour.

We pledge to campaign against them with all the COVID-safe measures at our disposal.