Despite the fact that Australia is a signatory to both the UN Refugee Convention and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Australia still does not provide justice for refugees who are seeking asylum in this country. Australian governments have gone out of their way to vilify refugees who arrive by boat, for reasons of political opportunism.
A recent example of this is the disclosure of confidential Federal Government documents found in a dumped filing cabinet and sent to the ABC. In those documents there is information that the former Minister for Immigration sought to interfere in security checks for 700 refugees in late 2013 by requesting ASIO to delay security checks. This is despite the fact that he was advised by his own department that up to 700 asylum seekers must be granted permanent protection Visas under the law.
Australia has continued to send refugees to “off-shore detention centres” such as Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The intention is clearly to prevent such refugees having access to lawyers and the Australian legal system, and as a result their rights under International Law as refugees may not be protected. An impact of sending people to these off-shore detention centres is the creation of substantial delays in processing peoples claims for protection as refugees. The human cost of this continuing detention is hidden away from the Australian public by the Government. This causes severe impact on the mental health of refugees and destruction of their family units.
This ongoing strategy of the Australian government to exclude asylum seekers from their basic rights under Australian law and from access to lawyers, is clearly in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular:
- “Article 1 – You have the same human rights as everyone else in the world because you are a human being. These rights cannot be taken away from you. Everybody, no matter who they are or where they live, should be treated with dignity.”
- “Article 2 – You should not be discriminated against or have your rights taken away because of your race, colour, sex, language, religion or political opinion. Your basic rights should be respected, no matter what country you are born in or how rich or poor you are.”
Lawyers from Johnston Withers have been representing asylum seekers for over 16 years. We were particularly involved in visiting asylum seekers who were detained in the desert, at Woomera in South Australia, in appalling conditions.
Again, clearly the strategy of the Government in placing asylum seekers in such an isolated location such as Woomera, was to prevent them from having the usual access to lawyers as well as health facilities. The policies of successive Governments appear to have been to maintain people in detention in harsh conditions so as to act as a “deterrent” to others coming by boat to Australia. What is ignored by the Government is that refugees are usually fleeing from countries because of persecution. They have no choice but to seek asylum elsewhere for both their own safety and that of their families.
Johnston Withers takes its role as lawyers seriously in representing the most vulnerable people. We are continuing to pursue justice for refugees and to fight for their rights both under Australian Law and International Law.
Johnston Withers is a Gold Alliance member of The Law Society of South Australia. As a firm we pride ourselves on our progressive, personal and professional approach to all areas of law