The Australian Human Rights Commission has just announced that it will investigate the mandatory detention of children seeking asylum in Australia. This is a much-needed look into a serious problem in which human rights abuses are rife. As Australians we need to really have a good hard look at our record on this matter and understand some fundamentals.
Just think about that statement, ‘the mandatory detention of children seeking asylum in Australia’ which is hard to conceive. The average reader doesn’t know that this actually is a breach of human rights and international law.
Asylum seekers are not illegal, despite claims to the contrary. Australia was a founding supporter of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which Article 14 says: ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ Australia has also signed the Refugee Convention, an international law in which Article 31 prohibits imposing penalties on these people, or restricting their movements unnecessarily. Australia actually has a legal obligation to assist people who arrive on boats and by detaining them, we breach the above law.
The basic facts are that ‘boat people’ are asylum seekers who arrive by boat, without a valid visa or any other appropriate authorisation. They’re seeking protection (asylum) because they fear persecution in/from the home country (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc).
Could you imagine your five-year-old locked up in detention in a foreign country indefinitely after you fled for your life, dragging your family half way across the world and leaving behind all life as you had known it and all your possessions? Most of us would find such treatment intolerable.
A 2004 Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention found that the mandatory immigration detention of children violated Australia’s international human rights obligations. Last week Australian Human Rights Commission President, Professor Triggs said, ‘Since that time, there have been significant improvements in government policy through the use of community detention and bridging visas. However, unprecedented numbers of children remain in closed detention and it is time to reassess.’
Let’s encourage our government to find a humane and legal solution that Australians could be proud of. We as voters need to be well versed in knowing our actual human rights and the responsibilities that go with them. You can check them out at www.youthforhumanrights.org.au
Nigel Mannock, Youth for Human Rights Australia