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Refugee policies and attitudes - Australia

As the Australian Human Rights Commission points out, the country is a party to the main international treaties on refugee status. It is therefore obliged to protect refugees and asylum seekers' rights and ensure that the procedure for obtaining refugee status is appropriately carried out. The Commission also underlines that Australia is bound to implement, in particular, some of the essential features of international refugee law, such as respecting the non-refoulment principle, processing all applications without discrimination based on nationality, religion, etc., regardless of whether the asylum seeker reached Australia through documented or undocumented means.⁣

Nevertheless, the Australian Commission expresses its concern about the way the reception of refugees is managed in the country. First, Australian law is permeated by dehumanising languages since all asylum seekers reaching the country, regardless of their means of arrival, are automatically classified as 'unlawful non-citizens' just like economic migrants arriving in Australia without a visa.⁣

Moreover, asylum seekers seeking international protection in Australia are systematically gathered in detention centres on offshore sites, such as Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. In this way, the status assessment procedure is delegated to third countries. The detention of asylum seekers has become a common practice since the Migration Act 1958, which also established an indefinite duration of immigration detention. This means that, in theory, asylum seekers are supposed to be detained till the situation has been thoroughly assessed, and they are either granted a visa (the only way to enter Australia) or repatriated. However, in reality, this system exposes them to further human rights violations deriving from deliberate state delay.⁣

The Face-Up Racism 2015-2016 National Survey shows that only 34% of respondents believe Australia should help refugees, while 89% disagree with this statement. Moreover, 43% declared that boats carrying asylum seekers should be turned back.⁣

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