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Press briefing note on Australia

Acting Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Xabier Celaya
Location: Geneva
Date: 17 August 2012


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, welcomes recent efforts in Australia to institute more comprehensive regional cooperation on migration, but is concerned that some aspects of the proposed changes could place at risk the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers. We understand that proposed amendments to migration legislation, following recommendations from a panel of experts, contemplate among other things the re-opening of offshore immigration detention centres for migrants and asylum-seekers who arrive by sea.

The UN Human Rights office has long-standing concerns about Australia's mandatory detention regime. Because of the drastic impact of immigration detention, including on the physical and mental health of those detained, the United Nations human rights mechanisms have emphasised that it should always be applied as a measure of last resort, only permissible for the shortest period of time and only when no less restrictive measure is available. International human rights law requires that time limits be placed on immigration detention and that any detention should only come about as the result of an individual determination. It should also be noted that there is no empirical evidence that immigration detention deters irregular migration, or discourages people from seeking asylum.

“Australia’s mandatory detention policy has for many years cast a shadow over Australia’s human rights record,” said High Commissioner Navi Pillay during her official visit to the country, from 20 to 25 May 2011. “Thousands of men, women and – most disturbingly of all – children have been held in Australian detention centres for prolonged periods, even though they have committed no crime.”

While applauding the goal to protect the lives of the migrants and asylum-seekers who seek entry to Australia, we are concerned that a re-opening of offshore detention centres could result in violations of human rights, including potentially indefinite detention.

The desperation that causes people to embark on these perilous journeys in the first place will almost certainly remain, especially in the absence of effective and rights-based regional cooperation on migration and asylum. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international bill of rights extend to all persons the right to be treated with dignity regardless of their status or their motivations for migration, and also entitle everyone to seek asylum from persecution.

The High Commissioner reiterates her call for a rethink of Australia’s asylum and migration policy, urging political leaders to take a principled and courageous stand on migration and to break an ingrained political habit of demonising migrants and asylum-seekers.
ENDS

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay Canberra, 25 May 2011:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11062&LangID=E

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau on Detention of migrants in an irregular situation (A/HRC/20/24). Available at: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G12/125/96/PDF/G1212596.pdf?OpenElement

Summary conclusions of the OHCHR-UNHCR Global Roundtable on Alternatives to Detention, 11-12 May 2011: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/Pages/Roundtable.aspx

For more information or media requests, please contact Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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