Every person has a right to seek asylum from discrimination and infringement of the basic human rights. An asylum seeker refers to a person who has applied for protection as a refugee after fleeing from his own country. The United Nation Convention on the status of Refugees outlines the legal rights, which entitled the refugees of the countries to the basic human rights.
Australia has international obligations to safeguard the basic human rights of the refugees and the asylum seekers who enter into Australia irrespective of the fact how they arrive or they arrive with or without a visa. Australian Government provides offshore resettlement to refugees and onshore protection is provided to people who arrives with a valid visa and claim for asylum after arrival.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other International Conventions aim at safeguarding this right. Australia being one of the parties to such Conventions, has implemented the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees amended as The Refugee Convention (Koser, 1951). Australia is under statutory obligation to ensure that policies, laws and regulations related to asylum seekers and refugees strictly adhere to the statutory principles laid down in the Conventions. Article 1 A (2) of the Refugee convention has been incorporated into the Migration Act which states that no person shall be returned to any territories where their freedom and life is threatened or is subject to serious harm on the grounds of religion, race, nationality or political opinion.
Issues related to the Policies
The people who apply for asylum claims on the ground of family violence have often faced difficulties to satisfy the criteria of refugees as per Article 1 A (2) of the Refugees Convention in Australia as family violence does not constitute ‘serious harm’ to seek protection under the Refugees Protection (Phillips, 2013). Further, people who face family violence, especially women, are not protected as sex or gender is not included as one of the grounds of the Convention.
Moreover, the Convention aims at protecting the individuals from discrimination made by the state or any public reforms, and not from the maltreatment conducted within individual families. The Australian Government finds it difficult to obtain public support for its humanitarian program for safeguarding the rights of the refugees or the asylum seekers. Moreover, various political beliefs of the political parties were responsible to influence the nature of the responses of the policies, which tends to enhance inequality (McClelland & St John, 2006). On the other hand, it is also difficult for the government to deal with asylum seekers who are although found to be refugees but they arrive through dangerous smugglers.
The Law Council in Australia opines that every individual who seeks for Australia’s protection shall be treated with respect and humanity and the government shall ensure that they are entitled to the necessities including the migration and legal related advice. The Refugee and Humanitarian program in Australia was divided between onshore protection and offshore resettlement (Pickering & Weber, 2014). However, the asylum seekers who entered Australia without any valid visa, prior to the entry, shall be held in close immigration detention. The Government substituted such close immigration detention with community detention where the asylums seekers shall be granted Bridging Visa, which would enable them to move freely within the community but cannot select their own abodes (Higgins, 2016).
However, the country has undergone reforms in the asylum-seekers policy. While processing the asylum claims of the seekers, they are placed in the offshore-detention facilities on two Pacific Island Nations- Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru. The refugee and human rights organizations have criticized this policy, as it does not provide any bail facility and the refugees and asylum seekers are detained for at least a year (McClelland & St John, 2006). The Supreme Court of PNG held that the facility is a violation to the liberty of the migrants to which the Immigration Minister of Australia responded stating that people who enter Australia unlawfully by boat, permanent visa shall not be granted to them (McKenzie & Hasmath, 2013). The government wishes to bring changes in the Migration Act to prevent the refugees and asylum seekers from entering into the country.
The government’s response is criticized to be inhuman. Since the refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boats are prevented from entering into the country without the Ministerial intervention, they have been forcefully abandoned to unfavorable weather conditions, extreme water, piracy and other dangerous problems. The Government has not just deterred the asylum seekers from entering the country it has abandoned them to seek protection in countries, which are unable to provide them the human rights and a dignified subsistence. Further, if the deterrence approach of Australia is adopted universally, then the concept of refugee protection shall diminish (Hartley & Pedersen, 2015).
The policies related to the Asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, are at the stage of initial inception in the policy cycle. The Federal Government wishes to implement the changes in the Migration Act where asylum seekers and refugees in offshore processing centers shall never be allowed to enter Australia (McClelland & St John, 2006). If a person is found to be a legitimate refugee and has obtained citizenship in some other country, such persons shall not be granted any tourist or business to visit Australia in future (Fleay, Cokley, Dodd, Briskman, & Schwartz, 2016). However, the proposed changes in the legislation shall not affect people who were below 18 years of age when they were transferred to the country. The proposed changes in the policies and migration legislation claim to comply with the international laws on status of refugees, however, the proposed changes have been highly criticized.
The government should figure out alternative and better ways to safeguard the asylum seekers and refugees to enter Australia safely on settled points of protection. The country is required to shift its focus on its deterrence approach and initiate effective steps demonstrating generosity of the country. The country should get rid of the mandatory detention facilities unless it is related to identity, security and health checks (Kneebone, Stevens, & Baldassar, 2014). It is highly imperative that Australia, being one of the signatories to the Refugee Convention, formulate policies that would not only safeguard the rights of the asylum seekers and the refugees but shall also facilitate them to live a dignified life.
Fleay, C., Cokley, J., Dodd, A., Briskman, L., & Schwartz, L. (2016). Missing the Boat: Australia and asylum seeker deterrence messaging. International Migration.
Hartley, L. K., & Pedersen, A. (2015). Asylum seekers and resettled refugees in Australia: Predicting social policy attitude from prejudice versus empotion. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 179-197.
Higgins, C. (2016). Australian Community Attitudes to Asylum Seekers and Refugees.
Kneebone, S., Stevens, D., & Baldassar, L. (2014). Refugee protection and the role of law: conflicting identities. Routledge.
Koser, K. (1951). Australia and the 1951 Refugee Convention.
McClelland, A., & St John, S. (2006). Social policy responses to globalisation in Australia and New Zealand, 1980–2005. Australian Journal of Political Science, 177-191.
McKenzie, J., & Hasmath, R. (2013). Deterring the 'boatpeople': Explaining the Australian government's People Swap response to asylum seekers. Australian Journal of Political Science, 417-430.
Phillips, J. (2013). Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts? Canberra: Department of Parliamentary Services, Parliament of Australia.
Pickering, S., & Weber, L. (2014). New Deterrence Scripts in Australia's Rejuvenated Offshore Detention Regime for Asylum Seekers. Law & Social Inquiry, 1006-1026.