On the 10th of December, 1948, the UN General Assembly member countries voted in favour of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Australia was one of them. Under the Declaration, people have the right to be treated with dignity. They have the right to be protected against degrading treatment, from arbitrary arrest, and detention or exile. It is their right to enjoy asylum from persecution.
When you visit the Curtin detention centre in the centre of Western Australia, however, you find children, pregnant women and proud human beings locked up in searing 430 heat in the middle of nowhere, and held illegally for months and months. Add to this the uncertainty and fear that these people face and you begin to ask the question – where is the protection or dignity in that?
Australia is the only western democratic country in the world where everybody arriving by boat gets locked up. That is arbitrary detention.
While in detention, these people have no idea whether they will have the chance to experience a life free of torture, pain and persecution, or be sent back. Is this Australia meeting its obligations to respect the rights of asylum seekers?
The fact is it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia. Australia signed and ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol that gives people the right to seek asylum here.
The fact is the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be genuine refugees. More than half of those who arrive by other means are not.
The fact is that since 1974, the Australian population has grown by around 8 million. Of those, only 24,000 (just 0.03%) have been asylum seekers arriving by boat.
The fact is that in 2009 over 45,000 people sought asylum in the UK, 38,000 in the USA, and almost 34,000 in Canada. Australia, a continent with ‘boundless plains to share,’ had just 8,427.
In order to dispel the myths and tell the truth about refugees, Amnesty International is running a campaign to educate the Australian public in these facts so that we, as a nation, can start to live up to our reputation as a nation that gives everyone a fair go.
If you want to get involved to support this campaign, then go to the Amnesty International ‘Rethinking Refugees’ website. Our united action will make a difference to the lives of the women, children and men who flee the most terrible torture, death and persecution, only to find themselves locked up in unbearable situations, with no knowledge of when their inhumane treatment will end.