12 February 2016
Earlier this month, Australia’s High Court ruled that the offshore detention of asylum seekers is not in violation of the Australian constitution. The case was filed by a Bangladeshi woman, detained on Nauru and later brought to Australia because of pregnancy complications.
Another 266 asylum seekers are affected by the case, and they were all brought to the mainland because of medical reasons or to accompany sick family members. 91 of them are children – some of whom are attending Australian schools – and 37 are babies born in Australia, who have never been to Nauru.
The judges ruled six-to-one to dismiss the challenge. They based themselves mainly on an amendment to the Migration Act adopted in 2015 with a retroactive effect, aimed precisely at legalising detention in offshore centres and at striking down any potential challenge brought against the imprisonment.
There has been a massive public outcry over the possible forced return of the asylum seekers to Nauru, with thousands of people gathering to protest the policy. Australian churches and cathedrals have offered sanctuary to the asylum seekers, defying national law. A number of State premiers within Australia have written to the Prime Minister accepting full responsibility to provide for the 267 asylum seekers.
The UN committee on the Rights of the Child reacted to the judgment reminding Australia, party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of its obligation to take the best interest of children under consideration. Committee Chair Benyam Mezmur stated that the “decision by the High Court greatly concerns us as these children and their families face a great risk in being sent to a place that cannot be considered safe nor adequate.”
“Cases of abuse, including sexual abuse and rape of children and even murder, have occurred in Australia’s offshore detention camps and sending these 33 babies and their families and carers back to these environments where they will suffer indefinitely would be callous and cold,” stated CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, Paul Power.
For further information:
- Human Rights Watch, Australia drawing the wrong lines on asylum seekers, 10 February 2016
- The Guardian, ‘Let them stay’: backlash in Australia against plans to send asylum seekers to detention camps, 10 February 2016
- The Guardian, High court upholds Australia’s right to detain asylum seekers offshore, 2 February 2016
- The Guardian, Australia’s offshore detention damages asylum seekers because it’s supposed to, 18 January 2016
- ECRE, The “stop the boats” obsession – a viewpoint from Australia by Paul Power, Chief Executive officer, Refugee Council of Australia, 14 February 2014
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 12 February 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.