My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 19 September 2017: Australia rightly condemned for trying to make asylum seekers ‘homeless and destitute’
Though the Turnbull government’s decision to withdraw financial support and housing from asylum seekers and refugees to encourage them to return to Manus Island or Nauru is ‘old’ news in recent days I’ve been heartened by details coming to light of the local and international criticism it has drawn and the formal complaints it has generated to three senior rapporteurs at the United Nations (Guardian Australia. This new news prompted my topic for today.
As Peter Dutton’s decision ranks as an act of supreme bastardry these new details are worth a column.
So, what did the government actually do? Last month, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, announced the imposition of a new “final departure bridging visa” for refugees and asylum seekers brought to Australia from Nauru or Manus Island for medical treatment.
I would have hoped that even Minister Dutton wouldn’t stoop as low as using the expression ‘final departure’, as it brings to mind the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’ and all the horrors of the holocaust, but use it he did.
It is understood up to 400 people, including families with infant children born in Australia, face having government support withdrawn in an effort to encourage them to abandon their protection claims, or return to Australia’s offshore detention islands of Manus and Nauru.
Now, on to the reaction. Firstly, Victoria stepped in to help 100 of the asylum seekers as the Andrews government announced a $600,000 package, which includes accommodation and basic living costs for the affected group
However, in relation to the bigger picture the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia and the Geneva-based Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are set to send urgent submissions to three relevant United Nations special rapporteurs: on the right to adequate housing; on extreme poverty and human rights; and on torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The UN’s special rapporteurs are individuals who are officially appointed by the organisation’s Human Rights Council to investigate a problem or issue and then to report on it.
The joint submissions call on the rapporteurs to urge the Australian government to abandon the final departure bridging visas, reinstate housing and income support, and allow those seeking asylum to apply for refugee status in Australia. It also asks the rapporteurs to publicly condemn the government’s actions.
“The purpose and effect of these government actions is to cut off vulnerable people from basic supports as a means of pressuring them to return to a place where they fear serious physical and/or psychological harm,” they say.
“The government actions risk rendering affected people homeless and destitute as they will have no income support and little chance of finding work to provide for their food, housing, clothing and other basic needs.”
The submissions argue the government’s imposition of the final departure visa is a breach of its international obligations under several international treaties, including the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
These excoriating submissions to the UN special rapporteurs are especially awkward for Australia at present, for it appears we are certain to win election to the UN’s Human Rights Council in November. Given our track record of flouting the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, especially in relation to asylum seekers and our First Peoples, the irony of us gaining a spot on the Council won’t be remotely amusing, as ironies usually are, it will be embarrassingly cringe making.