I was unfortunately travelling interstate when the latest series of Go Back to Where You Came From was on free to air on SBS. The last season was excellent, so we recorded it and last night Ang and I just started watching the series (we’re watching one episode a week.)
One of the myths that was repeated by a number of the participants in the program was that asylum seekers that enter Australia by boat (by illegal means) are breaking the law, therefore they are criminals. This is plainly false, here’s why:
Australia is signatory to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.”) This international legal instrument, to which we’re bound, clearly states on page 3 of its introduction (emphasis mine):
Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.
The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.
Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."
What this means is that, contrary to this popular myth, asylum seekers are not breaking the law in attempting entry to Australia. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the criminal act, according to international law, is being perpetrated by our Government. The bolded points in the passage above are all penalties that the Government has illegally introduced, in addition to striking certain islands literally off the map when it comes to immigration law.
Refugees from specific regions have been discriminated against, with asylum seekers from some regions being automatically refused refugee status, regardless of their case. All asylum seekers entering by boat are arbitrarily detained. During the Howard Government people that were found to be refugees were granted only Temporary Protection Visas, which restricted the rights and support that they received. In my view, this can only be viewed as a “penalty” for the method of entry.
If we could remove set aside the emotion that the issue of refugees seems to engender in this country, and focus instead on the rule of law, there are few things that are plain and (should be) self-evident.
If you agree that the Government should commit to international laws (such as trade agreements and other treaties), you must accept that we need to act in accordance with the laws we have agreed to be bound by.
And if you accept that Australia should be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, you must accept that we are bound to its provisions. If you don’t, you should be asking the Government to withdraw its support for the Refugee Convention. Or if you disagree with just these provisions, you should be advocating action being taken by the Australian Government to address these issues through the appropriate channels — that is through the mechanisms of the United Nations — rather than “jumping the queue” (to steal another myth/misnomer) and implementing measures that are illegal under international law. And until such time that those provisions are in place, we should be upholding the laws which we have signed.