Australia has long evaded criticism over the way it treats asylum seekers, sometimes even managing to draw applause from the United Nations for submitting colorful reports about how it protects human rights.
It now seems however that the jig is finally up and the sugarcoating no longer works as the UN Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) has recently shed light on the truth of what’s going on.
Apparently, Australian authorities have been failing to uphold the non-refoulement principle embedded in the International Refugee Convention, which dictates no person seeking asylum should be returned to their country of origin where they will face certain death or serious physical harm upon return.
That’s what has happened to a number of people who were deported after making it to the Australian soil over the past few years.
Australia’s treatment of the so-called ‘boat people’ or those asylum seekers who arrive by boat, is another key grip of the OHCHR.
The Australian authorities have taken a much more lenient approach towards asylum seekers who arrive by air in comparison to the boat people.
Arbitrary, mandatory and prolonged detention -up to seven years in one case- in offshore prisons before reaching a decision on an asylum seeker’s claims have become a routine.
These migrants have also been indefinitely separated from their families at the border while losing social security entitlements. They are also in many cases given no chance to obtain permanent residence.
The asylum seekers are in many cases subjected to sexual assaults by guards and violence by other inmates.
These harsh conditions and the fact that most migrants get no legal representation, have led some of them to commit suicide.
Since 2013, at least 6 people have killed themselves in detention while 6 others have died of other reasons.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has declared that Australia was fully accountable for the treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, rejecting Melbourne’s stance that the responsibility lies with those governments.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples has concluded that the Australian criminal justice system is being biased against the indigenous people.
In 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprised 28% of Australia’s adult prison population, but just 3% of the national population. The disconcertingly high rate of incarceration included women and children.
Deaths in custody for Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander prisoners remained a terrible problem. Between January 2016 and July 2020, there were at least 48 deaths of indigenous people in custody.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has warned that racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia had been on the rise in Australia.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders sharply criticised the Australian government for undermining the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission, calling for an independent inquiry into the attempts by senior government officials to intimidate and denigrate the Commission and its former President, Professor Gillian Triggs, amongst other things.