THE Australian government’s controversial proposal to permanently ban all asylum seekers who attempted to gain illegal access to the country is looking increasing unlikely to pass through Senate.
A Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights reported to Senate this week that the proposal to ban refugees and asylum seekers held in immigration detention on Nauru and Manus Island since July 19, 2013, was “severe and exceptional”.
The report said, “the ban would appear to apply a penalty on those who seek asylum and are part of the ‘regional processing cohort'” and they represented no danger to Australia.
“The right to seek asylum, irrespective of the mode of transit, is protected under international law. The ban may also have a disproportionate negative effect on individuals from particular national origins; nationalities; or on the basis of race, which gives rise to concerns regarding indirect discrimination on these grounds.”
The committee asked Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to provide more information about the Bill’s human rights compatibility.
The proposal, however, already looked shaky when crossbench senators announced earlier they would not support it in its current form.
The Sydney Morning Herald said the Bill was “heading for defeat” and “reliant on an unpersuaded crossbench” unless Dutton made some key amendments to please them. The Australian government is reliant on their vote, given Labor and the Greens have indicated they would oppose it.
One key crossbencher, NSW Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, said his proposed amendments would include the exemption of temporary visas such as tourist visas from the ban, and refugees from Australia’s direct neighbours like Indonesia and Timor Leste.
While other crossbenchers are still considering it, some have been far from complimentary. Victorian senator Derryn Hinch tweeted: “Banning people who [are] seeking asylum from ever visiting Aus is cruel and unnecessary.”
This message is impromptu (?) on twitter and email: Banning people who seeking asylum from ever visiting Aus is cruel and unnecessary
— Derryn Hinch (@HumanHeadline) November 16, 2016
News of a possible reprieve to the Bill would be a relief to refugee advocates.
Misha Coleman, executive officer from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, said she knew of no other jurisdiction on the planet that had such “draconian” measures.
In response to the proposed visa ban and offshore processing, she told Sky News that there were better ways to handle the issue.
“There is a better way, there are alternatives, the Australian Human Rights Commission has put together a very comprehensive plan, the Churches Refugee Taskforce will also be releasing an alternative plan together with Getup in a couple of weeks. It’s not like there aren’t other options out there.”
The ACRT made a public submission to Parliament on the proposed Bill, along with other civil liberties groups like UnitingJustice Australia who said, “This ban serves no purpose and will separate families forever. It is in breach of Article 31 of the refugee Convention. It should not be passed.”
In recent weeks, Australia’s Department of Immigration has moved closer to a deal with the U.S. to resettle refugees kept on Nauru and Manus Island in the United States, although the deal may be different once Donald Trump becomes president.
That alone has been cause for concern, with Trump’s previous statements about banning Muslims from entering the U.S.
Greens Senator Nick McKim said, “What we’re saying is bring them here to Australia, it’s the government that’s created this human rights crisis and it’s the government that has to solve it in a way that’s humane, compassionate and decent, and sending a Muslim family to Donald Trump’s America is none of those things.”
In November, United Nations special rapporteur Francois Crepeau completed an 18-day visit to Australia and Nauru. At a press conference in Canberra, he commended Australia for increasing the annual refugee intake in 2018 and “regular, safe and affordable pathways for migration” but he was critical of its punitive migration policies that eroded their human rights.
“I am deeply concerned about the grave impact of the punitive approach – which creates so much uncertainty about the future – on the mental health of many migrants, some of whom are in prolonged and indefinite mandatory immigration detention onshore or in offshore regional processing centers, or living in community detention, or living under temporary protection visas.”