The Federal government should do more to share responsibility for protecting refugees with developing and conflict-ridden countries, according to Griffith Law School Dean Professor Penelope Mathew.
“Eighty-six per cent of the world’s refugees are sheltered in the developing world. There are nearly four million Syrian refugees, most of whom have taken shelter in neighbouring countries, whose capacities are stretched to the limit,’’ she said.
“Naturally, this results in dangerous journeys to countries with more capacity and further away from the conflict zone.”
Professor Mathew said Australia had distanced itself from the major treaty governing the treatment of refugees – the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
“In amendments to the Migration Act and the Maritime Powers Act in 2014, parliament introduced particularly Australian understandings of the definition of a refugee,’’ she said.
“For example, persons who would otherwise be recognised as refugees may be returned to a place within their country of origin other than their home, even if it is unreasonable to expect them to relocate.
She said if the changes were passed, Australia would be out of step with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ understanding of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as decisions of courts in other common law countries and previous High Court of Australia decisions.
“It also means that refugees may be placed in positions where their rights are not adequately protected and where they have no meaningful opportunity to re-establish their lives.”
The changes also excused failure to consider Australia’s international obligations when conducting maritime interceptions. These obligations state that Australia must not return a refugee to a place of persecution and that prohibition applies to interceptions on the High Seas.
“For certain applicants for protection, Parliament has also introduced a new ‘fast track’ system of review, generally dispensing with interviews for applicants for protection,’’ Professor Mathew said.
“The fast track procedure has numerous flaws including that it denies an interview at the review stage in most instances. It is likely to result in bad decisions where refugees do not receive the protection to which they are entitled as a matter of international law.
Professor Mathew will join Her Honour Judge Fleur Kingham, Sonia Caton, Chair of the Refugee Council of Australia and Robert Lachowicz from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service to debate Australia’s refugee laws at a public seminar tonight (May 20) at the Supreme Court of Queensland.
WHAT: Refugees and the Rule of Law
WHEN: Wednesday, May 20 5.30pm-7.30pm.
WHERE: Banco Court, Supreme Court of Queensland, 304 George Street, Brisbane.