Australia Accused of Violating International Law with Immigration Policies

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International human rights organisation Amnesty International has alleged that Australia’s “hard-line” immigration policies and “ongoing harsh approach towards refugees and asylum seekers” are in violation of international law. In particular, the organisation accused Australia of failing to adhere to international human rights law by “forcibly returning people to countries where they would face a real risk of serious violations.”

Australia is a country with relatively stringent immigration policies. This is by no means the first time Australia’s approach to immigration has come under criticism, but the country’s government usually stands by its policies. Economic migrants are assessed on a rigid points-based system according to their education and skills, though other factors such as family ties can also qualify an individual for entry. Various other countries including the UK also use points-based systems, but the Australian system is often considered stricter than many of the others.

The country’s approach to refugees and asylum seekers is also strict and is the aspect of policy that is most frequently criticised. Refugees who have not arrived after fleeing violence by sea instead of through formal resettlement programmes are faced with the least welcoming of Australia’s immigration policies.

Amnesty International suggested that Australia may be in violation of international human rights law when dealing with this latter group of refugees. The organisation suggested that Australia was acting illegally when deporting many of these individuals to countries where they are at serious risk of violence and other serious violations.

Amnesty International also criticised and questioned the legality of Australia’s policies for detaining refugees. They often face “prolonged and arbitrary detention” in offshore facilities, in which “numerous human rights abuses” have reportedly taken place. Amnesty International points out in its report that last March, an independent review was released which “documented allegations of rape and sexual assault including of children as well as cases of harassment and physical assault.” The recommendations made in this review were accepted by the Australian government, but a further report in August found that conditions in the centre remained unsafe and inappropriate.

Amnesty International’s criticisms come soon after the latest annual report from Human Rights Watch. This report was also critical of the way in which refugees are detained and the treatment they experience during their attention. It described Australia’s policies on refugees as “abusive” and said that the government needs to “take steps to restore its international standing as a rights-respecting country.”

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton defended the country’s policies on immigration, including its approach to those who arrive on Australia’s shores in search of asylum. Strict detention and turn-back policies had, he said, reduced the number of migrants risking their lives on dangerous sea journeys in an effort to reach the Australia.

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