Archived News Item

Looking back on 2007 and looking forward to 2008

During 2007, the Institute’s Justice Network presented information about refugees and asylum seekers and called for reflection on their experiences and those who support them. In the final weeks of the year they invite you to continue reflecting and to consider what you will do in 2008 to support refugees and to assist all people to be treated with respect. It is our individual actions and our challenges to others that can lead to a more just world. What is the gift you will give humanity? What will be your New Year’s resolution?

You are warmly invited to read the reflections of Marian and her experience of assisting a refugee family to settle in Australia and the reflections of Sister Cecilia Rowe RSM on her experience of supporting people at Villawood Detention Centre. Download the 2006-2007 Mercy Works Annual Report and go to page 16.

The following excerpt is from “A Price Too High – The cost of Australia’s approach to Asylum Seekers”, a joint report by Oxfam and A Just Australia released in August 2007. The full article is available at Oxfam Australa’s website.

Respect for human rights should be measured by a country’s actions toward the most vulnerable, not the most fortunate. It is people who have suffered violence and discrimination who need the protection of individual countries and the international community. Refugees and asylum seekers are individuals who are forced to flee their homes due to war, other forms of conflict, discrimination and persecution which threaten their safety and, in many cases, their lives. This group of people are classified as forced migrants, distinct from voluntary migrants, such as business migrants and people who wish to unite with family members.

A “refugee” is someone who has been assessed – by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or by a state – as requiring protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. An asylum seeker is usually an individual who wants to apply for protection under the Refugee Convention, but whose claims have not yet been assessed.

The Refugee Convention expects states to give an asylum seeker the benefit of the doubt; that they may well be a genuine refugee; until such time as the veracity of their claim has been established one way or the other. If a country does not follow this formula, a process called refoulement may occur. Refoulement refers to the return of a person to a place of persecution. The Refugee Convention asks states to carefully guard against this possibility.

The nature of the violent conflicts that generate refugees and asylum seekers means that individuals who need to flee and ask for protection elsewhere cannot always get travel documents such as visas, nor travel through official channels. It is a fundamental pillar of international law and cooperation between states that individuals be allowed to ask for protection in another state, having arrived spontaneously, with or without travel documents. An asylum seekers’ claim for protection is not affected or watered down by their mode of arrival.

Many individuals fleeing situations of violence, conflict and persecution cannot make their way with all their papers to a refugee camp or other ‘safe haven’ to apply in an orderly manner through the appropriate diplomatic channels for asylum in Australia. For others, such safe places and orderly processes simply do not exist. Often the situation is just too volatile or Australia has no diplomatic representation in their country or neighbouring countries or the Refugee Convention is not recognised in their country or neighbouring countries. These asylum seekers have no choice but to keep travelling to a third country to find protection.

  • What is your response to this passage? What are the challenges for Australia?
  • How do you want the new federal government to respond to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers?
  • Will you ask the federal government to listen to their concerns?

Source: Oxfam Australia

From: Specific Issues Committee, Asylum Seekers and Refugees (Sisters Sally Bradley, Claudette Cusack, Lorraine Phelan and Mary Quinn). The Committee warmly invites your response to the article or the issue.
Contact: Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator