Australia has just announced it will take a seat on the powerful United Nations Human Rights Council.

Yet two UN Experts have pointed out that significant improvements will need to be made by the Australian government before it is able to have a strong record on human rights.

UNHCR chief, Filippo Grandi, called on Australia to end harmful practice of offshore processing. He emphasised that the practice of offshore processing has had a hugely detrimental impact and that there is a fundamental contradiction in saving people at sea, only to mistreat and neglect them on land.

Additionally, in the recent 35th Session of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants delivered report of Australia’s regional detention facilities on Nauru, and mainland immigration policy and practice. (See A/HRC/35/25/Add.3, released on 24/04/2017).

François Crépeau visited Australia’s mainland immigration detention centres and regional processing centres in Nauru from 1 to 18 November 2016, aiming to evaluate the migration programmes, policies and laws recently put in place by Australian government.

Although the Special Rapporteur commended Australia on its comprehensive and innovative integration practices run by both government and non-government organisations on the mainland, he condemned Australia’s use of regional processing centres as having “eroded the rights of migrants”.

This report comes after human rights and refugee advocacy groups across the nation call for the end of regional processing, furthered by past reports from former workers on the harsh conditions at Nauru.

The Special Rapporteur heard stories of rape, assault, beatings and impunity, among stories of neglect, deteriorating mental health and indefinite detention of children “[migrants] experience harsh punishment for a crime not committed” he said.

Crépeau further questioned the discrimination of people seeking asylum based on their mode of arrival, highlighting that “unauthorized maritime arrivals face obstacles that other refugees do not face”.

Crépeau acknowledged the use of prison-like offshore detention in aiming to deter maritime arrivals, Crépeau advised that “it is a fundamental principle of human rights law that one person cannot be punished only for the reason of deterring another”.

“The forced offshore confinement in which asylum seekers and refugees are maintained constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment according to international human rights law standards.”

Among 30 specific recommendations, the Crépeau highlighted the need for:

  • Detention to be used only as a last resort, and on a case-by-case basis only when there is evidence that an individual presents a danger to the public
  • An end to indefinite detention and an avoidance of temporary visas
  • Reinforcement of the right of migrants to judicial review of their visa applications
  • An end to the detention of children
  • Strong mental health care for migrants while their applications are processed
  • The establishment of an independent body to investigate and bring justice to claims of abuse of people while in detention
  • Allowing work rights on visas so people seeking asylum may support themselves and have a greater sense of hope while awaiting a decision on their claims
  • An end to the xenophobic attitude and culture of criminalising migrants with terms such as “illegals”

Overall, the Special Rapporteur advised that “quickly closing the centres is the only solution”.

“The best way of ensuring the legitimacy of laws, policies and practices is to have their conformity with human rights standards assessed by courts and ultimately by the High Court of Australia.”

To read the full report, follow the link.

Although Australia’s processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea is set to close by the end of October, the future of Nauru remains undecided. With current hopes for a refugee resettlement deal with the US in limbo, the future for hundreds detained in Nauru remains unclear.

The International Detention Coalition does not support the detention of children under any circumstances. Immigration detention should be used only as a last resort, in exceptional cases, and only after all other options have been shown to be inadequate in the individual case.

The IDC encourages governments and border patrols to employ Alternatives to Detention as a more humane, efficient and cost-effective way to manage immigration.


This article was written by Lucy Bashfield while completing her Global Communications Internship with the International Detention Coalition.