The concerns of people seeking asylum and the public narrative about refugees were central to public and private discussions when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, visited Australia earlier this month. RCOA participated in private discussions with Ms Bachelet in Melbourne and Sydney, raising concerns related to the treatment of people held under Australia’s offshore processing policy, the destitution facing many people seeking asylum in Australia and some critical international protection needs raised by refugee diasporas in Australia.
RCOA was also present to hear Ms Bachelet address the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “Free and Equal” conference and to give the 2019 Whitlam Oration for the Whitlam Institute. Referring to her positive experience of being given refuge by Australia in 1975 after fleeing Chile’s Pinochet regime, Ms Bachelet wondered whether she would receive the same welcome today. She raised the importance of finding alternatives to detention and of preserving the Medevac legislation but warned against “labelling people who favour refugee pushbacks as bigots and racists”.
She argued the need for a more effective conversation about human rights, which emphasises what rights mean in practical terms and how a society which respects rights is better able to deliver positive outcomes for its citizens.