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UN member states challenge Australia’s refugee and asylum policies

Forty-seven UN member states raised concerns about and recommended changes to the Australian Government’s refugee, asylum and immigration detention policies when Australia’s human rights record came up for its third five-yearly Universal Period Review (UPR).

Of the 122 UN member states participating in Australia’s UPR hearing before the UN Human Rights Council on 20 January 2021, 45 states made comments or recommendations on refugee and detention policies and another two states raised formal questions prior to the session.

Critical to the 50 formal recommendations were the issues of offshore processing of people seeking asylum, indefinite immigration detention, lack of legislation to prohibit detention of children, refoulement, and lack of compliance of Australia’s asylum and border management policies with international law.

Australia’s offshore processing policies generated the most discussion with 10 countries raising concerns about these policies and the majority calling for an end to offshore processing. Finland added that those subject to offshore policies need to be provided with pathways to resettlement.

Many countries, including Germany and Norway, urged Australia to amend its detention policies to not only ensure immigration detention is time-limited but that is also subject to judicial review. Rwanda highlighted the large number of people in immigration detention and urged Australia to reduce this number especially given the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other issues of concern were conditions of immigration detention facilities, lack of access to family reunification for many refugees, the less robust refugee status determination process for people who arrived by sea, and the prevalence of hate speech against refugees and people seeking asylum. Italy also raised concerns about the humanitarian impacts of deportation of people whose permanent visas have been cancelled.

Each state which participated in the UPR hearing was given just 55 seconds to speak, in which they could comment on Australia’s progress on human rights over the past five years, raise current concerns and make recommendations on any aspect of human rights. Delegates raised a broad range of concerns including age of criminal responsibility, over-representation of indigenous people in the criminal justice system, weak action on climate change, and discriminatory practices towards people with disabilities, including forced sterilisations. The fact that, in the limited time available, so many states raised concerns about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and immigration detention policies illustrates the depth of global concern about Australia’s refugee policy.

After the review, an outcome report will be prepared by the UN Human Rights Council which provides a summary of the discussions, including the questions, comments and recommendations made by states. Australia will have the opportunity to make preliminary comments on the recommendations, choosing to either accept or note them.

To see the full list of relevant recommendations, comments, questions submitted in advance and the Australian Government’s response, you can read the full report.

Australia UPR 2021
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