Refugee Council of Australia
Refugee holding child with words Refugee or Migrant? Word choice matters

Who is a refugee? Who is an asylum seeker?

Complementary protection

The definition of a refugee in the Refugee Convention is limited. This definition does not include all people who have a clear need for protection.

Since the Refugee Convention was signed, a number of other international treaties have been signed. These extend protection to people beyond those defined as refugees under the Refugee Convention. These include the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Countries that have signed these treaties cannot send people back to places where they face a real risk of being arbitrarily deprived of their life, or a real risk of being tortured or exposed to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Complementary protection in Australia

While Australia had signed these treaties, before 2012 the only way a person could be protected under these treaties was by the Minister for Immigration personally deciding to let the person stay.

After many years of advocacy, the Parliament of Australia passed legislation in 2011 to introduce a system of complementary protection. The purpose of this system is to consider the protection needs of people who are not refugees according to the definition in the Refugee Convention, but who may face torture or serious human rights violations if they are returned to their country of origin. After 24 March 2012, a person’s claim for protection under ‘complementary protection’ was considered at the same time as a refugee claim.

During 2013-2015, the Australian Government proposed a number of changes that would have abolished, or significantly changed, this system of complementary protection. However, these proposals have so far been unsuccessful.

More information

Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for Refugee Law, ‘Complementary Protection’

Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for Refugee Law, ‘Complementary Protection Decisions’

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