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Politics confounding asylum issues

Politics confounding asylum issues

Election 2010: Australia's major political parties are blurring the lines between the legality of

Election 2010: Australia's major political parties are blurring the lines between the legality of claiming asylum and the illegality of people smuggling, according to the NSW Young Lawyers.

In a statement released today (12 August), the NSWYL called on both the ALP and the Coalition to reaffirm their commitment to international conventions ratified by Australia in relation to refugees and asylum seekers - particularly the 1951 Refugee Convention and its protocol - in order to properly respect and recognise the human right to claim asylum from persecution.

"Seeking asylum or applying for refugee status in Australia is not a crime and the rights of refugees are protected by international obligations, which apply to Australia," said Diane Barker, Chair of the NSWYL International Law Committee.

"It is of significant concern that both major political parties' campaigns are focused upon how best to stem the flow of perceived 'illegal boat people'.

"The erroneous perception that asylum seekers, and those applying for refugee status in Australia, have entered the country illegally ignores the status of refugees under international law. The political rhetoric is presently devoid of any consideration of Australia's obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers under international law," Barker added.

The president of NSWYL, Pouyan Afshar, also expressed concern at political misrepresentation of the issue, and implored Australia's leaders to simply do what is right.

"We are concerned by the conflation of the treatment of asylum seekers and the punishment of people smugglers. These are two different issues," he said.

"Whilst we support appropriate punitive measures towards people smugglers, we do not support policies that punish refugees, who are themselves victims not only of persecution but also of the smugglers. Any policy that has that effect is inherently unfair and in contrast to the values of fairness and justice, which are values we are committed to uphold."

Afshar commented further:

"Refugees are simply people who are escaping persecution from some of the most terrible places in the world. It is incumbent upon our political leaders that, when legal and bureaucratic machineries of government are concerned, people are treated with the same degree of fairness and equity that we have come to expect from our legal system."

NSWYL also condemned proposals to curtail asylum seekers' access to legal representation in Australia, and proposals to use regional processing centres in countries which are not signatories to the Convention, thus exposing refugees to substandard determination processes, inadequate legal protections and rights of appeal, and ultimately, denial of natural justice.

"Denying one of the most vulnerable groups the chance of being legally represented, and to be able to understand their legal rights fully and without limitation, by a trained lawyer in any circumstance is wholly contrary to their right to justice," said Carolina Soto, Chair of the NSWYL Human Rights Committee.

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