Australia: Withdraw Punitive Migration Bill

    (Sydney) – The Australian government should withdraw a proposed law that would allow the authorities to seek prison terms for asylum seekers for exercising their right not to be sent to a country where they fear being persecuted, Human Rights Watch said in a submission to the Australian parliament. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is currently considering the Migration Amendment (Removal and Other Measures) Bill 2024 for enactment.

    The bill would introduce prison sentences from one to five years for previously recognized refugees who have been stripped of their refugee status, and rejected asylum seekers who fail to cooperate with the authorities in deporting them from Australia. Actions that could result in criminal punishment for essentially administrative violations include failing to apply for a passport or travel document, not signing documents to facilitate travel, or not showing up for interviews and appointments.

    “The Australian government is disregarding its international legal obligations and doubling down on earlier legislation that undermines the very principles on which refugee protection is based,” said Annabel Hennessy, Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This proposed law effectively treats administrative violations as criminal offenses carrying hefty prison terms.”

    The proposed law also expands the Australian immigration minister’s existing powers to reverse findings of a person’s need for protection and to strip them of their refugee status.

    Under a controversial provision of existing Australian law – Subsection 197D of the Migration Act – the minister for immigration can strip refugee status from an “unlawful non-citizen” who has previously been found to be entitled to protection. This bill expands 197D to apply not only to those deemed “unlawful non-citizens,” but also to “lawful non-citizens” on certain bridging visas to facilitate their removal. The United Nations Refugee Agency and the Australian Human Rights Commission have previously warned that 197D does not comply with Australia’s international obligations.

    “Instead of heeding warnings from the UN and the Australian Human Rights Commission, the government is seeking authority that would put the lives and safety of refugees and asylum seekers at greater risk,” Hennessy said.

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