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DAVID CRAMPTON, of ENInews, reports…


Thousands of Australians marked World Refugee Day (20th June) on 19th June by rallying to demand an end to mandatory detention of asylum seekers. The turnout was sparked by a backlash against a federal government plan to deport 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia as early as next week as a “swap” for the resettlement of 4,000 refugees from Malaysian detention centres. 

Australia’s National Council of Churches, Catholic aid agency Caritas, the Uniting Church and 15 human rights groups released a joint statement criticising the policy. “We call on the Australian Government and Opposition to abandon policies aimed at punishing groups of asylum seekers as an example to others and to work cooperatively on the challenging task of developing a regional framework to protect people fleeing persecution,” they said. 


Eighty per cent of the world’s refugees are being hosted in developing countries but anti-refugee sentiment continues to rise in many industrialised nations, according to the findings of a new UNHCR report.

The report – released to mark World Refugee Day on 20th June – shows that the 43.7 million people are displaced worldwide with the largest refugee populations found in Pakistan (1.9 million), Iran (1.1 million) and Syria (one million). 

Significantly, the data shows that the biggest economic impact of refugees is in Pakistan where there are 710 refugees for every dollar of its per capita GDP, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (475) and Kenya (247). In Germany, the industrialized nation with the largest refugee population (594,000), there are only 17 refugees for every dollar of per capita GDP.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR, said in a statement that there remained “worrying misperceptions about refugee movements and the international protection paradigm”.

“Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialised countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration. Meanwhile it’s poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.” 

Elsewhere, the UNHCR data shows that 7.2 million people were currently in a situation in which they had been stuck in exile for five years or longer – more than at any time since 2001. Meanwhile only 197,600 people were able to return home – the lowest number since 1990.

Of the 43.7 million displaced people in the world today, 15.4 million are refugees, 27.5 million are displaced internally by conflict and almost 850,000 people are asylum seekers – a fifth of them are in South Africa.


The Uniting Church, Australia’s third largest, wrote to all Federal Labor parliamentarians expressing its shock over the ‘cruel and punitive’ plan and urged compassion. 

Australia is one of a few countries that automatically incarcerate asylum seekers. Almost 8,000 people, including 1,000 children, are detained in Australian mainland and offshore detention centers, many for several years, while visa applications are processed. 

Uniting Church President, Rev Alistair Macrae, said the Malaysian swap plan is an abrogation of Australia’s responsibilities under the 60-year-old United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Malaysia offers no legal domestic rights to asylum seekers. 

“Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and has a record of human rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees. It is not an appropriate place for us to send traumatised and vulnerable people,” he said. 

“It is one of the truly low points in Australian politics that a government has made a deal to trade people like commodities,” added the Rev. Elenie Poulos, the church’s national director for justice. 

The United Nations and human rights groups have also criticised the deal, particularly as Malaysia refuses to refer to human rights in the swap agreement. 

Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside told 1,000 people gathered at the Melbourne World Refugee Day rally that the deal represented a big step backwards and was worse than the opposition’s alternative of reopening a processing centre in Nauru — “only in the sense that garrotting is worse than hanging.” Nauru, a small island republic in the South Pacific, signed the UN Refugee Convention on 17th June. 

Anglican Primate Phillip Aspinall urged the government to resist the temptation to treat asylum seekers inhumanely, and to proactively undermine people-smuggling. “It cannot be morally permissible to inflict suffering on asylum seekers in order to stop people smuggling,” he told reporters. 

Lay Catholic organisation St Vincent DePaul’s chief executive, John Falzon, acknowledged that while the Australian government has a responsibility to protect its borders, “this does not give it the license to punish innocent people who are legitimately seeking a place of safety. There is no place for such punitive treatment, especially of children, in a progressive society.” 

The Malaysian plan is already the subject of a court challenge on behalf of a woman and her four-year-old son, on the grounds they should not be separated from the husband and father.


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