Parliament Petitioned to Take Australian Human Rights Abuses to UN

Parliament Petitioned to Take Australian Human Rights Abuses to UN

February 27, 2020

The New Zealand Parliament will be petitioned to take a strong position on Australia’s severe immigration detention, deportation and citizenship impediments for New Zealanders when Australia appears before the United Nations in 2020.

Community Law and the Human Rights Commission joined forces to highlight the issues at a hui in Auckland yesterday, which was attended by NGOs, lawyers, government agencies, service providers, academics and parliamentary representatives. It was held to coincide with 19- year anniversary of the Australian Government enacting policies which restricted pathways to citizenship and support for New Zealanders. 

The hui also heard from individuals returned to New Zealand, and New Zealand detainees joined the conversation via a visual audio link from detention centres across Australia.

“We heard heart-breaking stories from New Zealanders in Australia’s detention centres and those who have been deported,” said Community Law CEO, Sue Moroney. “Many had already served six month sentences for their low-level crimes including traffic offences, misdemeanours and minor drug possession charges, but the Morrison Government’s cruel policies mean they are now serving a life sentence of mental health problems and separation from family and the lives they had built in Australia.”

“The appalling conditions in these detention centres are being used to force people to give up their rights to appeal and contest their visa cancellations. They are being denied access to justice.”

New Zealand-born Adrian Soloman-Maere shared his experiences, describing the despair that detainees feel during their time waiting for decisions on their immigration status. 

Soloman-Maere was held for 18 months in the isolated Christmas Island detention centre, during which he saw regular self-harm including a man in his unit sewing his mouth shut, and another tying a towel to his head and setting himself alight. “There are no human rights,” he said. “The system is designed to break you, that’s what they want. It’s abusive.”

Frank Leonie spoke from an immigration detention at Yongah Hill Detention Centre. Both Leonie and Soloman-Maere called the detention system ‘worse than prison’.

“At least in prison you live like a human being,” Leonie said. “Our kids, our children are here [in Australia]. Our wives, our fathers, our mothers … the system takes this away from you, they might as well just shoot you.”  

The deportees spoke of the invaluable support they had received from Iwi n Aus and the hope they felt knowing someone was advocating for them. Iwi n Aus was created in 2013 by Erina Morunga and Filipa Payne to provide information and education around migration issues faced by New Zealanders living in Australia.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, says the New Zealand Government needs to protest the unfair and inhumane treatment, by making strong recommendations to the UN when Australia’s human rights record is being reviewed later this year.

“The individuals returned to New Zealand are disproportionately Māori, Pacific people and ethnic minorities. The issue has a strong race discrimination component. The discrimination begins in Australia and impacts on New Zealand. The impact is most keenly felt by the individuals. Not only are they demeaned by discrimination, many of them lose everything: children, partners, parents, jobs, businesses, friends and a sense of belonging. They languish in appalling detention centres.” 

“On this tragic journey, some self-harm, others commit suicide. Many are deeply alienated, alone and angry. So, the race discrimination undermines our attempts to build an inclusive society on this side of the Tasman.”

“They should not be punished over and over again. They should not be subject to double or treble jeopardy. And neither should we stand aside while discrimination corrodes our society.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission reported its concerns over the abuses in detention centres and the risk of arbitrary detention during immigration review processing, and is pushing for alternatives, such as community detention, to be used instead.

Individuals are often referred to as ‘501s’ – after the section of the Migration Act under which their visas are cancelled – but the hui also heard that section 116 of the Migration Act is being used to cancel visas even where people have not been convicted of any crimes. Under Section 116(1)(e), a visa may be cancelled if a person “may be, or would or might be, a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community” regardless of whether any crime has been committed. 

Those who have had visas cancelled under section 116 are subject to onerous conditions, including a 7-day timeframe to challenge the revocation and a fee of over $1700. They are also taken into immigration detention while waiting for a decision on their case which can take several years

The gathering heard from Australian service providers and lawyers about 16 and 17-year-olds who had been convicted of minor offences, served their sentences, had their visas cancelled, been detained and then sent to New Zealand where they had never lived.

“Emotions ran pretty high when those working with these troubled young men said they now don’t know what happened to them – they are lost to those who have supported them. It’s a recipe for disaster,” says Sue Moroney.

The hui worked on plans to put pressure on the Australian Government to address its severe policies and plans to improve processing and conditions for those deported when they arrive in New Zealand.