LAW STUDENTS FOR REFUGEES
Volume 8, Issue 8
Dear LSS Executive Committee,
Earlier this semester the 2015 Executive Committee voted to endorse marriage equality and to advocate for its legalisation in Australia. The LSS stated at the time that underpinning this advocacy was its constitutionally-entrenched purpose to “promote a commitment to social justice and a critical interest in law and the operation of law in society”.
Law Students for Refugees (LSFR) applauds this decision. It is absolutely right and just that the LSS should seek to ensure its LGBTIQ-identifying student members “feel both comfortable and welcomed being themselves amongst all members of the Melbourne Law School community”. It is also absolutely right and just that such members should “receive equal treatment and protection under the law and should not be discriminated against”.
LSFR urges the LSS to take a similar public stance with regard to the government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Under the Graduate Access Melbourne (GAMs) program, MLS provides support for applicants who have either a “previous status as a refugee or are current holders of a humanitarian visa”. The LSS should therefore count amongst its membership those who have sought asylum in Australia.
Specifically, LSFR urges the LSS to take a position against the offshore processing of asylum seekers by the Australian Government.
This is for two reasons.
Firstly, those subject to offshore processing are selected arbitrarily based on the fact that they have arrived in Australia by boat. This is clearly discriminatory and against international law: Article 31 of the Refugee Convention states that countries should not penalise asylum seekers based on their mode of arrival.
It is quite possible that an LSS member may be in the position of Mohammad Ali Baqiri, a law student at Victoria University, who at ten years old was detained on Nauru and witnessed hunger strikes, detainees sewing their lips together, and attempted suicides.
Like LGBTIQ members, members like Mohammad should “receive equal treatment and protection under the law and should not be discriminated against”. Such members should “feel both comfortable and welcomed” amongst the MLS community.
Secondly, the conditions in offshore detention camps are such that they amount to a breach of the UN Convention Against Torture, according to a UN special rapporteur on torture.
The former chief psychiatrist to Australia’s detention centres, Dr Peter Young, agrees. In August last year he wrote, “if we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition.”
Paediatrician Dr David Isaacs has said of the detention of children on Nauru, “It’s child abuse”. Seventeen children engaged in self-harm, including attempted hanging, between October 2013 and October 2014.
Guards employed by the Australian government have been accused of raping, physically assaulting and even killing asylum seekers in the centre.
Successive misinformation from the then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, surrounding the murder of Reza Barati, together with claims of evidence tampering, has already cast doubt on the only court proceedings for these allegations to date.
What’s more, offshore processing has been destructive of the rule of law in the island nations where the detention centres are located. On Nauru, opposition MPs have been suspended from parliament for “talking too much to foreign media”, including the ABC.
The Nauruan government said it was reacting to “concerns raised by donors, and considerations to suspend aid programs to Nauru”. Australia is far and away the main such donor, providing around $30 million per year.
Given that the LSS has a constitutional “commitment to social justice and a critical interest in law and the operation of law in society”, it is appropriate and necessary that the LSS take a stance against such abuse of life, liberty and due process.
As future members of the legal profession, we should not stand idly by whilst such abuse continues.
The support of civil society for the asylum seekers arbitrarily and indefinitely detained on offshore detention camps is indispensable to the cause of justice.
The Australian journalist, Peter Greste, who was until recently detained by the Egyptian authorities has said that he would not have been released without the “massive groundswell of popular outrage of what had happened to us”. We must play our part in doing the same for those detained by the Australian authorities.
In the words of Arundhati Roy, “a thing once seen cannot be unseen, and if you’ve seen a moral wrong, to stay silent is as much a political choice as to resist it.”
Law Students for Refugees