November 06, 2013
‘Seeking asylum is not illegal under Australian or international law,’ say 138 organisations, in letter to prime minister.
A joint letter to the prime minister, Tony Abbott, from 138 organisations has called on the federal government to end the practice of describing asylum seekers arriving by boat as “illegal maritime arrivals”.
“On behalf of the many Australians who believe in the importance of protecting people fleeing persecution, we write to voice our objection to the Australian government’s recent decision to refer to asylum seekers who enter Australia by boat as “illegal maritime arrivals”, the letter reads.
The Refugee Council of Australia has co-ordinated the organisations, which range from community groups, non-government organisations, faith-based groups, legal providers and advocacy groups.
“You and members of your cabinet are well aware that seeking asylum is not illegal under Australian or international law. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention makes it clear that contracting states, including Australia, must not impose penalties on people who arrive without authorisation to seek refugee protection,” they say in the letter.
The minister for immigration and border protection, Scott Morrison, sent a request to detention staff to refer to asylum seekers as “illegal maritime arrivals” last month. At his weekly press briefings the minister uses this term when referring to asylum seeker boat arrivals.
Paul Power, the chief executive officer of the Refugee Council of Australia, says the joint letter highlights a growing concern about the policy direction of the new government.
“The joint letter reflects a growing sense of disquiet among many Australians about the nation’s response to people seeking protection from persecution,” he says. “It also reflects concerns that the official use of such dehumanising language to refer to highly vulnerable people has implications for Australia’s social cohesion.”
The letter also says the continued use of the phrase poses greater social risks:
“While some people may believe there is political value in engaging in negative rhetoric about asylum seekers arriving without valid visas, the long-term implications of this approach must be considered very carefully. We cannot see how the government’s use of harsher rhetoric against people seeking asylum will assist Australia to remain a cohesive and diverse nation.”