Skip to content

World Refugee Week 2024

A refugee mother and child

Refugee Week 2024’s (June 16 -22) theme of “Finding Freedom” takes on added significance following recent concerning developments in Australian refugee policy. Australia’s approach to refugees and asylum seekers has been highly criticised, with policies such as offshore processing and mandatory detention drawing criticism from human rights advocates. Against this backdrop, Refugee Week serves as a crucial platform to reflect on the experiences of those seeking asylum in Australia and the challenges they face in their quest for freedom and safety.

The theme “Finding Freedom” prompts a deep examination of Australia’s responsibilities towards refugees, emphasizing the importance of compassion, dignity, and respect in policies and practices.

It is unfortunate then, that this week has seen the Albanese Government rush legislation through parliament in response to recent High Court rulings on the detention of refugees.

The Migration Amendment (Removal and Other Measures) Bill 2024, introduced to Parliament on Tuesday 26 March, has sparked concerns due to its broad and vaguely defined powers granted to the Minister. This legislation would make it a criminal offense for individuals to fail to cooperate with deportation efforts and expands the Minister’s authority to reverse protection findings. Moreover, the bill proposes travel bans on entire countries, aiming to pressure them into accepting forced returns of their citizens from Australia.

Critics, including the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, worry about the potential consequences of this bill. It encompasses a wide range of individuals on a removal pathway, including:

  • Unlawful non-citizens
  • Bridging (Removal Pending) visa (BVR) holders
  • Bridging (General) visa (BVE) holders
  • And extraordinarily any other non-citizens prescribed in the Migration Regulations (which would allow the Minister to designate other cohorts to be added)

Non-compliance with directions issued by the Minister could lead to severe penalties, including one to five years of imprisonment or substantial fines, without considering factors like facing persecution as a reasonable excuse.
The proposal’s unprecedented mandatory imprisonment for non-compliance and the blanket ‘blacklisting’ of entire countries raise significant concerns. Notably, the bill’s lack of nuanced consideration for genuine refugees and the potential violation of international obligations add to the apprehension.

The bill is currently before the Senate, to be debated in May.