DATE: 26th April 2011
New laws proposed by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen could see rooftop protesters at Villawood Detention Centre be sent home and the reintroduction of temporary protection visas for asylum seekers. If the laws are passed by parliament they will be backdated – meaning that protesters may be prosecuted under laws that did not exist at the time of protesting. Any legislation of this sort could breach Australia’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 15 of that covenant provides that a state will not find any person guilty of a criminal offence that was not an offence at the time it was committed.
This move follows major protests by asylum seekers at Villawood where detainees rioted, burning down buildings and causing extensive damage.
Whilst the Federal Government has said that this will remove any doubt around character tests and send a clear message that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, the Greens and refugee groups have been highly critical about the move arguing that the government has failed to address long-term problems within the detention network.
Prolonged detention, the massive backlog of processing asylum claims and conditions within the centres has led to unrest in recent weeks. This has been highlighted by the current protest and hunger strike by asylum seekers at Curtin Detention Centre over living conditions.
The protest at Curtin Detention Centre coincided with rallies across Australia by refugee advocates calling for the end of mandatory detention and a return to a more humane and compassionate policy.